| A different warpath between two Indian Peaks
Distance: RT 11ish miles (it's 5 miles from Long Lake TH to Isabelle Glacier, then the short climb up to Apache, traverse south to Navajo, and return along Niwot ridge)
Elevation Gain: 3300' (you gain 2900' from TH to Apache -mellow upward trail, then have to climb at least 300" from saddle to Navajo)
I originally planned a Pyramid - Thunder - Lightning weekend, but I needed to be back Sunday and didn't feel like an 8 hour RT drive for a day's scrambling. So, back to one that's been on my radar for a while: Apache & Navajo.
I paid the 9 bucks entrance fee at the Brainard Lake with a combination of quarters, dimes & nickels from my penny bag at 7:15 and set off from the Long Lake TH at 7:30, with the vintage Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Apache Rose Peacock" playing in my head.
Here are some pics as I neared the climb - first Pawnee is all you can see, then, as you pass Pawnee to your right, you can see Navajo and Apache ahead.
The trail turns NW and switchbacks steeply up Pawnee's western apron to gain the Isabelle Glacier. This is a look down at the tarn that is right below the trail to the south (left) from one of the switchbacks.
The trail leveled out and I found myself in this gorgeous basin between Pawnee (east) and Apache (west) with a cool ridge to the north. The rocks in the morning sun were beautiful -- tones of beige and pink, with striations throughout them. The bottom of the basin is occupied in its entire by the Apache Glacier. Scanning the terrain, my initial thought was to cut a path directly across the snow in the lower basin and then track a slanting path up ledges, aiming to hit the ridge right at the notch,seen near the peak at the far left of this photo:
Once I got on the snow, though, a buttress just left of the couloir on Apache's east face drew my attention. With all this heat and drought, thoughts of snow had long evaporated and I had none of my snow tools, but I figured I could kick in steps to reach the buttress.
I made my way up the snow. As the slope steepened, I traversed left across the slope to engage the buttress. Still a mellow angle here, but an ice axe and spikes would have expedited my travel. I tediously kicked in steps and punched in with my fists to step across the slope for 60-70 feet until I hit the rock.
I engaged the buttress, happy to be on rock instead of snow with my light trail shoes. This section was mixed, with a lot of class 2 on grassy ledges between rocks and class 2+ on slabs, but harder terrain was not too hard to look for. I experimented, and sought out class 3 and class 4 where I could find it, even trying the holds of short class 5 wall, but ultimately deciding to walk around it. By zig-zagging around, the difficulty can be kept at class 3.
At the top of the buttress, I found myself on an open, gently rounded slope of packed talus. To the left (south), I had this great view of Navajo and a jagged false summit near the Navajo-Apache saddle.
To my right (northwest), the route to Apache looked like this:
Also from here, the view directly north of the connecting ridge to Pawnee and Long's in the distance captured my gaze.
I made quick progress up the gentle slope and soon reached Apache's eastern false summit. A glance to my left (south) at Navajo stirred my soul, and then I noticed the climbers ascending the broad couloir between Apache and Navajo. They are hard to see, but the front climber is about two-thirds of the way up.
Turning my gaze back to the route ahead, I found some reason for excitement: a narrow ridge leading to the northwest, a mountain goat's sidewalk in the sky (though I saw no goats to endorse it) and views of peaks and lakes to the north and south.
This ridge went very quickly - some exposure that might scare some, but no tough moves, mostly class 2 with some interspersed class 3.
I found myself on the summit of Apache, enjoyed the views for a few minutes, and then I headed down Apache's south ridge toward Navajo. As I dropped down the ridge, it grew progressively rougher - definitely class 3 and not class 2.
As I neared the notch in the ridge between Apache and Navajo, the ridge started to descend quite steeply and I intended to downclimb this section shown below, but it came to a bit of an overhang, so I ended up backtracking and going around to the left of this outcrop, instead of to the right as shown in this picture. The edge of the outcrop is in the foreground.
Now at the notch, I met the couple who had climbed up the Navajo Glacier. The woman was belaying; the man was climbing the face. I scanned it and it didn't look too bad. While my new neighbor went up the face direct on his rope, I zigzagged on ledges - first to the left, then to the right, and then walking directly beneath the climber shown in the second of the following two pictures:
After passing underneath the climber, I kept to the north side of a large buttress of yellow-lichened rock, and climbed a short class 4 wall of very solid rock. I was facing southeast, directly into the arcing sun, so the picture didn't turn out as well as I'd like.
After this, a bit of walking before a short stretch of class 4 climbing up a chute:
Now I was just below the summit, and it looked like it could be kept to a simple class 2 hike to the top. The picture below shows the final approach; I walked around the obstacle in the foreground and I think the normal route would go to the right of the white wall ahead. I decided instead to go up the crack in this wall, exiting to the right below the overhanging summit block. This was definitely into the low 5's.
Here's the summit pitch:
Here's the crack:
It felt good to be on the Navajo summit. I enjoyed the views all around, particularly this one straight east across the Niwot ridge and adjacent valleys:
I descended the smallish summit eastward, and should have then turned left (north) to get down to the Airplane Gulley. Instead I turned right (south) and climbed down this cool class 3 cleft that faces Arikaree:
The ridge from Navajo to Arikaree looked ferocious, though it would be easy enough to traverse across the basin to climb its eastern face.
Still, I knew this area has been rendered off limits by the city of Boulder, so I regretfully made my way back across Niwot Ridge, after taking a brief nap on some sun-warmed rocks and dreaming of climbing some obscure class 4 route to Arikaree's summit, and then having to flee storm clouds. My dream at least had this one bit of reality: clouds were blotting out the sky above Navajo as I made my way down Niwot Ridge, so I hurried to get back down to Long Lake, and encountered these three curious pilgrims:
I made the return to Long Lake and thence back to Brainard Lake without incident. Surrounded by the crowds at these lakes, I cherished the solitude I had enjoyed in the Indian Peaks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):