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Elevation Gain: 2,767
Difficulty: Class 4 to low class 5
With day 6 of my climbing vacation approaching, the weather in the Elks was horrendous - 90% rain/storms all day. The northern Sawatch, while better, didn't instill confidence. Hmmm now what? Last day of vacation motivation troubles would come into play, so getting up early to beat storms would be tough. So when Sam said Pawnee Traverse, I said "Yes please!". Short and very sweet, just what I wanted.
So after sunrise we greeted the toll gate operators and handed over my RMNP pass - free to go on our way. At the Long Lake trailhead we were greeted by a frantic ambassador who had just found the destruction left by vandals who apparently don't like the pay system up at Brainard. They used their vehicles to bulldoze the signs over. While I don't particularly enjoy having to pay (or have a RMNP pass), it does keep the hordes of people that flock to this area paying for their use and revitalization of the area. Otherwise, it could very well be a nightmare up there.
Once on the easy trail, the miles ticked away quickly and soon we were up on the summit of Pawnee Peak, enjoying the glorious views of the IPW. Relaxing in the wind shelter, we found a Boulder SAR rescue guy, just watching the clouds. When we told him of our plans to do the traverse in the opposite direction than the guidebook... *GASP* ...he said he also enjoyed going in the opposite direction, so as to have the class 5 section as an up climb not a down climb. He also gave us the sage advice to not continue all the way down the ridge to the trailhead, and to go left when it got difficult. Sweet, first hand beta from an expert! I was hoping for a good route finding challenge, and had only glanced over the 2 TR's of the traverse. Remembering Aubrey saying it was a bit reachy for the short types. That's all the beta I wanted: the ridge go's, the moves are reachy and the route is exposed.
Views from the summit of Pawnee never disappoint
After walking down the talus from the summit, we get our first good views of the traverse. It's very obvious that any skirting will have to be to the north, as to the south it gets rather cliffy.
We continue down the initial ridge all the way. The route continues to get steeper as it rolls over out of sight. Hmmm? Should we continue? Well as we are down climbing, up climbing is always easier - so my #1 rule of never up climb what you can't down climb is a go. Darn, those slabs look mighty fine to climb up, too bad we are going down them!
Down climbing the slabs
Getting to the end of the ridge.. I don't think it "go's"... Back up!
Well, as it turns out, this section of ridge does not go, and we have to re-climb back up. Implement rule #2 never be afraid to turn around and go a different way. We found a rap sling, so we started to get really suspicious that this was not going to be our descent. At least now we get to climb UP those fun slabs! Ooooo very excited for that!
Climbing back up the ridge to find a better traverse
Me enjoying climbing up the slabs
So back up further on the ridge, we traverse around and down on nice bench slabs until we see that red grassy gully that we could spy from our low point. The down climb we did was pretty reachy and so I let Sam with his long legs lead this section, as I'm pretty short. Once on the lower slab the way was pretty obvious. On the other side, we can see the ridge roll over to overhanging. It's obvious that the route typically goes in the other direction than what we did, since this section would have been more obvious. But if you are looking to build your route finding skills, this type of experience is an important and rewarding part of the process.
The ridge we down and up climbed - quite impressive view
After that first ridge notch, we traverse midway along. Not low, not high or ridge proper. There will be quite a bit of ups and downs as we make our way along the north side of the ridge. Lots of fun scrambling to be had!
Mid-way through the traverse we find the mini knife edge section. Much easier than the one on Capitol or Kelso Ridge, but fun none the less!
Me on the mini knife edge
After the knife edge, it's one big ridge prominence to scramble around before the last down climb to the saddle before the climb up Little Pawnee Peak. The down climb was reasonable and is more or less near the ridge crest.
At the saddle, there is some more route finding to go to find the class 5 up climb we have to do to access the summit. It's pretty blocky and the holds are pretty good, though reachy/stretchy. Beyond the class 5 section, there is some more scrambling to go before the final pitch.
Looking up at the face, the easiest route appears to be to traverse around south and up on some class 3 terrain. But there's a rather sweet dihedral that's been calling our names. Sam goes first and says that there's plentiful holds, till the very top, where it gets reachy. I follow, with the mid set that if I can't make the last move, I can always go back down, and traverse around. As it was, it was a matter of some boot friction to grab the upper rock, and then some class 3 to the false-false summit, where we met two older gentleman waiting.
Sam starting up the dihedral
Final 'spread your legs and trust the rubber' moves up the dihedral
We chatted up the two gentleman for awhile, and then made our way over to the actual false summit of Little Pawnee - a small block that is higher than where the ridge drops off.
After signing the old register and seeing many friends names, some repeated many times, we make our way down the remaining class 3 section of ridge to the tundra section of ridge. But, just before it's all over, there's one more scramble to be had. A lovely committing layback move to get onto the tundra ridge. After than, we hike down the tundra until we drop back down to the Long Lake trail and back to the trailhead.
This route is a not to be missed IPW classic! Chose your direction, they both go! Just be prepared for exposure, class 5 moves, and a lot of route finding. I didn't see a single cairn, so you are on your own!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Dave B - I've missed the IPW in all my running around the state. Was pretty impressed to see someone on the unranked 12er summit. I figured Pawnee would have some early bird local, it's always swarmed.
aboynamedmargrette - Thanks for letting me tag along
sunny1 - It is a great route. As always, more photos on my webpage if desired!
jblyth - The list always grows!
MtnHub - The IPW is a sometimes forgotten Gem because of it's lack of 14ers or centennials!
This was a blast. Happy to have great company to share it with Thanks to Brian C for putting the bug in my ear about it! Definitely not to be missed and well worth a repeat (or 5)
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