UN13,057, aka: East Partner Peak, aka: Peak V is one of the more challenging Gore Range summits. Detailed route beta is limited. We give the route a solid Class 4 with some limited exposure. The peak can be climbed in a day from the Pitkin Lake Trailhead near Vail. The trailhead is accessible to any passenger vehicle. Many will want to include West Partner Peak by way of a complicated ridge traverse. Staying high on that ridge may add as much as three hours to get over to West Partner, according to a couple sources. You can reduce the difficulties of the traverse by dropping several hundred feet down. We suggest a backpack into Pitkin Lake so you can have time to enjoy the impressively beautiful area and also have time to climb Peaks Q, X, Z and Mt. Solitude.
The nearest campground is the Gore Creek Campground, a National Forest Service fee area with vault toilets and water. To get there from the Exit #180, you'll need to drive SE on Big Horn Road past the trailhead parking for the Deluge Lake and Gore Creek TH. Reservations may be made for campsites at reserveamerica.com. Other than that, there is virtually no other place close by with at-large/primitive camping. Your best bet may be to go up to the summit of Vail Pass and drive down the Black Lakes Road where there is a pullout parking area right where the road is barred from vehicular traffic and becomes the Vail Pass bike trail, east end. This is not a primitive camp location but you may be able to sleep in your vehicle.
The small parking area for the Pitkin Lake Trail has a sign warning about a 2-day parking limit. If planning on being there longer, call the Vail Police Department - Enforcement Division and ask for permission to park there longer. Be prepared to provide license plate and vehicle description.
The trail begins by ascending gently along the east side of the stream, then crossing on a sturdy bridge. A short distance farther on, it abruptly begins an incredibly steep ascent with well-positioned logs to reduce runoff and provide steps for the arduous climb with full packs. For the next half mile, you might as well be climbing a mountain, but after that, the trail begins to level off, still maintaining some distance from and above the creek. Overall, this trail is in fairly good condition and after the initial section was not too arduous.
After about two miles up the trail comes right beside the creek. After the section near the creek, the trail remains very moderate until it crosses an open meadow and then begins climbing up to another bench level. At about 3.25 miles in the trail crosses the west fork of Pitkin Creek and there is a large campsite past that crossing. In 2010, the campsite was not well-used. It's a short distance before the trail makes a left turn to begin a steep ascent out of the valley to Pitkin Lake. We are calling this the "lower campsite." It can be used as a base camp for Mt. Solitude, Peaks X and Z. The waterfall shown on the map is somewhat obscured from here.
After passing the campsite, the trail begins climbing steeply for about 1/3 mile before leveling off in the upper valley that leads to Pitkin Lake. We arrived in the vicinity of the lake in about three hours from the trailhead. We found a very nice site 100 yards east of the trail and down from the lake by about 150 - 200 yards. It had some nice trees for some shelter, a fire ring and several level spots for tents and was located right at the foot of the prominent south ridge of East Partner. Close by and down a little from the campsite are some scenic ponds with a view down the valley. This is the "upper campsite" and can be used as a base camp for both Partner summits and Peak Q.
You can begin this ascent by hiking along the east shore to near the north end and then ascending through some willows and stands of wildflowers following a dry course northeast to a level area with grass, boulders and small tarns at about 11,900 ft. From here, keep hiking in a more northerly direction and access the green slope that leads all the way to the saddle high up on the East-West Partner Ridge. This will bring you out just east of the 12,620 ft. marker on the survey map. You can also circle around the west side of the lake and head up the main stream drainage north, then follow it NE to intersect basically the same route. The goal is simply to utilize the open slope of mostly tundra, scree and some rock to gain the ridge past (east of) the middle difficulties. From this point on, it's easiest to use our own original written account to describe the remaining route.
The information we had gathered indicated there would be a cairned route along the ridge to the summit of East Partner. So we began hiking along the ridge and the tundra almost immediately gave way to rugged blocks of rock. The first hundred yards or so is fairly easy with some scrambling mixed in. Then you will reach a section of the ridge where the contours tighten up at about 12,800 ft. It becomes quite clear at this point that further progress will require use of both hands. Continue along the ridge working mostly on the south side. We saw only a few cairns and these seemed to lead us below the ridge crest and even downward. A view of the remaining ridge will open up and the summit will be farther away than you might expect.
Continuing from there, things only become more difficult. The vaguely cairned route had led us a good 100 feet below the ridge crest and brought us to a place where we could see multiple rock ribs blocking our path and no clear way over them and no cairns to boot. So here, we decided to get back up to the ridge crest, since we had not seen a cairn in a while. This involved scrambling up a narrow, tight gully. The climbing became exposed and at least 4th class but we made it back to the ridge. Now we decided to stay as much as possible on the ridge, but several remaining obstacles continued to drive us off at times. We recall getting on the north side at least once and a few other difficult 4th class type moves or brief sections. This was all very time consuming, but finally, about three hours from our start, we made it to the small, rocky summit. That was a relief!
The Descent: For us, there was no difficulty in deciding that returning by the same route was not desirable. The route we had followed was so convoluted, we would never be able to retrace it. So we studied the prominent south ridge and it too, appeared to throw up many difficulties, so we fell prey to the enticement of the northeast ridge, thinking that we could surely find an easy way down into the east fork of Pitkin Creek. Descending along the ridge, we easily worked our way down to a saddle at the head of a broad couloir filled mostly with rock that descended south off the peak. This looked fairly enticing so we began descending it. At first, it was just a typical, rubble-filled gully of moderate steepness, but as we went down further, it began to constrict and get steeper. We had to negotiate some sections very carefully. Loose rock abounded and there were at least two places where we had to gingerly lower ourselves over rock walls in the center of the now narrow gully (3rd class). Along the way, we encountered some nice flowers. Well below us, we could see the valley floor and kept hoping that the intensity would lesson, but it never really became any easier until the last couple of hundred feet. Once out of the gully, we continued down on a talus slope that became more tundra covered the further down we went. We turned more southeast in order to intersect the creek and did so with great relief. This had been a difficult and time-consuming descent. It was now approaching noon and we still needed to cover about a mile and a half to get back to the campsite and this would involve rounding the south ridge of East Partner and crossing from the one drainage to the other through uncharted territory. Having the opportunity to hike down this east drainage though had an advantage if returning this way for "Usable Pass" to access Peaks X and Z.
As we progressed down the drainage, we picked up a faint path through the lush growth of grass and flowers. The further down we went, the more evident the path, which lower down stayed well above the creek and always on the east side. There were no cairns to follow but the path was still easy to observe and stay on. It was evidently not just a game trail. At about the 11,000 foot level, we found an easy crossing of the creek and headed across and into forest. We descended on the other side a little more into a clearing and then began working our way westward to intersect the trail to Pitkin Lake. We only had to maneuver through the forest for a few hundred yards to locate the trail. At one point, we had to do a steep upclimb and then we found ourselves dropping into a narrow meadow area that the trail winds through. Once back on the trail, we just hiked back to our campsite. This complete circuit took us seven hours.
For those interested in doing the entire Partner traverse between the two summits, be sure and follow the two links provided for additional, useful reading