Peak N is one of those summits you climb because it's "on your list," otherwise this is one of those pain-in-the-rear summits that seemingly has little to commend it. Plan on a long day. The 12 mile round trip mileage took us about 12 hours to navigate. Just to get to the "real" climb, there will be a bushwhack through dense, beetle-kill forest (one of the longest you'll ever do), followed by endless boulder-field hopping. The Class 3 climb of the peak itself is the only interesting part. The trailhead is accessible by high-clearance 4WD only. Otherwise, you'll have to add 4.8 miles round-trip to our mileage estimate if you're unable to drive to the TH.
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.
WARNING: The following route description for Peak N takes you through some of the most difficult terrain you will ever encounter in completing the 13ers. Extreme bushwhacking and boulder-hopping through endless boulder fields make this climb an arduous adventure. Attempt at your own risk. GPS HIGHLY advised.
From the trailhead, the trail takes out following an old, unused diversion ditch that contours back toward the Gore Range Trail, about .75 mile 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 in about 1.15 mile. Turn SW up the Lost Lake trail (FR64) and begin a fairly gentle ascent to this almost hidden lake. The trail gains most of its elevation to the lake in the first half mile and then begins to level out some. Almost the entire hike in is in beetle-kill forest. As the trail approaches the lake, it passes by the end of a large, open, marshy meadow to the south. This meadow may be useful in navigating your way back out at the end of the day. You may want to take coordinates. As the trail crosses one particularly marshy area, it almost becomes lost, but we were able to regain it and continued to the scenic Lost Lake, just a short distance away. From the Gore Range trail turnoff, its' 1.95 miles to Lost Lake. You have hiked 3.85 miles to arrive here. Now things get tough. On your return to Lost Lake from Peak N, any view of the lake is rare. You cannot count on having enough of a view to navigate back without wandering off course at times. A GPS with lake coordinates will prove very helpful in keeping you on course.
It took us 1:45 from the trailhead to reach this lake. We stopped and took several photos of the mirror-reflection lake with some fireweed in the foreground. Since the lake was surrounded by beetle-kill forest, you couldn’t take a photo without numerous dead trees in it, but the reflection was still so inviting and Peak N rose dominantly above the forest to provide a rugged mountain backdrop to the photos. All of the dead trees were a forewarning of what we were about to encounter. If you're using a GPS, you should take coordinates here and along the way. Later in the day, those coordinates will help you find your way back. Did we say this earlier? You get the point.
The overall plan is to hike generally south and gain access to a basin immediately south of Peak N, climb to the head of that basin, intersect the south ridge of Peak N and then head north to the summit. Much easier said than done! To gain the lower end of that basin, there is a mile and a half of some of the worst bushwhacking we’ve done in all our years. Within 5 minutes of leaving the trail, we were embroiled in a fallen tangle of downed trees and no trail of any kind to assist as we worked our way south above the east shore of the lake. We always stayed on the west side of the stream shown on the USGS map that drains our intended basin and flows to the marsh-meadow mentioned before.
Navigate your way through the timber and up one steeper section of mountainside. We then found ourselves at one point in an open area with some large boulders and actually spotted a couple of cairns. These proved of little use once we re-entered the forest. Once again, battle your way up an even steeper slope and eventually begin to hike into some more open forest with fewer dead trees as you approach 11,000 feet in elevation. We spotted a few game trails even that led us upward. A small, level spot, nestled in among some evergreens, appeared to offer a campsite. From there, we could overlook the first real opening and what we saw was quite discouraging – a vast boulder field we would have to cross.
So the next mile is one of boulder-hopping. Sometimes the boulders were of stepping size, other times, they were so enormous, you had to clamber around them to find your way. Up and down and across, then up and down and across again. Endless. We crossed a couple of boulder type ribs that descended from cliffs above that drop down off of Peak N, looming above us. Then, we could finally turn west and begin heading up the basin. On the map we provide, there are three "waypoints." These were not obtained by actual field measurements but were approximated from Google Earth. They may help you get to the right place, or perhaps before beginning this hike, study GE on your own and obtain your own waypoints. Heading west up the drainage the boulders were not quite as large. We even found some tundra to walk on at times. Three hours and about 2.5 miles in from Lost Lake, we took a break, sitting on some large boulders on the edge of some actual tundra and a tundra-covered talus slope that descended from the south ridge of Peak N. Finally, the difficulties would relent some, but getting to this summit, is still not all that easy from here.
Head NW up the tundra-covered talus slope, gaining several hundred feet easily. But higher up, the tundra gives way to scree. To the right is a prominent spire and rock wall. To the left, there are ramps and large, sloping slabs of exposed rock. We headed up the ramps and found the slope steeper than it appeared from below. We were into 3rd class scrambling at a couple of spots and had to ascend carefully, so as not to put a rock down on each other. Above the slabs, we were able to walk on up on talus and gained the final stretch of ridge to the summit. Walking over embedded rocks and tundra, in another 5 – 10 minutes, you may finally stand on the summit of Peak N. It took us 6:10 to arrive here. Whew! Time for a long break. Fortunately, for us the weather was holding nicely. The views are great too. You can gaze out across the Blue River valley and look down upon Green Mountain Reservoir.
One or two other trip reports we had read indicated that descending the north ridge of Peak N and then trying to follow it back to Lost Lake would take one through tediously long and difficult boulder fields and rocks of various kinds. That was discouraging to know, but what we had come through was probably not any better. In either case, we decided to leave that north ridge for others to contend with and instead, return as we had come – that seeming to be the safest option. As best we could, we tried to retrace our route back down to Lost Lake. This is difficult to do however, when you only have one spot where you can even get a view of the lake to help orient yourself. If there’s a good time and place for GPS, this hike is it, but using it too literally might just take you right back over difficulties that you might want to avoid on the trip back. So pick your poison. Either way, you still have to bushwhack through beetle-kill forest. We suggest heading for the coordinate that would place you at the north end of the marsh-meadow where the trail to Lost Lake crosses just east of the lake. Following that coordinate setting will help keep you on course as you navigate the beetle-kill forest on the way back. There was only one time we had enough of a view to see Lost Lake and orient ourselves. We did not have GPS at this time.
From that one view of Lost Lake, after having crossed all the boulder fields, we entered the forest again and began the downward bushwhack. I think that overall, we stayed a little east of our ascent route, but several times as we hiked back, we debated about whether or not we were heading in a direction that would bring us out on the west or east side of Lost Lake, and we made repeated course corrections. There was one particular stretch of downhill that was so steep, our ice axes were of great use and we had to side-step down through dense trees. Then we picked up a little stream and decided it might be the one that drains into the marsh, just east of the lake. That turned out to be a correct assessment, but once we arrived at the southern end of the marsh, the troubles are not over. Yes – you can hike now away from the beetle-kill forest, but in the tall, grassy meadows, there were areas of marsh to avoid and all kinds of hidden, fallen logs. We tried as best we could, to stay on the edge of the marsh and the forest. It took longer than expected to cross this last half mile, but we eventually reconnected with the trail into Lost Lake, right about where we had almost lost it when hiking in that morning.
Once back on the trail, it will likely take about as long to return to the trailhead as it did to reach this location in the morning. Our total time this day was 12:15 hours. If you do the math, it’s about 3.85 miles from the TH to Lost Lake. So of our total 13.7 miles that day, 7.7 of those miles were covered in about 3:30 hours, leaving 8:45 to have negotiated the other 6 miles. That’s a personal record for slow-going! We hope you do better, but with the increasing beetle-kill in this area, over time, this route may become even more difficult to navigate. Below are some mileage figures to help with the climb:
Trailhead to Gore Range Trail: .75 mile; Gore Range Trail to Lost Lake Intersection is 1.15 mile; Trail to Lost Lake is 1.95mile; Lost Lake to Peak N summit is 3.0 miles.