Round-trip Distance: 9 miles
Vertical Gain: 2,463 feet
Labor Day, and it’s been too long since I’ve been out in the mountains of Colorado. I had a partner today, my wife Holly, as we trekked to the Indian Peaks Wilderness for only my second visit, the first being last Labor Day. I was eager to get back to the lake-filled valleys and craggy, impressive summits named after different Indian tribes, and hoped to actually summit one today.
The day started out rough: Neither of us felt like waking up early; Holly ended up having to wear her sneakers; I very narrowly avoided hitting a deer on the drive there; then we were barely able to scrounge up seven dollars in cash & change to get into the wilderness (Visa isn’t everywhere you want to be!).
All that being said, we arrived at the Brainard Lake parking area by nine o’clock, which wasn’t bad as long as the weather cooperated. The Long Lake parking spaces were all taken, so we parked at a designated spot at the base of the road and hiked up the road and back the trail to Long Lake.
The trail was well-maintained, and the two mile trek to Lake Isabelle was a breeze for both of us. The scenery continued to improve along the way. We saw a waterfall, some wildflowers, various colors in the September tundra, and even some changing tree color. This was all before we made it to Lake Isabelle, where we had a fantastic view of numerous peaks and Isabelle Glacier.
Holly was not too excited about continuing the journey to Pawnee Pass, but I prodded her on. After Lake Isabelle, we began to gain altitude rapidly, but the numerous switchbacks of the pleasant Pawnee Pass Trail betrayed that fact. Below, Lake Isabelle glimmered in autumn beauty, as we continued to get higher above it.
Holly’s main complaint was that she could not see our destination. I could not argue, for all I saw above us was more trail, and Pawnee Pass would remain hidden for several hours, basically until we stepped onto it and came across the sign stating we were on the Continental Divide.
As with most times on the Continental Divide, the wind was howling. We had been putting up with this nuisance since timberline, but at the 12,541-foot Pawnee Pass it was especially annoying. I had pushed Holly to Pawnee Pass, but she had had enough, and began back down the trail we had just ascended.
Wanting to summit something, I looked north to Pawnee Peak, and began a quick hike to the top. A typical Colorado hike up talus slopes, I finished off the half mile and 400 vertical feet from the pass, topping out at 12,943 feet at 2:30 in the afternoon.
I took several pictures of the 360-degree views. The clouds were not threatening, and the wind even abated as I descended, after staying at the summit less than ten minutes. I ran most of the trail down to near Lake Isabelle, where I caught up with Holly. My head was pounding, as was hers, so we stopped for a well-earned snack and water break, then finished off the remaining miles to the jeep.
We had started the day with some weather concerns, but in the end we had completed a beautiful hike, and the weather wasn’t even an issue, except for the pesky wind. The area was not even very crowded, considering today was Labor Day. The scenery was top-notch, the trail was nice, and I finally got to stand on a summit in Indian Peaks Wilderness.