Saturday, Aug. 20, to Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011
My buddy Ian joined me for a backpacking and fly fishing trip to Pawnee Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but, unfortunately, our hike was not rewarded with any trout. Although Pawnee Lake enjoys a reputation on the Web as being a spot to catch cutthroats, we saw nary a fish while we were there. Usually I can at least see the trout in alpine lakes like this one, even if I can’t catch them. I wonder if this lake may not be deep enough for the trout to survive the winter freezes. That previously linked Web site says the lake is 22 feet deep. Ian and I also speculated that the Department of Fish and Wildlife might have been doing some non-native species management at Pawnee Lake that left it temporarily bereft of fish. Ian found this DOW report1 about trout species and quantities in area lakes, but Pawnee was absent from the survey. It was interesting to learn that Colorado DOW pilots stock alpine lakes2 with native cutthroat trout fingerlings.
Also left out of trail descriptions was any mention of the scramble on the western side of the Continental Divide. Just after you start down from Pawnee Pass at 12,550 feet, you encounter a lot of rock fall that has obscured parts of the steep trail down to the lake. Descending the couloir just west of the pass can be a bit hairy with a heavy pack on. I found myself scrambling with hands and feet on the way down Saturday. On the way back up Sunday, it was more obvious where the trail was and that we had been led off-trail at least once Saturday because fallen boulders had blocked the path.
Destination: Pawnee Lake about 2 miles west of Pawnee Pass, Indian Peaks Wilderness west of Ward, Colo.
Distance hiked: about 11.8 miles round-trip
Elevation: started from Long Lake trail head at Brainard Lake at 10,500 feet, reached high point of 12,550 feet at Pawnee Pass, descended and camped at Pawnee Lake at just below 11,000 feet
Temperatures: probably low 80s during the afternoon; my watch read 45 degrees at 6:00 am
Pack Weight: probably 25 to 30 pounds (I did not weigh my pack, but I was carrying my normal gear plus a two-person tent.)
Notes: Double check whether the destination currently has fish before hiking all the way out there to try to catch them. It was disappointing to see no fish this time. On the up side, my Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt was perfect for this trip. I slept just right: not too warm, not too cold. Even this late into August, trekking poles would be handy for Pawnee Pass. There were several snowfields remaining on the eastern side of the divide.
1 “Indian Peaks Wilderness Lakes FISH SURVEY AND MANAGEMENT DATA,” Benjamin Swigle, Aquatic Biologist (Fort Collins/Boulder), undated PDF file on Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site
2 “Stocking Native Rocky Mountain Cutthroat Trout With Planes in Colorado’s High Mountain Lakes,” Photo Gallery by Tim Romano. Uploaded on October 16, 2009, Field and Stream magazine