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Indian Peaks Wilderness (part 1)

Started: 2008-07-05 20:10:00

Submitted: 2008-07-10 12:43:36

Visibility: World-readable

I'm currently two nights into a four-day, three-night backpacking expedition in Indian Peaks Wilderness. This time, Kiesa joined me; she took one day off work and made the Fourth of July holiday weekend into a four-day weekend. I was somewhat concerned about the number of people we would see and whether we would be able to get a backcountry permit; I mailed my application at the end of May and got my pass back two weeks later.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

On Thursday morning, Kiesa and I finished packing our backpacks and discovered that we needed a few more key items. Our departure from home was slightly delayed by Bethany's arrival; she flew into Denver on Thursday morning to spend the Fourth of July in Colorado and is staying in our house in our absence. Once we finally left Kiesa forgot her iPod but we were only a few miles from home so I returned to retrieve it. We swung into Boulder to get a fuel canister (I almost used up my fuel on my last backpacking expedition, and we'll need more hot water -- and more camp stove fuel -- this trip), two morally-pure BPA-free Nalgene water bottles, and a few pairs of hiking socks. (One of my pairs has gone thread-bare on the heel, and Kiesa didn't have enough socks for the expedition.) We drove up Lefthand Canyon to Brainard Lake, ate lunch at the Long Lake Trailhead, and hit the trail with our packs at 1500.

With Kiesa carrying the water filter and all of our food, my backpack was slightly lighter but still weighed in at about 52 pounds. Kiesa's pack weighed 45 pounds -- one-third of her body weight. She soon decided that her pack was a bit heavy for her. I decided mine was about right. (I still have no real idea how I could decrease my pack weight, though I did weigh most of the things I put into my pack.)

We set out along the Pawnee Pass Trail, which was mobbed by day hikers. At Lake Isabelle, we began the ascent to Pawnee Pass, an ascent I haven't made in roughly fifteen years. (I recall my father taking me up Pawnee Pass, then climbing along the Continental Divide to Pawnee Peak, sometime in the early nineties as part of a training regiment for ultimately climbing Fourteeners.)

Lake Isabelle and Shoshoni Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Lake Isabelle and Shoshoni Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Clouds rolled in as we ascended. By the time we negotiated a snowfield traverse below the pass it was raining and I could hear thunder nearby. We crossed the pass in something resembling a run, scurrying for lower ground on the other side. We took a break in the relative safety of the western descent from the pass with a great view of the sharp valley below, Pawnee Lake, and Lake Granby.

Kiesa at Pawnee Pass
Kiesa at Pawnee Pass

(Pawnee Pass, at 12,541 feet, is the highest I've been (while standing on solid ground) since climbing James Peak in September.)

Jaeger at Pawnee Pass
Jaeger at Pawnee Pass

We began the steep descent towards Pawnee Lake. I didn't count the switchbacks, but one of my guidebooks reported 23. Around 11,500 feet, I identified a number of possible campsites in the tundra, but Kiesa thought it might be best to press on to Pawnee Lake itself, which seemed like it might hold a number of possible campsites. This proved unsuccessful; there was still to much snow surrounding the lake to allow for any campsites in our survey.

Looking down at Pawnee Lake from Pawnee Pass
Looking down at Pawnee Lake from Pawnee Pass

By this time, the sun had set. I pulled out my head lamp and studied my maps for clues about where I might be able to find a reasonable campsite. We continued our descent along Cascade Creek and ultimately found an acceptable campsite along the trail, not far from the junction with the Crater Lake Trail, at 2100.

We set up camp, ate supper, and went to bed, relieved to have found a campsite for the night. Determined to learn from my mistakes, I identified two obvious mistakes: Leaving the trailhead too late (figuring out what I needed from REI in advance would have saved time) and passing up a good campsite once I had entered find-a-campsite mode.

Friday, 4 July 2008

When I woke up Friday morning, I discovered that my campsite afforded a fantastic view of Lone Eagle Peak. I had previously seen the peak only via photos, and I can say it was more impressive in person. Kiesa and I ate breakfast, broke camp, reloaded our packs, and headed down the trail to the junction between the Pawnee Pass Trail, Cascade Creek Trail, and Crater Lake Trail. Along the way we had to ford Cascade Creek; I was able to keep my feet dry in my high waterproof boots but Kiesa didn't do quite as well.

Camp near Cascade Creek, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Camp near Cascade Creek, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Lone Eagle Peak from camp
Lone Eagle Peak from camp

We dropped our packs at the trail junction and headed south along the Crater Lake Trail. Lone Eagle Peak loomed large ahead of us, especially as we stopped at Mirror Lake, which seemed specifically designed as a reflecting pool for the stark granite cone. We continued up the trail to Crater Lake itself, where we rested and enjoyed the scenery for a bit before returning to our packs.

Jaeger and Kiesa at Lone Eagle Peak
Jaeger and Kiesa at Lone Eagle Peak
Crater Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Crater Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness

We descended the Cascade Creek Trail and encountered progressively more people as we descended, all day hikers up from the nearby trailheads above Lake Granby. The pine forest had been hit hard by the pine beetle epidemic; half of the forest was rust-colored, signaling dead trees. It was a major forest fire waiting to happen, just waiting for a lightning strike or a careless human. The next time I come through this part of Indian Peaks the scenery may be very different.

We passed the lowest point on our trip, 8800 feet, at the junction of the Cascade Creek and Buchanan Pass Trails, after crossing Buchanan Creek on a fabulous bridge made out of pressure-treated wood. (As we descended Cascade Creek, the bridges got progressively nicer.) We turned up the Buchanan Pass Trail and begun a gentle ascent. We passed the junction with the Gourd Lake Trail (which seemed to have moved several hundred meters up the trail from the point where my maps showed the junction) and I thought about launching a side expedition to the lake, but it didn't seem worth the one-way distance and elevation gain. We continued along the trail and found a great campsite at the edge of a meadow just before the trail began its climb to Fox Park and ultimately Buchanan Pass.

We set up camp in full daylight, which was a pleasant change from the previous night. Our early arrival afforded a much more leisurely evening.

Camp near Buchanan Creek, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Camp near Buchanan Creek, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Unlike most of you, I get to bed at a reasonable hour.
- Dr. Show, to physics class, 20 August 1999