"Lone Eagle Peak"
by Tommy Dykes
I recently found the subject of the last two days photographic adventure while perusing the internet for something new to shoot. I knew that I wanted to spend some time in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and was very pleased to find Lone Eagle Peak.
Reaching Lone Eagle Peak requires a 7.9-mile mountain hike with 2300 vertical feet to be gained. At the bottom of the peak lays Mirror Lake, which has certainly earned its name. In the early morning just after sunrise, the stillness of the lake provides the perfect reflection of the sky, peak and the surrounding mountains.
The day before my climb I had walked about one-third of the way up and made a small cache with two extra quarts of water. I imagined with the August heat and the distance I would be hiking, that on the way down I’d be close to empty and an extra two quarts would come very handy and just maybe at the right time.
I was camped only a few minutes’ drive from the trail head at Monarch Lake and had planned for a 230am departure, as I wanted to ensure that I was at the lake for sunrise. However, the 2 am alarm was meaningless, and I didn’t roll from the sleeping bag until 3.
I started the hike at 325am with my headlamp on. Recalling from yesterday’s hike, the edge of the trail was draped with wild raspberries. I stayed vigilant for any bears that may be having an early breakfast. I had decided the wear my pistol just in case I got into a pinch with one of the animals.
The lower two miles or so was easy walking even with only a head lamp for light. It was a quarter-moon and plenty of stars lay across the sky. However, the trail mostly stayed in the trees which made it quite dark. The head lamp was bright and made the shadows very sharp and deep. The scene was not of an earthly design, almost black and white, with not a sound to be heard nor a trace of any movement. No movement suited me just fine.
The upper half of the trail became much rougher and in some places a lot steeper. As the sky started to lighten, I reached an area of several scree slopes that the grasses and bushes had started to grow up around the stones, holding them firmly in place. The trail was only the area where others had walked, and the unevenness of the stones made the trail very difficult.
By the last mile it had become light enough that I could put the head lamp away. Now I was becoming tired since I was pushing myself because I had started out late from the trailhead. Reaching the last 500 yards or so the trail pitched up steeply, but I was motivated by the summit of Lone Eagle Peak showing itself through the treetops.
Arriving at Mirror Lake I could do nothing but smile, now that it was light enough that I could see my surroundings. Mountains of granite rose from behind the trees across the lake toward a perfectly clear sky. The high mountains were bare of trees but still showed some snow and ice from last winter. Lone Eagle Peak has the sharpest point of any that I have seen in all of Colorado.
My timing could not have been any better, even with the late start. Just as I recovered from my efforts, the sun touched the pinnacle of Lone Eagle Peak. I spent the next two hours watching the sun move down from the peak to the lake. As the light became brighter, the reflection eventually reached all the way to the lake and soon filled in the shadows through the trees.
As the strongest light touched the water, the reflection died away to be replaced by a soft green that I believed to be the bottom of the lake.
On the hike up I had worn a sweatshirt that became quite wet with perspiration. Once I stopped, the chill set in and I got so cold that I was shivering while photographing the lake. Luckily, I had struck up a conversation with two women who had camped at the lake and were kind enough to make me a cup of hot coffee!
After nearly three hours at the lake, I started the eight-mile hike down the mountain with plans to stop and photograph the Cascade Creek Falls. Arriving at the falls I was disappointed to find the sun burning right down the falls. The scene was harsh and the contrast difficult, so after two quick exposures I continued down the trail.
The water that I had cached the day before was welcomed as I was well into the last of the six quarts that I had carried up and reaching Monarch Lake I knew I only had a short piece to go. Older couples with their grandchildren walked the edge of the lake and the crowd grew as I got closer to the trailhead.
I was happy to be back at the truck. I can’t remember finishing a hike as tired as I was for this one, but the day was a success. My image of Lone Eagle Peak and its reflection may be the most challenging that I ever made. This hike may be the only time that I visit this place, but it’s not a day that I will forget.