Routes: Queens Way Couloir (Apache), West Chimney (Navajo), Airplane Gully (Descent off Niwot Ridge)
Elevation Gain: 3,479'
Tour d'Navajo group: Darrin (kansas) & me
A peaceful morning
The Indian Peaks Wilderness has always held a certain fascination with me. Such incredible beauty, so close to where I live. Just have to jump through the various hoops to get there, as there are only a couple access points, and all are popular. So in the post-14er finishing world of what looks good this weekend, the IPW floated to the top. Plus the late snow season may afford just one more easy snow climb.
So before some were home from a night out on the town, we made our way up lefthand canyon to Brainard Lake. The light from the just past full moon illuminated the road, that I have so frequently skied. Along the way, our early arrival startled a bull moose with a fairly large rack as he quickly left the roadway to search out the marshlands around the small lakes. It had been awhile since I've seen a moose this close, after I left Alaska. A rare treat here in Colorado.
Having arrived a bit behind schedule, we quickly got ready and pounded up the mostly flat trail past Long Lake and up to Lake Isabelle. Snow still occurs in random patches all along the lower trail, but becomes mostly continuous when you reach the bench up to Lake Isabelle. Thousands of feet have pounded the lower snow into a solid trail, so snowshoes are not needed. Even after the Lake, the snow remained firm enough to walk on without any trouble.
The views improved with almost every step along Lake Isabelle, until they culminated in some amazingly still reflections.
Alpenglow and Moonset
Capturing the moons craters above Navajo
A peaceful morning
Once beyond the lake, and photography 101 was over, we made quick work of getting up into the upper basin. Along the way, we past by the only group we would see up close all day. There were 3 other groups, but we were spaced just right, and on different routes with different goals, that we felt perfectly alone in our own paradise.
The route so far was a series of benches with flat areas in between, so a perfect balance for me to go quickly, as there was always a spot to rest from the exertions of the last elevation gain. The higher we went, the better we could pick our snow route up. It wasn't fully continuous, but fairly so. We had decided to choose between the Apache Couloir and Queens Way once we got higher in the basin. Both were continuous, but Queens Way looked to go closer to the summit, and would allow for less back-tracking on the ridge. So we chose the slightly less traveled route.
Quite a bit of snow in the basin
Darrin contemplating Navajo
Another pool reflection
Photo Credit: Darrin
Once on Queens Way, we made short work of the couloir. The snow was soft, but the buckets were holding. Near the top, or by any rocks, the snow was no longer supportive and some post-holing occurred. Unfortunately so, that instead of following the snow to the left (south), we jumped onto the rocky ridge above at the end of the couloir. The rocky ridge goes, but in a few places it is rather narrow with large blocks. We could have saved 30min by following the snow closer to the summit probably.
Approaching Queens Way, with the 3 Chessmen behind
Starting up Queens Way
Photo Credit: Darrin
Nearing the summit
Nearing the top of Queens Way
Rock Wall to summit
We didn't spend much time on the summit, as Apache was the warm up to the real prize of the day: Navajo. The ridge was easy class 2 until we started the descent to the saddle. Here there was some periodic class 3 mixed in with one class 4 section. All solid rock, so we didn't find it that bad at all.
Northern IPW and RMNP
Looking back on Apache - Photo Credit: Darrin
Down climbing the ridge crux - Photo Credit: Darrin
The class 4 crux on ridge traverse. Isn't it gneiss?
Dickers Peck. What animal(s) do you see?
Once we passed around Dickers Peck, there was an obvious ramp to follow to get to the west chimney route on Navajo. We had gotten some timely beta from a friend on Friday, that this chimney should be climbed solo or one at a time. There is no place to hide from any rock fall that may occur. Once we got up close, we concur! I waited behind the chock-stone at the bottom, while Darrin went up to the top of the relatively short chimney. Or at least short if you like class 4. I found an old nut firmly placed below the chock-stone.
Once I got into the chimney I found the rock to be solid, with some loose pebbles and small rocks on most surfaces. It was a fun class 4 chimney, though I was glad to be going up, not down it. The exposure is strong in this area.
The west chimney
Darrin ascending the chimney
Solid rock in chimney, just lots of loose rocks on top
Ouch, that looks steep - Photo Credit: Darrin
Once above the chimney, we traversed over to the prominent ridge to the south and then followed the ridge proper to the summit.
The ridge from Apache
Darrin reaching the top of Navajo
Arikaree and North Arapaho...ridges look gnarly
We spent a little longer enjoying this summit, as the views are incredible. The forbidden fruit just to the south, the glaciated basins surrounding us, and the long continental divide snaking through along rugged ridge lines.
The chimney to the east on Navajo has been worn smooth by thousands of hands and feet, as the standard route up Navajo is this way. The chimney is a solid class 3, but the exposure is minimal.
Down on the ridge, the rock and scree is inconsistent and slows progress. Once in the Airplane Gully, this inconsistent nasty talus scree only worsens. Not sure why the Airplane Gully is considered "classic". I can only imagine it may be for the historical value of the 1948 plane wreckage which is a constant all along the gully and into the basin below it.
Descending the chimney on the Niwot Ridge side of Navajo
Darrin in east chimney
It must be class 3, I'm facing out! - Photo Credit: Darrin
Navajo from above Airplane Gully
Darrin checking out the 1948 airplane wreckage
With the strong monsoon we have been seeing lately, it was nice to have a day of almost normal summer weather. Though clouds did chase us out of the basin from above, it didn't stop a torrent of foot traffic up to the lakes from below. As with any IPW adventure, it ends with plans for an immediate return.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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