| 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):