Peak(s):  "Cherokee" - 12,130 feet
Thunderbolt Peak - 11,938 feet
"Blackfoot" - 12,113 feet
Date Posted:  09/02/2011
Modified:  09/03/2011
Date Climbed:   08/05/2011
Author:  Derek
Additional Members:   Claybird, kimo
 Three Days in the Indian Peaks  

Indian Peaks Wilderness

August 5th-7th, 2011
Monarch Lake Trailhead
25.5 Miles (Estimate)
8,000' Elevation (Estimate)

Most people who spend a good amount of time in the mountains tend to have a specific area that they truly appreciate. It is an area that we spend hours pondering routes, scanning maps and pouring over photos from previous adventures. For myself, there is little doubt that this area is the Lost Creek Wilderness. However, from hiking with Kimo, I have learned that his area is the Indian Peaks Wilderness. So when he made the suggestion for a scramble up "Cherokee Peak" in the Lone Eagle Cirque, I accepted without much thought. I knew if he was excited about it, it HAD to be good. Clay was eager as well, so our group of three was set.

August 5th - Approach to Crater Lake
8.5 miles, 2,100' elevation

Clay and I took off from Denver late on Friday morning and made the drive over Berthoud Pass to the Monarch Lake Trailhead in a couple hours. Kimo had planned to start up towards Crater Lake earlier in the day, so we decided to just meet at camp. Clay and I started up the trail for only 1 or 2 minutes before we were flagged down by a ranger asking to see our permit. After a couple minutes of explaining that our partner had the permit and had already started up to the lake, she wished us well and we continued on. We also learned from the ranger that Kimo had left the trailhead just an hour or so ahead of us. Clay and I hoped that a mixture of Kimo's photo taking and us keeping a brisk pace would allow us to catch up with him along the way.

Mellow intro to the Cascade Trail.

Waterfalls along the Cascade Trail.

...and more waterfalls.

Kimo with a portion of the next days route on "Cherokee" on the top right.

The first few miles flew by with the extremely moderate Cascade Trail. We passed a hundred or so (not joking) girls on their way down from a day trip to Crater Lake, but after a couple miles the trail was quiet. We ended up catching Kimo near the first large waterfall along the Cascade Trail. After taking a quick break and refilling water, the three of us finished the last few miles together to the lake. Going into this trip, Kimo had his eye on a couple specific camp sites around Mirror Lake that he had used before that provided nice views. Unfortunately, we arrived a bit too late to get any of those sites. After circling both lakes and passing by all the campsites available, we finally settled by choosing site 11 just above Crater Lake. This actually worked out nicely, as there were plenty of rocky slabs for sorting gear. It was also only a few hundred feet from an old cabin that we would use as a starting point for our ascent the next morning. After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, we all headed to bed.

First views of Lone Eagle from the hike in.

Clay checking out the views from camp. Lone Eagle in the background.

Nighttime glow on the surrounding peaks from camp.

August 6th - "Cherokee Peak" and Lone Eagle Exploration
7 miles, 3,100' elevation

The next morning we were up and around by 6:15. Even though "Cherokee" was resting directly over our heads from camp, we wanted an early start to give ample time for any route finding difficulties we might encounter. From camp, we headed over to just above the cabin indicated in Roach's book and headed straight up. (Cabin Coordinates: N40 04 40.7 W105 39 49.2) The grass was a bit wet and incline was steep, but we were able to make it past the thicker trees and onto a boiler plate/ledge area after about 20 minutes. Once above the thicker trees, we could see the prominent notch between "Cherokee" and Pt. 11602 that we were aiming for. We searched around for the best route, and we often split up and found our own ways through the interesting mixture of grassy and rock ledges. Most of the area to the notch can be kept at class 2, although we were forced to make occasional class three moves. As we approached the notch, we could start to make out the large ramp that we needed to access the saddle. The ramp ascended from left to right, and a good indicator for anyone following this route is to aim straight for a tall, dead tree that marks the entrance to the ramp. You can see this tree from quite a ways below, and it's the only tall one in the area. (Tree coordinates: N40 04 55.6 W105 40 03.9) The ascent of the ramp was quick and we were soon on the saddle. From the saddle, it was a short 5 minute hike over to the airy perch of Pt. 11602 to preview our route to Cherokee.

Looking up at "Cherokee" from camp.

Clay making his way through the trees towards "Cherokee".

Lone Eagle, Iroquois and Hopi from the lower slopes of "Cherokee".

Derek and Kimo making their way up. Photo by Clay

Example of the boiler plate slabs on the way to the saddle.

Clay and Kimo taking in the views.

Views towards Lone Eagle and Crater Lake, the dead tree is behind Derek and Kimo. Photo by Clay

On the ramp to the saddle. Notice the tall dead tree at the base.

When previewing the route from Pt. 11602, we were a bit confused by the directions we had read that stated we needed to find the distinct gully and stick to the left. We assumed that the gully being referred to was the one holding snow, but there also seemed to be an even wider (but shallower) gully a few hundred feet beyond it. We decided that we would just go straight towards the first gully (with snow) and see what it looked like. We started off descending around a decent sized snowfield. This part was on loose talus, but it was quick and we were soon headed towards the first gully. Along the way, we got to thinking that straight up didn't look all that bad. So up we went, ascending past sections of grass ledges and rock sections. Some chunks of the area was difficult class 3, but nothing too tough and it was quite fun. From the talus area near the snowfield to the summit of "Cherokee" was around 700 feet, and it seemed to go by quickly. I had read that the true summit involved a short catwalk, so I was expecting to see that when we arrived at the summit. What I wasn't expecting the precarious stance of the summit boulder! It didn't seem to be held on by too much, and I could see daylight through the bottom crack where it met the ground below. Needless to say, we didn't spend any "extra" time on top. The weather was still beautiful and we really didn't have any plans for the rest of the day, so we spent some extra time relaxing in a nice area just below the summit. The views were outstanding, and the angle of Lone Eagle from the summit was mesmerizing. After we finally decided to head down, we followed our ascent route back to Crater Lake. We were able to see better options for descending the boiler plate section on the way down, so we detoured at some points.

"Cherokee" from Pt. 11602.

Baby ptarmigans.

Kimo ascending with Thunderbolt in the near background and the Watanga group in the far background.

Derek and Kimo looking for the best route up. Photo by Clay

Clay ascending. A good example of the terrain that is past the saddle on "Cherokee". Photo by Kimo

Example of the steepness near the summit of "Cherokee". Photo by Kimo

Kimo on the summit of "Cherokee", Hopi and Achonee in the background.

Clay making his way up to the true summit.

Derek coming off the summit. Photo by Clay

Kimo enjoying the view.

View of our route up "Cherokee" from the saddle. Photo taken the next day from "Blackfoot".

Back at camp, we rested and ate lunch but were still anxious for something to do because of the early hour and the nice weather. We decided to scope out the lower section of the Lone Eagle "Solo Flight" route. This was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and the slopes below Lone Eagle provided some great views. We checked out the sights of Triangle Lake and the surrounding areas before calling it a day. We talked to 2 groups descending from Lone Eagle, both had turned back at the crux downclimb.

Headed up around the base of Lone Eagle.

Grassy slopes on the way to Triangle Lake below Lone Eagle.

The Lone Eagle Cirque. One of my new favorite places in Colorado.

After getting back to camp and having dinner, we hit the hay with plans to get up and pack down for an attempt on Thunderbolt and "Blackfoot" peaks. I decided to sleep sans tent and just threw my sleeping bag out on a boilerplate rock. Clear skies and bright stars made for an enjoyable night.

August 7th - Thunderbolt Peak and "Blackfoot"
10 miles, 2,800' elevation

The next morning, Clay and I packed up our overnight packs (Kimo was planning to stay another night) and all three of us headed back down the Crater Lake trail to the Cascade Trail. This had been my first trip to the Crater Lake area, and I was sad to have to leave. I know I'll be back though. From the Crater Lake trail, we followed the Cascade trail a mile or so back towards the direction of the trailhead until we came on a good looking spot to ascend Thunderbolt Peak. We stashed our overnight packs and grabbed our day packs, then headed straight up the ridge of Thunderbolt. The terrain is easy, but the 2400 feet of gain in less than a mile really puts a burn on the legs. The first few hundred feet are all within the trees. After leaving the trees, the terrain is nice and grassy, however the slope does not relent. All three of us separated from each other on the way up and reached the summit individually. At the rate we were gasping for air to make it up the slope, the chit chat was minimal anyways. There was a bit of loose talus a few hundred feet below the summit, but really there were no troubles. We took a nice long break on Thunderbolt (weather forecast was 0% for often does that happen?!) and finally headed out for "Blackfoot" about a mile away.

Thunderbolt from the Cascade Trail. Doesn't look so bad....

Steep. For reference, we left the trail near the snaking creek down below.

On the summit of Thunderbolt, looking across to "Blackfoot". In the distance from L to R: Audubon, Paiute, Toll, and Pawnee.

The easy rolling grass on the way to Blackfoot was a welcome relief, and the views of Thunderbolt when looking back were surprisingly rugged. We hit the summit of "Blackfoot" without issue, and enjoyed without a doubt the best views of the weekend. The entire Lone Eagle Cirque was spread out in front of us, and almost everything was visible. Absolutely fantastic, and highly recommended. A piece of advice however: return the same gully as you ascended Thunderbolt Peak. We decided to descend the "Blackfoot" gully back to our packs, and the steepness was even WORSE. It took us almost as long to get down as it had taken us to ascend and was absolutely brutal. And thats coming from someone who enjoys a good descent.

Looking back at Thunderbolt from the trek over to "Blackfoot".

Kimo taking some photo opportunities from the summit of "Blackfoot".

Lone Eagle and Iroquois from the summit of "Blackfoot".

Descent path back to our packs that we would come to regret.

We made it back to our packs along the Cascade Trail a bit tired, but unscathed. Clay and I refilled water and said our goodbyes to Kimo. The trip back to the Monarch Trailhead was cruise control for Clay and I, so much so that we even added an extra mile by chatting away and missing our turn. Oops.
Regardless, it was another fantastic time in the IPW.

Final track of the weekend, minus our excursion around Lone Eagle.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions

Western IPW
09/03/2011 12:21
An area I haven't explored yet... I think this should go on the docket soon!


09/03/2011 13:20
Great photos and write-up, Derek!


09/03/2011 17:22
Derek, I like the layout of the TR, the use of bold font for captions, and especially the style and dimensions of the header photo. A pioneering effort in The Art of the Trip Report!

Cool route, too.


Beautiful report, Derek!
09/03/2011 20:57
You obviously put a lot of time creating this report! Fantastic job! Gorgeous photos! Thanks for posting it!


Nice report.
09/04/2011 13:44
Looks like a great outing. It really makes me want to squeeze in another trip to the Lone Eagle Cirque before it gets too cold.

Steve Knapp

Looks exciting!
09/06/2011 04:35
Well done. The Indian Peaks are great. Your report will be useful when I get around to these. Thanks!


2 We Missed
09/06/2011 15:59
Thunderbolt would have lived up to its name had we wandered over there and I'll have to go back for Cherokee. We saw your names on Blackfoot's register. Great area, horrible descent off of Black/Thunder though.


Solid on all fronts.
09/06/2011 16:26
Great TR, Derek. Route beta, camraderie, good photos of a gorgeous place. If only the 100 girls were heading up the trail...


A celebration...
09/08/2011 14:37
...of the tremendous beauty and unabashed fun that is mountaineering. As you know this is one of my favorite mountain regions, at the top of the beauty scale. I often find it hard to capture the very best places in words and photos. But here you have done the area justice, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate it than to share the experience through terrific photos and story like you have done. Thanks for writing it up - this was one of the highlights of my summer, and one I won't soon forget. I appreciate the partnership with both you and Clay. And I look forward to many more...

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