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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Pawnee Pass‏

September 20th, 2007 · No Comments

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If I hadn’t made it to Chasm Lake on Sunday, I never would have considered the hike I took yesterday. My guide books rate Chasm Lake as a difficult hike – and that is even before the rock slide, and I more than reached my destination.

Somebody told me yesterday that the trail to the lake had been wiped out. So that explains why I got lost and went too far!

Yesterday’s hike, which the Forest Service rates as difficult, took me to Pawnee Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. It is a pass over the Continental Divide at 12,550 feet.

That’s higher than a place that I ever climbed in Colorado before. But I wasn’t sure if it was higher than any place I had ever climbed, because about 40 years ago Doris and I had climbed up Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa. We didn’t climb to the top because it is glaciated and requires mountaineering equipment, but we climbed a long way in two days and spent a miserable night in a leopard’s cave with water dripping constantly on our sleeping bags.

I didn’t remember how high we had climbed then. So I called Doris today. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “We climbed to about 11,500 feet.”

So my hike yesterday was indeed a personal best. It was also a wonderful experience.

Although the weather was cold, the day was stupendous. It started out below freezing, and I had to wear my down jacket and sealskin gloves almost all day, but I did keep comfortable.

Theoretically, this is still summer, but high in the Rockies it is unquestionably autumn. In fact, it’s only 10 days until they close and lock the gate to the entire area for the season.

The area is called the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I keep saying that I don’t like to go back to the same place again, but this is my very favorite hiking area, and I have hiked on six different trails there already six times this summer.

Yesterday’s hike took me from Brainard Lake, shown here.

Brainard Lake, elevation 10,060 feet

Brainard Lake, elevation 10,060 feet

The hike took me up a couple of miles to Lake Isabelle, where I had hiked before. Here’s what that lake looks like from the trail above it to the pass.

Lake Isabelle, elevation 10,868 feet

Lake Isabelle, elevation 10,868 feet

Along the trail from Lake Isabelle to Pawnee Pass the most prominent feature is cone-shaped Navajo Peak beside a small, unnamed glacier. At 13,409 feet, it’s not the highest peak in view, but one that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of, maybe because it looks so much like a nipple.

Navajo Peak, 13,409 feet

Navajo Peak, 13,409 feet

I started out at 8 a.m. and didn’t reach the pass until 1:40 p.m. On a normal day in the Rockies that would have been far too late with lightening already beginning. Even two hours before I came to the pass. I reached the elevation where I found many patches of snow by the trail. That would not be remarkable, but this is September! As cold as it was, the day had brilliant sunshine and not even a wisp of a cloud until about noon. And even at the pass there was very little wind.

Even after reaching the pass I kept going, because of this advice in one my guide books:

“Be aware of oncoming stores before spending any time on the pass. If you have the time and energy and the weather is not threatening, go west to take in the views down to Pawnee Lake.”

I especially wanted to do that so I could see over the Continental Divide to where Pawnee Lake almost 2000 feet below. It was worth the additional steps.

Pawnee Lake, elevation 10,870 feet

Pawnee Lake, elevation 10,870 feet

After coming back from the trail to Pawnee Lake, at the pass I met a young lake fortuitously named Karen. Unfortunately, she was not my Karen, who is almost 500 miles away from me. The other Karen took this shot of me.

Pawnee Pass, elevation 12,550 feet

Pawnee Pass, elevation 12,550 feet

On the trail and today I give thanks for the beauty I saw, the fine weather all day, and for my renewed good health that let me experience it. My Karen says that our bodies have amazing recuperative powers, and I know that from my life. My professional life is now totally devoted to inspiring people to regain their good health. As I sat beside the trail yesterday, for example, a 57-year-old retired forest ranger named Rich Perch stopped by to talk. When he mentioned that he had arthritis that limited his hiking, I told him that just two years ago the arthritis in my left knee was so bad that I had to limit myself to walking where it was flat and that weight loss is the only cure for arthritis. Then a couple of hours later we met on the trail again. “You talked me into losing some weight,” he said.

The sun was going down by 6:30 when I got back to Susy. As a hiker I am more of a turtle than a hare. I hiked at least 10 miles, some 25,000 steps, but it took me 10.5 hours. I am generally trying to go faster, but yesterday I stopped beside the trail several times for a couple of reasons. Never because I was tired, but the scenery was so gorgeous that I wanted to sit and enjoy it. Also, my left shoulder has begun to ache again from carrying the pack, and the temporary solution was to take it off. I haven’t had a massage for weeks, but I am going to Denver tomorrow for one.

Already I am grieving a little over the end of summer and the necessary pause in my hikes to the Rockies. Still winter offers some wonderful scenery in the mountains. I will get snowshoes and then maybe learn to do cross-country skiing like Karen does. Looking further ahead with the optimism that the poet Shelley expressed, I know that “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”


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