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Peak(s):  Little Pawnee - 12,466 feet
Post Date:  07/27/2009
Date Climbed:   07/26/2009
Posted By:  Aubrey

 Little Pawnee   

Ascent Route: Long Lake Trailhead (Pawnee Pass Trail), with a bushwhack to the East Ridge
Descent Route: Bushwhack down to Mitchell Lake Trail (then about a half mile hike on the road from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead to the Long Lake Trailhead)
Distance and Elevation Gain: about 6 miles and 2,000 feet, or more

Our original plan was to climb Little Pawnee, take the ridge to Pawnee Peak, and then descend from Pawnee Pass. But we didn't make it very far past Little Pawnee's summit before being chased back by weather.

At 6 a.m. we started up the trail under cloudy skies. It didn't take long before we saw Long Lake on our left.

Shot of the morning sun hitting Navajo and Shoshoni:


Our route description from "Colorado's Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs," by Gerry Roach, said to leave the Pawnee Pass Trail near the west end of Long Lake and bushwhack north to the ridge crest. Problem is, you can't really see the west end of the lake because the trees are so dense.

When we thought it was time to leave the main trail, we saw a faint trail up the slope to the right and took it, thinking that it might be a beaten-down path to the ridge. Unfortunately, that faint trail just paralleled the main trail, so after about 50 yards or so, we just hung a right and headed north through the dense forest.

Navigating our way up the jumbled mess:


We meandered our way around and over fallen trees, boulders and bushes. We also kept passing under beehives (we didn't see them, but we heard the buzzing), which was kind of disconcerting.

With compass in hand, we kept heading north-northwest.

Eventually the trees started to break up as we climbed the steep, grassy slope.

Here's a view above the trees, looking back on Brainard Lake:


Getting close to Little Pawnee's broad east ridge:


View from the broad ridge. Toll's summit is cloaked in clouds, and Paiute Peak and Mt. Audubon are to the right of it:


A look back on our ascent to the ridge:


As we continued up the ridge, the scrambling became more and more interesting:


Climbing in and out of the notch:




Beyond the notch, the scrambling was quite a bit of fun:


We gained Little Pawnee's summit at 8 a.m. We didn't spend much time up there, as the clouds seemed to be moving in and we didn't want to waste any time.

Even though the weather wasn't great, it wasn't horrible, either. So we decided to push on. Plus, we were curious about the ridge ahead.

It wasn't long before we made it to the big notch on the ridge. As we walked closer to the edge it seemed like we were walking up to a cliff. Exposure was pretty extreme, and it wasn't obvious where to go down.


We descended into the notch cautiously and carefully. It was so steep we both downclimbed facing into the rock for most of the way.


This was one route where lack of height, length and reach actually hindered us. At times, I literally had to hang on and slide my feet down to touch the next hold. And I have scrapes on my thighs to prove it.

Roach calls this ridge Class 3, but from the looks of that big notch, I really think it's Class 4. And I'm not basing that opinion on the exposure, either, as exposure has little if anything to do with Class ratings.


We got close to the bottom of the notch, which really made us question the next move. I looked up to the left and thought it would be the perfect rappel spot. Then we both looked up at the clouds, which were blowing toward us, and that sight pretty much sealed the deal.

Climbing this route in little visibility wouldn't be fun. And climbing it in rain really wouldn't be fun. So we decided to head back, saving that bad boy for another day.

Heading back to Little Pawnee's notch:


Jen climbing up the other side of Little Pawnee's notch:




Me climbing up from the notch:




To mix things up, we decided to descend the other side of the ridge and hike back down the Mitchell Lake trail. We thought it would make a nice loop and it looked more interesting than the way we came up.

From our high perch on the ridge, we planned out our descent down a wide, grassy gully and across a creek, bypassing the boggy areas.

It ended up working out pretty well, though it did require a little backtracking.

Our descent route, viewed from Little Pawnee's east ridge:



The hike back down to the Mitchell Lake trailhead was pretty straightforward. Then we had to make a 15-minute walk on the road back to the Long Lake trailhead. I think we made it back just before 10:30 a.m.

Overall, Little Pawnee was a lot of fun, even though the ridge scramble was relatively short.

I would like to do the full ridge sometime, though I want to leave myself a lot of time to do it, as it appears to be rather demanding. I also imagine the routefinding and climbing will take some time. And, if I do it, I hope the exposure doesn't get any more severe than that notch off Little Pawnee's west side. That was pretty interesting.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions
emcee smith

Camera Question     2011-02-04 17:22:15
I didn‘t ask you on Sunday, but do you guys carry two cameras, or trade off?


Great area...     2010-11-30 10:28:48
That ridge looks really tough from the surrounding vantage points. Now I'm convinced of it's difficulty after reading your report. I enjoyed the pictures - that notch looks crazy but fun. But with clouds like that overhead I would have never left the "safety" of trees. Good try - I hope you can complete it the next time!


get back there     2009-07-28 14:49:07
Aubrey I hope you have a chance to get back to this area and complete the climb. I climbed it with some other 14ers members last year in bad weather (wind, snow, low visibility) and regardless of the weather I completely agree that this is a class 4 route. I‘m glad I had some good route finders (Steph, scott and Brian) with me. When we reached that notch, the couloir was filled in with snow. It did look like the left side of the tower across the way could be climbed if it was dry, but we did an ascending traverse on a small ledge to the right (north) which was pretty sketchy in its own right.
Too bad the weather wasn‘t on your side over the weekend. hope you can amke it back out there. I think I posted a TR in a forum post from our trip last year too if you want to check out the route we took after coming off the summit of Little Pawnee. I‘ll have to check and see where that was. If I didn‘t Scott definitely posted a report on Summit Post from our climb. Getting past that spot is definitely the crux of the route and I remember taking a few minutes trying to find a good route when we were there.


oops     2009-07-28 15:08:48
It appears that I didn‘t post any TR here. This is a link to Scott‘s TR on Summit Post. There are a couple pics out of order, but in the middle there is a pic of the ledge on the west side of the snow filled gully and the picture following that was taken from the ledge after crossing the gully. I forgot how exposed that was. Yikes.


Superb route!     2009-07-28 17:07:26
The same thing happened to Scott and I a couple years ago when we tried to do the traverse, only made it to Little Pawnee which was awesome by itself. If you‘re interested in a repeat sometime, let me know! I‘d like to do Little Pawnee to Pawnee, then on to Toll.


Another excellent IPW adventure     2013-07-29 12:29:11
I always enjoy reading your trip reports. Your report from last year on the Arapaho peaks traverse was extremely helpful. Haven‘t tried the Pawnee route before, it‘s on the list now.



replies     2010-11-30 10:28:48
emcee, yes, we now have two cameras, which is nice. That's why you're starting to see more pics of me in my TRs.

kimo, it's pretty gnarly. Maybe we'll get it another day. May need a testosterone injection first, just for good measure.

Jack, I could see the advantage of adding another person or two to our climbing party. Especially for that route. It takes a lot of mind power. And thanks for the link!

roozers42, always good to hear from you. Are you still in Montana? Toll looks fun on its own, and it looks like snow holds, to an extent, through the summer.

49ersRule, thanks for your kind words. And, for what it's worth, I'm a 49ers fan at heart, also. I was born in Northern Cali (Arcata) and most of my family is from the Bay Area. I vividly remember going to the training camp the year Jerry Rice started. And I was a huge Ronnie Lott fan. That guy was one hard-hitting mofo, and he never quit, even when they were down, which is why I liked him so much. And, god, Joe Montana was so cool. Level headed, cool under pressure ... In high school, when the 49ers were kicking butt, I got a lot of crap when I lived in Texas for a few years (Cowboys fans are ruthlessly cruel), and then Indiana (with cold-hearted Colts fans). Nowadays, I've pretty much backed off pro sports. But the 49ers will always be near and dear.

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