Emerald Pk - 13,904 feet
Iowa Pk - 13,831 feet
Emerald Pk - 13,904 feet
Iowa Pk - 13,831 feet
|Emerald/Iowa Arcturus Classic from Clohesy Lake|
13,904 Feet (71st Highest in Colorado)
13,831 Feet (Unranked)
Emerald/Iowa Loop from Clohesy Lake
Trailhead Elevation 11,040 Feet
Approximately 7.77 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 3,200 Feet Elevation Gained
September 27th, 2015
Partners: Derek, Jay521
Emerald/Iowa Arcturus Classic from Clohesy Lake
Emerald Peak and Iowa Peak are a couple of big thirteeners that lie on the ridge to the south of fourteener Missouri Mountain. Iowa doesn't rise high enough above the saddle with Missouri to earn a hard ranking, but Emerald Peak is among the highest hundred in Colorado. As such, it garners a fair amount of interest from peak baggers.
These peaks are accessible from the Pine Creek and Missouri Gulch trailheads, but we chose the scenic approach from Clohesy Lake via the Rockdale trailhead. Rockdale (also known as Silverdale) was a mining town that was founded in the early 1880's. None of the original cabins from the mining town are still extant, but there are five rustic cabins from a later era on the site. Two of these can apparently be rented from the Forest Service.
A couple of years ago, Jay and I met on the saddle of nearby Mt. Hope. Not surprisingly, our similar mountaineering interests led us to other thirteeners in the area. We anticipated having to haul more people than my two-seater Wrangler could accommodate, so we took Jay's FJ Cruiser for the notorious four-wheel-drive road from Rockdale to Clohesy Lake. The Clear Creek crossing was inconsequential due to low flow, but the rest of the road lived up to its reputation. Five to 10 miles per hour would be a good pace on the Clohesy Lake 4WD road. Negotiating this trail, on foot or on wheels, add a considerable amount of time to the journey. It was quite a relief when we finally found a parking pullout at the gate below Clohesy Lake.
Jay at the gate below Clohesy Lake
Derek had hiked Quail Mountain the day before, and trekked up to Clohesy Lake to camp afterwards. We met him at the lake, and started up the Pear Lake Trail.
Derek waiting for us at Clohesy Lake, with Mt. Huron in the background
Clohesy Lake was formerly privately owned, and was the site of a fish hatchery. When the Forest Service obtained the property, they reportedly burned down the hatchery because it was an attractive nuisance. Most of the debris has now been removed.
There are multiple trails that head up the slopes from the vicinity of the lake, but our goal was to head farther up the gulch on the Pear Lake Trail. The initial part of the trail is well established. It starts below treeline, and gradually winds upwards through willows and grassy meadows. The scenery in the gulch was outstanding.
Heading up the gulch on the Pear Lake Trail
Where there are willows, there is water. We had to cross the creek several times, but none of the crossings involved getting wet. There was a bit of black mud to avoid in low-lying areas.
Derek and Jay crossing the creek
Derek bailed early in the hike due to minor health issues, and headed back to his rental car at the Rockdale trailhead. Jay and I gained altitude very gradually on the Pear Lake Trail. Even at the head of the gulch where we switchbacked up to the saddle, the slope was not very steep.
Approaching the head of the gulch (image by Jay Dahl)
Switchbacking out of the gulch and up to the saddle
Emerald's massif came into view as we rose closer to the saddle. It was not emerald green, as the name might imply. It was, however, quite an imposing pile of steep scree and talus.
Me getting an eyeful of Emerald's massif (image by Jay Dahl)
When we got to the saddle, we could look down into the Pear Lake basin. Since there is little vegetation on Emerald Peak, I surmised that it may have gotten its name from Pear Lake's greenish hue.
Looking down at Pear Lake from the saddle
Higher up on the saddle, we found some interesting remains of a log cabin. The map doesn't show any abandoned mining claims on Emerald Peak, but this cabin certainly appears to have been a combination bunk house/shaft house. The abandoned Magdalene and Silver King mines were no more than a mile or two from this site.
Remains of the cabin on the saddle
Near the cabin, I noticed the fluffy seedheads of a patch of mountain avens. It looks kind of scruffy this time of year, but this low-growing member of the rose family has nice white flowers in midsummer. It's found in various places around the northern hemisphere, and is the national flower of Iceland.
The fluffy seedheads of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala)
From the saddle, we could see a trail heading up through the hellish scree on the south slope. Sometimes things look far worse from a distance, but aren't so bad once you get a closer look. No such luck this time. This is the famous "two steps forward, one step back" grade of Sawatch scree. It was steep, and it was miserable. The small talus on either side of the trail was just as loose, and twice as likely to cause an injury. Jay charted a course up some larger scree farther from the trail; the larger talus was more stable, and made for an easier ascent.
Scouting out a route on Emerald's south slopes (image by Jay Dahl)
Did I mention that it was steep? (image by Jay Dahl)
Bird's-eye view of Jay working his way up the slope with Pear Lake in the background
We reached a flat shoulder at the top of the slope that seemed like a logical place to take a breather before our final summit push. The remainder of the route on Emerald consisted of about 250 feet of dirt, talus, and tundra. It was not nearly as difficult as the slope that we had just finished.
Jay on the shoulder below the summit cone
The remainder of the route on Emerald
The views from the summit were as good as any in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. We could see Huron, Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Yale, and Columbia. Harvard was close, and it looked absolutely huge.
Mt. Harvard seen from Emerald Peak's summit
Red fall foliage of alpine springbeauty (Claytonia megarhiza)
Descending from Emerald to its saddle with Iowa Peak was tedious. It was mostly stable talus with just enough scree to keep us on our toes.
Starting down to the saddle with Iowa Peak
Iowa Peak's south slope was a joy compared to the suffering that we experienced on Emerald. Some people may choose to head straight up the talus, but we stuck to the rocky tundra on the far right of the slope.
Looking at Iowa Peak's south slope from its saddle with Emerald Peak
We had zero interest in climbing Missouri Mountain after finishing our pair of thirteeners, but it would have been quite easy from its saddle with Iowa Peak. Forest Service trail 1459 is a Class 1 400-foot straight shot to the summit.
Looking north to Missouri Mountain from Iowa Peak's summit
The route down from Iowa Peak to its saddle with Missouri Mountain vaguely resembled a trail. The going was relatively easy. There are several routes down to Clohesy Lake from the Iowa/Missouri saddle; we chose to descend from the lowest point of the saddle. I doubt that any of the other routes are much better.
Looking down the valley towards Clohesy Lake, which is just out of sight
Taking the plunge (image by Jay Dahl)
I knew that the descent from the saddle was going to be steep, and I knew that it was going to be loose. I had idea that it was going to take as long as it did, though. The first 800 feet was rough. Surfing on steep ball bearing scree is a recipe for disaster, but I managed to remain vertical.
On the steep part of the slope (image by Jay Dahl)
Where's Waldo? I'm pretty sure that Jay is in this image somewhere, wearing khaki
The steep stuff seemed to go on and on, but we eventually made it down to more reasonable terrain.
Looking back at the Iowa/Missouri saddle. We descended from the notch in the low point of the saddle
The valley below the saddle must be green and lovely in the summer, but not much remains of its summer splendor. The only wildflowers that I saw were a few scattered Parry's harebell.
Parry's harebell Campanula parryi
In the middle of the valley below the saddle, there is a huge stand of willows. Jay went to the right and above the willows, while I went to the left and below. He definitely had the easier time of it. I eventually crossed back over to the right side, and quickly found the Missouri west ridge trail. It looks like an excellent alternative to the standard route. We correctly assumed that this trail would take us back to Clohesy Lake. It wasn't exactly a superhighway, but it sure beat bushwhacking.
The sea of willows in the middle of the valley
Looking up the Missouri west ridge trail
The Missouri west ridge trail led us back to treeline, and in a roundabout way, back to Clohesy Lake.
Clohesy Lake viewed from the Missouri west ridge trail
When we got back to the lake, I was shocked to see that we had only traveled 7.7 miles with 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The steepness of the route put a lot more wear and tear on the quads than a relatively short hike like this would ordinarily cause. People have good reasons to complain about the scree in the Sawatch Range, but there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with this area. The scenery in the valleys is hard to beat, as are the summit views. The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a huge remote area with ample opportunity to find solitude. I'll remember the scenery and the solitude long after I've shaken the scree from my shoes.
GPS track of our Emerald/Iowa loop hike
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