Peak(s):  Isolation Peak  -  13,118 feet
Mahana Peak - 12632
Date Posted:  10/21/2010
Modified:  10/23/2010
Date Climbed:   10/16/2010
Author:  Papillon
 Isolation Angels   

Date: 2010-10-16
Peaks: Isolation Peak | Mahana Peak
Tale of the Tape: 17.2 miles and 5230 vertical
Partner in high-altitude crime: wooderson

"Those afternoons. Those lazy afternoons..." - Jack Kerouac

So we were in Wild Basin last weekend digging the crisp air, tired leaves and calm serenity of Indian summer. There were endless tarns and waterfalls, miles of desolate trails, warm butter sunshine and a skyline filled with high-altitude booty. All in all, it was a pretty slick way to spend a Saturday.

The trailhead is empty at 7 A.M. No cars. No tourists with questions. No rangers. No rules. We shuffle across the lot and take in a bear warning sign. It is too light to use a headlamp but just dark enough for some animal or man-beast to be lurking in the trees, ready to rock my world. I spent my childhood neck-deep in horrorshow exploits (Bigfoot, Manson, Night Of The Grizzlies...) and still pay for it to this day. I casually keep my eyes peeled as we hurry up the trail.

Copeland Falls. Calypso Cascades. Snow in the trees and ice on the bridges. Ouzel Falls. A trail-runner appears out of nowhere while I'm taking a piss. Typical.

We enter an area ravaged by wildfire years ago. There are burnt, splintered trees on both sides of the trail - fresh and shiny black, like they smoldered up until last night. One is barely standing and looks like it would fall if I whispered in its ear.

Views of Meeker, Longs, Copeland and Alice. We pass the turnoff to Ouzel Lake and begin the two mile slog up to Bluebird Lake. There is just enough frozen snow on the trail to keep things interesting. A backpacker appears having spent the previous night at Upper Ouzel Creek. We chat without stopping. Snow conditions. Overnight temps. People. Bears. And then he is gone.

Bluebird Lake sits 6.3 miles from the trailhead and is worth the price of admission. We snack on orange gumdrops and nuts and chocolate by its lonely quiet shore. This is a special place. We check the map, size up our route and press on. Cairns appear and disappear for a while but there is no real trail to follow.

Lark Pond and Pipit Lake. A long grassy alpine meadow leading to a small boulder field. Talus hops and geologic scat. Slow going. Posthole frustrations, sweat and foul language. A hint of fatigue arrives on the scene.

Isolation Lake at 12,000 feet. It is frozen, smooth and glassy-eyed. We find a sunny slab of rock, stretch out, feast, and then take a snooze. I don't think I've ever eaten lunch in a more peaceful setting. I want to stay but know I have to leave. We pick an ascent line. Maybe 750 feet of vertical. Textbook class 2 blues. There is snow all the way up to the saddle but it is not continuous. Out come the gaiters.

The worn soles of outdated leather boots. Hidden rocks below unknown depths of snow. A slip here and a stumble there. Grind the ankle. Jack the knee. Not enough consolidation to warrant the microspikes. Don't break your neck, kid.

We reach the saddle and peer down into the western lands. 100, maybe 200 feet to go. The ridge to the top is more of the same but perseverance wins out. The summit is blocky and choked with snow, the north face sheer and dizzying. We take photos and note the temperature and wind speed (39 degrees, 7 mph). I don't feel like excavating the summit register so we jet.

A slow, steady descent to a broad bench around 12,100 feet. It feels good to be on grass again. We're checking out Mahana Peak but also thinking about parking lot beers and handfuls of potato chips. The clock is ticking.

Papillon: If we hit this we'll probably walk out in the dark.
Wooderson: We've left a lot on the table this year.
Papillon: Shouldn't take more than forty minutes round.
Wooderson: Let's go.

We climb straight up. The snow is a pain in the neck. I check every foot placement with my trekking pole. Sometimes there is a rock under the surface, sometimes there is a hip-deep void. We top out but do not linger.

It's now 5 P.M. and I'm splashing my hydration bladder with a liter of Bluebird Lake's finest. We have 6.3 miles to go but there is solid trail the whole way back. The sun has given up and begins to slumber behind the continental divide.

We reach Calypso Cascades as night falls and pass an elderly couple, the 3rd and 4th humans we have seen all day. With headlamps on, we hoof it the last 1.8 miles back to the trailhead where I drop my pack and crack a beer. The parking lot is pitch-black and utterly abandoned.

These are great days we're living.

Ouzel Peak

Bluebird Lake

The task at hand

Pipit Lake

Lunch at Isolation Lake

Climbing up

Ascent route

Longs Peak

Continental Divide

Nice views

You were my queen and I was your fool, riding home after school...

Mahana, the next objective

Ascent route

The final push

Isolation from Mahana

Nothing left but the long walk home

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Comments or Questions
Doctor No
Very nice!
10/21/2010 21:14
I've been as far as Bluebird Lake, and you're right - it's a special place. I still want to go further.

Great days indeed...
10/21/2010 22:30
and you two know how to live'em. Beautiful :-)

Typical ...
10/21/2010 22:50
Typically wonderful ... ”you took me home, to your house”. I like your house. 8) Line of the report: One is barely standing and looks like it would fall if I whispered in its ear. LOVE IT. As always, thanks for posting. Take care you two and happy trails!

10/22/2010 00:25
Love it!!!

The Void
10/22/2010 01:55
Was it just a hanging bubble in the illimitable ocean of space--?

That's too pretty to be the Void.

That there - that's like being locked in a candy store after hours, after everyone has gone home.

I like the pacing...felt like I was going...and going...and like Jack says - moving without having moved.

10/22/2010 02:21
Thanks for the trip!

I like your style
10/22/2010 02:28
Good writing. Thanks for posting this.

Kevin Baker
Good outing
10/22/2010 18:41
Nice job, guys! I like your writing style too, Kevin. I really enjoyed that hike this summer. Bluebird Lake looks even more dramatic with snow!

Well written
10/22/2010 19:41
Best written trail report I've read. Felt like I was there.

Great Days...
10/22/2010 21:11
Thanks for all of the comments. I feel Wild Basin is tough to beat in the fall, whether it involves peakbagging or exploring distant tarns. For those who have never visited, I cannot recommend it enough.

Doctor No: Isolation Lake is definitely worth it. I'd assume Junco as well. Can't beat those faraway lakes.

Presto: G-L-O-R-I-A is the best cover ever - at least in my book. Thanks for your encouragement. IPAs someday...

Kimo: It doesn't get any better than Jean-Louis on his fire watch, playing his fictional baseball game in front of Hozomeen.

Kevin: Your trip report was very helpful. If it wasn't for the snow cover I would not have put this together because I feel you captured it all. Now all I have to do is figure out the best way to visit Ogalalla.

One long day
10/25/2010 11:16
As I sit in this hotel (instead of Silverthorne Southwest wouldn't hold my connection for 2 minutes), it makes me really pumped to get back to Colorado. Whatever good things I've ever said about Florida, I officially take back, I'm just glad to live where I do and have like minded friends. Instead of Rocky Mtn nat'l Park, IPAs and good mexican, you get humidity, flatness, Anheiser Busch and tacky, crime riddled cities.

Another RMNP classic.

08/29/2013 17:12
Heading up there in a few days and found this. Hopefully we get Bluebird to ourselves as well (do Labor Day dayhike crowds ever wander 6.3 miles one way?). Thanks for the great report, Kevin.

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