| Who spilled the Skittles? Wildflowers of Shoshoni and Pawnee
Shoshoni Peak (12967 ft) - ascend East Ridge route, descend Pawnee Pass route
Pawnee Peak (12943 ft) - ascend Pawnee Pass route, descend north slope
The alarm clock screams murder. It's four a.m.and I can't believe it - I'm actually happy to get up. My recent near-electrocution on Huron did wonders for my alpine attitude. Four a.m. wakeups are reserved for soldiers and crazy people (mountaineers come to mind). Twenty push-ups at four a.m.? Yes sir! Buzzing ice axes? No sir! I never want to hear that sound again.
One thing I don't mind hearing at four a.m. is loud music. I need the music. I need it like coffee. The Morricone-esque songs of Spindrift weave a dark and dusty tapestry of western goth as I stuff gear into my pack. Thirty minutes later I hit the power button and a song called "Girlz Booze and Gunz" suddenly ends. The apartments turns dark as night as the door closes behind me.
I drive west towards the mountains. The sky fades from black to blue in my rearview mirror. Boulder still sleeps as I cross the north end of town and continue up Lee Hill Road. I'm a man on a mission. I'm in the old town of Ward by five-fifteen a.m. I'm at the Long Lake trailhead by five-thirty-five. Six vehicles are parked in the lot and there is no one around. I tie up the horse. I give my boot laces one last pull. It's five-forty-five. I'm ready to rock.
I have come to the Indian Peaks Wilderness in search of wildflowers and a good Rocky Mountain high. I have a trio of peaks planned for the day. Two peaks - Shoshoni and Pawnee - are named for Indian tribes. The third peak is named for a man who's trip reports changed the world - Roger Toll. The three peaks stand between 12943 ft. and 12979 ft. in elevation. They share a ridge that runs in a north-south direction. This ridge is the Continental Divide.
I have a grand plan - an Indian Peaks classic (or at least in my opinion - Gerry Roach may not agree). I park my vehicle at the Long Lake trailhead and hike to Lake Isabelle. From Lake Isabelle, I ascend the Pawnee Pass trail. I leave the well-worn trail before reaching the pass. I scramble up the East Ridge of Shoshoni, a route described by Kane on summitpost as "easy class 3". From the summit of Shoshoni I walk north on the Continental Divide, traveling a mixture of class 1 and class 2 terrain on my march to Pawnee Peak and Mount Toll. At Mount Toll I strap on crampons and climb the snowfield to the summit. If snow conditions are favorable, I glissade down to Blue Lake and exit the basin through the Mitchell Lake trailhead. It would be a fine day of mixed mountaineering.
Well - my grand plan was in jeapordy from the very start. I had purchased a new camera lens the night before the hike. It is my first "fast" lens - the new AF-S Nikon 35mm f1.8. I was excited to use it and snapped a hundred photos before sunrise. I couldn't resist - this lens is fast. But I wasn't fast. I was slow. The flowers were incredible. I took many photos. I knew early on that I would have to drop a summit due to time getting away from me.
I climbed Shoshoni's East Ridge. The class 3 ledges were a blast. The class 2 traverse to Pawnee Pass was a tedious grind across giant blocks of talus. Dodging big black spiders and their sticky webs became an arcade game. I finally reached Pawnee Peak just before noon. I looked at Mount Toll knowing that I wouldn't stand on its summit. The snow slope was still in good shape and the summit was close, but my time had run out. It was noon. Little puffy clouds were swelling into black-bottomed beasts. The sky was churning. I glissaded down the Pawnee/Toll saddle to the relative safety of Blue Lake where a few inquisitive but sane people called me "crazy". They wanted to know about the experience of mountain climbing. I smiled and said "it's like mining for gold - a lot of work but a huge reward".
The Indian Peaks are a gold mine in our own backyard.
I didn't meet a soul on the summit of Shoshoni Peak and Pawnee Peak. I watched a solo climber ascend the Queens Way Couloir. I met a few people on the crest of Pawnee Pass. If this is the most visited Wilderness area in the country, where are all the people? Are they climbing Bierstadt? The solitude up here, so close to home, suprised me.
This was my first "class 3" route. I never felt uncomfortable on the terrain. I had a lot of fun route finding up the ledges and ramps. The scramble up Shoshoni's East Ridge ended much too quickly. Now I'm looking forward to my next class 3 challenge.
Captions above images.
Start at Long Lake Traihead at 5:45 AM.
Summit Shoshoni Peak at 9:23 AM.
Summit Pawnee Peak at 11:12 AM.
Return to Long Lake Trailhead at 2:21 PM.
Total hike length was 10.7 miles.
Total elevation gain of approximately 3000 ft.
Hike profile from my GPS track.
GPS track of the complete route. The orange line is my ascent through the Lake Isabelle basin. The yellow line is my descent through the Blue Lake basin.
GPS track of the East Ridge of Shoshoni.
This adventure starts here: the Long Lake traihead.
Five forty-five a.m.
I catch small glimpses of Shoshoni through the trees. Here she stands in all her glory.
I arrive at Lake Isabelle before seven a.m. Gracing the cirque (from left to right) are Niwot Ridge, Navajo Peak, Navajo Snowfield, Apache Couloir, Apache Peak, Queens Way Couloir, and Shoshoni Peak. Shoshoni's massive East Buttress dominates the view.
I turn up the Pawnee Pass trail. The grade steepens.
Little Pawnee Peak and its rugged East Ridge.
The imposing east face of Shoshoni.
The trail continues upwards to Pawnee Pass.
Lake Isabelle is a thousand feet below.
My route up Shoshoni's East Ridge comes into view.
I plan to scramble up the grassy ramps that rise to the left.
I take my time and tread carefully through the fragile alpine environment.
I choose a line and go for it.
I first curve to the right and scramble over some boulders.
I turn to the east and follow a natural ramp.
The headwall towers above me. I pass to the left of the headwall and continue up a natural ramp.
Lake Isabelle down below.
The mountainside is alive with Columbines. I carefully scramble up the rocks, taking care not to damage the flora.
Behind me the mountain drops away steeply.
I climb over large boulders to the grassy ramp in the center of the photo.
The upper ramps. I consider continuing up the grass-covered ramps to the summit of the East Buttress.
But instead I scramble up this short V-notch gully and gain the top of the ridge.
Shoshoni's summit appears in view. From here, I march straight for the summit.
I arrive at the saddle beneath the summit. This is the view down a south-facing couloir
Shoshoni's South Buttress on the left and the summit on the right.
Shoshoni's summit block.
The view from the top.
From left to right, Navajo Peak, Navajo Snowfield, Apache Couloir, Apache Peak, Queensway Couloir, and a big ugly rock slide.
I leave the summit and start towards Pawnee Pass.
I traverse a tedious scree slope on my way to Pawnee Pass.
The view back towards Shoshoni.
I couldn't pass up a short but fun glissade to break the tedium.
I arrive at Pawnee Pass. Pawnee Peak is the broad round summit across the pass.
I start hiking up Pawnee Peak. The view into the Lone Eagle Cirque unfolds. Pawnee Pass is in the lower left corner of photo.
The summit of Pawnee Peak.
The view towards Little Pawnee and its East Ridge.
The view to the north - Mount Toll, Paiute Peak, and Longs Peak in the distance.
The view to the south from the wind shelter on top of Pawnee.
I descend the north slope towards the saddle with Mount Toll.
From the saddle, I look up at the ribbon of snow that stretches almost to the summit of Toll. I brought my crampons but lack the energy for a third peak. Besides - a storm is brewing.
Sick epic gnarly glissade with bitchen run-out.
Well that went fast. The snow was hard and my ass is numb.
The view back up the Mount Toll snowfield.
The lower snowfield. The hard snow and lack of runout keep me cautious. I glissade short sections at a time.
I travel a near continuous ribbon of snow from the Mount Toll saddle all the way to Blue Lake.
Approaching Blue Lake.
I find no easy trail around the lake. I scramble over the boulders along the shore. The crux of my day was traversing a steep rock slab tilted into the lake.
The final snow slope of the day was steep enough to pull the ice axe from the backpack.
How's that for run-out?
The view towards Mount Toll from across Blue Lake.
I celebrate a great day in the mountains with lunch and Gatorade.
Wildflowers along the trail to Blue Lake.
If I were a moose.
The clouds bring thunder, lightning, hail, and rain - an exciting end to a beautiful hike.