Trail Name: Whitney Peak
Whitney Peak is an extension of last week’s Hike of the Week on the Seven Sisters Lakes and is one of the best all-around peak hikes in the Eagle River Valley. For those looking to summit a Vail-area peak without navigating the crowds on Colorado’s 14ers, Whitney Peak is a worthwhile consideration.
This hike starts by heading to the Seven Sisters Lakes basin, described in last week’s column. The trailhead is at the upper access to the Holy Cross City Jeep Road. Drive to the Missouri Lakes trailhead, off Homestake Road between Red Cliff and Leadville and continue 2 miles to an obvious turnout.
Beware this is a rough road, and higher clearance is recommended, though with care it should be doable by most two-wheel-drive vehicles. From the trailhead, follow the Holy Cross City jeep road 1.5 miles. Immediately after the stream crossing, look for the Fall Creek trail on your right. This is easy to miss, and if you start up the hill on the jeep road leaving the valley floor, you’ve gone too far. Follow this trail past Hunky Dory Lake and the Seven Sisters Lakes all the way to the top of Fall Creek Pass. From here, turn right, leaving the trail behind, and follow the gentle Class 1 and Class 2 ridge for 0.7 miles to the summit.
What to Expect:
This is a summit hike that truly has it all: a multitude of alpine and subalpine lakes, wildlife, flowers and a noticeable absence of people. As described last week, the Seven Sisters Lakes hike is one of my favorite in the valley for those looking to get off the beaten track. Adding the summit of the 13,271-foot Whitney Peak makes this a classic. After you reach the summit of Fall Creek Pass, the last 0.7 miles to the peak is off-trail. The first half of this is mostly easy, Class 1 hiking across grassy alpine tundra, with a few rocks to hop across.
Stay to the east side of the ridge to avoid going up and over an unnecessary hump directly adjacent to Fall Creek Pass. At around 12,800 feet, the grassy ascent ends and you have 500 feet of Class 2 rock to scramble to the summit. The rock is solid and relatively easy Class 2 terrain, but know you will have to do some boulder-hopping in order to reach the peak. Take your time, and enjoy this beautiful landscape. The summit is relatively flat and broad, the peak marker can be found on one of the many boulders next to a vertical rock sticking noticeably above the rest. From here, enjoy having summited a new peak and take in the views of Holy Cross City and the northern Sawatch Range, including a unique angle of Mount of the Holy Cross and its Halo Ridge.
While on the trail, take care to practice Leave No Trace. When hiking off trail and above treeline, always stick to rocks and durable surfaces when possible. When you must travel across vegetated tundra, do your best not to make a new trail, and don’t follow in your friend’s footsteps. Instead, spread out and take care not to trample vegetation twice.