Eagles Nest to Powell Traverse: Will It Ever End?

Eagles Nest to Powell Traverse: Will It Ever End?

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 18, 2010
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer


Eagles Nest (13420')
Mt Powell (13580')
15.3 miles, 6600' gain
Eagles Nest Wilderness
Gore Range
Sept 18, 2010

Participants: Dominic, Sarah, & Kevin


Sarah is running out of new 13ers in the Gores and lonely Eagles Nest was one of them. She suggests the Eagles Nest to Powell traverse. I still need both, so I'm in! This is a pretty uncommon traverse because it pretty much requires a long car shuttle of some 70 miles. We also have very little beta on the ridge, but we see from Dave Cooper's report that the gnarliest terrain can be avoided. We decide to do it as a dayhike, which we know will be an extra long day. Little did we know how long it would be!

We meet on Friday night at the Piney Lake trailhead on the south end as we will do the hike from north to south. The road to Piney Lake is pretty mellow, although it is filled with potholes making the going slow. We drive all the way back to Silverthorne, then north on Highway 9 to our turnoff for the Surprise trailhead. I pitch my tent right in the parking lot (shhh, don't tell) and we get a few hours of sleep.

Eagles Nest

We set out at 5:15am under a moonlit sky and it feels pretty comfortable. The trail is pretty gentle as it winds up to Surprise Lake. We leave it a bit before Surprise Lake and bushwack southwest then south to treeline. The bushwacking is steep in spots, but not too bad. We break treeline at around 11600' and I get separated a bit from Dominic and Sarah. I ended up getting ahead of them as they waited and led across a hidden bog that deluged our shoes in an instant! We took a break to fuel up and squeeze out our socks.

We finally crested a ridge and saw the long east ridge of Eagles Nest in the distance. Some goats led the way for a bit. This was indeed going to be a long traverse and the ridge to Eagles Nest didn't look exactly trivial.

The first bit was a boulder hop up Point 13089, which has a benchmark on the summit. We then lose about 200 feet and the scrambling begins. From here to the plateau just north of the summit of Powell, it's about 2 miles of sustained scrambling that will take us many hours. I'm already feeling pretty slow and am falling behind. We pretty much stick very close or on the ridge all the way to Eagles Nest. There are a couple loose, tricky downclimbs that I thought was looser than anything else the rest of the day.

The descent of this tower to far right was a bit tricky. Notice the arch!

The ridge eases up as we get closer to the summit, but there's still plenty of scrambling. It takes us over 6 hours just to get to the summit of Eagles Nest, largely because of my slow butt. I'm already feeling pretty beat just getting to Eagles Nest. Well that's because we already knocked out about 5200 vertical just to get one summit! Dominic saves the day with a gu shot and we fuel up for the long traverse to Powell.

Part of the traverse to Powell:

The Never Ending Traverse

The ridge to Powell is about 1.5 miles, but less than half of the traverse is real tricky. How hard could it be? The descent to the saddle goes pretty quick initially, but difficulties begin just before we reach the saddle. I'm not even sure when we hit the saddle, because tower after tower presented itself. Quite a few of these towers were very tall and we tried to stick as close to the ridge as was feasible. The rock was very solid throughout most of the traverse with only a few areas of concern.

How bad can it get?

The most difficult towers are generally skirted on the west side. A 4 pack of towers has us perplexed for awhile, but we find a way around them. I end up taking a bit lower line and Dominic and Sarah decide to simulclimb with a short rope with an occasional belay.

Lots of solid scrambling on the ridge:

We're faced with another tower that must be skirted and drop down about 100 feet. Dominic spots a line that might go with a belay, but it's unknown what is above, so he backs off. I capture his scenic perch with the Corner 12ers behind him.

We end up spotting a cool, grassy chimney/ramp that takes us close to the ridge. We decide to protect a bit of it as it is exposed, low 5th class.

Dominic pulls through the crux:

We exit to the right and enter a world of huge gaps amidst huge walls. It doesn't even seem like we're on a ridge run as it seems like we're in a canyon. Some odd stemming, Karate Kid grunts, and mantel moves are required to move around a chockstone. Fun stuff!

We finally drop down to a notch where it looks like most of the difficulties are done, so we put the rope away. The final obstacles prove to be more challenging than expected, with one exposed descent of a lose ramp that keeps us on our toes. I am really starting to slow down and am pretty much looking for some wide open, grassy tundra at this point.

Tundra, where art thou?

A couple more minor towers are climbed, then a gully finally brings us to the gentle plateau. The last 3/10ths of a mile seem to take forever and the final boulder hop proves to be very annoying when tired. It takes us a but over 4 hours to do the traverse! After the fact, Dominic and Sarah tell me that it is harder than Little Bear to Blanca, although it's probably not quite as exposed. I also thought it was harder than the Partner traverse, although there are probably more bailout options by staying lower.

It's getting late in the afternoon and we're dreaming of a nice meal in Silverthorne, but it's a long road back to my truck. We take the standard south slopes route down to Kneeknocker Pass, which is a loose mess of talus and scree. The reclimb back to the pass is short but painful. Peak C towers over the pass. I'll be back for it!

From there, we slip-n-slide down the scree until we hit a decent climber's trail that becomes stronger as we descend. It becomes harder to follow as we drop into the trees, but only at a few spots. It would be a horrible bushwack to lose this trail, so pay attention! Darkness falls pretty quick, but it's almost a full moon, so Sarah and I go sans headlamps. Luckily, the trail is very nice and there is very little tripping. The lake seems to never get closer. We finally get back to the truck at 8:45, a 15.5 hour day! As we head down the road, we realize all of our wallets are in Sarah's truck! We make the shuttle back to our car and get back to Silverthorne in time before Wendy's closes. I down a double bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a Frosty, which replenishes about 1/3rd of the calories lost. What a memorable traverse!


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Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Dec 20, 2010 2:49 am - Voted 10/10

Defiantly tried that and failed...well done

Holy cow! Only 2 weeks before you went, We attempted Eagles nest from the Piney Lake side and headed over Game Pass. We went up the west slopes to the saddle between Eagles nest and Powell and saw how time consuming the south ridge was going to be. After we noted that cumulus clouds were building we bailed on eagles nest and headed back and over kneeknocker pass and when we saw the clouds break up we got Powell. We stared at Eagles Nest and knew we will be back there someday to get it! I know exactly what you're talking about when you say "will it ever end"
Thats a hell of an accomplishment and even better when the storms spared you.

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