It may seem like you've maintained a steady uphill climb, but at this point you've conquered just over half the 2,200-foot elevation gain. After a brief rest on a flat stretch of wildflower-dotted meadow, you'll start the most challenging part of the trail. It zigzags up a steep wall of boulders that, from afar, looks like a recent avalanche. In the afternoon, when the sun beats down on that relentless open face, it's a hard, tiring haul. But eventually you round a corner into a lush little alcove that takes you to the dam side of Eagle Lake. Walk over the dam to catch a broad glimpse of the clear, emerald pool with tiny trout (not worth fishing for) and rock formations poking out its middle. This is your home for the night.
Pitch your tent as far past the end of the trail as you can, up above the water. From this vantage point you can watch mule deer and marmots visit the lake without disturbing them. You might even see a black bear. Which brings up the point of food storagedon't take the rangers' warnings lightly. If you don't own a bear canister, rent one at the ranger station. Another option is hanging your food, a tricky maneuver that you'd be wise to master before you actually need it.
A perfect evening at Eagle Lake goes something like this: pasta with sundried tomatoes, slurped noodle by noodle at the edge of the lake; a quick dip in the icy water, followed by a warming sprawl on a sun-heated rock; solitude at sunset, as deep orange light drips down the cliffs and trees; constellations, too many to count; deep, peaceful sleep.
In the morning you can scramble up over the ridge for a view of the Mosquito Lakes before packing up for the return trip. Downhill is much, much easier. This is a good time to plan your next visit, maybe a multi-day adventure over the 11,600-foot Sawtooth Pass. A serious backpacker could make a long loop of it, coming home via Franklin Pass (11,800 feet) and down past the multicolored rock that wraps around the Franklin Lakes.
Before you know it, you're back at the start. And, after a quick check under the hood for marmots, you're on the road. You might stop at the Silver Springs Resort for a BLT and a caffeine infusion to keep you wide-eyed for the 25-mile haul back to the highway. It's the same long, narrow road you crept up to get here, but it always seems less daunting on the way home.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication