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.
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.
Fortunately, the scree here was relatively stable, set into dirt and tundra. Movement wasn't too bad. The lake was spectacular.
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 headed up some of this loose stuff toward Hayden Lake.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
honeybadgers, mountains don't care!
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.