| Gold Dust Peak, "Pika Peak", UN 12,940'
Gold Dust Peak (13,382')
"Pika Peak" (13,126')
On 7/1/12, Kevin and I climbed some "non-14ers" in the Holy Cross Wilderness. Prior to this trip, I had heard rumors that this area was cool (particularly Gold Dust Peak and Mount Jackson), but besides my climbs of Mt. Holy Cross I had never ventured into any other part of this wilderness area. This may be because the Holy Cross Wilderness is technically part of the Sawatch Range (and therefore was inaccurately labeled in my mind as unexciting), or maybe it's because I've been in a 14er mindset up until recently, but either way, my opinions were quickly changed on Sunday.
Kevin and I met at the Lake Charles Trailhead (Fulford Campground) on Saturday night, slept in our cars, and started the next morning around 6am. On Saturday, Kevin had climbed some peaks in the Finnegan group (New York Mountain, Finnegan, and pt. 12,525'), so our leg muscles, energy levels, and hydration levels were in somewhat different condition on Sunday. However, Kevin has climbed all of the 14ers, most of the state highpoints, and 1346433284 out of 123885822812 thirteeners (or something like that), so needless to say we still went at a pretty good pace.
We followed the Lake Charles trail for a few miles, then at around 10,400' we left the trail and started bushwacking NE towards Negro Basin/Gold Dust Peak (or at least we thought we were going towards Negro Basin...). The Lake Charles trail was in pretty good condition and took us through a gorgeous spruce/fir forest with occasional views of some wetlands and East Brush Creek. We left the trail just as it began to get steeper and pass some giant boulders in the forest.
Side note: what we should've done is stay on the trail longer and start bushwacking up towards Negro Basin at about 11,000'. This would've saved us a steep climb up some boulderfields and probably an hour or two. The way we went up was pretty steep and time-consuming, whereas the other way would've been less tedious (although a little bit longer). We ended up going into the drainage that was NW of Negro Basin and SE of Gold Dust Basin, although ultimately it didn't affect our ascent of Gold Dust Peak.
We eventually made it above treeline and had our first views of Gold Dust Peak. Suddenly, I forgot I was in the Sawatch Range. The basin we were in, as well as the surrounding peaks and ridges, were eerily similar to the Gore Range...jagged, loose, steep, and awesome.
The basin we came to on our way up Gold Dust
There was a prominent gully just SW of Gold Dust's summit, and while initially it looked like a hellish ascent route, it turned out to not be that steep or loose, just a class 2 talus/skree climb with the occasional loose rock. Above the gully was more class 2 talus/boulder-hopping to the summit, and we arrived at 10:30am.
Looking down the gully we ascended on Gold Dust
New York Mountain (left), New York Lake, and Finnegan Peak (right) from the summit of Gold Dust
The views warranted a 40-minute break on the summit before we started the traverse over to "Pika Peak". So far the weather was still looking good, and as we got our first look at the Gold Dust-Pika traverse I realized this would be the most fun and exciting part of the day. Initially we were going to head over to UN 12,730' after Gold Dust, then backtrack and do the traverse over to "Pika Peak" and onward to UN 12,940', but we decided to save our energy and only climb three peaks that day. That turned out to be a good idea, because as we headed over towards Pika we realized that descending off of Gold Dust's south ridge would be more difficult than expected. Plus, had we included UN 12,730' in our itinerary, we most likely wouldn't have gotten back to the cars until dark.
The Gold Dust-Pika traverse can be kept to mostly class 3 with an occasional class 4 move, with some areas that have a decent amount of exposure. As we descended off of Gold Dust's summit, we stayed on the ridge more or less all the way down to the saddle, then climbed left around a large prominent tower towards Pika's summit. This climb around the tower was probably the most difficult section, as it was loose in spots, exposed, and required a 4th class section near the top. Above that, we meandered up a loose skree gully, navigated up and around some slabs, and eventually got to the upper ridge and NW face, which had easier class 3 climbing. We arrived at the summit of "Pika Peak" at 1:20pm, 2 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the summit of Gold Dust Peak.
the traverse over to "Pika Peak"
Kevin poses for his mom and demonstrates how to effectively traverse a ridge...
Kevin on the traverse
Kevin on the traverse
Big Spruce Lake with Mt. Jackson and Mt. Holy Cross in the background
The remainging part of the traverse up to Pika Peak - the tower we went around is in the foreground
Some of the terrain...
Looking up towards Pika's summit and some of the loose stuff we ascended
Ascending class 4 terrain around the tower - Photo by Kevin
Some loose stuff on the way up Pika - Photo by Kevin
Easier scrambling near the summit of "Pika Peak"
Looking back at Gold Dust and a lot of the traverse
We awarded ourselves with another long break on the summit, then started the traverse over to UN 12,940'. This traverse, however, lacked the fun scrambling and route-finding we had between Gold Dust and Pika. It consisted of endless talus-hopping over loose and jagged rock (interspersed with giant spiderwebs often blocking the easiest path), and we were pretty sick of it by the time we arrived on the summit of UN 12,940'. By that time, we noticed a few dark clouds forming to the east, and decided not to hang out on the summit for too long. This wouldn't amount to anything though, as it remained mostly sunny and hot for the remainder of the day.
UN 12,940' on the left, Eagle Peak in center, and Mystic Island Lake on the right
Traverse over to UN 12,940' - Talus slog.
Looking back the way we came - L to R: Pika, Gold Dust, Finnegan
We left the summit of UN 12,940' around 3pm and headed down towards Mystic Island Lake. There is, in fact, an island on this lake, however it is very close to the shore and I'm not sure how "mystic" it is. The lake itself though, as well as the entire basin, is gorgeous. To avoid some cliffs/steeper areas, we first descended towards the Pika-UN 12,940' saddle, then headed down a less steep route towards the NW end of the lake. This descent consisted of more talus-hopping and spiderweb-avoiding, and by the time we got near the lake we were very relieved to be hiking on grass and stable ground again.
The descent down to Mystic Island Lake - Photo by Kevin
Mystic Island Lake
We saw two people fishing at the lake, and it occurred to us that if the Lake Charles TH was closer to Vail, this place would be swamped on a weekend. These people, along with two other people near the trailhead, would be the only people we saw all day. From this upper basin, Fools Peak looked very rugged and awesome - definitely worthwhile to climb despite the fact that is only a "12er".
We eventually found the Lake Charles Trail near the outlet of Mystic Island Lake and followed it past Lake Charles and back down to the trailhead.
Lake Charles with Eagle Peak and Fools Peak in the background
Despite the dry and hot year we've had so far, there were definitely some pretty wildflowers to be seen. The hike out was uneventful, except for a mud incident that involved Kevin and one of his shoes. It wouldn't matter anyway, since the soles of Kevin's shoes were ripped to shreds from previous climbing excursions (if anyone knows of a trailrunner shoe with a hard, durable sole that can withstand the impacts from scrambling/climbing, please let us know!). We arrived back at our cars by 6:40pm, making for an almost-13-hour day. Since we both had long drives ahead of us, we stopped for some gourmet cuisine at Subway in Eagle.
Stats: 12 mi RT, 5000' gain, 12 hrs 40 mins
Most of the beta we obtained for this trip was from SarahT, who did this same loop a couple of years ago, except she went up the alternative way to Negro Basin. Her TR is here: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreportp.php?trip=3651&photos=2
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):