Monday, July 2, 2012

Isolation Peak, Ouzel Peak, Cony Pass, Junco Lake.

Ouzel Falls.
As you can probably guess from the title of this post, this week brought me an exceptionally long and arduous hike, with over half of the day spent above 12000 feet in elevation.
I set out on June 29, 2012 at 603 am from the Wild Basin trail head.  I would head to Bluebird Lake(read more here), then Isolation Lake, ending up at Isolation Peak.
A yellow bellied Marmot along the way...
Small run off fall near Bluebird Lake.
Nearing Bluebird Lake, some snow still over Ouzel Creek. 
Bluebird Lake.  I was to it and around in about two hours and forty five minutes.
A great view of Ouzel Peak from the outlet of Bluebird Lake.
To avoid all of the bushwhacking when heading up to Lark Pond, Pipit Lake, or Isolation Lake turn uphill or north just past the largest boulder pictured on the right.  There is some loose stuff here, but nothing too bad, and certainly easier to navigate than those trees (as I can attest!).  Cut left or west when you are about even in elevation with the granite benches pictured above the trees.  Farther on, I stayed uphill of all the snow to avoid it as well.
Bluebird from above, Copeland in the background.  I was beginning to notice the smoke from all the forest fires.  Everything looked a little hazy, but I think that has given some of these photos an interesting look.
The first sight of part of Isolation.  Since that was my goal I stayed north of Lark Pond and Pipit Lake and enjoyed a relatively flat and easy hike over tundra.
Going that way will give you a short but steep talus hill to climb right before you get to Isolation Lake.  I stopped here and had some food and pumped some water before continuing on.
Ouzel Peak as seen from Isolation Lake.  From the front it looks alot different- like it is one point.  In reality it is a stretched out spine with a high point.

Looking up the steep talus and scree hill to Isolation Peak.  It is hard to tell from this perspective, but what looks like the high point is not.  The true peak is the first soft looking point of prominence in from the left.  You can head directly up this slope, but be careful, some of the rock is a little loose. 
Looking back down on Isolation Lake, Mahana Peak, Pipit Lake, Copeland, Ouzel.  To make the ascent easier I stayed in the band of green most of the way up.  I figured if there were plants growing there must be enough stable soil there that I wouldn't slide with every step.  The plan worked well, though I did end up having to traverse south along the ridge at the top to the true high point of this peak.
False summit just north of the true summit.  A very steep cliff face to the north drops down a couple of hundred feet.
The rounded hump of Mahana Peak to the east.
Isolation Lake from Isolation Peak.  Looks tiny.
The true high point- 13118 feet.  This is my first 13er this year, and though I have done this peak before, no less rewarding!
Looking beautiful at 13118 feet.
I could see these clouds to the west but had a hard time seeing if they might be bringing rain along.  The smoke made the horizon impossible to see at all.
It was pretty windy so I didn't stay long, but started to descend almost 1000 feet south along the continental divide. 
I was able to get cell reception up here and called Katie for a detailed weather report.  This was my bailout plan- descent back to Pipit Lake.  But she told me the radar was picking up nothing, so I kept on.
This is the next major obstacle.  After you reach a low point on the ridge, you will have to slowly gain back around 500 feet to get to Ouzel Peak.  This looked scary, though the book said second class only.  And it was.  Just stay west of the ridge and pick your way- should be easy.
Looking back up the talus slope to Isolation.
This photo didn't really capture the magnificence of the view and the steepness of the snow looking down. 

Looking west into the park.
The tundra amazes me.  All these steep rocky cliffs to get up there, and then when you do it is flat grass all around.
Looking along to Ouzel Peak.
Isolation Lake as seen from near Ouzel Peak.

Grass as far as the eye can see, plus the fat hump of and spiny ridges west of Copeland.
Looking south to Cony Pass and Ogalalla Peak.
Junco Lake as seen from Ouzel Peak.
The summit cairn of Ouzel Peak, 12716 feet.

Looking east along the drainage back to Bluebird Lake and beyond.
A better self shot.
This little guy must've smelled my Clif Bar or something.  He popped his head out and was standing about four feet away from me while I snacked on the summit of Ouzel Peak.

It was kind of funny how he kept me company for a few minutes, almost posing for the camera.  Eventually I got up to continue on and he went back to his hiding place.
The summit of Ouzel Peak from the south.
Looking south to Cony Pass.  Elk Tooth and Ogalalla Peak visible.
A very different perspective of Copeland.
More flat tundra- very pleasant hiking. 
In panorama.  You'll loose about 200 feet in elevation and have to gain back most of it to get to the top of Cony Pass.
Looking down to Junco Lake from Cony Pass.  I have to say this descent was scary.  Take your time and find you way.  A fall up here would mean certain injury or death, and you are very far away from any help.
The way to go is on the south of the pass.  There are several narrow 'switchback' ledges up a cliff face before encountering some very exposed class 4 moves to the top.  And I will say it again- be careful, as a fall will result in serious injury or worse.  It might be wise to wear a helmet when descending or ascending as well.  I saw a good sized piece of rock tumble down the cliff face, and though it was 30 feet away or more, it was definitely big enough to do some serious damage.
After the rather unfun descent of Cony Pass, I now had a third class descent of this scree slope down to Junco Lake.  This was not much fun either, and again I had to take my time and pick my way carefully.  Again it might be wise to wear a helmet in this area to protect against falling rock, particularly if you will be here with others.
Back up from near the lake.
At 11620 feet, Junco Lake is a pretty and barren high altitude body of water.  Good views of Copeland and Ouzel Peak await you.
The drainage is pretty interesting- rather flat and wide. 
Looking back up from a fun glissade down the snow.
I stopped at this small reflecting pool and reflected.  This was a very difficult hike.  You can see part of the drainage here, which is so shallow I was able to walk in it without getting my feet wet.  I pumped some water and moved on out.

A different perspective of Bluebird Lake. 
Getting back to the trail- hard to believe I was up there only a few hours before.
Tired me with a few hours of hiking left to go.
The waterfall exit of Junco Lake drainage.  It joins Ouzel Creek.
I was feeling really tired and beat up on my way back and seriously dragging.  Then, while on the Bluebird Lake trail above Ouzel Lake, I heard something move in the grass above the trail.  I looked up and my heart stopped.  Not more than twenty feet away from me were standing two bull moose.  Holy sh!t.  They were both looking at me.  Though I know what to do in case of a bear or mountain lion encounter, I had no idea what to do in this situation.  I thought I remembered reading that you should get something like a tree or boulder between you and them but I was in the forest fire burn area- not many trees.  One of them sort of grunted or snorted.  I took this to mean, "Nothing to see here, now move along."
I kept along the trail keeping an eye on them.  Fortunately they seemed more interested in their food than me and when they put their heads back down to keep eating, I found energy I didn't know I had and ran away!  That was scary.
The day was getting on and I was hungry and tired and feeling a little emotionally exhausted as well.  I sat down near Ouzel Falls and ate some more food and gave myself a pep talk.  I have found that as these long hiking days go on, I tend to have more abstract thoughts and talk to myself more.  I guess I am the only one around to hear it so it's ok.
I have taken a picture from this exact place on the Thunder Lake trail many of the times I have hiked on it.
I finally made it back to the car at 715, giving me a 13+ hour long day.  The short of it is that while none of these destinations in their own right would be a super difficult hike, stringing them all together gave me an extremely difficult day.  I am estimating this at 17.5 miles with a net gain of 5300+ feet.  Throw in some spicy 4th class x climbing and there you go.  This is one for which you have to be not just physically but mentally fit as well.
To string these destinations together as I did would give you a strenuous plus hike, I told Katie I thought this was the hardest hike I have ever done.  As separate destinations....
Isolation Peak from Isolation Lake: 8.3 miles one way, 4618 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Ouzel Peak north slope from Pipit Lake: 7.9 miles one way, 4216 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Cony Pass from Junco Lake: 7.9 miles one way, 3920 foot gain.  3rd and 4th class X.  Helmet recommended.  Strenuous.
Junco Lake: 7.2 miles one way, 3120 foot gain.  Strenuous.


  1. Andy, I don't know if you get notifications of new posts, but I will take a chance that you will read this. I found this post doing research for a hike up to Ogalalla Peak. My plan was to ascend to the Divide from Junco lake, but to a point further north than Cony Pass, where the saddle is lowest (Just south of Ouzel peak). Do you know if this alternate would still be a class 4? I am not a confident climber, so I would prefer to keep it at class 3 and just deal with the grueling aspect! Thanks! -Don

    1. Hmm, good question. I don't know. Looking at the map and satellite images certainly makes it look like it could work. A definite would be to go up to Lark Pond from Bluebird Lake, and go up the north facing side of Ouzel Peak. I think this would be maximum of class two. There are no tricky moves to reach Ogalalla from this side, it's the approach from either Cony Pass or Elk Tooth that are more difficult/exposed. Just make sure you have a good weather day!