Monday, July 9, 2012

Buchanan-Pawnee Pass Loop

Run Stats

It was about 9:30pm on Friday, 6/29 and I had no clue where I was going to run the next day.  I wanted to go long, but being one week post-SJS, I was worried about biting off more than I could chew.  I started to think staying close to home would be wise.

But then I had the overwhelming thought of how precious these summer weekends are for trail running in the high country and didn't want to miss an opportunity for an adventure.  That's when the idea for a Buchanan-Pawnee Pass Loop was born.  I've had this run on my list for several years.  I scrambled to get my gear together and hit the sack for a 2:40am wake up!

I was parked at the Long Lake trailhead by 4:45am and began my run at 5am.  The first half mile was on the road over to the Mitchell Lake trailhead.  I decided to run the loop in the counter-clockwise direction as to avoid the long traverse across Mt. Audobon as the temps rose.  I don't think it would have mattered much.

Prior to stepping on the trail, I read a sign that indicated mountain lions have been spotted in the area.  If that doesn't get your blood pumping when there's barely enough light to see the trail, I'm not sure anything would.

Sunrise cutting through the smoke.  Taken from the eastern flank of Mt. Audobon.

And again.

Sawtooth Mountain

A first glimpse at Buchanan Pass.

This part was steep, but non-technical.

1 of 2 passes complete.  Time to move on to my favorite side of the Indian Peaks.

Good morning!  Smack dab in the center of the trail.

Time for about six miles of downhill running.  Simply stunning scenery on this side of the Divide.

Once I made it down to the intersection with the Cascade Creek trail, I began running southeast and the Tour de Waterfalls began.  It really is an impressive stretch of trail to run.

After the waterfalls, things open up a bit and glimpses of the jagged and toothy mountain ridges return.  

One of my favorite peaks in the Rockies.  Lone Eagle!
I took my first extended break once I arrived at Pawnee Lake.  There was a slight breeze that caused ripples on the water.  Every few minutes, I'd catch a break and all would be still.  I refilled my empty bottles and enjoyed two Honey Stinger Waffles.  Quite honesty, if it wasn't for a few pesky mosquitos, I might still be there now.

A pleasant start to a grueling climb to Pawnee Pass.

Pawnee Lake is surrounded by towering walls of rock.

I'm not kidding.  I had no idea where the actual pass was and  was starting to plan for three point climbing at some point.

When you look up, you can only see about 20 feet of trail in front of you.

The wildflowers on this run were everywhere.  Start to finish.

Still can't figure out where the pass is.

The trail was all switchbacks, but once again, looking up gave you no clue to the future direction you'd be heading.

It was only when you got high enough that you could see how the trail carved through the rock.

Whoever blazed this trail did a masterful job.  It's not an easy climb, but  there was no scrambling necessary.

Sure was nice to look OVER at and not UP at the jagged ridge line.

Success!  Pass 2 of 2 complete.

From the Pass, you only have about five miles of downhill before you 're done.

Lake Isabelle
I would have enjoyed the final stretch more if it wasn't for the masses of people I encountered.  Prior to reaching Pawnee Pass, I met ONE backpacker in the first 21 miles.  I probably passed by no less than 75 people in the final five miles.  It was a beautiful day for a hike, so I think it's great so many were out enjoying the Peaks.  It just made for a difficult time getting into a rhythm.

Not much else to say that the pictures haven't captured.  This was the most scenic run I've ever been on.  I felt great most of the day and was so glad I got out there versus staying close to home.  I'll have all winter to do that.


  1. Damn impressive a week after SJS!

  2. Great pictures, Woody. That is such a fantastic loop, I gotta get back up there. Lone Eagle!

  3. Great photos, thanks for posting. I came across your page while researching the specific trail area after learning about the missing hiker from Lafayette, CO whose search has just been called off.

    I'm wondering if you have any ideas or possible theories as to what may have happened to her, since you have experience with the area and terrain. She disappeared in this same area just four days after your run, so the weather conditions would be similar...I will drop you a line via your profile so you have my contact info.


  4. Definitely a sad story. I never like hearing about lost hikers as it hits close to home. Having spent a lot of time out in the wilderness, I can see how one wrong turn and some flustered thinking can lead to serious problems. I wish you the best in your continued research and hope anyone still looking finds her.

    I'm not sure of the specific trails she was last seen on, but I can only imagine that if she ran out of water and dehydration set it, it wouldn't be that difficult to step off a main trail and follow a social trail (or bushwhack) to find water. There are many creeks and you can hear some of them from quite a distance away.

    I was also surprised with how many downed trees there were in the Indian Peaks (mainly west of the Divide). While I never lost the trail because of them, they were obstacles that required an effort to get past.

    1. Thank you for your reply.

      "I'm not sure of the specific trails she was last seen on, but I can only imagine that if she ran out of water and dehydration set it, it wouldn't be that difficult to step off a main trail and follow a social trail (or bushwhack) to find water. There are many creeks and you can hear some of them from quite a distance away."

      Exactly, thats what I thought too, which is why I think "presuming her dead", that she more than likely "succumed to the elements" may be a premature assessment...

      I would hate to give the family a false sense of hope, and I am sure that the officials have looked really hard, and I am not official search and rescue, but with only 2 weeks passed, and possible access to water, I think another week of searching is in order, that theres a good chance she could still be alive, despite her age. (She was a very experienced hiker, in good shape, despite signs of memory lapse). Also, the reports said there was only 26 search team members looking...

    2. correction:

      Here's the official report, it looks like there was indeed quite an extensive set of teams looking:

      Thanks again, keep up the good work!

  5. Great pics. Thanks for the info. I am curious how much you took with you for that loop (water, food, clothing).


  6. Hey Michael - I wore my hydration pack (Ultimate Direction Wasp) without the water bladder. I prefer to carry a bottle. For runs like this, I'll bring three. Two are stored in my pack and I'll run with one in hand. I also brought a hand-pump water filter and needed it as I ran out before Pawnee Lake. After drinking a bunch of water while sitting at the lake, I filled up two bottles for the remaining stretch.

    For food, I just brought a bunch of random things. Gels, stinger waffles, and EFS liquid shot. I don't know for sure, but I probably took in 1000-1200 calories over 6.5 hours. Not nearly enough, but I got by okay.

    Clothing wasn't an issue. I brought a windbreaker, but never used it. It was cool in the morning and pretty warm the rest of the day. No rain/storms to deal with. I tend to bring more than I need since the Rockies are so unpredictable.

    I you haven't already, I hope you can check out this loop. It's quite amazing.

  7. Thanks a lot for sharing that info. I have never gone more than 2 1/2 hours, so I am still trying to figure some things out. I want to do that loop for sure next summer. The climb up Pawnee from the west looks wicked.