| Holy Cross Wilderness peaks
Gold Dust Peak – 13,382
"Pika Peak" – 13,126
UN 12,940 C
From: Lake Charles TH, 13.7 mi, 5000 ft
This weekend I was on my own and decided to take the opportunity to explore some areas of the Sawatch that I've never been to. Surprise, surprise, I made plans at the last minute. I'd spent most of the week doped up on pain meds for a wisdom tooth issue but was finally feeling good enough that I couldn't sit home on a perfectly good weekend and wait for the problem to go away completely. Gold Dust Peak and "Pika Peak" are some of the northernmost 13ers in the Sawatch and lie at the northern edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness. After work on Friday I made the longer than anticipated drive to the Lake Charles TH which is accessed from the town of Eagle. I'm not at all familiar with this area, and made a few wrong turns before finding my way there.
I started hiking up the fairly gentle Lake Charles Trail by headlamp just after 5am. This trail seemed especially kinky, winding its way around many obstacles, large and small. Huge slabs of rock were poking out of the ground in many areas. Some sections that were closest to the creek were very muddy and it was impossible to stay clean – in the worst spot I didn't really have an option but to trudge through the nasty black mud. There was lumber and hoisting equipment here, but not much work had been done yet.
A few miles up the trail I started to get glimpses of the high peaks through the trees and they looked exciting – definitely more Gore-like than Sawatch-like. The ridges looked rugged and inviting. My first objective was to get up into Negro Basin which is southwest of Gold Dust Peak. With all of the cliffy, slabby terrain I saw around me, I worried that I'd run into difficulties when I had to leave the trail. I stayed on it for as long as possible and never saw a particularly inviting exit point. Finally around 11,000 ft I left the trail and headed northeast up the right hand side of the Negro Basin drainage. Wet vegetation quickly made for wet feet. The bushwhack was fairly easy though – a lot easier than it had looked from the trail. I ended up scrambling a little bit on the slabby rock along the way, but that could have been avoided if I would have stayed down closer to the creek. My Subway dinner the night before had left much to be desired and I found by 7am that I was already starving. A break for some Raisinets (and my Penicillin) was in order.
After my break I soon popped above treeline near the top of the drainage and hiked across the gentle Negro Basin to the southwest slopes of Gold Dust. I was surprised to see some campers in this little basin, and I think they were equally surprised to see me. They stood outside staring in my direction as I continued my ascent. The southwest slopes of Gold Dust started out with a grass, talus, dirt and scree mix and became solely talus higher up. It was an easy but fairly steep climb to the summit. I think I arrived at 9am or so and enjoyed a Snickers and some awesome views. New York Peak, a 12er to the northwest, looked particularly nice towering above New York Lake. I'll have to go back for that one someday. "North Gold Dust" looked pretty cool too. I wondered whether the ridge between it and Gold Dust would go, but this wasn't the day for that.
The connecting ridge between Gold Dust and "Pika Peak" looked a little intimidating, especially on the Pika side. If I had known nothing about it, I don't think I would have attempted it solo. But Gary Neben wrote a great TR about the traverse, speaking of fun route-finding and scrambling. He claimed that it was probably 3rd class with possibly one or two 4th class moves. Sounds like fun!
I set out on the traverse around 9:15. I don't remember any real difficulties on the Gold Dust side. This section was class 2+/3 and I stayed on the ridge the whole time. The views of the lakes on the east side of the ridge were spectacular. As I neared the saddle I started to become concerned with the large, gnarly looking towers I was approaching. I didn't remember the details of Gary's TR, but I took one look at the first tower and decided against it. I skirted around the east side and climbed back up to the ridge on some loose talus and scree. There I was confronted by a second tower. OK, OK enough of this skirting around crap, I decided to try to go over it. It didn't look quite as bad as the first one. It went but I'd definitely rate both the upclimb and downclimb as 4th class. The downclimb was a little tricky, and at this point I was thinking "Why the hell didn't I tell anybody where I was going? What a moron!".
After the towers the rest of the ridge was nothing but pure scrambling fun. The 3rd class scrambling was very sustained, fairly steep in sections, and at some points slightly exposed. The rock was mostly solid, a welcome change from my recent San Juan and Elk scrambles. However, don't get careless about checking holds here because there were several loose "big ones". A smaller one came loose and fell on my big toe. It hurt pretty badly, but there weren't any lasting ill effects.
The skies were getting dark early and it looked like it would be raining before too long. I topped out on Pika at 10:45 and barely paused at the summit. UN 12,940 looked very close and easy so I continued on along the talus ridge. I was surprised to see two hikers nearing the top of Pika (coming from the lake), but didn't have time to stick around and chat. I decided that if it started raining or if I heard thunder I'd descend to Mystic Island Lake from the Pika – UN 12,940 saddle. If the weather held I'd make a quick trip up UN 12,940 before descending the same way. Fortunately the weather held nicely and it was an easy talus climb to the summit. I arrived at 11:30, snapped some pictures, and took a little break. The only other person who had signed the register this year was Dan Bereck the week before. As I prepared to leave, I wanted to take a few more pictures. I turned on my camera and the LCD screen displayed nothing – no image, no menus, nothing. I continued to take pictures, hoping that it was just the display, but when I got home I found out that the entire camera is screwed. I have no idea what happened.
I descended back to the Pika – UN 12,940 saddle and headed west toward Mystic Island Lake and Lake Charles. The route I chose was some grass, some talus, and a nasty rocky gully. It didn't seem to take too long and I soon found myself back on the trail between Mystic Island Lake and Lake Charles. Fools Peak, a high 12er southwest of Mystic Island lake, looked very cool. I definitely have to come back to climb that one someday too. Unfortunately I have no pictures of it.
There were a ton of backpackers near Lake Charles – it was a small tent city really. Fishing seems to be pretty popular here as well. A lot of the trail through here was very muddy. As I was negotiating one particularly nasty section, I spooked a dog who was walking up the trail. He started growling which in turn spooked me and I stomped right in the mud I was trying to avoid. It came up over my shoe and got all over my sock. Yuck! The rest of the trip was uneventful. At least they had done some work on the nasty section of the trail down low while I had been hiking and I didn't have to get any muddier. I returned to the jam packed TH at 2:45 and took a snooze before departing.
There was a sign near the TH pointing to Fulford cave. A lot of people were coming from that trail and many of them were muddy and smiling. A few of them had a rope. I later looked on the internet and realized that this cave is pretty famous. It is huge and people are free to explore it. Its possible to explore a lot of it without any special equipment. It looks like fun – I might have to go back there and check it out sometime.