We left town for the holiday weekend and made our way down to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for a little backpacking and peakbagging. The destination was a place known as Lake of the Clouds, and the goal was to climb two nearby 13ers, Cloud Peak and Spread Eagle Peak.
Though the name implies a single lake, Lake of the Clouds is actually three separate lakes, all pretty close to each other near treeline at the head of Swift Creek. The valley is accessed from the east near Westcliffe and involves about a four mile hike. Fourth of July weekend is a busy time everywhere in the mountains, and Lake of the Clouds was no exception. But despite the full parking area at the trailhead, we found a completely isolated campsite that overlooked the lakes and the upper valley, which also put us in good position to tag the two summits.
After setting up camp we headed towards Cloud Peak, 13,524 ft. Apart from a short stretch on some dirt and talus on the route up to the ridge, the peak was easy to climb. Cloud Peak’s name is derived from the fact that weather tends to linger in this area, and clouds, fog, and precipitation can be the norm here during the late-summer monsoon season. Being early July, we had good weather all morning. We were glad the mountain didn’t live up to it’s name, and we were allowed to tag the top.
From there it was a quick jaunt over to Spread Eagle Peak, 13,423 ft. We don’t know the origin of that mountain’s name, but it happens to serve as the backdrop to an old ski area known as Conquistador and later called Mountain Cliffe (that is no longer in operation), and we could only wonder if there was some colorful local ski history related to the two. There happens to be a pretty cool backcountry ski line from Spread Eagle’s summit down to the southwest, which would be in full view of Conquistador’s ski slopes. Perhaps a tale of an early ski mountaineer, a giant spread eagle, and a first descent? I can’t find much information on it, so that will be our imaginative guess.
Storms were building in the afternoon and we found ourselves in some weather on our way back down to camp. We caught some hail for a short bit and got to experience the valley living up to its name. Thankfully it cleared in time for happy hour which we took perched high above the lakes.