The Continental Divide south of the Indian Peaks between James Peak and Jasper Peak is a smooth, ten mile long stretch of ridgeline hovering around 11,500'. There are several unofficial summits in this range. Heartbeat Peak, so named because of its proximity to the heart-shaped Heart Lake, is the southernmost of these unassuming summits. It doesn't look like much on the map, but it will get your heart pumping anyway.
Heartbeat dominates the view north from Heart and Roger's Pass Lakes and forms the steep southern wall of the Iceberg Lakes cirque. Its gentle summit offers panoramic views to the south of the James/Bancroft/Parry massif and to the north, the taller Indian Peaks summits. West lies Winter Park and the Plains can be seen to the east.
Heartbeat Peak (left) catches the last rays of the sun over the frozen Heart Lake from the Rogers Pass trail.
From the East
The most common access point from the east is the popular East Portal Trailhead. Drive 5 miles south from Nederland on CO119 or 21 miles north of US6/Clear Creek Canyon to the town of Rollinsville. Turn west from CO119 on Rollins Pass Road. Drive 8 miles of dirt road crossing the train tracks several times to East Portal. Park in the large, windy, bitterly cold parking area. The trail starts on the other side of the tracks near the tunnel entrance over a bridge.
The South Boulder Creek trail is popular in the winter with snowshoers and skiers and in the summer with hikers. It leads four miles to Heart Lake. Several unmarked side drainages on the northwest side of the valley lead to a series of small lakes on the east side of the Divide.
At one mile, the South Boulder Creek trail reaches a large meadow. A trail branches sharply right and heads up to the Arapaho and Forest Lakes cirques.
At 1.8 miles, a faint trail leads to the Crater Lakes cirque.
At 2.0 miles, the South Boulder Creek trail makes a sharp bend to the south in a marshy area formed from the drainage from Clayton Lake. You can bushwhack up the drainage to reach Clayton and the Iceberg Lakes. This is the approach for the Icebox Express and northeast ridge route on Heartbeat.
At 4 miles, the South Boulder Creek trail forks and comes into a large cirque holding Heart Lake and Rogers Pass Lake. The southeast ridge route leaves the northern side of Heart Lake and climbs an easy ridge directly to the summit. The trail continues in a series of steep switchbacks up a promontory to Rogers Pass and the Divide in another half to one mile.
From the West
The Rollins Pass Road from Winter Park (Corona TH) leaves hikers an easy 2 miles from the summit along the Divide. You can also hike to Rogers Pass from Riflesight Notch, also on the Rollins Pass Road. These hikes are easy, but avoid the steep eastern faces and cirques which give this area of the Front Range much of its charm.
East Ridge: a shorter, steeper trip directly up the ridge to the north of Heart Lake. Alternate start in a coulior on the northwest shore of the lake. Not obvious from the summit in the winter.
Northeast Ridge: the adventurous option includes a bushwhack from the South Boulder Creek Trail and a steep climb up to an easy treeless ridge. Roughly 4 miles each way.
Icebox Express: "moderate" snow climb from the Iceberg Lake cirque. 500' of 45-degree snow slope with a long slide into the lakes topping out directly on the Divide 1/3rd of a mile north of the summit. A cornice may make this route more challenging. Typically in-season mid-May to mid-July (according to Roach).
Continental Divide Trail: hike from trailhead near Corona ruins on Rollins Pass Road about 3.5 miles each way with 1100' of elevation gain (thanks to Scott Patterson).
Rogers Pass Trail: hike 2 miles from Riflesight Notch (Rollins Pass Road) toward Rogers Pass. Cut straight up the slope to summit.
No permits neccessary. Heartbeat Peak and the South Boulder Creek access route are in the James Peak Wilderness, a 14,000 acre wilderness area enacted in 2002. The regulations in brief:
No motorized vehicles
No mountain bikes
Practice Leave-No-Trace ethics.
It is unclear to me whether or not camping is allowed in the James Peak Wilderness or not. If you have information, please let me know.
When To Climb
Heartbeat Peak is a fine summer hike from Heart Lake. Normal hiking gear is sufficient. Be aware of the exposed ridge traverse and Colorado's penchant for sudden, violent thunderstorms.
Winter visitors should be prepared for full winter alpine conditions. The climb from Heart Lake is steep and icy. Crampons and/or snowshoes are definitely required. Some climbers may find an ice axe useful as well. The Icebox Express Couloir on the northeast side of the peak is in good condition mid-May to mid-July and often features a nasty cornice at the top.
There are no established campsites in the James Peak Wilderness, however, camping and fires are allowed.
Heartbeat Peak is a high alpine summit and the conditions above tree line are often not correlated with the conditions at the trail head. Heartbeat is visible from East Portal (9000') where you can preview conditions.