Apache and Navajo: A Pair of IPW Classics

      8 Comments on Apache and Navajo: A Pair of IPW Classics

Shoshoni, Apache, Navajo, and Niwot Ridge (right to left) from Lake Isabelle just after sunrise. Click photos to enlarge.

Life fact: It just isn’t possible to truly grasp how much time and energy the sale, purchase, and renovation of a home eats up until you go through it yourself.  Well, that has been Anna-Lisa and my reality for about 6 weeks now and though I have no doubt our efforts are going to be well worth it, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I finally miss the hills a little.

In mid-September I was able to free myself for a quick morning and get out on what would end up being my summer hiking finale. Though not all that flashy or ambitious in the grand scheme of things, I decided to check out a slick little loop in the Indian Peaks Wilderness that had long been on the proverbial wish list. I left our temporary address on Lookout Mountain around 4am and arrived at the Brainard Lake Recreational Area an hour and half later after paying the $10 entrance fee.  Dawn slowly crept across the horizon as I made my way around the north end of Long Lake on the well defined Pawnee Pass trail.

Apache and Navajo peaks are two of the Front Range’s finest, with awesome 360 degree summit views of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north, Grand Lake to the west, and the Boulder watershed peaks and Arapahoe Traverse to the south.  Long, scenic, and gradual, the approach to Lake Isabelle from the east is very RMNP-like in nature (which makes sense as the IPW is essentially a southern extension of the Park with very similar topography).

Sant Vrain Creek cascading down a mini-headwall just beyond Lake Isabelle. The pyramidal shaped peak in the back is Navajo.

These guys were all over the place, scampering across the tundra.

After a few miles I came to a fork and headed left up the Lake Isabelle Glacier trail, continuing west around the lake’s north side.  Not too long after I lost the trail and hopped through a large boulder field at the base of Niwot Ridge’s massive north face.  With Shoshone peak’s craggy ramparts towering above, I wound my way up and around a large moraine and then began to climb the slope leading to the Apache/Navajo saddle.  After a thousand feet of working my way up and around numerous rock bands, I finally hit the saddle and made my way up the final stretch of ridge to Apache’s rounded summit.

A look at the terrain leading up to the Navajo/Apache connecting saddle. It can be kept at class 2 if you wish, but mixing it up a bit more was fun.

Apache Peak summit (13,441′) looking north along the divide into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The connecting ridge between Apache and Navajo is a true classic, featuring great views, unique route finding, a thrilling ledge scramble on the west side of Navajo’s summit block, and a short class 4 chimney that tops out near Navajo’s summit.  I’ve seen reports of parties going from Navajo to Apache but in my opinion the far better direction is Apache to Navajo simply because the chimney is much easier/safer to climb up than down.  Really though if down climbing class 4 chimneys is your thing, either direction would work.

The class 4 chimney on the west side of Navajo that marks the crux of the Apache/Navajo traverse. I chose to take the left of the two options presented.

After 45 minutes of fun scrambling on solid rock, I topped out on Navajo (13,409′) and took a long break to admire my surroundings.

Views north towards Shoshoni, Paiute, Audubon, Toll, and RMNP beyond.

Looking south towards the Arapahoe Peaks and Old Baldy.

Looking east down the spine of Niwot Ridge, an unranked 13er that sits right on the border of the Boulder watershed. The entirety of the approach from Long Lake can be seen as well.

After taking a few minutes to work out how to drop off Navajo’s west side, I worked my way down past the top of Airplane Gully and across the easy ridge line to the summit of unranked Niwot Ridge.  I’m wasn’t 100% sure if Niwot Ridge’s summit constituted a trespass or not, but I was pretty sure heading all the way down the ridge to the east would, so I elected to drop down a loose gully towards Lake Isabelle.  Once at the bottom of this gully (which was a few gullies to the east of Airplane Gully), I bushwhacked back to the trail.

Arikaree Peak – forbidden by law but I’d have zero moral objections to heading up it someday.

Looking back at Navajo (left) and Apache from Niwot Ridge.

The fall colors on the way out were spectacular. Probably why there were so many people in the hills this weekend. I feel blessed to have found some solitude.

This trio, while short, was also sweet and made for a perfect summer finale for me.  The fall colors were beautiful, the peaks unique, and the scrambling fun.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap things up.

Until next time…

8 thoughts on “Apache and Navajo: A Pair of IPW Classics

  1. Dillon

    Bennards, in May of ’13 I attempted a traverse from Niwot Mountain (11er to the east) to Niwot Ridge, but the wind up there had other plans for me and I almost got tornadoed into Brainard Lake. I wonder if that would have constituted a trespass? I was still in my gaper infancy. Sick views that’s for sure! Nice report man. Looks like a fine way to end the summer. PS – I feel your pain on the house. When I bought Eliot Street someone asked me if I bought a crack house. 3 years later when you get to sit on your very own deck, relax, and crack an ice cold brew, it’s well worth it buddy. Nice job.

    1. Ben Post author

      I hear ya Dillon, I know the house purchase and ensuing renovations will be worth it someday. Haven’t lost sight of that but reminders help.
      That’s cool re: Niwot Mountain. While we’re walking down memory lane, my first jaunt into the Brainard Lake area was in the winter of 04/05. My buddy and I set off a small slide as we were attempting to meander up a 12er called Little Pawnee Peak in a snow storm. Talk about gaper infancy.

  2. DKYarian (Zambo)

    Nice man! I’ve not gotten into the IPW too much myself, so this loop is some good inspiration. I have often thought it would just make sense to add the whole area to RMNP, but I suppose in today’s world, the legal/logistical/logical/bureaucratic ramifications would make it too complicated. Then again, I’m guessing there are plenty of lawyers and government employees who would be only too happy to waste 5 years and millions of dollars just to reclassify a chunk of mountains to another group of people. Maybe we’re better off just leaving it well enough alone to keep the gapers out.
    Haha….if you can’t tell, I’m in the same boat with buying a house and hating all things involving legal/contractual stuff at the moment…..
    Anyways, glad you got out for this outing and enjoyed it. It was a great indian summer this year and this looked like a great way to spend it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Zambo! I agree they should just annex the IPW into RMNP. Fees, crowds, peaks, trailheads, amenities, and aesthetics are all exactly the same. But then they’d have to re-print a bunch of maps and waste paper, which would probably piss someone off.
      I hope you’re house stuff goes smoothly! Sooner or later we’ll both be settled and ready to head to the hills again.

  3. Rick

    Nice write up Ben and those peaks are certainly fun climbs! You know, you could always take my approach to home purchases…….find other activities to fill your time with in-lieu of remodel work!! 🙂

    1. Ben Post author

      I’m getting to that point very quickly Richard. And now I get why you always had to do all that “yard work” over the years :).
      P.s. Let’s go skiing soon.


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