Eagle Lake Trail
August 3, 2019 · Holy Cross Wilderness
The hike along Eagle Lake Trail was an interesting one. I was supposed to be a much longer hike to Strawberry Lake, but I had to cut it short just shy of Halfmoon Lake, just above Eagle Lake. The weather for this much shorter than planned hike was fantastic and very warm. There were several big white clouds, but a mild breeze kept pushing the clouds around. It was never too overcast, and the clouds added texture to the incredible views of southern side of Fools Peak and Eagle Peak.
The documented trail for Eagle Lake trail goes to Eagle Lake and stops there. However, there are several maps that shows an undocumented trail continuing onto Strawberry Lake, just below Eagle Peak in the Holy Cross Wilderness. This trail is very remote and takes a couple of hours driving on a Forest Service dirt road. As such, I was expecting to have the trail to myself. However, this is the last couple of weeks before school starts again so there are number of families and friends getting that last Summer camping in before school starts; there were a lot of people camping at Eagle Lake.
The trail starts out with a very gentle stroll through an Aspen grove and is very humid and the foliage looks more tropical than alpine.
The flowers are in full bloom and there are birds singing and darting in and out of the shrubs up until the Aspen grove boundary. Up until the Wilderness boundary, there is some private property that appears to be a retreat / dude ranch, and they have put up barbed wire along their property line, which is right next to the trail. So that makes the trek up to the Wilderness boundary a little strange. However, once at the Wilderness boundary the trail takes on a completely different personality.
Prior to the Wilderness boundary it is primarily an Aspen grove, tropical in nature and very humid. Once at the Wilderness boundary, it dries out, cools down and the foliage changes to more familiar alpine foliage of conifers and shrub. Additionally, at the Wilderness boundary, the first of three river crossings occur, and the trail becomes very steep.
The river that comes down from Strawberry Lake to Eagle Lake is called Lime Creek but is anything but a creek. And that could be due to the epic snow that we had this year. Eagle Lake offers incredible views of Fools Peak and Eagle Peak in the Holy Cross Wilderness and the walls of the valley are very steep. The steep V-shaped valley coupled with the massive amounts of snow from this past year created some enormous avalanches just beyond Eagle Lake. The snow from the avalanches is gone in this valley. Well, the snow on the top of the avalanche debris fields is gone, but there is still a significant amount of snow under the exposed avalanche debris fields.
The official trail ends at Eagle Lake and the undocumented trail picks up from there and continues to Strawberry Lake. However, the avalanches from this winter have buried the trail with several feet of debris ranging from mangled trees to jumbled boulders that were caught up in the avalanches.
Because this is an undocumented trail inside of a Wilderness Area, it is a low priority for the Forest Service to clear the trail of the avalanche debris. The trail to Strawberry Lake will most likely remained closed until a people begin to develop a new trail to Strawberry Lake, working its way around the avalanche debris fields.
I worked my way around the first avalanche debris field, only after going to high and ending up on series of ledges above the debris field. Realizing that was probably a good way to accidently fall down the side of the mountain, I worked my way back down and trough the first avalanche debris field. The second avalanche field was not more than five minutes away from the first and was much bigger.
Again, I tried to work my around the top of it and ended up in some thick conifers. It was here that I had an injury that required some impromptu first aid to stop some bleeding from a two-inch cut on my left arm.
After taking care of the injury and now somewhere in the middle of the second avalanche debris field I stopped for lunch and assessed the situation and determined that there would be more of these types of avalanche debris fields covering the rest of the trail to Strawberry Lake and decided that this was far enough.
Even though this hike was much shorter than I had anticipated, it still came in at a healthy 7.4 miles roundtrip, and the weather could not have been better. On the drive out of this remote area I did catch some spectacular views of the Sawatch Range in the Holy Cross Wilderness. There are a few campsites in this area that would offer incredible views of the Range in the morning and the evening. Given the remoteness of this trail, I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to Strawberry Lake, but what I did get to see was fantastic.