July 30, 2013 by Joe Grant · 16 Comments
Over a decade ago, I got my first experience of the wonders of the American West, roaming around in an old, beat up, Ford Econoline van from the Four Corners area to eastern California. The deserts, canyons and mountains in these parts have a particular feel and allure that will captivate even the most passive observer. Vagabonding on the road west was exhilarating and I would compliment my adventures devouring travel narratives that offered further escape to exotic, faraway lands. On one of my trips, I read Ian Baker’s The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place, an intriguing book framed around Baker’s intense and involved expeditions to Tibet’s Tsangpo Gorge in search of an unmapped and scarcely documented five-mile section in the heart of the Gorge. Baker’s book was memorable as he introduced me to the concept of beyul – hidden lands said to hold the essence of Buddhist Tantric scriptures. These secret places are infinitely difficult to get to and try the seeker on many levels – physically, mentally, spiritually. While the book implies these secret places are tangible, physical locations, it also infers that they are only revealed fully through an elevated level of mental awareness.
Leaving aside the Buddhist component, I extrapolated the concept of beyul to my own understanding of place. Namely, certain places carry more weight for me in their power to induce higher states of awareness. The high mountains, deserts and canyons conjure up this type of sentiment in me, with certain peaks in particular standing out in my personal experience. One such place is Lone Eagle Peak, nestled in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Three years ago, someone mentioned the peak to me as a worthy summit to climb. A quick online search lead me to stunning photographs of a perfect cone shaped mountain with a sharp, pointy summit. Interestingly, the peak only reveals itself in such a dramatic fashion from its northern aspect. Looking at it from any other direction, the peak fades into the ending point of a ridge dominated by the higher and more impressive summits of Iroquois and Limbo. I liked the fact that a certain perspective was needed to truly appreciate its grandeur.
Lone Eagle Peak is not by any means the biggest or toughest mountain to scale in the Indian Peaks. It is not particularly remote either with moderately challenging trails less than ten miles in length leading to its base from the east and west. Yet, the image of its salient summit had been burned into my mind for quite some time, only furthering my mythification of the place. After a rough go at the Hardrock Hundred this year, the opportune time for a solitary alpine jaunt presented itself. I needed to be alone to think and Lone Eagle seemed like the natural place for me to go for some quiet pondering.
Just after leaving the Brainard Lake parking lot, I come face to face with a large moose. Instead of charging directly at me, the animal decides to run off into the bushes, joining three others. An intimate look at such tremendous creatures is always exhilarating, despite the apprehension of being in such close proximity. The encounter puts a jolt in my step as I power my way up to Pawnee Pass. The tight, circuitous singletrack down the western scree slope of the pass leads into a lush alpine valley lit up by wildflowers. The now cushy, dirt trail works its way into the forest, rolling through the trees along a creek towards Crater Lake. I have yet to see Lone Eagle, so I quicken my pace in lingering anticipation.
As I crest a small rise, the peak reveals itself in all of its splendor. I had worried that my expectations to finally experience the peak were too high, that I would somehow be disappointed – no such thing. I enjoy every step up its flank, marvel at its curves and paw up its grassy slopes, giddy. I follow rock cairns up Solo Flight, a popular route which features a short, 200 foot, easy-but-exposed fourth-class section to the summit.
Initially, I had thought to make a loop out of the outing, linking the Molhing traverse over Limbo and Iroquois, but I am content to just sit and absorb. I let the place make an impression on me, soaking up the feeling of emptiness that the airy summit position provides. I snap a few shots on my way back, chat with some other hikers, and dance around a goat looking for a drink of my salty piss. I like it here. I like the calm atmosphere, the rich depth the place exudes. I walk more on my return to savor and cling a little longer to the balanced sentiment I get from being in the right space. I came to think, but am instead happy to just be. Lone Eagle Peak is not a beyul by the true definition of the term. However, it has become a special place for me both in my physical experience of scaling it and in my imagination.