Monday, August 15, 2016

Sprague Tarn, Lonesome Lake, Hayden Lake, Nakai Peak, and Haynatch Lakes.

On August 1st, I left the Bear Lake TH at 4:24 am.  Little did I know that the day ahead would set personal bests for distance, elevation gain, and time elapsed hiking in a day.  Little did I know that I'd come back to the car in total darkness, but still feeling relatively awake.  Little did I know that this would be the first day where I'd see the sun both rise and set from over 12,000 feet in elevation.
My initial estimate put this day at around 22 miles and maybe 9k of elevation gain.  Not insignificant by any means, but surely reasonable.  Well, reasonable for me at least.  However, alot of this time would come on terrain of unknown quality- as I've said before, you can look at a topo and get an idea of the steepness of something, but you don't know if it's going to be solid, grassy slopes, or steep loose talus.  Thus I tried to move as quickly as possible on the known terrain, the trails up to and tundra of Bighorn Flats. 
Above treeline on Flattop for sunrise.
At the summit.  Shortly before arriving there I heard some hollering and found two groups of younger kids near the summit.  If you zoom in on this photo, you'll be able to see a group already on Hallett Peak.  
To the north, things were shrouded in clouds.  Visibility dropped as I moved into them, but it was a thin band and I quickly popped out on the other side.    
Stones Peak.
This is a photo from 2014, but I wanted to share it again.  I dropped down into Spruce Canyon a bit, and basically took the path of least resistance through the cliffs to avoid any snow.  From there, I went up on talus to crest the ridge to the south of Rainbow Lake.
Dropping down to Rainbow Lake.  I had to go around it in the direction pictured due to steep rock and snow on the other side.
As seen here.  Sprague Tarn lies on the bench above this lake, to the left.  I was frustratingly close to this tarn in 2014, but made the decision not to visit it since it wasn't named on the topo I was looking at.  Imagine how unhappy I was once I got back to civilization and realized that this body of water actually had a name!  
The first glimpse of the lake was spectacular, with the glacier dropping right into the lake.  The water was absolutely frigid.
I moved around to continue up toward Sprague Mountain.  This provided a great view of the tarn and glacier.  
Which got even better as I moved higher.  
You can see Irene Lake here on the left, and Rainbow Lake in the back.  Yes, I visited both of those but not Sprague Tarn on the right!  Oh well.  This just gave me a good reason to come back here.  
The grassy slopes up the Sprague Mountain looked steep, but were pretty mellow.  I was at the summit soon enough.  This was my third visit since last November.  Ironically, someone had taken the good summit register, a plastic food container, and left the bad summit register, a pvc pipe.  I say this because in my general experience, the pvc style registers always get wet.  While empty food jars are almost always dry.
I headed towards Stones Peak for a short time before turning to the north and starting down a scree slope to Lonesome Lake. 
The lake and Hayden Spire.
Fortunately, the scree here was relatively stable, set into dirt and tundra.  Movement wasn't too bad.  The lake was spectacular.
The lake and Hayden Spire.
This is looking back up at the slope.  I ended up avoiding the snow near the top, but then cutting to the right in this photo, staying on the parts where you can see grass.  I made my way down the grassy ramp cutting right.
The lake was beautiful, and with the isolation and no trail to it, I bet the only visitation it gets is from people who are climbing Hayden Spire.
My plan from here was to loose elevation into Hayden Gorge, and hook down and around Hayden Spire to visit Hayden Lake.  Perhaps easier said than done. 
I started down and noticed the rock slab on the right.  I love how you can very clearly see glacial striations in the rock.  How many tens of thousands of years has this rock been here?  If you think in terms of geological time, our lives are the blink of an eye.  Today I was making sure to not waste that time.
Hayden Gorge was spectacularly beautiful, with small pools, running water, and lots of rock.  I forgot to mention the wildflowers.  I saw some here that I have never seen elsewhere, so dark purple they were almost black.  It is a wonderful place.  
I was able to curve around Hayden Spire successfully, though there were certainly a few times it looked like it wouldn't go.  But I found a way and continued on.  Oh, and the views got even better, more and more wild as I dropped into this valley visited by few.
More talus came, and despite the size, much of it was loose.  It's a bit disconcerting when you step on something the size of a car and feel it move.  I would encounter a ton of loose stuff over the day.
I headed up some of this loose stuff toward Hayden Lake.
A small boulder right near Hayden Lake.
And there is the lake.  I would add this to the list of the most isolated and rarely visited lakes in the park.  There isn't a trail to it, or one that goes anywhere near it.  There isn't a popular peak close.  I'd done almost 12 miles to get here.  
Looking up to the continental divide.
While I was here, I decided to visit the unnamed lake to the north, as Foster suggests it.  I got onto the rock bench east of Hayden Lake, and made my way over.  Imagine how happy I was when I saw the route to it...
More talus!  Up to room sized blocks here.  I wasn't happy at all, and considered skipping it.  But I was this close, and this is the whole reason I was out here in the middle of nowhere.  I tried to stay up high on the rock on the way to the lake, but found it much easier to stay low and avoid the largest blocks on the way back.
This unnamed lake, with the waterfall on the opposite side, was a slice of paradise.  What a pleasure it was to just sit and listen to the water in the middle of a long and hard day.  Again, I wondered how many people have ever sat at this lake.  Probably not many.
I went back to Hayden Lake and started the climb to the continental divide on... you guessed it, more loose talus!  Looking up, I identified a few places that looked ok.  I would aim for one of those.
Hayden Lake has it's own small waterfall, which added immeasurably to the experience of being here. 
You can see the small pool which feeds that waterfall on a bench above Hayden Lake.
Here I encountered the loosest terrain I'd see all day, on par with the chossy piles of the Never Summers.  I will forever remember taking three steps in a row while watching the ground crumble out from underneath my feet, and not moving an inch.  But I persevered, and soon topped out near Hayden Spire.
I wasn't planning to do the spire, but just wanted to check it out.  There has certainly been some controversy over the difficulty, with one of the first guides to climbing in RMNP calling this route third class. 
Lonesome Lake from near Hayden Spire.
As you can see from the photo above, there are several smaller high points between the actual summit and the continental divide.  I felt moving around these point toward the true summit was third class. 
However, I reached this short slab below the summit, which is guarded by the short roof as seen near the top of the photo.  I didn't continue beyond this, because I decided I didn't feel comfortable doing so without a partner and/or rope.  While the authors guide book is great, and an invaluable resource, he claimed that he walked directly west from the summit to the continental divide.  I would certainly dispute that claim, but look at these photos and see what you think.
I did look around the corner and saw this thin face, which looks like it could be taken to continue on.
Either way, I would say this is getting into fifth class.
I turned around and headed back to the divide.  From there I headed to Mount Eleanor.
At the summit.  I was able the find the register that was buried in snow last November.
I looked to Nakai Peak.  This would be my third to last ranked peak in RMNP.  I'd now been out for approximately ten and a half hours, but the weather prediction was good for the day, and I could see no obvious threats.  Onwards!
My plan to contour and descend around point 12497 kind of worked.  I just didn't plan on it being yet more loose talus.  I was hoping to be on the summit of Nakai in an hour, but it took me an hour just to reach the saddle between it and 12497.
I'd noticed a bit of woodsmoke smell over the day, but now the smoke was blowing in, and things became hazy. 
I finally reached the saddle.  The way forward looked to continue the heavily talused theme of the day.  Why not?  I was happy to discover things were quite solid here, and I was able to move in and around the rock.  After a day of loose stuff, it actually felt good to move on some solid third class. 
Haynatch Lakes from above. 
This is the talusy slope that I crossed to reach Nakai Peak.  You can see why the movement was so slow.  It probably would have been easier to just gain the elevation to 12497 and then drop directly down. 
At Nakai Peak.  There is a false summit before it, but the terrain turns to solid tundra after that, so I didn't mind.  I had a snack at the top, and prepared for the descent to Haynatch Lakes.
Looking back to the false summit.
The route I spied down to the lake left immediately from the south of the summit, and started on more talus.  Again, it was fortunately relatively solid before moving into grass.  I was able to pick a way to the lake to avoid any more talus and bushwhacking. 
Getting close!  This is one of the last few lakes I have to visit.
Up to the saddle between Nakai and 12497.
I arrived at the lake.  What a beautiful place!  The scenery was absolutely stunning.
I left the lake and started down the trail.  I saw three people headed up to the lake, who must have been staying at one of the higher campsites.  After leaving Flattop, these were the only people I'd see the entire day. 
Below the lakes.  It seemed to take a long time to get from Haynatch to the Tonahutu trail, and when you do, the sign there isn't very helpful about which way to go.  It has a sign for the Haynatch campsites, which points behind it, directly between the trails.  So I figured I'd take a left and see what happened.  This was the correct way to go. 
I saw this sign along the way.  Much like honeybadgers, mountains don't care!
Upon breaking treeline, the scenery got better and better.  I had never hiked this section of trail before, and found it quite enjoyable.
Looking back to Nakai.
From higher up.  I spied a large herd of Elk who looked at me curiously.
Looking back toward Sprague Mountain much later in the day.  By this point, I knew I'd be getting back to the car in darkness.  But how long would it take me?  And whose good idea was this anyway?
It wasn't quite sunset, but I didn't have much more time before night came.  I stopped to get my headlamp out and tried to move as quickly as possible.
I was on the other side of Flattop before I had to turn my headlamp on.  Again, it seemed like the movement was taking forever.  At this point I am so fast uphill it only took me one more minute up than down.  My hip hurt too much to run and I decided it was a risky thing to do anyway, since the trail is so rocky and my sight was limited to the range of the light.
I finally got back to the car at 10:07pm, seventeen hours and forty three minutes after I left it.  Phew!  Now it was only an hour or so drive down.  I ate dinner, took a shower, and hit the hay.
What a day.  I guess it was only a matter of time before I broke 30 miles.  I guess for nothing other than person satisfaction, I still look forward to the day when I break 10,560 vertical feet in a day.  This one was pretty close.
Of the things visited over the day, I would probably suggest Hayden Lake as the most difficult.  I certainly didn't take the easiest route to Nakai Peak or Haynatch Lakes (as starting at the Green Mountain th on the west side would be easier, with less distance and gain).  There are a few options to visit this lake, but all of them would be quite difficult.  Milner Pass could also offer a starting point.  If you really really like bushwhacking, you could start at the Forest Canyon overlook and drop into Forest Canyon and go up Hayden Gorge.  This would be a pretty awesome and wild route, but very, very difficult movement.
But to me, it's the isolation, distance from any trail, and sense of adventure that makes these places worth visiting.  How many people have ever visited Hayden Lake?  I would venture to guess that it sees very few.  How many times did I say wow on this day?  Alot.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.  Note that this says 29.some miles.  My original GPX track said 30.02.  So I'm going to go with that one!
Sprague Tarn, Lonesome Lake, Hayden Lake, Nakai Peak, and Haynatch Lakes (distances as part of the hike):
Sprague Tarn/Sprague Glacier, 11860 feet: 9.4 miles, 2410 foot gain.  Second to third class.  Strenuous-.
Sprague Mountain, 12713 feet: 9.8 miles, 3263 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Lonesome Lake, 11700 feet: 10.4 miles, 2250 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hayden Lake, 11140 feet: 11.75 miles, 1690 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Unnamed Lake, 10980 feet**: 12.35 miles, 1530 foot gain*.  Second class.  Strenuous+.
Mount Eleanor, 12380 feet: 14.95 miles, 2930 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Nakai Peak, 12216 feet: 16.9 miles, 2766 foot gain*.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Haynatch Lakes, 11060 feet: 17.75 miles, 1610 foot gain.  Strenuous-(when starting at Bear Lake).
As a whole, this hike covered 30.02 miles with 9685 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain, with lots of talus hopping.  Significant time is spent above treeline, making good weather imperative.  Strenuous+.
*= lots of ups and downs along the way mean you'll gain more elevation than this.
**= interpolated elevation by taking the next contour above the lake (11000) and the contour below the lake (10960), adding together, and diving by two.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life!

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