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Sean Lovett

An Alpine Adventure in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado

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My dog Mac begins to stir and stretch next to me in the back of my 2006 Honda Element. It’s just a few moments before 6 am when my alarm will go off, however, I have already been awake for about an hour, unable to sleep due to sheer excitement. I roll over and give him some pets and start the process of getting myself out of my sleeping bag, into approach shoes, and out the doors to get to my MSR stove and instant coffee from under my bed platform. As soon as I stepped out, my friends emerged from their Sprinter van bright eyed and ready for the 7.5-mile trek to Crater Lake and our campsite at the base of Lone Eagle Peak, our objective for this trip. We aim to climb the 11 pitch alpine route that tops out at the very tip of the magnificent cone shaped peak. Spirits are high as we finish coffee and divide up the climbing gear. I attached Mac’s saddle bags containing his food for the 3-day mission and some water for the trail. We said goodbye to our homes from the previous night and started on our way.

The trail that leads to Lone Eagle Peak involves about 4000 ft. of elevation gain which starts about 3 miles in, so we stopped for a break next to a massive waterfall before we began the hard part. The spray felt amazing in the raging June sun. I took Mac’s pack off so he could splash around in a nearby pool. We all take a moment to take in the sheer beauty surrounding us as we finish off a few protein bars. Then, we hoist our heavy packs back on and set out for our camp site – just 4 more miles to go.  

After a few more miles, we finally see Lone Eagle pop up in the horizon. It looks so close but we are still just over a mile and a half away.

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Upon arriving at our camp where we will live for the next nights, we all groan as we pull our heavy packs off and start scouting for flat ground to stake our tents. I can’t help but stare in awe of the objective for the next morning. The peak is a lot bigger than I had imagined and the excitement begins to change to slight anxiety. “Getting stoked?!” one of my friends shouts as they catch me ogling the massive line. “Heck yeah!!” I reply followed by a nervous laugh under my breath. I get mine and Mac’s tent set up, we all sit in a circle eating our camp meals and decide that a 4 am start makes the most sense. As the sun sets, we crawl into our tents to try and get some shuteye before the big day.

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We are climbing in two parties of two, my partner and I start up pitch 1 first. The climbing is 4th class with some low 5th class moves so we make quick work of the first 6 pitches. Pitch 7 is to be the first with real climbing. It follows a short chimney to a flared crack for about 60 feet. Once we reach where Pitch 8 is supposed to begin, we are at a loss as the terrain does not match the description in the guidebook. We can see the start of the 9th pitch above and decide to forge our way up a short but steep hand crack that leads to the base of the pitch. This proves to be a bit harder than we estimate, however, we arrive at the base of Pitch 9 where we can see the error we had made when searching for Pitch 8. Pitch 9 is a 4th class scramble, and we make quick time of its ascent. The last two pitches of this route, “the Money Pitches”, 10 and 11 are the hardest and most classically amazing pitches of the route. As my partner and I wait for our friends in the other party to meet us at Pitch 10, we notice some bad weather quickly approaching from the south. By the time the other party arrives, the weather is almost upon us. We are fully exposed with no chance of shelter from the coming storm. We decided to go down. Then the real adventure begins now.

The guidebook is of little help finding the rappel stations located somewhere along the sloping gully below with a sheer cliff about 100 yards downhill from our location. We split up to search the cliffs edge for the supposed rappel stations for about 30 minutes as hail starts to fall and the wind picks up. We finally find the rappel station (a sling with a locking carabiner tied around a rock). Our relief is met with worry as the sling that we are meant to trust with our lives is very old and tattered. We must chance it and begin our decent to the couloir below.

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Now, with the 3 rappels completed safely, we each find a sharp fist sized rock and begin to glissade down the couloir, all the while hooting and hollering with pure joy and relief that we have made it down in one piece. 

What a true adventure indeed. Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. And when climbing mountains, the glory isn’t in getting to the top, it’s in getting home.

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