Climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado: My Top 13er Advice
The Gore Range is one of the best, undiscovered mountain ranges in Colorado. Even though it’s located just north of I-70, well-within a day’s drive of Denver, most of the Range is protected as Wilderness, with few roads and long approaches. Combined with the fact that the range has no 14ers, these factors keep the Gore Range very quit. Eagles Nest is the ranges’ second tallest summit, and is a more difficult 13er than others, usually requiring two days to summit, with class 3 difficulty. Climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado is a fantastic adventure for experienced climbers. Here’s my route info to make it to the top.
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Climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado Facts
Climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado - South Ridge
There are several different approaches available to reach the base of the south ridge – this follows the Cataract Lake/Surprise Trailhead approach, usually considered the standard route. It’s a long, 10 mile trip one-way, making a backpacking trip with an overnight near Mirror Lake a good choice
Start heading south along the Surprise Lake trail, through thick evergreen forests well below tree line. After 2.6 miles, you will come to your first trail junction. Take a right on to the Gore Range Trail, and shortly after you will come across Surprise Lake. It’s a good spot for a quick break and snack. Continue on the trail, now heading west through the forest.
A little over a half mile from Surprise Lake you will reach a second trail junction. Turn left here, and continue along the trail another 1.9 miles to reach Upper Cataract Lake. This large, spectacular lake is a worthy destination in itself, and is the halfway marker for the trip, 5.1 miles in and around 10,750 feet in elevation. The north face of Eagles Nest rises dramatically above you nearly 3,000 feet.
Continue 1.4 miles along the trail, going up and down a bit, before you reach Mirror Lake, the third and final major lake along the way. Around 10,550 feet, it is a good area to camp if you prefer a lower elevation for sleeping. If not, continue along the trail higher into the basin, with the Eagles Nest above you to the left.
After 1.2 miles from Mirror Lake, the trail crosses a small stream and begins to climb west and away from Cataract Creek. This is where you finally leave the trail. Follow Cataract Creek south for around 0.8 miles, but stay on the rocky hillside to the west to avoid several marshy areas. Cataract Creek climbs to a small lake at 11,050 feet.
From here, the route involves serious class 3 climbing and route-finding. Wear a helmet from this point on, bring a partner, and do research to ensure you know what you’re looking for. Your destination from here is the south ridge of Eagles Nest, approximately halfway between the summit and the saddle between the peak and Mount Powell to the south (the nearby large peak).
Don’t aim for the saddle, as there are numerous towers and obstacles between there and the ridge mid-point you should aim for. It can be difficult close up to see where this – try to identify it early on in the hike/climb while it’s still possible.
Carefully begin to climb the steep, rocky slope, trying to take the path of least resistance. Look for a route with tundra you can hike that will take you most of the way to the top. From there, you will need to navigate some class 2 and 3 gullies to find the ideal route to the top. This section the crux of climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado.
From the ridgeline, follow the very rugged ridge north to the summit of Eagles Nest Peak. There may be a few class 3 spots along the way, with limited exposure. There are several little summits/pinnacles along the rugged summit ridge and the middle summit is the highest, true summit.
From the top, enjoy your accomplishment and the stunning views! Be sure you descend with plenty of time to reach tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a major hazard. I hope you found my guide helpful, and that you have a good time climbing Eagles Nest in Colorado. Safe travels on the trail!
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.