In Search of Solitude

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The ghost on the shore.

I’ve been trying to plan a trip to climb 13er Isolation Peak (13,118 feet) in the southern region of Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple years now. After trying to make an overnighter out of it, I decided to consolidate the logistics and just do it in a long day. While I don’t prefer this style, it has it’s benefits, not to mention avoiding the weight on your shoulders, as well as the process of obtaining a permit in the park. I was able to scrounge up a few park enthusiasts in Steve, Dillon and Dave and a plan was devised, that just so happened to coincide with a perfect weather window.

A little background on Isolation. I’ve never really quite understood my fascination with the peak itself. Maybe it was the name, or its secluded location deep in the heart of Wild Basin, or maybe it was my unofficial goal to climb all the 13ers in the park, along with all the named/ranked peaks. Nonetheless, the name of the peak kind of exemplifies the freedom of the hills, and so that’s a natural, unavoidable, unmistakable draw. This is an exact ripoff from wikipedia, but when you spend some quality times of solitude in the mountains, 3 things tend to occur: Freedom, exercising your creative side, and personal development. You are free of the worries of society. For me that means I can look down at I-25 or I-70 from 13,000 feet and let out a sigh of relief and/or a smirk of amusement. This can also be reached by taking the HOV lane with your middle finger firmly planted out your passenger side window as you pass the herds, but the view from the top a mountain are preferable. From a creativity standpoint, I’ve always thought the most endorphin riddled ideas that pop in to your head occur in the hills. You can’t force it either, but sometimes waves of emotions ranging from sadness to happiness to sheer amusement at the strangest of things flow through you, a lot of times when you least expect it. For me, all this time spent in the hills inspired me to write a book. It’s nothing life altering, but I don’t think I would’ve thought about it had I never ventured out and lived a little. It’s also allowed me to appreciate things in my life such as random events from my childhood, my relationship with my parents, my relationship with my brother, sports, love, digital cameras, and of course – food. Personal development and creativity go hand in hand, but a lot of time, people mention developing spirituality. I’ve never considered myself to be much of a religious person, if any at all, but there have been instances or signs in the hills that have forced me to recognize there might be some sort of higher power or invisible force – both good and bad – that exists out there.

That’s the appeal of this particular mountain, at least as it applies to me. Sometimes you climb so many mountains, they all seem to get lost in the clutter of life’s routine – but peaks such as Isolation can sometimes remind you why its all worth it. Mountain ranges such as the Gores, the San Juans and Rocky Mountain NP have been a constant reminder, at least to me, that adventure can still be found and that isolation and solitude, when viewed in the right perspective and experienced in moderation, can be a good thing.

We arrived at the Wild Basin winter trailhead around 5:15am and were on the trail shortly after. It was calm and warm for this November morning and we were all hiking in long sleeve shirts soon enough. The miles went fast, being a national park trail system and all, and there wasn’t any snow to deal with lower down in the basin. We reached the bridge at Ouzel Falls and saw the first real signs of destruction from the floods in September.

Ouzel Falls bridge destroyed, metal frame and all.

We had to cross over a semi-suspect, but short frozen creek crossing. The falls up higher was still running pretty well. As we made our way up the trail, the basin began to open up some of its finer secrets.

Alpenglow on Mount Meeker.

Along with a cloud formation that took on the shape of the Starship Enterprise….

We reached snowline soon enough and donned gaiters at the Ouzel/Bluebird Lakes trail junction:

About a mile past this junction, we lost the trail and were postholing below Bluebird Lake.

Deeper than expected snow for mid November.

The post holing didn’t last for long and we reached the awesome Bluebird Lake, with both winds and spirits soaring.

Along with a nice pano from Dave….

After a nice long break in a spot blocked from the wind where we enjoyed Pringles, Steve’s wife’s homemade chocolate chip banana bread, and some Red Bulls – we continued on in towards the Divide.

The route up Isolation began to show itself, as we trugged through the far reaches of the seemingly endless, but beautiful basin. After arriving at the high alpine Isolation Lake, we then slogged up to the Isolation/Mahana saddle and ate some more food before continuing on. Some local giants began to poke their faces out of their hiding places…


Isolation/Mahana “saddle” with two Rocky Mountain classics in the background.

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

We reached the eastern ridge of Isolation and saw what was left of the 10 mile route.

Summit ridge to Isolation Peak.

And all seemed right with the universe by that point. These next three shots are the remaining sections of the ridge, synched to some lyrics from the Travelling Wilburys. 

“Well its all right, riding around in the breeze” – TW.

“Well its all right, if you live the life you please”.

“Well its all right, we’re goin to the end of the line”.

This was my Rocky Mountain National Park 13er finisher, but when I reached the summit, that wasn’t the first that came to my mind. In fact, it never really even did. I was just glad to have been able to share with 3 good friends. We all somehow agreed to meet that morning at 3am, hike, post hole and brave the winds for 10 miles and all the while, with a smile on our faces, capped off with an Isolation from Odell’s to mark the occasion. There are other more exciting and more scenic peaks in the park, but this one is surely unique. It’s aptly named!

Views from the top:

Winter Park ski Area.

Copeland and the IPW.

Alice, Chief’s Head, Pagoda, Longs and Meeker.

After screwing around on the summit till we were sufficiently frozen, as well as a panda sighting…..

This guy is migrating north for the winter.

We maed our way for local 12er – Mahana Peak, which was a rock, skip and a hop away (and I mean that almost literally). There isn’t much to this peak, other than showcasing Isolation. Here’s what I mean:

David’s pano of Isolation and other locals from the summit of Mahana.

The hike out was peaceful – once we finally reached the actual trail. We decided to hike Mahana’s East Ridge all the way back to the Ouzel/bluebird trail junction, figuring we wouldn’t have to post hole anymore. What we found in exchange was plenty of dead fall. But thanks to a burn area, it wasn’t that bad. The scenery was nice at least :

Lots of cool peaks in this shot.

The Great McHenry’s Notch.

Once we reached the trail, the sunset started to take on some colors that bordered on the psychadellic. It was a nice way to cap off the day.

David and I utilized a slower pace on the way out. More time to appreciate that sky.

When we got in the trees, the forest turned pink.

We arrived back at the car around 6:30, for a total of 12.5 hours in the hills. What a day.

This report can’t end without the post climb festivities. Fort Collins had been home for Mexicali Cafe since 2005 and finally their brains were stimulated enough to build one further down South – say Baseline and 28th in Boulder? Gee, thats right around where we parked to meet up earlier that morning. Sweet pork enchiladas here we come!

Sweet Pork enchilada w/ red sauce.

Thanks for reading


9 thoughts on “In Search of Solitude

  1. Sarah B. (wooderson)

    Gotta love those long days in the Park in late fall. Kevin and I did Isolation around the same time a couple years ago and it remains one of my top-3 favorite days in the hills ever.
    I like the Lord Huron reference in that one caption… very nice. Wilburys lyrics are good too. And the pink forest on the hike out. Awesome.
    WTF is up with that panda? That’s gonna give me nightmares!

    1. Brian Post author

      Sarah – I’ve decided to start utilizing some of Kevin’s song lyric format then and now to flow with the narrative a little. Isolation was almost on par with Sprague and Stones – it was eerily similar, sans the cloud inversion. Ed’s was closed when we drove though Estes, I hope that’s only temporary. Oh, and don’t worry about the panda, he’ll be up in Glacier by December.

  2. Ben

    Looks like you guys had all of the ingredients for a perfect day (minus the Pedo Panda that is). Still jealous!
    Isolation appears to be just as grand, gorgeous, and worth the effort as I thought it would be. Can’t wait to get acquainted with the peak soon myself!
    P.s. Nice reflective intro paragraph, Brian.

    1. Brian Post author

      Colonol – this is/will be a great place for a long, casual solo summer outing, whenever you get around to it. And the Gacey Panda will be long gone, don’t you worry.

  3. Dillon Sarnelli

    Great write up and pictures Brian! Isolation was well worth the wait. What a trip fellas. Also, very good to see the Travelling Wilburys in there. Ben, can we expect an Eagles lyric from you soon? Brian, Zambo, Steve, great time! The Park never disappoints. Looking forward to the next GaperEating Alpine PedoBear sighting (after the migration) and burrito as big as my head.

  4. Randy

    I wish I had your sense of adventure and determination when I was your age. I am so glad you did what I wanted to but could not. Be careful stay safe and remember we all are thinking of you.
    Randy Melchor

    1. Brian Post author

      Hey Mr Randy Melchor! Long time sir. Your comment was a very nice surprise yesterday and it’s very much appreciated. I hope everything is well with you and Mrs Stephanie. FYI, no matter where my sense of adventure takes me, I always sign peak summit registers with my hometown as Monkton. Great to hear from you.

  5. Floyd

    What – No Beak? Nice TR Brian. That deadfall around Ouzel is impressive. The damage up there is crazy. Hopefully it can bounce back soon and Wild Basin will allow safe passage to Rabbit Hole next Spring.


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