Dreamy Views on Cloudripper

I had been wanting to do Cloudripper (13,525′) for a while, so last year I took the family to make an attempt on the summit. My son Wes and I made it to what I thought was the summit of Cloudripper, only to discover from our GPS tracks that we had summitted the wrong mountain! We summited Vagabond Peak, not realizing that we came about 1000 yards short of Cloudripper. Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to do it again. But instead of going through Bishop Pass, I wanted to come up via the Big Pine Trailhead. Ian, one of my colleagues at NCF, agreed to come with me on this last trip of the season before winter arrived.

Cloudripper via the Big Pine Trailhead

We met up at the trailhead. Ian came from Santa Barbara and I from LA. We got started out of the Big Pine Trailhead late Friday in perfect weather. As we hiked out of the valley we were struck by the fall colors of the aspens. Photographers come from all over to catch this beautiful spectacle and I can see why. There was a cool breeze in the afternoon that put all of the trees in motion. Almost by reflex, I breathed in deeply and thanked God that I got to be alive and in this place today.

Fall colors
Aspen fall colors
Fall colors along Big Pine Creek
Fall colors and dreamy turquois lakes

We hiked what seemed like about eight miles in to our campsite at Lake 4. Just as we got to camp, the temperature dropped really quickly and within an hour, sporadic snow started to fall. Just before dark, the snow flurry passed and we caught an incredible sunset looking toward Two Eagle Peak.

Two Eagle Peak
Two Eagle Peak
Two Eagle Peak
Two Eagle Peak 15 minutes later
Gathering storm over the mountains
Snow flurries start to fall from the gathering clouds at sunset

We had heard reports of strong winds the day before that were expected to continue at the summit, so when we turned in for the night we weren’t sure if the conditions would allow us to summit. There was a lot of wind that night, but by morning it was perfectly still, clear, and 45 degrees – so we headed up.

There was a lot of wind that night, but by morning it was perfectly still, clear, and 45 degrees – so we headed up.

The Palisade Range
Clouds rolling in over the Palisade Range

The trail quickly disappeared and we followed the terrain toward Lakes 5 and 6, moving over large talus fields that forced us to rock hop for a half mile. Then we scrambled up a steep ramp until we reached the ridge between Cloudripper and Skyhaven. This was the hardest terrain of the trip. It was super steep, loose, and seemed to go on forever.

The trail quickly disappeared and we followed the terrain toward Lakes 5 and 6, moving over large talus fields that forced us to rock hop for a half mile.

Fall colors
Lake 6 surrounded by alpine meadows turning to fall colors
Gaining the ridge of Cloudripper
Making our ascent to the Cloudripper -Skyhaven Saddle with Lakes 5 and 6 below

Once we got to the ridge we slowly ascended to the summit, passing the last remaining snow fields of the season. The summit itself took some moderate scrambling, but there was not exposure to worry about on this route.

The Cloudripper summit
Ridge walking near the summit

The Cloudripper Summit

We stayed on the summit and enjoyed the amazing views and perfect weather for 20 minutes, then mustered our strength to make the long slog back to the cars. We tried to avoid the long rock hop through the talus fields, but it was no use.

The Cloudripper summit
Summit!
Taking a break on the Cloudripper ridge
Talking a beak on the descent

After making the painful talus crossing one more time, we finally got back to our campsite, packed up, and then headed off the mountain. Ian and I were both pretty wrecked by the time we got to our cars. It was just a lot of miles in a long day. We parted ways and I got a Red Bull and snacks at the gas station to keep myself awake on the 4+ hour drive home. I got home just before midnight and was asleep two minutes after my head hit the pillow.

Cloudripper had lived up to my anticipation of being a worthy adventure.

I got up the next day a little sad that winter was coming and it would be a while before I’d get out into the big mountains. I guess I am just going to have to be patient.

Elevation Profile

Cloudripper elevation profile

Trail Map

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