Getting squared away on Triangle Peak

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 16:16
Triangle Peak as seen from the shores of Symphony Lake.

The three words that kept rattling around in my head July 25 as I left the shores of Symphony Lake and angled up-slope toward Triangle Peak were “how we forget.”

The last time I’d hiked up this 5,455-foot peak in the South Fork of Eagle River was in 2001, and back then it seemed a lot easier. In fact, my logbook noted that I made it to the top from the parking lot in 3-1/2 hours. On this day it would take me about twice as long.

One of the reasons I wanted to venture up Triangle again was to get a good look at the south side of 6,410-foot Cantata, which one has to traverse for a ways to get back up to the summit (west) ridge. The other reason was that I was in the mood for a long, gradual hike rather than a steep scramble. I’d forgotten how long the approach to Triangle is -- about 8-1/2 miles from the trailhead.

Rather than hiking past the old shelter between Eagle and Symphony Lakes and heading up the valley of Symphony Creek to catch the trail on the other side, I just crossed the boulder field on the north side of the lake and made a long, gradual approach that took me between two tarns that lie at about 3,000 feet. The preferred trail would have taken me in the same direction, only more steeply and directly.

Once above the tarns I picked up a small trail that led me to Triangle Pass, and from there it was a gradual approach to the Triangle proper -- which rises only about 600-700 feet from the broad plateau of the pass. From that point it only took 30 minutes to reach the summit.

At the summit I found a small, informal register cached in a pile of rocks and added my entry. Cantata, Calliope and Concerto mountains didn’t look quite as imposing from the summit of Triangle, yet I know they’re all longer and tougher climbs. The bird’s eye view whetted my appetite to someday take on some of these bigger peaks. The nagging voice chimed: “If you do, build in lots of time. You’re slower than you used to be!”

It was sunny and warm, about 60 degrees, with a light breeze. Looking down into Ewe Valley, I regretted not bringing my tent and staying overnight. The weather forecast was good and it would have been nice to spend a second day exploring that three-mile-long valley.

On this outing I was surprised not to see any Dall sheep, but I did get a nice look at a Bald eagle and a large hawk that circled closer to perhaps check me out.

One of the most striking things you see from the summit of Triangle is the difference in water color between Symphony and Eagle Lakes. Symphony Lake is a deep blue because its source is melting snow several miles away, while Eagle Lake’s cloudiness is a result of suspended solids, or till, from Flute Glacier runoff. On this late-July day, Eagle Lake’s color was almost milky.

Most of the natural features in and around South Fork valley, including lakes, mountains and glaciers, are named after musical instruments.. There are Flute and Organ glaciers; Symphony Lake, and several mountains: Organ, Harp, Cantata, Calliope, Hurdy-Gurdy, Triangle and Concerto. Legendary mountaineer Vin Hoeman began naming these features back in the early 1960s when he was chairman of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) Geographic Names Committee. Other mountaineers, including Tim Kelley, Richard Baranow and Tom Choate, also contributed to naming the peaks.

The deep, glacier-carved valleys behind Symphony and Eagle Lakes and the small alpine lakes, called tarns, set like blue-green jewels in the alpine tundra, create a mood of calm and reverence as one would experience while listening to a beautiful piece of music.

Before leaving the summit I glassed the North Fork of Sheep Creek with binoculars to see if any wildlife was about, but came up blank. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you don’t see anything, look again, again and even again. If you look long enough, it seems, you’ll spot something. But that requires patience, and I’d already been out about seven hours.

I should have taken the direct trail down to Symphony Creek and gone out that way, but instead I backtracked the way I came. On the back half of a long day, the boulder field north of Symphony Lake and Eagle Lake seemed endless.

On the way out I saw about 20 people, including a group of about 12 Asians equipped with camping gear and fishing poles--apparently going after Symphony Lake’s grayling. I finally got back to my truck at 10 p.m., bone tired and hungry.

The day had been tiring, but enjoyable. Mostly, I think the 17-mile trek had humbled me and “gotten my mind right,” to paraphrase prison superintendent Stother Martin’s admonishment to prisoner Paul Newman in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”

In a sense Triangle had “squared me away” in preparation for other climbs in the area. Eagle Peak at 6,955 feet is the biggest one I have climbed in the area--but that was also several years ago… and those same three words kept rambling around in my head:

“How we forget.”


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank or comment on his columns, e-mail him at: [email protected].

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