If I had to pick a favorite place to hike, Colorado's Indian Peaks might be at the top. Our first 13er was Mount Audubon, a beautiful mountain with alpine flowers and pikas leading to a rocky summit with a 360-degree view. Another day trip led us out to Pawnee Peak, Mount Toll, where Ted tacked on Shoshoni on the way back. Thunderstorms chased us off Navajo Peak and down the airplane gully. While leading backpacks for Cheley Colorado Camps, I made several trips to Fourth of July Mine and climbed South Arapaho Peak and Santanta Peak. There's something about those jagged, rocky peaks and the dramatic landscape, especially when the sunrise lights up the golden tundra and everything seems to glow.
So while in Colorado for our wedding this year, it's no surprise the Indian Peaks made our adventure itinerary - twice. Our first day in Colorado was spent stocking up on hiking snacks and then hiking Mount Evans. We knew sea level to 14k feet in a day wouldn't feel good, but we also knew we needed to acclimatize fast if we were going to do all the hikes we had planned in the few days we had out there. A couple hours of headaches and nausea would pay off big over the next few days.
Seven years ago, 3 of us set out to do the loop from Blue Lake to Paiute Peak and over the ridge to Audubon, but had to bail along the ridge due to developing thunderstorms midway. That day, we opted to descend the scree alongside the ridge, and had to zigzag all over angling back to meet the route we'd taken up Paiute, avoiding going back over any summits. This time, we had planned to go back and finish that loop. Two weeks before our trip, I came down with bronchitis and then cold symptoms started on Mount Evans. The last thing I wanted to deal with at our wedding was being sick, but there wasn't anything I could do about it other than eat healthy and push through. Rather than heading to Blue Lake first like last time, we decided reverse it and go to Mount Audubon first. That way, if I didn't feel well, we were guaranteed to at least get one peak, and could make a decision at the summit.
As expected, the bronchitis took its toll and I had a mild asthma attack near the top. A few puffs of my inhaler, some rest, and some food in the windbreak, and it was decision-time. We'd traveled 2,000 miles, got up at 3am and climbed this mountain, and the sky couldn't be clearer or bluer. I got my breathing under control and said, "let's do it." There's nothing I love more than climbing and scrambling around on those rocks, surrounded by all those mountains.
We stuck down to the left along the ridge to Paiute, which kept us out of the worst of the wind for most of it. We had both summits to ourselves, and a solo hiker who caught up on Pauite joined us for the descent since he wasn't familiar with that route and there's no trail. We were glad we'd done that part before because things certainly looked different coming from the other direction! Blue Lake was as beautiful and sparkling as ever, and we even saw a weasel on the descent. Back on an established trail and cruising back toward the trailhead, the coolest thing happened. Ted stopped dead in his tracks and struggled to get the words out fast enough.. “MOOSE…FIGHTING… MOOSE… CAMERA NOW.” Minimizing noise and movement, we got out the dSLR and I took a few photos while Ted took a video with my point and shoot. Two bull moose hit their heads together for a good ten minutes, just off the side of the trail, and we had front row seats. Proof that even though all the advice says to go to quiet places at dawn or dusk, you can still have a stellar moose encounter on a busy trail in the middle of the day!
So, 2 days of hiking down, why not add another? After finishing the loop, we met friends in Boulder who had flown out during our hike, and headed back to Brainard Lake. Day 3 included an easy hike to Lake Isabelle, watching the sunrise from just above it, and hiking up to Pawnee Peak. We took it slow as not everyone was adjusted to the altitude, enjoyed a good break at Pawnee Pass, and then headed off-trail toward the summit of Pawnee Peak. We had a blast catching up with friends and sharing this amazing place with them, but boyyy was I tired and sweaty. Perhaps too much exercise without enough sleep, hydration, and oxygen. Being sick really sucks.
We knew we could check into the Park Entrance Lodge in Estes Park at 4pm, and we were back at the car an entire hour ahead of schedule. Figuring we'd just get coffee and kill time, I got the best text as we drove back into cell service. The owner sent me a message saying the house was ready and we could go anytime.. which meant showers and some downtime before the rest of our friends and family arrived that evening! This trip has been amazing so far, and we haven't even gotten married yet!