Tag Archives: Parks

Pawnee Pass Trail – Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Ward CO 8/24/13

27 Aug

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Pawnee Pass Trail

Starting Elevation:  10,500 Feet

Highest Elevation:  12,550 Feet ( total elevation gain approx. 2200 feet)

Trail Length:  9.2 miles, my pedometer said we got around 10.5 miles but we did venture around quite a bit, It took us about 5.5 hours total

Trail Uses:  Hiker only

Degree of DIfficulty:  Moderate difficult given distance & altitude

Bathrooms:  At every parking lot in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and beautifully taken care of…. Best Vault toilets we have used to date

Pets:  Yes, dogs on leash only, there is a well posted $125 fine if your dog is not on a leash and lots of rangers around to enforce it.  The first trail ever where all the dogs were actually leashed.

Fees: Yes – $10 for 3 days in a car, $1 for a person walking or biking in and $55 for Season pass ( May- Nov).

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I have had this hike on my wish list for some time, its elevation is ideal for getting back up to 14K but with our snowy spring it was taken off my getting ready list in April.  Since I have found myself in this readjusting phase in hopes of getting in one more 14er before the season is done, I figured it was the perfect weekend to check it out.   I can tell you it did not disappoint.

We got to The Brainard Lake Recreation area right at 7AM and honestly it was almost too late to secure a parking spot, we got one of the last 2 in the parking lot at the trailhead.  This park is unique in that you can only park in designated parking and so lots of people were hiking to the trailhead from other parking lots in the recreation area.   Make sure when you go, you go early, as we were driving out at 1PM almost every parking lot was full except the last one by the entrance.  There is so much more to the park then these set of trails and it made me want to plan a May- November where I get the annual pass and just explore every hike in the park.

Plus I saw my first moose!  It was huge, I mean like gianormous,  and like every other idiot that sees something for the first time I stopped right next to it so we could get a picture and then later realized how lucky I was that the moose was not too put off about it.

Moose out the back window

Moose out the back window

Getting on the path was easy, it was really well-marked  throughout and we started moving through pretty quickly.  I had read that it is worth it to take the .2 mile detour and see the views from Long Lake right at the beginning, great advice!  It was stunning even with our overcast skies.  If you find yourself on this hike, go over and see the view from Long Lake.

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Start of the hike

Start of the hike

.2 miles on the Jean Lunning Trail to see the views from Long Lake

.2 miles on the Jean Lunning Trail to see the views from Long Lake

From here we got back on Pawnee Pass trail and enjoyed the lovely surroundings, which was thick with Pine, fir and Englemann Spruce it was so beautiful and serene.  Some the of trees were so huge around, well the ones that were downed seemed like the largest ones I have seen outside the Redwood forest.  I am also falling in love with old tree stumps, this part of the trail was like a gallery of tree stumps in their beautiful stages of decay or deterioration.

Get back on the Pawnee Pass Trail

Get back on the Pawnee Pass Trail

Trail Conditions along Long Lake to Isabelle Lake

Trail Conditions along Long Lake to Isabelle Lake

At  2 miles in we came up to Lake Isabelle and the Isabelle Glacier Trail.  The views from the trailhead of the Indian Peaks surrounding Lake Isabelle were, no surprise here, amazing!  but the lake itself was disappointing.  I didn’t find out the details, it did look like they were certainly doing some work on the lake and I don’t know if that meant they had to drain it or what so it was a little sad-looking when all the other lakes we passed looked pretty good.

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We took the trail break up to the Pawnee Pass and the next 1.1 miles is probably the hardest of the whole hike as we climbed up a series of switchbacks to a natural Bench above Lake Isabelle.  It was perfect… and windy.  As we got to the last little climb the trail does get close to the rocky cliffs above Lake Isabelle so note to those who are uncomfortable heights, this is a tight spot.

There are a couple of Water crossing on this part

There are a couple of water crossings on this part

Climbing to the Bench

Climbing to the Bench

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Next, is a little respite as we walked across the bench to the final climb up to the pass.  It looked really tough but as we started the next series of switchbacks up, it was surprisingly easy and the actual grade was not that bad, the trail was beautifully planned out.  Before we knew it we had made it to the pass….. and then our teeth started chattering.  Even though it was in the 90’s in Denver, it felt like a very brisk and windy 40 at 12,550ft, we were freezing and were so glad we over prepare for every single hike with winter gear in our packs.  I guess the mountains are moving to Fall even though we are still nice an toasty at 5600ft.

Last climb

Looking up at the last climb to the pass

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At the pass you can easily take the trail and summit Pawnee Peak ( 12,943Ft) but we didn’t.  We were worried about the clouds coming up and the wind was REALLY strong, but walking North-Northwest from the pass sign gave us amazing views of everything on the side of the pass.  It was hard to head back down after just 30 minutes but we did, I know that we will do this hike again and next time summit Pawnee peak.

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The trail past the Pawnee Pass sign to Pawnee Peak and more

Pawnee Pass SIgn

Pawnee Peak

Pawnee Peak

People on Pawnee Peak

People on Pawnee Peak

Looking back South East from the Pass sign

Looking back South East from the Pass sign

Seeing the trail from above

Seeing the trail from above

I am starting to look at trails differently because there is so much more we walk away from each time we head back.  I can tell that the next logical step for me is backpacking to get days of views and see the total picture.  Each hike ends too quickly and even though I know I can’t go further, I want too.

It was cool to see where we were going at Long Lake and then to be totally surprised when we got there at how different the top looked.  I mean I know we do it all the time but this hike was different because it was so laid out in a series of steps that led to a beautiful surprise finish.  I hope one day you check this hike out, like so many hikes in Colorado, it is pretty amazing!  After the directions to the hike are my favorite pictures.

Directions:  Take 36 through Boulder and from Broadway( north-end of Boulder) continue 4.8 miles to Left Hand Canyon Rd( 94) turn Left.  At 5.2 miles you will need to turn left to stay on Left Hand Canyon Rd.  Stay on this for 11.6 miles through the town of Ward to the Peak to Peak Highway ( Colorado 72).  Turn right onto 72 and then Immediately left into the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Looking North towards Monarch Lake

Looking North towards Monarch Lake

Views at the Bench above Lake Isabelle

Views at the Bench above Lake Isabelle

More Bench views

More Bench views

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Bear Peak Via Fern Canyon, Boulder CO 6/1/13

4 Jun
View of the North Front Range From Bear Peak

View of the North Front Range From Bear Peak

Walter Orr Robert Trail> Mesa> Fern Canyon> Bear Peak Trail> Bear Canyon Trail> Mesa Trail> Walter Orr Robert Trail @NCAR

Starting Elevation:  6104

Highest Elevation: 8461 ( with some up s and downs we had a total Elevation gain of a little more than 2600 feet)

Trip Length: Officially it is anywhere from 7.5 to 9 miles depending on what trip information you can find, we were pretty close to 9 mile

Trail Uses:  Hiker and Joggers- no bikes

Pets:  Dogs are allowed but from Fern Canyon to Bear Canyon Leash only.  For the Mesa Trail as long as they have the Boulder green tag for voice command, they can be off leash.

Fees:  None

Degree of Difficulty: Difficult

Bathrooms:  None that I could find….although it looked like during regular business hours the lobby of NCAR could be used.  We didn’t check to see if regular business hours included Saturday and Sunday.  Sadly we discovered not many people practice leave no trace on this trail…

VIews west from the summit of Bear Canyon

Views west from the summit of Bear Canyon

I have wanted to do this hike for a while, unfortunately much of it was effected last spring/summer when the back part of it caught fire during our horrible wild fire season. I kept checking periodically for when sections would reopen and then last weekend my hiking super hero Wendy did it and said that at least one of the ways were open again.  Since the Continental Divide got hammered with enough snow on Wednesday and Thursday that they close I70 at the Eisenhower Tunnel in both directions Thursday morning, it was time to attempt this hike.  A lot of hikers use it to get in 14er shape when they can’t get altitude hikes in due to weather because it is an almost 2700 foot elevation gain overall and because we opted to go up Fern Canyon, most of that( about 2200Ft) would come in just the 2 miles to get to the top.  It was a great work out with great summit views!

Walter Orr Roberts TrailMap at trialheadTo Mesa from WOR

Lets talk trail, we opted to enter  at  NCAR( National Center of Atmospheric Research), which is easy to see from so many places in Boulder and the trail system is woven all around its ample parking lot.  We got there early at 6:30AM and good thing because we got a close parking spot to the trail head, when we got back to the car a little before 1 it was packed.  You drive right past the trail head as you pull into the parking lot, which we missed but as we walked west there is a huge rock with the trail name for the Walter Orr Robert Trail.  If in doubt of where it is, follow the road west out of the parking lot and it will be obvious as you get closer to the building.

Take this trail around and down to the Mesa trail, you can also make it a little more interesting up here by taking in all the signs and displays that NCAR has set up, we paid more attention to them on the way back because we were too excited when we first started to take extra time reading. You will end up taking the Mesa trail to the Fern Canyon  Trail head, most of the time you will turn left when given the option except when you get onto Fern Canyon that is a right turn off of the Mesa.  Everything is really well marked with area maps and signs as you go, because of this I decided to not post the trail markers.

The Fern Canyon trail is steep, it starts out harmless enough then gets really steep and really rocky.  In some places having poles didn’t help us and we would have to just use our hands to climb up, I am going to post a series of pictures of the different parts of the Fern Canyon trail so you can see how it changes as we made our way to the summit.

Early on Fern Canyon Trail

Early on Fern Canyon Trail

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Where the fire came over the ridge and close to the summit

Where the fire came over the ridge and close to the summit

Final approach to the summit

Final approach to the summit

Me at the summit

Me at the summit

When we got to the summit we actually took turns climbing up, it is climb that requires both hands and concentration.   There were a surprising number of hikers who didn’t even bother going up, they said that there is no point in going up as you can see everything good from the trail breaks.  Plus the way to Boulder peak is still closed because of the fire as is Shadow Canyon.  We had something to eat took a bunch of pictures and then headed down via Bear Canyon trail.

Bear Canyon Trail from the summit

Bear Canyon Trail from the summit

You head to the right and down from the summit climb, then you come to Shadow Canyon and the Bear Canyon trail heads as you can see the Shadow Canyon trail is still closed.  Go Right and down….

trail to bear canyon from summit

We once again put away our poles and used mostly our hands to get down, the first quarter-mile down is steep but not as steep as Fern Canyon.  Personally I feel like down is the harder part of a hike and so I wanted to take the less steep option down, this was not the norm on Saturday I have to say I was surprised.  The truth is I was the biggest person on this loop so maybe the stress of down on knees and ankles isn’t a concern to all the super healthy in shape people who passed us.  Bear Canyon is much less steep and after that first quarter-mile we made good time back to the car.  My knees ankles and feet were very thankful.

Looking back what we climbed down at the start of Bear Canyon

Looking back what we climbed down at the start of Bear Canyon Trail

The trail started leveling out and moved through more of the burn area, which was strangely beautiful with its blacks, golds and then bursts of green where the flowers were sprouting up.

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It took us a solid 3-3:30 hours to get up the mountain and just 2 hours to get down.  It was a lovely path and after we got out of the burn area, we got whiplash from all the flowers everywhere!  We really loved this hike and were super proud of ourselves with how well we did  on it.  My legs were a little shaky at the top but quickly recovered for the hike down.  I hope you try this one out some time, it is definitely strenuous so work up to it but so worth all the effort!  After the directions I will put my favorite pictures.

Directions:

From 36, take Table Mesa Drive west past Colorado 93 all the way until you get to a large parking lot for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

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Boulder

Boulder

Eldora Ski Resort

Eldora Ski Resort

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