Posts Tagged ‘Indian Peaks Wilderness’

It wasn’t pre-dawn, but 7am was early enough to arrive at the 4th of July trailhead and secure a parking spot at the end of the rutted road. The previous month had been filled with road biking and I was curious how my legs would hold up to a longer hike. After passing nearly a dozen others before the Diamond Lake trail junction I figured I still had some of the old speed.

Passing below South Arapaho I took a minute to pick out the gully of the Skywalker Couloir, a route I did over 4 years ago, when I super eager to pick off the classic snow climbs and scrambles around the state. I’m a little less gung-ho now, but still pleased to be headed towards another classic this morning.

Across the valley I get a good look at Mount Jasper, the planned second part of my day and it’s class 3 northeast ridge descending from the summit in my direction.

Nearing Arapaho Pass I’m surprised that I haven’t seen any more hikers since down in the trees. I’m kept company by reflections on the last 4+ years of weekend outings in the state, and by a few territorial pikas.

Passing near the actual pass, I continue to follow the trail to the placid waters of Lake Dorothy below the shear rock face of Mount Neva. I’m a little late for the best light and the angle is too direct, so I return to my ascent to gain the north ridge.

This is the classic route I’ve come to do – largely third class scrambling along the crest of the north ridge with a few 4th class sections near the prominent notches. The route lets you ease in to the difficulties, with the crux sections coming towards the end. The northern end of the ridge was even home to a guardian marmot.

Having done no technical rock climbing in months, I’m perfectly happy to go gentle into the scrambling and stop often to take photos and check hand holds.

By the time the final notch and headwall come into view I’m warmed up to the game, and thankfully don’t have any chest-tightening fear like I’d had the last time I was on steep rock. I originally got into rock climbing through scrambling, possibly it will be my gateway again.

Lake Dorothy looked better as a shimmering blue backdrop to the ridge I was perched on than it had up close.

The views north and east continued my reflection on prior climbs as I looked over Apache, Navajo and Arapaho Peaks.

The last difficult moves passed without much worry, I had picked the easiest line I could see (a few years ago I might have challenged myself more and felt indestructible). A bit of easy walking brought me to summit where I snacked and kept one eye on the clouds to the east. I should still have time to rush along the connecting ridge towards Mount Jasper.

Sky to the west was clear (well, hazy from distant forest fires, but clear of clouds) while clouds built ominously over Apache, Navajo and Arapaho peaks. I was still in the sun which made it easier to decide to solider on.

Thirty minutes later I was on top of the slightly higher Mount Jasper – the ridge line being easier than I’d suspected. I put my helmet back on for the descent down the northeast ridge which was largely class 2 with a few enjoyable class 3 moves.

Once off the ridge and approaching an unnamed lake I ran into the first person I’d seen since arriving in the alpine zone, and came across an old plane wreck.

Continuing down the trail-less drainage I passed several more pretty lakes and some great views of South Arapaho.

Eventually I connected with the Diamond Lake trail and the usual weekend masses of humanity (of which I was clearly a part) on the jaunt back to the trailhead to end a six hour day.


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This certainly hasn’t been the snowiest winter on record, so I was unsure just how much of the white stuff I’d find in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Rollins Pass Road was completely clear on the drive in, but the trail was snow-packed (if thin) and fresh flakes were starting to fall as I left the trailhead.

Continuing pass the trail junctions for Forest and Crater Lakes, I headed further up the main valley than I’d ever been before. While my shoulders protested the heavy pack, my ego was stroked by all the day trippers who seemed impressed that I was going to spend the night.

Around 11,000 feet the trees started to thin and I figured I should pick a semi-sheltered spot now before continuing higher and risking a windier camp. The perfectly flat and sheltered bench appeared and I stomped out a tent platform and setup camp. Hours of watching snow fall while drinking hot beverages kept me entertained until dusk.

Once it was truly dark I left my headlamp in the tent and spent some time trying to capture the next image, all the while wishing for another light source and an off-camera flash.

Just before falling asleep I noticed the nearly full moon shining into the tent and went outside to investigate the clearing skies. The following shot was a 10 second exposure illuminated only by the moon.

With the clear sky came an overnight low of 14F so I stayed in camp through breakfast until it had begun to warm back up to 20F. Then I quickly packed away my night’s home and headed back down the trail through the 5 or so new inches of needed snow.

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The Hessie Trailhead was a new departure point for me, and Tara and I lucked out with a prime parking spot just before the road turned to a 4wd bog. A short hike took us to the real trailhead.

The aspen trees were all past their prime and had dropped their leaves at this elevation.

While we were hit by the wind, the large open meadow along the Devils Thumb Bypass Trail was our favorite section of the trail.

Above the meadow we hit a few trail junctions to take us up the Woodland Lake Trail.

The wildflowers are likely beautiful here in the summer months, maybe we’ll have to come back then. Until then I can watch the clouds and wait for winter’s snow to start falling.

Due to a miscommunication and scouting out a less-than-obvious section of trail, Tara walked up to Woodland Lake and I sat and waited for her to rejoin me.

Reunited, we set off down the Devils Thumb Trail and back to the trailhead.

Complete photo album

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On the short hike to Mitchell Lake Jeremy mentioned that he’s been trail running recently. I wonder if I need to put down the muffin I’m stuffing my face with and get ready to pick up the pace.

From the lake we head north up to hanging valley via large blocks of talus and hit the southeast ridge that leads towards Mount Audubon.

Simple scrambling leads to a gradually more defined ridge and we decide it’s time for helmets.

Having failed to read the guidebook description, I’m surprised by the sudden notch we encounter. The point I’m standing on seems to overhang in 3 directions, but we eventually find a scrambling route off to the north side then down to the notch.

Some fun (Roach says “nifty”) ledges lead out of the notch.

Beyond the ledges we encountered just a slog up grass and easy talus slopes. At least more of the scenery presented itself and (somewhat) made up for the lack of interest in the terrain at our feet.

After a brief break on top of Mount Audubon we descended off to the west to continue the ridge on to Paiute Peak.

This portion of the climb is a Roach “classic” but the terrain seemed simple and neither of us ever felt like donning a helmet.

Though short, the north on the other side of Audubon turned out to be our favorite section of the day.

The summit register had a few names we both recognized, but neither of us felt compelled to add our own signatures. Lunch brought out a discussion on the merits of different breads for “un-crushable-ness” vs “jelly absorption” and the benefits of different sandwich ingredients (Bread is for Strength, Cheese is for Courage).

From the summit we dropped down on the ridge leading to Mount Toll for a short ways, then continued directly down to the valley down a loose dirt and scree gully. I had thought the descent might be steeper, but we could pretty much scree-surf most of the way.

Blue Lake’s waterfall was impressive as always.

A nice finish to the climb was having Mountain Sun’s staff mess up the serving of my stout and getting a second pint free.

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The North Face of Lone Eagle Peak is a classic alpine rock route that had been on my radar for years. It’d probably been on Jim’s for even longer and scheduling worked out for us to attempt it. We scheduled three days as we weren’t sure how long the route would take us and wanted the option to sleep off the climbing before doing the 8 mile backpack back out.

Doug joined us for the hike in on Saturday, but wasn’t planning on attempting the climb.

8 miles from the Monarch Lake Trailhead up Cascade Creek went more quickly than expected on the easily graded trail. We took one short lunch break, but otherwise kept up a conversational pace.

As we neared the junction with the Pawnee Pass trail we finally had a view of Lone Eagle.

We found an open campsite as near the base of Lone Eagle as possible and wondered what to do with the rest of the afternoon, it was only 2pm.

Armed with the route description we scouted out the approach and identified the start of the first pitch.

Killing time turned out to be a non-issue as I wandered around Crater and Mirror Lakes enjoying the scenery.

After dinner the three of us crammed into Jim’s Hex tent for a cold night. Plentiful frost greeted us in the morning as we woke before dawn with a goal of starting our climb at 7am. Doug split off and headed toward Cherokee Peak while Jim and I went right to the start of our climb.

Jim decided to take the first pitch and found a piton part way up that confirmed we were on route.

The next couple of pitches were even easier than the start, and since it was still pretty cold I decided to climb for a while in my approach shoes. Following the first pitch would make that more reasonable than leading it, and I could do some of the easier portions with my gloves on.

Our second “pitch” was a long simul-climb across easy terrain on a broad ledge. A few spots were maybe 4th class or 5.0, but with both of us moving we combined what would have taken 3 traditional pitches and much more time.

Where the ledge system faded out I setup a belay and reeled in Jim for the remainder of the walking. The next pitch was a bit harder was was supposed to end just before a chimney pitch. Jim ended up combining these two pitches into our third.

When he went off belay I mock whined into the radio that he was getting to lead all the good stuff and I was stuck with the hiking pitches. Jim promised me the crux pitch and I decided to keep my approach shoes on while following the chimney pitch.

My next pitch was more hiking and a couple short 5.4 or easier rock walls.

At least I’d been keeping warm and now climbing easily without gloves. Jim led the next pitch, our 5th and similar to my 4th, except that he probably didn’t take the easiest line to finish and hit slightly harder (5.6?) climbing for a couple moves.

We’d reached a large grassy spot with a great view down the other side of Lone Eagle towards Crater and Mirror lakes. Jim also thought he saw Doug on top of Cherokee while belaying me up.

Unfortunately, we were also now on the windy side of the peak. Extra layers came back on as we scouted for the twin cracks that marked the crux pitch of the climb.

Jim settled into a semi-sheltered belay and stacked the rope while I dug out my climbing shoes and slipped them on.

A white sling around a large block had helped ID the start of this pitch and I climbed past it while still wearing my gloves and clipped a stuck tricam.

I needed to bare my hands to continue climbing, but would have to make a move or two then try to warm them up. At a snails pace I crawled up the climb, but at least was really enjoying the climbing itself.

After passing 4 pitons letting me know I was definitely on route and using up most of our light rack I reached the north shoulder of the peak and setup an anchor with the gear that remained on my harness to belay Jim up.

We warmed up by moving to the east, sunnier and lee, side of the peak for the final pitch.

Jim led up a left leaning chimney then over terrain with lots of options. There were some fun moves in here and climbing from 5.4-5.6 depending on the line taken.

A couple feet of our 60 meter rope remained when he hit the summit and belayed me up.

We’d reached the top at 11:30 am and were pretty happy with that pace. After packing away our climbing gear and switching back to boots and shoes we started to figure out the descent route.

Dropping off the knife-edged crest to the east we followed some easy ledges with a few cairns.

We probably didn’t find the best place to begin ascending back to the crest, but it still worked as a scramble and we picked up the normal route again.

The steep sections ended and we were left with a lot of talus and tundra walking back down to the valley.

Once we arrived back at camp and realized it wasn’t even 1:30 pm yet, we packed up and made a forced march hike out. Forced, because the last hour I felt like I’d fall asleep if I stopped.

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While driving home from Mt Toll yesterday I got a voice mail from Pete canceling our Sunday plans. By now this has become a well-established pattern for the summer and I just laughed as he described the sprained ankle and events that led to it. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be peak baggers.

After a hike Friday and a technical climb Saturday, I figured Sunday should be a scramble. Dave Cooper’s book help me choose the East Ridge of Pawnee Peak (Little Pawnee to Pawnee traverse) and I accept that I’ll be visiting the Indian Peaks Wilderness two days in a row.

The alarm wakes me early and while brewing coffee I check email to see that Kevin found out what was behind the helicopter we say yesterday. Reading news article I realize the accident was on the route I’m planning today.

Undeterred, but very cautious, I drive up to the Long Lake trailhead and start my hike at 6:30 am. I follow the trail most of the way up to Lake Isabelle, only seeing a few people in the parking lot. No one is on the trail just ahead of me (or they’re moving quicker than I am) but when I start off-trail towards the east ridge of Pawnee I immediately gain some company.

The deer watches me and lets me approach within 20 feet before fleeing and I turn my attention back to picking out a line up to the east ridge.

A little bit of talus hopping, a fair amount of pine tree bushwhacking and a tiny quantity of rock scrambling and I’m on the ridge. Mostly easy terrain, minus one small notch (which I later realize is where yesterday’s climber fell), and I’m soon on the summit of Little Pawnee – about 2 hours after leaving the trailhead.

I know the crux is waiting for me and I figure it was just ahead or somewhere along the traverse that the climber fell yesterday. I’ll admit all the accidents I’ve been in proximity to recently has me a little nervous.

A very careful downclimb gets me through the crux, but it will be another hour until the mental weight has really lifted. Plenty of loose rock and non-obvious route finding lies ahead.

If I was with others, I might try to stick closer to the crest. Being solo and haunted I play a cautious hand. Still, I sometimes decide to stay higher, on more difficult but possibly more solid terrain than the lower, looser side-hilling that I deem more dangerous.

Continuing the traverse, I get my head screwed on straight and recall how I often think of “alpine mountaineering” as “alpine decision-making”. Being outside and high on a ridge isn’t a time to turn off my brain, but a time when I become more focused, constantly analyze and consciously make choices.

While the terrain eases off a bit and I feel better with my choices I ponder asking the alpine vegetation what season it is. Their red color clearly answers autumn, at least at this elevation.

Nearing the end of the difficulties I find a wonderful series of broken slabs to follow up to the ridge crest. Plenty of positive hand holds has me enjoying the scrambling just before the whole ridge eases off to a walk.

Surprisingly, I have the summit to myself, since I can see a trail just below with lots of hikers. I take a break to decompress then join the crowds on the Pawnee Pass trail back to the trailhead.

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As we left the Mitchell Lake trailhead I was glad to see that yesterday’s 3-peak day didn’t seem to be impacting today’s hiking. I wasn’t sore and didn’t feel tired as we made the three mile hike past Mitchell Lake and on to the more impressive Blue Lake.

Kevin and I followed a trail around the north side of the lake, admired the falls at the upper end and then began to pick a line leading to the saddle north of Mount Toll.

A fair amount of loose scree and talus stood between us and the saddle, but we carefully navigated through and were soon enjoying more solid scrambling on the ridge crest.

In the shade ahead stood our goal – Mount Toll’s North Ridge.

While still in the sun we stopped and put on climbing shoes, harnesses, helmets and Kevin passed the rack of gear he’d packed to me. This would be his third time up this route, so I’d get to lead the 1st and 3rd pitches.

Kevin spotted the 5.6 thin ramp that marked the start of the climbing and stacked the rope while I kept my fingers warm and ready to climb. The start was quite easy, but cold so I tried to plug gear quickly and follow the line of least resistance to a large ledge with several loose blocks. While traversing the ledge, rope drag increased but I continued through a little step-across move to a sunny ledge to belay.

Kevin soon arrived and took the rack to lead the second pitch.

He stopped his pitch after only 30 meters so that I could have the fun hand crack just above his belay. I followed and cleaned his pitch and found the exit from the dihedral to be the crux of this section and harder than anything I did on pitch 1.

While I took the rack and Kevin got organized to belay me a helicopter circled over twice. A little unnerving since this was the 3 time in the last 4 days I’d been out that I’ve been buzzed by a helicopter.

Starting up the hand crack I had to maneuver carefully around a couple large and not entirely solid looking blocks. Once in the crack, the climbing was fun but jamming wasn’t mandatory. What was essential, was placing real gear around the ancient and shoddy looking piton.

A small “roof” came after the crack ended and required trusting some blocks jutting out into space. Above, the difficulties rapidly eased and I was soon on a huge rubble strewn ledge looking for the largest block to use as an anchor.

Kevin climbed up and we packed away all the gear for only scrambling remained. Following the ledge around to the west side of the summit towers we decided to finish up on a harder scramble up a vertical gully then on to the summit.

A couple on the summit greeted us as we arrived then the four of us figured out all the peaks in view.

We all left via the south slopes route, a mostly straight forward if not loose and steep descent. Lots of talus, some grass slopes, a few slabs, a bit of snow and a small water fall passed by as we made it back to Blue Lake.

Per Dominic’s dictum we eventually spied the “happy fat person” and knew we were nearly at the trailhead.

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