13,823 Feet (95th Highest in Colorado)
South Slopes from the Upper Lake Creek Trailhead
Trailhead Elevation 10,360 Feet
3.4 Miles Roundtrip
3,463 Feet Elevation Gained
July 11th, 2010
The Lackawanna Legburner
Fall Line: the straightest and steepest line down any slope. One you'll likely take if you fall. Of the several possible routes on "Lackawanna Peak," Gerry Roach recommends the South Slopes for those who "like to attack the fall line." It is indeed the most direct route, and it avoids the long approaches that I have come to associate with peaks in the Sawatch Range. It would be difficult to exaggerate the steepness of the route; the 2,037 feet of elevation gained per mile hiked is about twice the typical rate for a thirteener or fourteener. There's something to be said for a route that avoids the formalities and allows the hiker to get to work immediately. I had observed the weather forecasts carefully for several days, and knew that I would have a narrow window of opportunity to get up and down the mountain. A short-but-sweet route was perfect for a day like this.
Looking towards "Lackawanna Peak" from the Upper Lake Creek Trailhead on CO82
GPS track of the South Slopes Route on "Lackawanna Peak"
There are two possible "trailheads" for the South Slopes Route; "trailhead" may be a misnomer, since there is no trail. The Upper Lake Creek trailhead is supposed to be on CO82 15.6 miles from its junction with CO24. There are two pullouts along the road that are less than a tenth of a mile apart; either pullout would be a fine place to start. I just looked for the ridge and plotted my course.
Elephant Heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) growing in a moist area beside the Upper Lake Creek trailhead
As soon as I stepped out of my car, I noticed some Elephant Heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) growing in a moist area beside the pullout. Each individual flower bears a striking resemblance to an elephant's head, with a long trunk and flapping ears. In spite of its specific epithet, the plant is not actually found in Greenland.
Aspen labyrinth on the lower slopes
I started out in a moist meadow that gradually gave way to willows. There were game trails through the willows, so navigation was not a problem. Beyond the edge of the meadow was a tightly-spaced grove of young aspens. I found that aspen-bashing can be just as frustrating as willow-bashing.
Mixed Aspen/Bristlecone Pine forest on the lower ridge
The forest opened up a bit as the ridge got steeper. The forest was mostly composed of Aspen and Bristlecone Pines, none of which appeared to be very old. Having to hike over, under, and around fallen timber reminded me of some hikes in the Lost Creek Wilderness.
Following a game trail up the ridge
I made good use of game trails on the ridge. Most of the trail segments were short, but they always seemed to follow the most logical course. Judging by the scat that I found on the ridge, these game trails were mostly used by elk and mountain goats.
The talus field at treeline
The steepest part of the route was probably in the forest just below treeline. There was a large talus field just above treeline. The talus was generally pretty stable, but I stayed on the larger rocks just to be safe. A snapped ankle would have been more than a mere nuisance on a solo hike in an area that might not have another hiker for several days.
Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) growing in the talus field
The diversity of the wildflowers below treeline was uninspiring, but things really came to life up above. Among the first to greet me was our state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine. The plant's common named is derived from the Latin Columba, which means "dove." To some with imaginations better than my own, the white petals resemble a flying dove.
Rock outcropping on the south ridge of "Lackawanna Peak." The false summit is also visible in the background of this image.
Looking back on my route from the outcropping
Above the talus field was the rock tower, which was visible from the trailhead. It looked like a tower from the south, but was level with the ridge on the north side. It offered a good vantage point from which I could see the entire ridge below me.
On the ridge above the outcropping
Things above the outcropping looked very promising. The slope eased up a bit, and the talus-hopping was over for the time being. The weather was holding up well; there were only a few wispy clouds in the sky, and no thunder.
Looking at the false summit from a flat spot on the ridge
I got my first good look at the false summit when I reached a flat spot on the ridge. It was reassuring to see that the worst part of the hike was behind me. There was nothing intimidating about the talus and tundra that stretched out before me.
Talus on the false summit
A sea of large talus blocks covered the false summit. I have an aversion to being pinned by 600-pound boulders, so I took great care in selecting my route.
Looking towards the true summit from the false summit
A closer look at the summit block on "Lackawanna Peak"
I was unable to see the true summit until I reached the top of the false summit. The true summit was just a pile of talus at the terminus of a long ridge. It was only about 70 feet higher than the false summit, and the summits were only about 300 yards apart.
On the summit of "Lackawanna Peak"
The summit was actually very nice. I had clear skies, little wind, and the views were interesting. Hayden Gulch is a beautiful green spot to the east that I had never even heard of. Mt. Elbert was just beyond Hayden Gulch.
Mt. Elbert in the distance beyond Hayden Gulch
Centennial thirteener Casco Peak rose above the head of Hayden Gulch; its partners Frasco Benchmark and French Mountain were just behind it. Mt. Massive loomed over the French Mountain group in the distance.
(Front to back) Casco Peak, Frasco Benchmark, French Mountain, and Mt. Massive
La Plata Peak is just south of "Lackawanna." The Ellingwood Ridge looked impressive, and hardly as dangerous as its reputation. Looks can be deceiving.
La Plata Peak viewed from "Lackawanna Peak"
I took a few minutes on the summit to catch my breath and enjoy the views. Not everybody appreciates the Sawatch Range as much as I do, and I can understand why. Regardless, I thought that this summit was a wild, beautiful spot. As I looked down my descent route, I was impressed by how much elevation I had gained in such a short horizontal distance.
Looking down the descent route from the false summit
I had achieved my goal of reaching the summit before the thunder started, so I took time to enjoy the scenery on the way back down. The tundra was as colorful as any that I have seen
Sky Pilots (Polemonium viscosum) growing on the south ridge of "Lackawanna"
Another interesting alpine wildflower is Parry's Penstemon. It was named for botanist Charles Christopher Parry, who had a number of recorded and unrecorded first ascents in Colorado in the 1860's.
Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) with a bright yellow lichen in the background
As I ducked back down below treeline, I found myself back in the Bristlecone Pine forest. These were healthy young trees, unlike the gnarled and twisted specimens found on Mt. Goliath and Mt. Bross. Dodging rocks, deadfall, stumps, and trees on the mountain's steepest terrain was tedious, but it was short in duration.
In the Bristlecone Pine forest
While I was still in the forest, I noticed a plant that seemed out of place. King's Crown (Rhodiola integrifolia) is known as a wetlands indicator plant. I found a patch of them growing out of a crack in a rock that was nowhere near water. To paraphrase Dr. Malcolm from "Jurassic Park," life finds a way. This plant has a Siberian cousin that has a variety of medicinal uses. It can allegedly be used to improve physical endurance and to treat depression.
King's Crown (Rhodiola integrifolia) growing out of a crack in a rock on "Lackawanna Peak"
When I got back to the car at about 11:30, the sky was still blue. However, the weather was behaving exactly as predicted. I could hear thunder in the distance, and the first raindrops started to hit the windshield before I could get back to Twin Lakes. I thoroughly enjoyed this wild, wonderful hike. The steep route gave the most physical challenge that I could expect out of such a short trip.
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