Wasatch 100

Wasatch 100

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Buchanan/Pawnee Pass 28 Mile Loop Hike - Indian Peaks Wilderness Co

The Buchanan/Pawnee Pass loop is one great loop hike that is convenient to the Denver-Boulder Area. It ended up being a 28 mile loop covering 3 climbs in the Indian Peak Wilderness.  According to my Garmin 910 (both setting map and watch) we climbed between 7,093 ft (map) and 9,334 ft (watch) and had close to the same descent.  See: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/194970958.  Note: at the end of this report is a video that shows some of the highlights from the hike.

We began our hike about 7:50 am after enjoying coffee in Nederland and breaking down our camp at the Kelly Dahl campground 20 miles away.  Our goal was to finish close to 12 hours and treat the day as a fast hike with no running. 

(Brainard Lake looking at Shoshoni Pk - We would return from the right side view)

To begin, we parked at the Lake Mitchell trailhead, which is in the mountains above Ward, CO.  In the summer expect to pay a park fee to the area ($6 or $9).

At the end of the parking lot, the hike began on a shared trail that also take hikers to the 13,233ft Mt. Audobon.  The next several pictures are of the first 1.67 miles to the trail cutoff and the top of the first and easiest climb.

( We are at 11,200 and above is the turn for Mt Audubon 2.4 miles. Below is pointing the the direction we were going next) 
The next 3.5 miles was on the Beaver Creek Trail which had a lot bushwhacking in the weeds and tall grass.  This was the least traveled section of the trail as it moved down hill until it got back into the trees and eventually reached the bottom and crossed a 4x4 road at Coney Flats.

(The trail junction at Coney flats - in the distance is Sawtooth Mtn and Buchanan Pass)

The climb to the second pass was 3.5 miles with a 1,700ft climb on good trail conditions.  On the way up Kelly started to slow down so we took a minute to eat a few Gu Chompers for energy and make our way up. For the hike we only took to packets of Chompers and two bags of chips.

(Above is a tube showing the annual hike of the Colorado Mule Rider's association and below a cave near the top of the climb)
Approaching the top

(These are the views from the top as we moved down. We would follow the canyon below.)

Once we hit the trees we constantly found ourselves crawling over or hiking around fallen trees.  This was particularly bad between tree line Thunderbolt creek. Note: There will be a social trail at Thunderbolt creek that is partially blocked to the left.  Go right and cross the creek.  

At mile 15, we finally made our way down the Buchanan/Cascade Creek junction.  This would also be an alternative starting spot from the Monarch Lake Trailhead by Granby, CO.  The next 7 miles would take us from our low point (8,806ft) to our high point (12,534) in 7 miles with 3,741ft of climbing.  This stretch of the hike is one of the most scenic trails in Colorado.  Even if one does not want to do a major loop hike, parking below and enjoying this section of the trail is worth the drive and hike.
The trail is very well maintained with either bridges or logs crossing Cascade Creek and all the other tributaries. In just a mile we reached all the falls.  This was truly spectacular with over 10 falls lined up the canyon.

After passing all the false summits the trail began to move into an area with great views of the Crater lake basin. Be sure to blow of these pictures to see the rugged nature of these mountains.

At mile 18, we stopped and enjoyed our great lunch of chips Chompers.  We also grabbed my SteriPen to disinfect the water and refilled our bladders and bottles to take us though the end of the hike (we did this twice in the workout with our 70 oz bladders and two 16 oz bottles).
At mile 18.5, we turned to the left on the Pawnee Pass Trail with views of Shoshoni Pk (see next round of pictures) and the sharp unnamed peaks next to it.  Note: If you plan to backpack this hike I would recommend camping at Crater lake that is 1.1 miles in the other direction at the trail junction.

Below is Pawnee Lake and another camping alternative.  We came up from the canyon in the middle on this 2.4 mile final climb.

I ended up finding a great spot to make a video (see below) and visit with the local marmots.  Looking up it was impossible to see the trail.  In every direction, it would have required scaling up a rocky ridge.  The next pictures reveal how amazingly constructed the trail is as it navigates through the rocks.

Nearing to top, I was able to get some great pictures looking back at the canyon we came up and the last few hundred feet of the upcoming climb.  Kelly, with about 500 calories in for the day was starting to bonk again, so it was a time for a quick rest.

(Above - looking west is Lake Granby)
Below is a view of the last few feet of our climb
Finally, we reached the top with great views of the plains to the east and Brainard area lakes below.  The ridge to the right (below) appears to be a 4x4 road with jeeps on it.

(Below is looking back at Shoshoni Peak and the Isabelle Glacier)

(Below is Lake Isabelle)

(Long Lake)

After reaching the Long Lake trailhead we had to do the last mile of our hike on pavement to back to our starting point. 

After 12:32 minutes, we finished our 27.52 mile loop hike.  It was a great day with perfect weather and we only saw 22 people (including those off the trail) and got in a great workout.  Enjoy the video below that is a compilation of several spots on the trail starting at one of the Cascade Falls.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog when I searched "Buchanan Pawnee Pass Trail Running". No posts for a long time... are you still running?