An Indian Peaks Classic

I wake just before my alarm at 5:20 a.m., the excitement for the day’s outing trumping my need for more sleep. Yesterday evening, I ran a time trial on the First Flatiron, an all out, elated effort on one of my favorite scrambles. The pain of searing lungs and muscles is rapidly forgotten, leaving place only to the joys of kinetic energy, a lasting impression carried over to my dreams at night.

Stepping out of bed, my mental acuity is immediately contrasted by the weariness of my body. I hobble over to the kitchen counter to make coffee. I let dog out into the yard, joining her briefly to pee. She spots a rabbit and immediately engages the chase, hopping the creek in zealous pursuit into the long grass. It is still pitch black, but the temperature is warm and the sky clear–a perfect morning for a run.

Jon and I are heading to the Indian Peaks to run a classic loop over Pawnee and Buchanan Passes starting at Brainard Lake Recreation Area. While we are both familiar with parts of the trail, neither of us have ran the whole 28 miles in one push.

I met Jon last year when he installed a radon mitigation system in the crawlspace of our house. We got to talking about mountain running and pretty much immediately became friends.

We pull up to the Long Lake Trailhead at sunrise. We have already spotted a couple of moose on the roadside, prompting me to rant vigorously about parking-lot hunters shooting these animals from their trucks. However, the brilliant morning soon quietens my angst as we set off at an easy pace up toward Pawnee Pass.

Within less than 10 minutes, we run into another pair of moose, this time a mother and her calf. Having not seen them from a distance, we come dangerously close, within 15 feet. Our presence startles them, but thankfully they run in the opposite direction of us.

The landscape matches the power and beauty of the megafauna. The peaks on the Continental Divide have received their first dusting of snow, graced by an extra touch of splendor in the morning sun. At the pass, we both hoot and holler at the sheer magnificence of our surroundings, our shared contemplation expressed loudly and profusely.

The lung-tugging ascent gives way to a ludic downhill, a windy, rocky trail plummeting into the valley. We run fast with little regard to the long miles ahead, simply indulging in gravity’s pull.

Fall colors are still in full effect on the western slope. We refill our bottles from a spring, commenting on the pleasing sweetness of the alpine water. We stop for a good five minutes to take in the spectacle that is Lone Eagle Peak as seen from its northern aspect.

Once we reach the Buchanan Pass Trail, we resume our uphill work on the long, gradual climb toward Sawtooth Mountain.

We talk less on the second half of the run, leaving space for introspection. I find that as fatigue begins to settle in, I become less expectant of what lies ahead, surrendering more fully to my surroundings.

The last, short climb from Coney Flats to close the loop stings more than the three-mile sign to Brainard Lake suggests. After six hours, we arrive back at the truck tired, hungry, overjoyed.

Jon has a parent-teacher meeting in a couple of hours, so we have just enough time to grab a quick bite before he heads home.

While some may claim that moving swiftly through the backcountry is missing the point, I find that any time spent in the Indian Peaks leaves me with lasting impressions of wonder that will continue to fuel the imaginative space long after the run.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Can you describe some of the backcountry activities you do that put you in a reflective, imaginative headspace?
  • For you, is it a certain type of movement, an amount of time, a specific speed, the people with whom you travel, the alone-ness of your experience, or something totally different that gives you a positive headspace? As in, are there themes to what makes you feel most comfortable in the backcountry, or do different kinds of experiences lead to a similar way of thinking?
  • Is there anything that serves as a backcountry buzzkill for you, that disallows you from having a positive experience?

Indian Peak Classic 1

Indian Peak Classic 2

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Indian Peak Classic 6

Indian Peak Classic 7

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.