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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…