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A Class 2+ summit ascent that can be paired with Peak Q/"Prisoner Peak" at the headwaters of Slate Creek in the Gore Range. For most, this will require a backpack trip and though Peak L (Necklace Peak) is not a direct neighbor, it lies in the same area and should also be climbed if at all possible. The 2 summits with the backpack could be done in 3 days, but there will be little time to rest. There are two possible trailheads on the east side of the Gore for this trip. The one we recommend requires a 4WD access. Peak R was listed on the USGS map as 12,995 ft. Lidar has placed it into the ranks of the 13ers, barely, with an elevation of 13,000 ft. Google Earth does not even come close with a maximum elevation of 12,890 ft.
The following directions are taken from the White River National Forest website, with some modifications: The trail starts in the Aspen trees on a hillside full of sagebrush that overlooks the Blue River Valley. This trail is used to access the Gore Range Trail and Lost Lake Trail in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. To access this trailhead you must have high clearance 4x4 vehicle.
Directions: From I-70 take Exit 205, Silverthorne/Dillon, and travel north on HWY 9. Travel north on HWY 9 for approximately 16.8 miles. Just after mile marker 118 turn left onto County Road 30 toward the town of Heeney. Follow County Road 30 for approximately 0.5 miles and turn right into the parking area at the old Grandview Cemetery on the right side of the road. Park here if you do not have high clearance 4WD. Across from the Grandview Cemetery Parking is the Brush Creek Road (FDR 1695) where motorized (4WD) access is allowed during the summer if you want to drive to the Brush Creek Trailhead. From the Cemetery parking lot up Brush Creek Road to the trailhead is 2.4 miles. About 1.75 mile up this road, it will fork. This does not show on the USGS map or the Trails Illustrated. Stay left at this fork.
Our notes: If using the USGS Squaw Creek quad, the road up to the trailhead does not show as a road - only as a "pack trail." The White River National Forest map does show the road. At the cemetery mentioned above, there is a large open field just above the river that many seem to use for at-large camping. Camping is no longer allowed there. There are no facilities here. The initial climb up FR1695 (aka FR68) is the worst part of this drive. On our previous visit here in 2011, there were enormous, potholes which could be muddy after recent rains. This is where the high clearance is most useful. If you get past these, the road then switchbacks and climbs steadily across an open meadow hillside before switch-backing again to the south. This section is a little rocky and very steep but otherwise okay. The road then heads into a dry drainage and winds through beetle-kill forest to the trailhead, which is a small, undeveloped parking area in the midst of some aspen trees. The remainder of this drive is not too rough. There are a couple at-large campsites shortly before the trailhead. Earlier in the season, if no one has gone in with chainsaw, you may find the road blocked by deadfall. Be prepared to walk the 2.4 miles from the cemetery parking area. We visited here again in 2020 and the road at the beginning was in better shape than previously encountered. Many more beetle-killed trees have been cut down and removed so it is more open to the trailhead now.
The last quarter mile to the trailhead has a few at-large camping spots, otherwise there's not much else to choose from unless you utilize one of the Green Mountain Reservoir campgrounds or the following National Forest fee areas: Blue River CG (back toward Silverthorne), Prairie Point or McDonald Flats CG , a couple miles past the cemetery on the CR30, just before the Green Mountain Reservoir.
The east side of the Gore Range has access issues to National Forest land because of numerous private properties that block access. The two closest, legal trailheads are the Brush Creek to the north of Slate Creek and the Rock Creek, to the south of Slate Creek. Reaching the Brush Creek TH requires 4WD with good clearance. The Rock Creek TH can be reached by passenger vehicles. Mileage to Upper Slate Lake from the Brush Creek TH is 10.8. Mileage from the Rock Creek TH is about a half mile shorter. However, you do more minor up and down on the Gore Range trail from Rock Creek requiring a little more overall elevation gain that you do if coming in from Brush Creek.
Apparently, it's also possible to come into Slate Creek from a closer access along Boulder Creek. We met a couple here who had hiked in from Boulder Creek, a supposedly closed to public access trail, because the road passes through private property. There is no official trailhead there but according to some sources, you could drive up that road, drop off your packs, drive back down and park your car away from private property, then one person who drove back down could hike back up or ride a bike and stash it somewhere near the trail beginning. Use this at your own risk, which could involve having your vehicle towed or your bike stolen. A friend of ours had his bike cables cut. The ride is about 2.7 miles up with almost 1,000 feet of gain - a steep sucker!
Our proposed approach then has you starting from the Brush Creek TH. From the trailhead, the trail takes out following an old, unused diversion ditch that contours west back toward the Gore Range Trail, about .65 mile (15 minutes) in. At the intersection, turn left (south) and begin hiking the Gore Range trail. At this intersection, you immediately drop down and cross a flowing drainage, which is Brush Creek. There’s no bridge. Walking south on good trail, you will come to the next intersection with a sign post in about one mile. Continue past this trail that goes to Lost Lake and keep walking generally SE on the Gore Range Trail. Shortly after the Lost Lake trail turnoff, lose a little elevation to cross another fork of Brush Creek, then regain a little elevation to begin a mile long contour to Squaw Creek, where you will lose about 200 feet in elevation to cross this creek. On the other side, regain nearly 200 feet in elevation to cross a ridge at just above 9,000 ft., then drop some to cross Hay Camp Creek and a trail that follows that drainage. Watch carefully to remain on the Gore range trail here. There's one brief section where grasses may obscure the trail. From the crossing of Hay Camp Creek, the Gore Range trail gains over 300 feet in elevation to cross another ridge as the trail turns more to the south and then drops to Slate Creek where a wooden sign marks the trail intersection for the Slate Creek Trail and the Gore Range Trail. There are the remains of an old cabin nearby. At this intersection, you've covered 5.3 miles and have walked through miles of sadly, beetle-kill forest. Intersection coordinates are: N 39° 45' 47.48" W 106° 11' 40.30". 9075 ft. elevation. The devastation is amazing and portions of the forest are almost completely gone as of our visit in 2020, but along Slate Creek at this intersection, trees were still in good shape. We saw no good campsites until you come to where Slate Creek & the Gore Range Trail meet. From the trail intersection, walk south on the Gore Trail just a short distance toward Slate Creek and you'll see a very nice campsite location on your right, nestled in among conifers. Water is easily accessible here and there are numerous flat spots that could accommodate several tents. If coming from Rock Creek, there is no official bridge across Slate Creek. There are just some logs to balance your way across.
From the Gore Range trail, the Slate Creek trail initially passes through open meadows and small stands of aspen for the first mile and a half and gains minimal elevation. In fact, at the trail intersection, the elevation is just below 9,100 feet, which is only slightly higher than your beginning elevation at the Brush Creek TH. At some beaver ponds at 9,200 ft., nearly two miles up the drainage, you first begin to gain the elevation needed to get to Upper Slate Lake at 10,860 ft. So you have about 1,600 feet of gain in the last 2 miles. After those beaver ponds, the trail passes through some nicer forest and then crosses some marshy areas just before it begins the steeper ascent. That last forested area before the climb begins is your last chance for a campsite until arriving at Upper Slate Lake.
We took a break in the vicinity of the turnoff for the main Slate Lake at 9893 ft. We could not find an easy access across the creek here to get to that lower lake, other than to wade or dare to cross the rushing stream on fallen logs. The USGS map makes it appear that the main trail crosses the stream here then crosses back over after the lake. This is no longer the case. The trail remains on the north side of the stream. Continue on from there, to arrive at Upper Slate Lake with initially some more steep gain and several switchbacks that don't appear on the maps clearly before the trail begins to level out some, then does a minor drop as it nears the lake. Two things to note about this trail. First of all, older maps show the trail as delivering one to the lake outlet. The trail has since been re-routed so as to bring you out at a small peninsula that juts into the lake on the SE side, about midway along that shore. This peninsula is a rock outcrop, covered in trees with numerous small to large camp spots. It is at a point where the lake pinches down to its narrowest. The other shore is literally a stone’s throw away.
The second thing to note about the Slate trail is that the USGS Squaw Creek quad does not show a trail heading up the Slate drainage from the Gore-Slate intersection described earlier. The other two quads, (Willow Lakes & Vail East) however, do show this trail. In addition, the Trails Illustrated map for Green Mtn. Reservoir shows things correctly as well. On that map, if you’re coming in from the south along the Gore Range trail, you drop down and cross Slate Creek, gain a little elevation and then come to the Slate Creek trail intersection. It appears however, that an older branch of the trail on the south side of Slate Creek can still be followed to a crossing of Slate Creek and then joining in with the main trail on the north side later on.
If you want to break up the backpack in, then there is an excellent campsite area on the north side of Slate Creek, where it meets the Gore Range Trail. See coordinates below. There's enough room here for multiple tents. There's also another campsite up along the Slate Creek trail just before the trail enters a forested section and before it starts making strong elevation gain. This may be a horse-packers camp. The turn off for this will be the only clear trail you see taking off to the right as you're heading upstream. Coordinates for the turnoff are: N 39° 44' 51.94" W 106° 13' 09.31".
We'll treat this as one route description, however, we'll need to described how to do Peak R from the Upper Slate Lake campsite and also how to do it from Peak L, for those attempting both in the same day as we did. Mileage and elevation gain are simply calculated from the Upper Slate Lake camp.
From a campsite on Upper Slate Lake, proceed SW up the drainage as described in the route for Peak L. When you get to the SW end of the lake, do not cross over the main creek as you would for Peak L. Instead, continue upstream, staying on the south side of the stream and begin the fairly difficult task of getting to the upper, unnamed lake, some call "South America Lake," 11,540 ft. This is not an easy task. Whatever trail you find to the inlet of Upper Slate Lake will likely dissolve into the vegetation, rocks, tarns, willows, marsh, trees, etc. A large, open, flat (11,120 ft), willow marsh is perhaps the most difficult place to get around. You'll likely be pushed into some talus to cross before making a turn more westward to ascend a steeper, tundra and willow slope to cross over the tapering end of the Peak R north ridge and arrive at the unnamed lake. Others may want to contour along the mountainside, well above the marsh. Hike along the south shore of the lake or slightly above to reach the bottom of the great, south running drainage that divides Peaks R and Q. A close study of Google Earth beforehand may help you decide the best route to here.
If coming off Peak L, when you get back to the bench area between 12,000 and 11,800 ft., walk across grassy tundra and wildflowers to the SW end of this bench to where you can see it dropping off toward the unnamed upper lake. Route find your way down about 400 feet to the outlet of the lake. This will involve some route finding as you descend through rock outcrops, minor cliffs, stunted trees and tundra shelfs. Cross the outlet and head for the great, south running drainage that divides Peaks R & Q.
Once you reach the bottom of this couloir by either route, the remaining description applies to both approaches. Head south up the initially tundra and willow drainage until you begin to encounter some talus at the base of some cliffs that block access to the upper basin. Veer left (east) to find the easiest way around the cliffs and then head back toward the center of the upper basin, which begins to narrow. In short order, the tundra gives way to talus. For much of the summer season, there will be a snowfield that occupies the center basin and extends almost all the way to the Peaks Q/R saddle. Usually, there is a prominent "island" of talus farther up, in the middle of the snowfield. You can use that as something of a guide as to how far to hike up. In our opinion, hiking on the snow is easier than the talus, but an ice axe would be handy and perhaps micro spikes.
Once you reach the talus island or about 12,000 ft., look to the east and identify a sloping, mostly tundra bench above that breaks the west face of the north ridge. Head for that tundra bench as best you can across talus. Once on the bench, make a northerly turn and follow the bench, gaining some additional elevation until you intersect a narrow couloir, where the bench plays out. These coordinates should get you close. Upper couloir entry: N 39° 43' 21.37" W 106° 16' 46.93" Lower entry: N 39° 43' 21.48" W 106° 16' 48.20". Either of these should get you into the couloir. Once in it, just follow it upwards as it gains elevation steeply.
The couloir has a mix of loose rock, vegetation, and embedded rock in tundra and a few places to scramble a little. It might be classified as low 3rdclass. It was fairly narrow – more of a chute and it led us almost all the way to the NNW ridge. It was mostly stable. Near the top of the couloir, it kind of opened up and allowed us to hike across embedded boulders and rock. Once on the ridge, we found ourselves only 100 yards or so from the summit of rocks and tundra. This route as best we can figure duplicates for the most part that described in Cooper's book on Colorado Scrambles.
For the descent, it's probably best to return as you came, at least back to South America Lake. But it's also possible to work across the lower end of the Peak R north ridge before beginning the drop back to the main Slate Creek drainage. Pick your poison. Neither way will get you back to camp very fast. Be sure and take a look at the supplied photos. They may help identify some of the key features described above.