Pawnee Peak

It’s Tuesday, the 14th of May, and we have yet to go on a big spring ski. In fact, we have yet to do really much of anything since the Grand Traverse, and we’re probably a bit ornery for that fact. After the Grand Traverse, my body we tired, tired, tired. I wanted not much to do but lie around and eat. Unfortunately, it turned into about a month and a half of lying around eating, and I am beginning to fear gluttony. Nothing wrong with lying around doing nothing if you need to, but we are at risk of running ourselves bat-shit insane if we do not pull ourselves up off of our arses and get out. So, that brings me to Tuesday. We were falling into the routine of sitting around on our bottoms (I haven’t checked, but surely mine is turning a bit flat at the moment) and lounging.

“Screw this,” Dan says. “We should go skiing.”

It’s been so long since I actually demanded much of my body (and the human body is truly an amazing thing, give it a little rest, and it wants nothing but!) that my immediate reaction was Why the heck would I want to do that?

But with a moment’s thought that judgement soon flitted out the window like the golden butterflies I’ve been catching sight of, replaced with Definitely! Why the heck did I not come up with such an incredible idea?

Thus explains why, at 5PM on a random Tuesday in the month of May, we are found to be pulling into the Red Rock Lake Trailhead, seeing as how the gate is still closed to the Brainard Lake Trailhead. Even with the (very decidedly) late start, we were not daunted, got out, loaded up our gear, shoes on feet, and started off for the two miles of road travel before we reached the Long Lake Trailhead. What is a late start, anyway? Sometimes I think that “they” (that ubiquitous they, I really have no idea who “they” are) decide not to plow the road to save money, and just let the high sun simply melt away the last signs of winter. And our brilliant Colorado sun has certainly been to task with the Brainard Lake Rd, although there are still big swaths of snow pillowed on the road. The two miles passed pleasantly enough, and soon we were donning our ski boots on a bench overlooking the still frozen lake, before clicking in and gliding off across it towards the Long Lake Trailhead, the time passing brilliantly. Truly there is nothing better than gliding, gliding, gliding through the wilderness with skis and the one you love.


The Long Lake Trailhead is still covered deeply, and we amused ourselves at great length at the “No Parking” signs buried to their silly little metal frames. But time lags on, and so does the sun, so we headed up along the trail, and soon we glide, glide, gliding along the edge of Long Lake.


Gliding along Long Lake.

“This is a very long lake,” we demured appropriately. Geniuses, we are!

Boulder may be in the grips of 80° heat bombs, but in the mountains, winter is still maintaining it’s white grip. As we skin further in, we gaze about, mandibles about hitting the glistening white snow – there is much more snow up here than we originally thought. In fact, Navajo looks like you could ski it – if you had a death wish, I suppose.

Around 7PM we reach Lake Isabelle, and like complete dufuses, we completely ignore the building clouds and clamber around on some rocks, playing at being mountain goats, and not what we are supposed to be doing.

Surprise, surprise, the wind picks up, and we get caught in a deluge. Ah, wisdom, I suppose it has yet evaded me. Fortunately, we were packing our Hilleberg tent, which is incredibly easy to set up, even in the worst conditions, and soon we were huddled inside, me being a bit inclined to be mopey. The rain pounded down, the wind rustled our tent, and we crawled inside our sleeping bags, for want of anything else to do.

Socked in.

After some time, the rain began to be just a trickle from the stone-gray sky, and we re-emerged from our sleeping bags, laughing at our own folly. We donned our shoes, hitched ourselves up to some rocks, and began to cook dinner.

QUICK! Back to the tent it is, as a second deluge comes down, and we hunker down, thanking Hilleberg for being such a good designer of tents, ventilating ours, and cooking a massive dinner of pesto. It’s a freeze dried meal from more folly earlier this year, a full pound of pasta, and even though it’s delicious, our brains freak out when they see such massive quantities of food, and after a few bites each, we surreptitiously feed the entire meal to poor Stella.

Cooking with a Pocket Rocket on snow requires sacrifice of your own warmth. 

Rub, rub, rub the hands together, and put them back on that canister!

Eventually, we decide that probably we should sleep.

There’s a problem.

(Of course there is!)

My side of the tent is sloped incredibly badly, and I squash against the tent wall. After two hours, Dan, sick of my wriggling around, insists he move over there, I suspect not fully believing me how bad it is. We spend the rest of the night in a state of un-sleep, tossing and turning. Stella, for a forty pound dog, does an incredible job at taking up more space than is entirely seemly. She is between us, she is on my feet, she is under Dan’s head, she seems to be in every nook of the tent at the same time.

Camp at Treeline.

The sun comes up. We have hardly slept. We burrow back into our sleeping bags. #1 rule? Get up early. We ignore it. Dan gets up to go to the bathroom, and reports that the rain from last night crusted the snow up something fierce. A while later, I get up, and confirm it.

Camp in the morning.

Eventually, we decide we shall go mad if we stay in the tent much longer, and so wrangle ourselves up and out. Groggy from lack of sleep, we begin to ready ourselves. Both of us feel like dog, but we say nothing to the other of it. We laugh and joke, smothering ourselves in sunscreen. (In my case, only the exposed bits, meaning my arms are completely neglected.) Finally, we set out. Our mission today? Pawnee Peak, 12,943’, which we attempted to ski last year, but got shut out because of a late start. (Ouch. We must learn.)


Finally, we are skiing. We both take a couple Vitamin I. Not well. I am out of shape. Yes, surprise! Lounging around does that to you! Shocker. I am a genius.

Up and at 'em! Truly, this place is beautiful. (Pawnee is the peak to the right of center)

As we head out across the valley, we come across a single tent nestled up against some rocks, and skinny ski tracks leading from it. Up, up, up we go.

I feel as though, rather than spending the night in a tent and being all good and proper, I had spent the entire night out drinking and dancing, and I almost smell the alcohol that does not exist in the sweat pouring out of me. Gross.

As we begin a steep series of switchbacks, we catch up to who must have been the guy whose tent we saw. He has removed his skis and stashed them somewhere. Strange. Panting and sweating, we gain the ridge, relish a few minutes of more relaxed skinning, and reach the base of something seriously steep.

“Let’s just boot it, and save ourselves the pain,” Dan says, and I agree.

Saving from pain? I am not sure. I red-lined the whole way up, I am convinced that I shall keel over backwards, pass out, and throw up all at the same time. My head pounds and I am dizzy beyond measure.

I can tell even Dan is suffering, which surprises me.

We take turns booting. For me, it’s four to six steps, and then I lean on my poles, sucking hot air into heaving lungs. I am appalled at how out of shape I am. Dan reassures me that a few times of this, and I’ll feel much better. I hope so.

Gasping, we reach the top of the boot, and we have a simple enough skin to the top. Strangely enough, the boot pack seems to have acted as a cleanser for me, sweeping the ugly cobwebs from my body, and I feel significantly better, reaching the summit in much better shape than I was expecting.

Close to the Summit.

Made it!

Stella is comfortable anywhere!

I love skiing peaks. Even on days when I’m dizzy and out of shape, it makes me feel strong, and nothing feels so good as to climb something high, gaze out across the snow covered basins, eye your next trip, and the swoosh down the mountain. Skiing is as close to flying as humans will ever get, I believe.

We click our skis on, and begin the descent. The top turns are delectable. Perfect, beautiful, corn turns. What skiers dream of. Then we hit the slush. Part of the problem with this spring (I’m not complaining!) has been the late snow storms, so the snowpack is not consolidating as it might. We hit what felt like cement. It became a quad burner for the entire descent, although you cannot be in a place like that and not enjoy it. We were laughing by the time we get back down to the lake.

Yay! Skiing!

And now we are back in the tent. Something is wrong. I feel like throwing up, my head is throbbing, and I am extremely dizzy. I am anxious to get back home, because I do not like feeling like this out here. Dan feels the same, but it is hard to get him up. Finally, he eats some honey stingers, and we head out. Soon, he is feeling better, and I am not.

“We didn’t really eat dinner last night,” he says. “I bet you’re hungry.”

Like the stubborn ass that I become when hungry, I ignore him. We trudge along at my slow pace, and finally arrive at Long Lake Trailhead. I finally eat some – the first thing I’ve eaten since our huge breakfast of a bar. Low and behold, I feel better! Note to self for the billionth time: when feeling particularly off, listen to whomever tells me to eat – they are usually correct.

We spend the rest of the jaunt out laughing and talking about what we want to do. Skiing is the best balm of all.

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