The North Face of Lone Eagle Peak (11,940)
is probably the best route on one of Colorado's most dramatic summits. Five minutes on the summit of this peak is more than worth the 8 mile hike and 3,800 feet of elevation gain (if starting from Monarch Lake TH).
This route was established by Joe and Paul Stettner (The Stettner Brothers) in August of 1933. The route can be scouted fairly well from Mirror Lake, and if you have the time, I recommend doing so. There is some loose rock on the route (as you will find on almost all alpine routes) but almost all the holds you have to pull on are very solid.
Climbing the North face is a fantastic experience, with amazing views all the way from the trailhead to the vertigo-educing summit. Routefinding can be difficult on this route, so be ready for some classic adventure climbing!
This peak can be accessed from either Monarch Lake Trailhead (west of the divide), or Long Lake Trailhead (east of the divide). I strongly recommend reading the Solo Flight approach section
by Dave Hodge on how to get there from each of these trailheads.
Expect an 8 or 9 mile hike in to Crater Lake, depending which trailhead you use (8 for Monarch, 9 for Long Lake).
Once you reach Mirror Lake, hike along the West side of the lake until you find a trail that breaks left North of Crater lake (this will initially lead up toward some camping sites). Eventually leave the trail and trend a bit southeast through an open meadow until you hit the talus field below the face. Hike up a faint switchback on the grass just North of the talus field (worn steps in grass). Continue up, following cairns back into the talus to its highest point. Look for prominent, black water streaks coming down a depression in the wall (may be wet) that lead up to a group of big trees - this is your first pitch. There is also a piton that can be seen from the ground on pitch one.
Low traffic on this route leaves the trail very faint, and bushwhacking at times is part of the gig, so enjoy it!
The distances and grades of these pitches are estimates. If one were to pitch this out in its entirety it totals 11 pitches.
Climb up the waterstreaked (or wet) face, shooting for the trees above. Careful routefinding will keep this pitch checked in at 5.4. There is a piton on this pitch down low. (120' 5.4)
Pitch 2, 3, and 4:
Head left on the huge ramp that cuts through the north face (this ledge is visible from Mirror Lake). The vast majority of the climbing on these pitches is class 3, though at times has great exposure. There are brief sections of 5th class rock on this long section, so don't take it lightly. Also, be prepared to negotiate numerous trees on this ramp (over, under, and through). The ramp terminates at a large grassy ledge, surrounded by loose looking sections of rock. It seems logical to simulclimb this section. (400' 5.3)
Once at the terminus of the ramp, climb loose looking rock up and left to the base of a deep, water streaked chimney - tread lightly here! (100' 5.4).
The chimney pitch (pitch 6).Pitch 6:
Climb up the deep chimney of good rock. This section can be difficult with a pack on. Continue up until the chimney reaches a very large grassy ledge - you'll find ample protection along the way. (150' 5.6)
Ascend the obvious weakness straight ahead, up long grassy slopes interrupted by brief sections of technical rock. Rock walls on either side will keep you on route. To climb all of this in one rope length is impossible, so either simulclimb a bit, or combine part of this pitch into the next one, or pitch it out as 2 pitches. (300' mostly class 3, brief 5.2).
The last step of rock up this enormous gully is the most difficult. It seemed logical to climb straight up the middle of this, and then (if only for aesthetic appeal) climb right to the ridge and look over the edge! Exposure! (100' 5.4) You have now gained the huge ledge which is visible from Crater Lake.
Walk along the ridge and up toward the main headwall. If you stick to the ridge, it will deposit you about 50 feet to the left of the crux 10th pitch. Again, be mindful of loose rock on this section. (150' 4th)
Becky finishing up the last pitch!Pitch 10:
This is reportedly the easiest way up the headwall, so I wouldn't try to dance around it. Look for two cracks running relatively parallel to one another, with bulbous protrusions of rock occasionally jutting out between them (about 50' West (right) of the northwest ridge). While climbing this pitch, you will encounter either 3 or 4 pitons along the way (4 if you finish to the left, 3 if you finish to the right). This pitch eats up protection - I remember lots of 1" and 2" cracks, and several possible nut placements.
It would be wise to move the belayer so he/she is not directly below you as you climb this pitch. I encountered a microwave size loose block that had me nervous.
The climbing, exposure, and position of this pitch are AMAZING!! Take a moment to enjoy where you are while climbing this fine section of rock. After you've climbed the 10th pitch, move the belay over to the climber's left, back on the North Face.
While the climbing is not as classic as the last pitch, it is a contender for best pitch of the climb for its amazing position. Start by climbing the prominent chimney that trends left (East). Either follow this chimney up to the East face, or find a weakness back to the North face and finish on the northeast arete (original line). I challenge anyone to hold back a smile on the final section of easy 5th class climbing to the summit block. (5.4, 180')
Instead of climbing the long ramp (pitches 2-4), go straight up after pitch 1 and slightly left for a few pitches to reach a large ledge with many trees on it. Traverse this ledge left over to rejoin the route at the top of the 5.6 chimney pitch. (400' 5.5)
Triangle Lake. This picture shows the approximate descent path (the final technical section of Solo Flight). Please make note of the comments for this photo!
The recommended descent is to downclimb the Solo Flight route. In order to gain the 3rd class section of solo flight, you must reverse the most technical part of that route, just below the summit block. The climbing on this section is exposed and an un-roped slip could be fatal. Take precautions for the safety of you and those in your party, if in doubt - just rope up!
From the summit, look straight South to some intimidating, castle-like gendarmes that make a gunsight on the ridge above you. This is the top of the East ridge and your gateway off the mountain. Climb down 4th class rock to a grassy sidewalk-size ledge that leads straight south. Carefully walk over on this, but not all the way to the loose gullies. At some point on the sidewalk traverse you need to climb back up (3rd and 4th) to the ridge, then traverse around and through the castle gendarmes, and viola! You should see cairns and a weak trail leading back down the East side of the mountain, just South of the sharp East ridge.
Once here follow a faint trail down toward Triangle Lake. Turn left down the talus field before you hit the lake, and then walk back to Mirror Lake either down in the awesome meadow (which may not be so awesome in the spring and early summer), or through the forest.
The descent meadow.
Take what you need. Many have soloed this route, so even taking a rope is not considered "essential." For this line specifically, I would recommend taking whatever you will need for a 150' 5.7 pitch with 4 pitons. A light alpine rack allowed us to simulclimb from the base of the wall through pitch 9.
Personally, I carried a handful of cams up to 2 inches, a set of nuts, about 8 runners, a 60 meter line, and definitely a helmet. How much gear you take depends on how much simulclimbing you plan on doing (if any), how comfortable you are running it out on easy terrain, and how much pro you would like for the 5.7 crux pitch.
>>SIMULCLIMBING IS DANGEROUS<<
Only attempt to simul if you are fully aware of the consequences of a fall. If you aren't, then read this.
Red Tape - Camping
The only thing I can add to Foxy Long Bottom's overview of the area is that if you are going to camp, you do not need to purchase the per day pass for Arapahoe Bay area. If camping, ignore this initial fee station and drive through to the ranger station at the Monarch Lake Trailhead, purchase your camping permit here, and this has you good for those 2 days (or more). If not camping, buy the pass.