Isabelle Lake & Glacier, and Pawnee Pass Trail, Indian Peaks Wilderness

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Indian Peak Sunset on Brainard Lake #1

My long hiking day up to Pawnee Pass, from the Isabelle Lake trailhead, actually began the night before.  I felt inclined to get an early start so I could beat any unkind weather conditions, sure, but I also wanted this.  The skies over the Rocky Mountains can be enchanted by the Sun at dusk, and the mountains just so much at dawn.  I wanted to be sure I had the chance for both such enchantments.  I was right about the first, as you can see in this photo.  I had the lake to myself!  There were people filling the campground across the lake from me, and one man playing classical guitar on a bench over that way (giving a sweet ambience), but no disturbances on the lake, no rowdy kids (young or old), and no other photographers around to add self-consciousness or competitiveness to the overall feeling of being there.  I got lucky, and I enjoyed it until dark.

Heading out from the lake, I was lost in Zen non-thought until something caught the corner of my eye on the way to my car.  Three somethings.  Big somethings.  With antlers.  No more than 20 feet from me.  Moose!  There they were, just staring at me, one of them nonchalantly munching away on something.  But with eyes certainly large and indicative of readiness.  I stopped my walking, though it would be heading perpendicular to the direction they were facing, so I could make clear that I was a non-threat.  I spoke softly, slow, and low – just nonsense, really – so they would get the sense that I was not confrontative, or perhaps as ready as they were.  They loosened up a bit with some small movements, which cued me to carry on ever so gently to my car.  I got there with a smile on my face, and thought about how I love the wildlife in this area before heading off to sleep.  The next morning brought yet another smile to my face.

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Indian Peak Sunrise Alpenglow on Brainard Lake #1
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Indian Peak Sunrise Alpenglow

You know, you just can’t beat it when the sky on the horizon is totally clear at sunrise.  Clear or cloudy, wherever you are will be a place ablaze.  I like to use a Distance-to-Horizon calculator to find out just how far the horizon is from whatever it is I hope to be lit up, and then, the night before I get to that place, I check the weather forecast for whatever geospatial location the that horizon may be at where it intersects with the azimuth of the rising sun.  I did just that before arriving here for this particular excursion.  And wasn’t I rewarded!  After enjoying the slow unveiling of mountain curves and verdant forest, I had my breakfast and Mount Hagen instant coffee (the best) and got under way.  The first treat, just out of a break in treeline to a meadowy zone, is a view of Long Lake.  It is indeed much longer than it seems in the picture below, but the only way to tell is by just how many pictures one can take on their way alongside it as they make their way higher.  Wildflowers bedazzled the path.

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Lost Lake
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Monk’s Hood
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Pink Elephants (Elephantine)

DSC_0111 for webBridge to Rocky Mountain Paradise

I love this bridge!  It is a simple thing – not long or wide or treacherous, even conferring of a view any different from that you take in just seconds before or after you cross it – but, has been placed just such that the view you do get while crossing it, and the feeling of being surrounded by Mountain Bluebells and fresh water, is re-energizing after the steep bit you hike up just before getting there.  And you know once you get there, and see this, that you’re not far from Lake Isabelle!  More wildflowers, and wildlife (!), greet you as you go.

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State Flower: Columbine
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Marmots! (hint: there are 3)
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Streamway Bouquet
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Peaks to the North

So this is what you see as you climb higher on the Pawnee Pass trail option just before Lake Isabelle.  I tantalized you with thoughts of that lake, didn’t I?  Well just you wait, water lover.  No, no, I said wait!  Please?  It’ll be worth your while.  Okay, thank you.  The mountains are just grand around here, and can’t be passed up!  Most folks go to Isabelle and split, without really feeling out the grandeur of this region.  It would be quite the challenging scramble up these ridges if one were pressed enough to top them; these are a home for goats and no one besides.

DSC_0244 for webIsabelle Glacier from the Pawnee Pass Trail

To arrive at this location for sunrise and capture the essence in a photo would do it far more justice than that which I have provided here.  The depth of this scene is complex, and the steepness of the cliff over which I stand here… well, steep steep.  The interplay of hard light and dark shadow on any landscape is what makes it “pop” and seem unreal to its awed spectators.  The most unassuming of places can become gorgeous, so to speak.  This place is already that, and I promise to return and update this travel blog post when I’ve amplified that fact with better timing.  But then, if you just go in person, you’ll know what I mean – the perfect photo isn’t necessary for this place to make you feel happily small.

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Rock Ptarmigan!

These birds have the perfect camouflage!  I almost stepped on this one, in fact, very near to Pawnee Pass, as I was meandering around and surveying the local geology a bit.  Their adaptation to said geology is plain to see.  And nothing nasty is going after them at this elevation, almost 12,000 feet up!  Or is it?  The idea makes you look around and wonder who’s stalking when you’re camped so high – IF you camp so high – when all is dark and you’re tipsy from that 5oz flask of bourbon you brought.  You did bring the bourbon, didn’t you?

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Front Range, Ho

Coming back from the pass… the one at which I decided not to take any photographs aimed to the North or West (you honestly can’t get any great photos that way because of landscape obfuscation – but it IS beutiful!)… I had to capture this image.  The Front Range plains can be seen through the humid atmosphere hugging the hillsides below.  The color of the small feeder ponds on ever-dropping terrace levels is always eye candy.  An entire day could be spent just trotting around this level of the mountain!  Well…that should actually be apparent to you, at this point in my posting.

Unpredictably, a rather smallish friend on wing felt much the same!  For all the winds that were on high here, I could not believe how resilient it was.  It’s wings must have been fluttering just under two thousand beats per second most of the time, and I am not overestimating that: I was unsuccessfully trying shutter speeds of up to 1/2000 of a second to capture its image before the winds held off for a moment and I got this.

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Resident Mountain Moth!


And further down the mountain, more life awaited me…

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Parting Shot

This fellow was lounging at the trailhead-end of Long Lake as I was heading out.  I could not believe how comfortable he looked, even as passers-by happily chatted away about him just 15 feet from his sizable headpiece.  What a lifestyle!  If I had the wherewithall, I’d probably live in this place, too.


Continue reading “Isabelle Lake & Glacier, and Pawnee Pass Trail, Indian Peaks Wilderness”


Maroon Bells, Autumn Regalia (2016)

Colorado holds many of the United States’ most beautiful scenic landscapes.  Those around the small but upscale mountain town of Aspen are no exception, with imagery from this particular location being some of the most globally utilized for advertisement of American wilderness.  Being there for sunrise and sunset is key to not only the most mystifying lighting, as with most places, but also beating the crowds.  A win-win for seekers of inspirational solace as well as the photographically inclined.  The lighting of Blue Hour beforehand can’t be beat for bringing out even exposure on all elements of your image.  It makes colors pop in every corner.  This is certainly realized when standing along the edge of Maroon Lake, looking up at the Bells, and it’s only a short jaunt from the parking area to get there.

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Morning Golden Hour Alpenglow on the Maroon Bells

In many ways, Blue Hour makes the environment more surreal than when Golden Hour really ushers light to the land.  However, an hour can be spent in what seems like a few minutes just in watching the fire of alpenglow start at the mountaintops and wash its way down the slopes to the sheltering forests below.  It’s like watching fire dance, or water, even grains on the wind, just ripple and wave – a mesmerizing past time that has an easy way on the hearts of busy men and women.  And indeed, during sunrise at this place there are quite a few men and women just standing, watching, waiting, being fed soul food.  Especially when you are there for the peak weekend of fall colors.  But marvelously, for those who love finding their own spaces, about 50% of the crowds taper off when you go higher from here.

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Aspen Forest on the Way to Crater Lake

On the way to Crater Lake, 1.5 miles away, the color therapy wins you over.  These aspen forests are quintessential for Colorado, and the trail is fine enough to promote careless gawking.  I really don’t know how many pictures I took along the way, but it was just so, so very easy to do.

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Maroon Lake from Above

There is a break in the trees, facing Maroon Lake, some half mile or so up the trail.  This is the prize for those who stop to break and take a peek through it.

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Crater Lake Reflections

Much of the trail continues forested in this way, and easy going, but then there is a rocky section, and one shorter easy one, that leads directly to this.  The valley in view holds a trail that can be connected to others to make a loop around the Elk Mountains that one can do in 3 or 7 days if they so wish it.  I have done it in 4 at the height of summer, starting and ending in Crested Butte.  It was wonderful, and I can’t suggest it enough.

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Up and Up

This image was actually taken another half mile or more up the trail towards the nearby mountain passes.  I did not get to them, but rather took a break with friends after a near-complete separation from the crowds below (aside from these two horsemen on their journey).  It gets more serene the steeper the trail goes.

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A Sweet Return

This image was taken on my way back, and it serves to remind me to come back some time very soon.  But then, I’ve never been to the nearby and secretively renowned Capital Creek area…

*Brendan Bombaci holds the Creative Commons Copyrights to all images on this blog. See his Flickr portfolio @ to see exact licensures.