Monday, June 11, 2012

The Most Beautiful Place In Colorado - Lone Eagle Cirque

One of the most valuable basic writing skills is the ability to immediately capture the attention of the reader. I am about to demonstrate one very effective way to accomplish this.

Do I have your attention? Good. Now, let's talk about the title of this post. I fully realize that proclaiming "The Most Beautiful Place In Colorado" is a very bold statement on what truly comes down to subjective opinion. I thought long and hard about whether I actually believed this to be true, and even so if it was truly an appropriate title. The conclusion I have come to is that even if no one else agrees, the title holds true in my own view and that's exactly what this blog is about - my own view - therefore the title is appropriate.

First, let's lay some background of comparison for the statement that Lone Eagle Cirque is the most beautiful place in Colorado. I've seen a lot of beautiful places in the mountains of Colorado: I've seen Ice Lake Basin, Blue Lakes Basins, Glacier Gorge, South Colony Lakes, and Lake Silex. I've been to Yankee Boy Basin, American Basin, California Gulch, and Fravert Basin during the height of wildflower season. I've stood on the shore of Chasm Lake and stared up at the diamond on Longs at sunrise, I've watched the mountains above Chicago Basin turn fiery red at sunset, I've spent time on the shores of Capitol Lake and Snowmass Lake, I've marveled at the Grenadiers from near and far, and I've viewed the Maroon Bells from every possible angle. I've also stood on the summits of the high peaks near almost all of these areas and taken in the scenery from above. All of these spectacular and beautiful areas contribute to my basis and standard for comparison of scenic mountain locations, and for this specific area to outshine all the rest is significant.

With that established, let's get on to the important part - the picture tour. I recognize that the photos I take with my iphone fall far short of doing this place justice, but the point I'm trying to bring is to inspire others to visit this place, and I think that they're adequate to achieve that.

There are a couple of routes used to access the Lone Eagle Cirque; one being from the Brainard Lake area west of Ward via the Pawnee Pass trail, and the other more direct approach is from the Monarch Lake trailhead on the southeast end of Lake Granby. I chose to take the latter approach, and am very glad that I did because it allowed me to not only visit the Cirque, which was my primary destination, but I was able to view the abundance of gorgeous waterfalls along Cascade Creek along the 8 mile trail leading to the Cirque as well.

There is a reason it's called Cascade Creek. This becomes evident approximately 3 miles up the trail, and the waterfalls continue in close succession for the next few miles.

Immediately above the highest major waterfall, the scenery changes drastically as the first open vista is reached. The level meadow with the creek winding an oxbow pattern and the views into the higher peaks are a notable change from the roaring creek tumbling through the deeply inset and densely wooded valley below.

As the trail makes the final steep climb up to the high basin, the valley opens up to the first good views of Lone Eagle and its' surroundings. As visible in the picture below, Lone Eagle actually separates two distinct cirques; the Crater Lake cirque to the west (right) and the Triangle Lake cirque to the east (left).

From Mirror Lake, fantastic views are had of the north face of Lone Eagle and its' parent ridgeline behind.

From Crater Lake, different angles on the western aspects of Lone Eagle are visible.

While Lone Eagle is striking, it's certainly not the only mountain in the area worth looking at. There is a high ring of impressive summits rising abruptly above the shores of Crater Lake.

From the entrance to the Triangle Lake Cirque, a gorgeous open valley meets a backdrop of even more rugged summits.

From a little higher in this valley, the ferocious east face of Iroquois becomes visible.

From Triangle Lake, Iroquois and the ridge to Lone Eagle dominate the view.

The upper portions of the Solo Flight route on Lone Eagle, including the Mohling Traverse, are visible in the photo below.

The view down the valley from Triangle Lake is absolutely stunning. 

One of the most pleasurable parts of this adventure was getting to take part in my second favorite mountain activity - alpine lake swimming. Short of standing on the summit of a highly aesthetic peak, swimming in a high alpine lake is the most enjoyable thing I have found that can be experienced in the mountains. Bonus points are awarded if a snowfield is actively feeding the lake, and double bonus points if a surface layer of ice has to be broken through in order to enter the water. In this case, the Fair Glacier was not only feeding into Triangle Lake, but the lower reaches of the glacier were actually covering a portion of the lake and as visible in the picture above, a thin layer if ice still covered the surface of the lake all the way to its' shores. There were a lot of bonus points gained on this excursion.

The trail from Monarch Lake to Mirror Lake was all very runnable single track with only a few short steep portions. Some portions of the trail were rocky, but could still be easily run going up and down despite the rocks. The only hindrance to maintaining a steady running pace was some deadfall on the upper few miles of the trail, but finding ways over, under, or around these trees was never a problem. from Mirror Lake up to Crater Lake, there are a couple of established trails and a few other faint use trails that can be used to navigate most of the way around the lake. There are no existing trails into the valley below Triangle Lake, but the easiest routes through the valley and up to the lake are obvious.

In closing; this is an area that is an absolute must-visit for anyone who enjoys the mountains. Even though I've heard about this place for years I had never made the journey to it, and now that I have I plan on visiting it again many times in the future. This is truly a hidden gem in an area that receives relatively few visitors despite its' close proximity and easy accessibility from the front range cities. Even if you have to go far out of your way to access this area, the experience is truly worthwhile.

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