Mountains: Pawnee Peak (12,943’)
Route: Started at the gate closure #@%$e$H!t at the base of Brainard Lake Rd (~9900’). Hiked to long lake, used the Pawnee pass trail to lake Isabelle and Pawnee Pass. Climbed SE aspects to summit.
Distance / Elevation Gain ~15 miles and ~3050’ vert gained (approx)
I had all but decided to spend another weekend biking in hail storms when my co-worker Jon reminded me of the mountains. An idle glance at the NOAA page suggested a spiffy forecast for Saturday and it seemed like skiing in the IPW might be a phenomenal idea. Jon is a ski racer from Hunter who's starting to get pumped about BC skiing in Colo. He picked a gem out of his BC-ski bible. We decided to get a 6AM start at the base of the Brainard Lake Road and head up Pawnee. The Brainard Lake road is understandably closed this time of year. It would be madness to allow us hooligans passage up that nice dry road all the way up to the lake… madness I tell you. A bike would be the way to go but my Jeep (Wall-E I call her) permitted the carriage of either that or skis. She did indeed pleasantly offer to drive both bike and skis up to the TH by herself, leaving me at home. I grumbled and decided to go with just skis. Having won that argument the depraved Jeep slapped a doe on the fanny halfway up the Peak to Peak highway. The scandalized animal skedaddled off into the forest with no more than a bruised ego and my conscience was spared. At the trailhead I slept fitfully through cold winds that howled through Wall-E’s cracked window. I was up at 5:15AM and Jon pulled into the lot just after I’d finished my slice of blueberry pie for breakfast.
We drove to a spot closest to the gate and began the slog up the pavement a little after 6AM. We’d brought light hiking boots for the road. We’d get up to the Long lake TH and swing south of the lake. We decided to find a nice mellow route to the summit since we weren’t bringing spikes or an ax. Our approximate route from the Long lake TH is marked on the topo off of MyTopo above and to the right. Here's a look at the Injuns from Brainard Lake… Pawnee’s the shy one hiding in the back.
The Indian Peaks from Brainard Lake
We soon arrived at the Long lake TH and began booting up the fairly continuous frozen snow. There’s plenty of hiking through flat sections of trail.
If I go back to this area in the next week I would skin up within a hundred yards or so of leaving Long Lake TH. There was only one un-skinnable part where we talus-hopped to navigate around a headwall below Isabelle lake.
Headwall below Isabelle Lake
Circumventing the Headwall
A small shack acted as a cairn showing us the way to Isabelle Lake.
Isabelle Lake was part-frozen. Up by the lake Pawnee showed himself fully for the first time. We stopped at a spot with a view of the upper mountain and inhaled some Chili flavored Ramen, bacon, brownies and peanut butter crackers.
The Upper Mountain
We resumed the tour by going around the semi-frozen lake. The skinning is continuous from the lake all the way to the summit.
Skinning up to Pawnee Pass
Up to Pawnee Pass
We met a group of two coming off the mountain with tales of great snow and we pressed on with happy thoughts. The snow was getting a little wet but the winds were cold and didn’t allow the sun to do too much damage. There was some wet-slide debris from the previous day. There are two dry patches up on Pawnee pass which are about 40-50 feet long, but still very skinnable.
Dry patches on Pawnee Pass
Past the second dry spot snow was continuous all the way to the summit.
Summit Block - Pawnee Peak
Summit and Descent
There were some nice views off the top which made it worth going up there…
There were some fantastic corn turns off the summit. It was like a long groomed run at a great resort. This is looking down at the ski route off the summit…
Fields of Corn
Butt Skiing (c) Jon Coe
We skied down the notch in the middle of the picture and released a couple 2-3" deep minor wet slide avalanches below us. The layer was probably the fresh from the previous storm. We weren't too worried about it but it was
kind of late in the day so we stayed away from anything that seemed too steep... just to avoid breaking off anything deeper. The ski was still fantastic as was life.
Notch marking the exit off Pawnee Pass
Jon rips it up…
Looking back at Pawnee…
It took about 15 minutes to get back to Isabelle Lake. We stopped to cook up more ramen and eat some more before hitting up the mashers below us. The sub-treeline hike was wet and slushy but memories of the ski kept our spirits up. Here’s one last look at Pawnee…
Last look at Pawnee
This last section got pretty gnarly…
The Deadly Brainard Lake Road
A can each of Bud and PBR were waiting back at the Jeep. Good skiing, good beer, good times. Time for more! Is it next weekend yet?