Gooseberry-Dogleg Canyon Loop (Canyonlands Backpacking)

Okay, so THIS was a real adventure.  My two packing partners and I quipped that we had gained +10 backpacking-badass points each from doing it.  And we’re absolutely going back, but it will likely be Salt Creek Canyon next time (a one-way trip).  As you peruse this entry, feel free to open each landscape-oriented image in its own tab, as they were uploaded in larger sizes than you are likely seeing them here.

A hat tip to Backpacker.com for the beta on this hike (linked).  The writeup includes a trail path outline on a map, written directions, and some GPS coordinates.  Without these things, we would have had only a vague idea of where we were going!  My blog entry on the trip here showcases my photos, of course, but it is also a way for me to augment what they’ve put out there.

The journey starts upon a lookout on the Island in the Sky feature of Canyonlands, located at a picnic area on the East side of the main road just a bit before the road comes to its southern end.

trailhead start with road in view

And the lookout doesn’t disappoint, though Google Earth’s landscape coloration certainly does after you’ve seen what the place actually looks like.  Seeing such a blue sky helps…

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Gooseberry Trail Overlook

So there’s that, to entice you onward in your journey!  Pretty spectacular.  But how does this walk begin?

Down an incredibly steep cliff face.

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Watch your step… or just stand totally still when you’re taking in the splendor, at least.

Fun!  And if you haven’t backpacked for a while, let alone with 2.25 gallons of water on you (and at least a day’s worth of emergency food), also challenging.  Also: bring more water than that.  *achem*  .. anyway!

And where are we going on this trail?  Well, you can see the start of the deep Gooseberry Canyon in the pictures already, but here are two more Google Earth images highlighting a section of the trail that goes from legit, up to the start of the canyon there, to wandering along the White Rim towards the “ramp” (see the Backpacker.com trail directions) that takes you safely down into the canyon.

First Leg GE Overview from Road 10k feet

First Leg GE Overview 16k feet

When you make it to the end of Gooseberry Canyon, and walk south along the edge towards the privy by the designated White Rim Trail campsite, you’ll find yourself gawking at this:

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And maybe also sitting down for some lunch before some navigating and the canyoning that follows.

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Further along we go!

First Leg GE Overview from River 6100 feet
From the trailhead to the “ramp” into Gooseberry Canyon

Once at the ramp, which you soon realize is a couple of drops down a set of boulder slabs onto the sloped canyon terrace below (which required some backpack-lowering for us), you must begin orienteering your most logical path back towards the cardinal direction you came from in order to reach the “boulder gully” (Backpacker.com directions again) and make your interesting descent into the canyon wash far below.

Closeup on Ramp and Boulder Gulley 5600 feet

You will get these views along the way to the boulder gully:

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Now… the gulley itself was challenging enough a thing that I apparently didn’t take one single picture of it, or from within it.  And it must have taken us an hour to get through.  It’s not a mind boggling labyrinth, but it does require a bit of scrambling, downclimbing through boulder cracks and seep-moistened muddy spots, and a bit of blissful ignorance of the fact that, if one had to go back this way instead of via Dogleg Canyon, it would take twice as much time going up as it does going down (and pack-*lowering* in this case is probably a far easier task).  Anyway, Google Earth to the rescue regarding my lack of photos from this section:

Boulder Gulley Closeup

Here’s the canyon bottom, at least!  Hooray; we made it!

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From here to the Colorado River is an absolute cinch.  The wash stays much the same as you see in the picture above, and only forks in directions that go upward and back (so, no left or right turns to worry about).  It seems a bit far off at first, when there’s so much you can’t see…

Boulder Gulley to Camp View #2

…but, in the scheme of things, it’s not that bad:

Boulder Gulley to Camp

I mean… there is the whole “impassable overhang” thing to think about…

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…but you’ll figure that out, and get a little dusty (you’d better!) in the process.  After you’re in the wash again, it’s not too far from the Colorado River.  And if you left at 11:15am like we did (yeesh), just a week before the spring equinox, you too might arrive just in time for the glow of sunset upon the canyon walls:

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And if you set up camp where we did (indicated by a yellow pin on the last Google Earth image map), you may get to see our “Turtle Rock” at night!

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It seems like it’s just a fun thing to put that picture up – I mean it was just the subject of some goofy joking by my friends and me upon real exhaustion – but it’s actually good to take note of this feature, because your path into Dogleg Canyon is not an obvious one.  This is especially because (1) on maps it seems that the riverbank is accessible and walkable, when in fact it is totally overgrown with bush, and (2) the waypoints between the two canyons on the Backpacker.com trail directions are indeed at the mouths of both canyon washes.  We had to figure something else out, and luckily that something else was quite obviously right next to ol’ Turtle Rock.  So, go this way the next morning:

Campsite to Dogleg Canyon

Campsite to Dogleg Canyon #2

By the yellow pin labeled “rock tunnel/ picture frame,” you can tell that we didn’t initially know to go down to the riverbank the way that we eventually did.  We explored a bit before we found that – which really wasn’t a hard find – and came upon a cool lookout in the process.  Here’s a moody-morning shot from there, looking towards Dogleg Canyon:

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And here’s a perspective from the other side of the Colorado River, looking up both canyons, with the Island in the Sky plateau and trailhead in view:

Looking Up Both Canyons to Island in the Sky

The path to the Riverbank and some cool rocks to ramp down:

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And a farewell to the mighty Colorado River when we see Dogleg Canyon come into view:

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And man, that canyon!!  We still had a ways to go.  But it sure looks easier from here:

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And it really is, too.  The wash is super easy to travel on (note my buddy without shoes on), at least until you get to the ‘knee’ of Dogleg Canyon, here:

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Here’s a Google Earth screenshot from just below the White Rim, and to the right of the above photo, showing where you’re headed.  The path to take will be painfully obvious:

Dogleg Decision Made Easy

And for some perspective on where you’re going compared to where you’ve been (with Dogleg Canyon on the left):

Dogleg Bend and White Rim w Gooseberry Ramp in View

And so!  Once you’ve made it this far, you feel pretty good about yourself.  It doesn’t stay as easy as it’s been since the river, though.  Time for more canyoning, like at the boulder gulley in Gooseberry Canyon, but perhaps a bit less steep:

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“Less steep,” I said.  Yep.  You got it.  But it’s really fun and actually not hard to navigate!  The rest of the path is easy to follow:

More Canyoning

Dogleg Section #2 Finished

And when you’ve reached the White Rim, you’ll already miss being in the canyons when you look back on your footfall:

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But there is one helluva view just a short walk across the Rim when you’re up there, facing the mountains, that includes a peek of the Colorado River far below:

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And another one at camp not too far away (i.e., camp where we did because it’s free as long as you paid your backcountry permit up through 2 nights), where you must set up your tent on the rock of the White Rim to avoid destroying this delicate soil life:

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…but which will be SO worth doing, rocks instead of stakes and prayers to the wind gods all, because of the scenic serenity…

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You really can’t beat this.  But alas, when the cool morning air heats up and you are drawn by the siren’s call of a delicious brunch at Eclecticafe in Moab, you must start back up the path to Island in the Sky.  With a long break halfway there to take it all in again, of course.

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Again, I just can’t get over the steepness of this hike and the immensity of the landscape.  Looking up, and looking back down, along the way:

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And now you know where to go if ever you’re in southeast Utah looking for a great adventure!  Sand Creek Canyon is yet another one, I hear, and it just might be in the cards for this upcoming autumn…

 

Cheers!  – Brendan Muir Bombaci

 

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Cirque of the Towers, Wind Wiver Range, Wyoming

The featured image above: a grand sunrise vista from lower on the ridgeline that Jackass Pass is situated upon (the last hurdle before the Cirque itself) – this section being the only place you can be in the morning when you’ve missed the legitimate trail (as commonly occurs), nearly one mile back, and had to precariously navigate the gnarly labyrinthine boulder field in nil pre-dawn light on the way there, instead.  But SO worth it, given the sense of trying adventure you gain as such.  Below is said boulder field.

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Arrowhead Lake boulderfield
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Fellow backpacker, contemplating the Arrowhead Lake boulderfield, close up

Now, it might not seem like a big deal looking at these images (or perhaps it does – I don’t know your experience level), but the giant boulders that become prevalent just 70 paces ahead of this fellow are the only ones you get to scramble on.  A mere continuation of the talus (albeit big talus) in the foreground would be preferable, but, once again, ADVENTURE (!) – or at least worry, that you will fall off some big sheer rock into the freezing water below, because you are incredibly unbalanced with days of gear in your pack.  It’s actually all quite doable when you take a good hour to amble slowly about the obstacles, paying heed to the “cairns” (quotes added because a windfall-susceptible singular stone or two atop a giant boulder is a bit unassuming) that will surely help guide you out.  My suggestion: take the middle road, and do it on a test run without your pack beforehand.

But let’s go one photo back in time:

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Sunset on Temple Peak

This image was taken the prior evening from a perfect backcountry campsite just below the outlet of Arrowhead Lake.  Temple Peak is seen to the left.  The cirque here is not actually an extension of the Cirque of the Towers, but standalone; and, it surrounds Big Sandy Lake far below – a destination for most hikers, because it is 6 miles from the trailhead and scenic in its own right (which I’d exemplify in imagery if not for an unfortunately lost photograph).  It’s a slow 2.5 mile huff up to here from there, through various trails-cum-streams and tight squeezes through alpine bush.  A tad confusing at times, too, hence the whole missing-the-legit-trail thing.  Most everyone we encountered had done that.  If you’re about .4 miles below Arrowhead Lake and you come across what seems to be a wash, coming straight down the hill from your right, that converges with what seems to be your trail, more reasonably continuing straight ahead… choose the path to the right (the road less traveled, apparently).  Unless you like adventure!  Heh.

But anyway, we had decided to make our trip into the Cirque a day hike instead, so that we could explore with speed the great swath of land therein.  Instead of packing our gear over the pass, then, we grabbed the camp spot that was tucked up next to a bunch of krumholtz and a huge boulder – all great wind protection (a necessary thing at this elevation) – and relaxed until the wee hours of next morning (4:45am to be precise).

Our trek up to the pass, implicitly detailed already, was actually refreshing.  Envigorating.  And it lead to a real treat just over the other side.

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Dawn Alpenglow on the Towers

Alpenglow up here is right in your face.  You can almost feel the warmth radiating off the peaks, in sensorial juxtaposition to the psych-out you get, in otherwise midsummer atmospheric daytime comfort, from seeing the snow still around or feeling the heavy and cool breezes course through the high valley and around your body.  Breakfast (and especially instant coffee) just doesn’t taste any better than this.

Below?  Another boulder field!!  No worries, though: this one is not nearly as intimidating, because the rocks are half the size or smaller, so you are never encapsulated in view-blocking mineral monoliths.  And just below that boulder field…

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Rushing Runoff

You can camp here?  Aaahhh!  Perhaps next time, when I take the legit trail.  I spoke with the same fellow featured in the boulder field image, the morning I took this shot.  He came down from his camp in the Cirque here (ahead in the trees below the cliffs to the right) to shoot some images of the waterfall, as well, and told me that the Milky Way stretched across the sky the night before and touched two groups of mountains on either side, giving him a great opportunity for some panoramic astrophotography.  Jealousy.  I hope he’s reading this, and shows me his pictures (I gave him my blog address).

Far below this waterfall, along its streamway that splits into many, which are again fed by even more from surrounding hillsides, and which altogether then re-merge into one big feeder, is Lonesome Lake.

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Cirque over Lonesome Lake

What a swimming hole!  I was tempted, but I was also tormented by mosquitos that would, in all likelihood, have bespeckled me on my way in and out of the water, leaving me with a hate for bad life decisions afterwards.  And here is yet another stretch of cirque, to the right of Pingora Peak (which is usually the right-most mountain in most landscape images of the Cirque of the Towers).  So much to explore!  I could literally spend a week in this area.  And I hope to do so in the near future.

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Lonesome Lake, Eastward
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Back Up
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Cirque Companion

I was on this trip with my wife, seen here.  She and I made up our minds on what to explore next – a hard decision because we weren’t sure if we would have another day to come back into the basin, and we had just a couple of hours before it would be about appropriate (weather and hunger wise) to start heading back out towards our high country camp.  A higher vantage was in order.  To the right of this image, and about half as much higher, was just the one.

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Lonesome Lake Vista

It was probably another hour of hiking until we got to this spot.  It was a wandering through forest and stone, with no trails to be found.  Just the way I like it.  The one above looks East…

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Lonesome Lake Vista #2

…and this one looks North-northeast.  Back down from this upward-wandering, and closer to the Cirque now, there was an opening:

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Jackass Pass and Towers

It was the perfect view for a wide-angle lens to take in, offering up a sense of scale with the mountains over Jackass Pass (the slope about halfway down the mountain on the left of the frame), and distance covered from there.  It’s probably another hour of off-camber hiking to reach that point from this vantage.

After dinner (quite a while after dinner, given the lateness of summer sunset), we got an even more colorful evening alpenglow than from the night before.

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Another Sunset on Temple Peak

I suppose it was a parting gift from the heart of the mountains,  because a storm rolled in that night.  The winds roared around the peaktops above us, giving us chills not because of the cold but because they sounded less like wind and more like spontaneous waterfalls crashing down the cliffs around us.  It rained for a time.  Our shelter was up to the task, fending off the unwelcome aspects of both elements.

The storm subsided in the early morning hours and returned at mid-morning, just an hour after our well-used bodies allowed us to arise.  So we had just enough time to eat, pack up, and start on our way before the rains fell on us for the 2.5 miles back down to Big Sandy Lake.  They broke for the remaining and flat 6 miles back to the trailhead and returned with a vengeance, casting lightning all around the various cirques.  There were plenty of hikers packing in that day, most of them surprisingly without knowledge of the weather forecast (which we were hoping to glean, given our desire to stay one more day).  I suppose our gamble was best.  As I note in other entries: such a thing is still fortuitous because it lets you save some of the splendor for another time…

 

*Brendan Bombaci holds the Creative Commons Copyrights to all images on this blog. See his Flickr portfolio @ http://www.kairologic.com to see exact licensures.

Bluebird Lake Trail, Wild Basin, RMNP, Colorado

So there it is; I’ve spoiled it.  Went straight to the pinnacle of the trip and showed you sunrise from Bluebird Lake.  Or have I?  Could there be more to it?  Read for a bit and see!  Either way, I’ve got just a few shots from the trail itself to show you, which is as splendid as it is strenuous (read: very).

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Simulated vantage prior to actual trip (courtesy of Google Earth)

So the trail to Bluebird Lake is some 6.3 miles long and 2400+/-‘ in elevation gain.  As a day hike at the height of summer, it would quite a feat to get to the lake before sunrise (my sensory-centric goal).  I was lucky enough to find a date in the Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry camping reservation list that locked in with the kind of lighting I’d enjoy upon the peaks (see picture above).  It isn’t just Google Earth that I use, however – in fact, I don’t much trust the lighting representation it gives in comparison to what my mind’s eye visualizes when using The Photographer’s Ephemeris – but, rather, it is indispensable for discovering perspectives not found in other photographs available for perusal on Google Images (when you’ve not visited the place already to do so in person, that is).  And find one, I did.

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Calypso Cascades, morning light

This is the first really vertical waterfall you come across on the trail up and out.  Copeland Falls is happened upon firstly, but is more of a boulder-rushing river scene.  It’s a nice spot, but it is open to the daylight and dazzling in its contrast, hence the lack of photo before this one.  In contrast (redundancy intended), this waterfall tends to stay in dappled light to the tall and lush forest canopy above.  The shot here was taken at around noon, and needed no ND filter to get that silky effect on the water (a product of very slow shutter speed), though a VR lens was still a must (or a tripod, but meh).  I love the sound this waterway makes.  I took a break for a bit from my back-crunching 2-day load of clothes, food, and camera gear that I’ve not been used to for years for a variety of reasons.  So glad to get back on it!

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Halfway there!

This view is, well, one that is seen from quite near the halfway point.  Ouzel Falls is actually in between Calypso Cascades and this vantage, but it is a bit hard to get a fulfilling photograph of it (for one who chooses not to tramp off the trail and erode the riverside soil any more than has already been done), so I carried on.  You can still hear the water rushing even from a quarter mile beyond it.  Ouzel Peak is the seemingly small one in the middle of the basin up ahead.  And the Indian Paintbrush (wildflower in foreground) is just everywhere along the middle third of the trail!  It helps to keep you looking in the opposite direction of the sun – a good thing for those who tend to forget putting sunscreen on their faces (a wide brimmed hat only does so much).

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Waterfall and Flowers

Moving along, perhaps at this point around the beginning of the final third of the trail, there are many streams to step over and around.  This one provides a comforting scene right from the path.  The marshiness to the ground on which the various wildflowers are found here is a sign that you are entering the land which nourishes all lower climes.  The smell is fresh, the air cooler, and the human population lessened.  Go further.

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Glacier Lilies, Everywhere
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I repeat: Glacier Lilies, Everywhere!

Here you get a sense of the trail’s steepness.  It is the first and last thirds of it that really work you and push you to find a rhythm.  But the last third feeds you eyecandy while doing so.  There was quite a breeze at this elevation, helping to cool me off in the warm summer sun; though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the night would be a frigid one because of that (mostly because I had some beta, about said frigidity on the trail, from a friend who went out just a week before me on a day hike here and didn’t get back ’til the early morning because of a rolled ankle).  But the cumbersome weight on my back reminded me that I had enough layers to laugh in the face of mountain weather.

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Bug-proofed evening reading time

See the gloves and the face net?  Mosquitos.  Not at lower elevations, but at higher ones.  Why?!  Anywho, these two things are key to finding peace at camp when such pests abound.

Reading is one of my favorite things to do at camp when I’m not up for hiking about or having a drink with friends over campfire-lit palaver.  It also really helps to pass the time in the evening if you have interest in staying awake for a starry photo or two.

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Stars over the Upper Ouzel campsite

Astronomical Twilight – that’s what it’s called when golden hour and blue hour have both passed and stars are bright, but you can still see purple in the sky.  This was just about 20 minutes before it would fade to cosmic black, and about an hour before I might have spotted the Milky Way (which you can barely see in the upper left of the photo).  I had a 4:45am wake-up call coming along in just 6.5 hours, though, with the following hike back down and drive from Estes Park to Fort Collins, so waiting for that was not on my agenda.  When I go again and stay for a couple of days, it will be.

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Morning Glory!: Alpenglow on Ouzel Mountain over Bluebird Lake

AH!  After my wake-up, devoid of vitamin C (coffee), I pushed the last vertical 500′ and 0.5 miles to the lake, just in time for the end of Blue Hour, when all lighting is even and the skies aren’t silver yet from the light scatter of daytime.  I had plenty of light to hike by at this point, and made my way to the vantage point I’d plotted out in Google Earth (and actually visited the evening before).  What a sight when the sunshine hit this peak.  Even Isolation Peak in the background was alight (again, something I knew would happen because of my use of The Photographer’s Ephemeris).  I certainly got what I came for!

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Sunrise over the Front Range from Bluebird Lake

I hadn’t really though of what my view back towards the Front Range would be like from here until I’d stopped shooting the mountains and started casually gawking about, snacking on breakfast bits.  Looking straight back, I was caught in awe of the scenic perfection and made haste at readjusting my silly lightweight tripod (oh how I’d wanted my versatile but hefty Manfrotto on this trip).  It wouldn’t seem possible, but in just a few more minutes the sun was a hand higher on the horizon, with such brilliant gold turned a blinding white.  I was lucky, indeed.

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Isolation Mountain, beyond
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Cliffside Krumholtz
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Looking Back

After sunrise had come and gone, and I’d eaten breakfast while enjoying the views, I headed down to camp for some coffee and cleanup.  I had actually planned on staying for two nights, so that I could explore the upper lakes (Lark Lake and Pipit Lake specifically – Isolation Lake is one higher but a bit too tucked up slopeside for my sensory driven purposes), but it looked like that would be a whole lot of scrambling through boulder fields, across streams, and through snow banks.  My backpacking-unaccustomed legs and arse weren’t having that idea, so I decided to put it off for another time.  After all, it’s always best to preserve the mystique of a place by saving some for later…

 

*Brendan Bombaci holds the Creative Commons Copyrights to all images on this blog. See his Flickr portfolio @ http://www.kairologic.com to see exact licensures.

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)

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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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Underhill
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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 @ http://www.kairologic.com to see exact licensures.