During a recent trip to visit family in Colorado we climbed up to Pawnee Pass in the Rockies. Pawnee Pass is part of the Continental Divide. For Bryan, Amy, and Zach this was their first visit to the Continental Divide while my dad and I visited it for the second time. The first was about 20 years ago with my brother. My dad and I were especially happy that this second trip didn't end with an emergency room visit! In the final flat section along Long Lake, I got excited to be done when I was younger and ran ahead, tripped, and fell down. (I got a cut on my forehead, which required a few stitches.)
This time around, we arrived at the trailhead bright and early (8:06 am); however, we missed the opportunity to park at the trailhead parking lot by a mere 15 minutes. Bryan and my dad dropped Amy, Zach, and me off with the packs while they left in search of parking further away.
View from our parking spot
Once the car party returned we stopped for a quick trailhead photo and then got on our way. After passing Long Lake we began the climb to Lake Isabelle. On the way to Lake Isabelle, Amy and Zach had their first summer snow encounter as we passed it on the trail and climbed over it. They posed with their first snowfield; however, the novelty eventually wore off as there were at least five of them on the hike to the pass (about ten snowfield encounters round-trip).
About 2 miles in we arrived at Lake Isabelle. Shortly after, the trail began the pattern it followed for the rest of the trip: periods of rapid climbing followed by periods of relative flatness.
After we climbed above the tree line, we decided to stop for a quick snack of mixed nuts and catch our breath. Below the tree line we crossed some streams; however above it we mostly encountered snow.
Once we entered the large alpine meadow near the top the end was in sight! In the long meadow we met people who had already reached the pass, were taking a break, and eating lunch. At the end of the meadow we began climbing through the rocks and eventually across a long (~200 ft) snowfield.
After the snowfield and a light scramble we entered another alpine meadow, which made up the pass.
Once we made it to the pass we ate lunch and enjoyed the views. Bryan, who recently caught the peak-bagging bug, decided the nearby Pawnee Peak needed to be climbed and headed off with Zach to do that. Meanwhile the rest of us, Amy, Dad, and I, ate a leisurely lunch and enjoyed the view.
After Bryan and Zach returned, we left the pass and headed for lower altitudes with less wind! We retraced our steps crossing the long snowfield, the alpine meadows, and more snowfields than we remembered on the trip up. On of the lower ones caught Amy and I by surprise: I fell into a rock, and Amy ended up post-holing in the same spot.
We saw many varieties of flowers on this hike. We didn't get photos of all of them, but Bryan sure tried to catch the prettiest ones. The flora above tree line was much smaller than those at lower altitudes; however, we did find some varieties at both.
Flora Below the Tree Line
Distance: 11 mi
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3351 ft
Trailhead Elevation: 10509 ft
Pass Elevation: 12550 ft
Pawnee Peak Elevation: 12947 ft
Long Lake Trailhead is one you want to get to early! We arrived at 8:05 am and were told the last parking spot was taken just 15 minutes earlier. The ranger suggested arriving by 7:30 am for trailhead parking.
The hike isn't the longest we've ever done; however, the last 2 miles of this one just dragged on and on.
+ Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
+ Mixed Nuts
+ Peppermint Patties