Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
Iroquois is a mythical beast. It is the crown on the Mohling traverse. Iroquois is an elusive peak that. Many have seen it, as it can be clearly seen from Arapaho Pass and Pawnee Pass. From the high passes the peak presents a formidable facade. Here is Iroquois viewed from Crater Lake.
The out-of-print guidebook for Indian Peaks describes a class 3 route on the rugged south face of Iroquois. The approach hike passes through Wheeler Basin, a still wild place that sees few visitors. The route is 21 miles so we decide to do it over two days and overnight in Wheeler Basin. This was an opportunity to spend the night in a rare place.
GPS track for the hike.
GPS track from camp to summit and back.
It is late morning when we start from the Monarch Lake trailhead. We encounter a few moose as we hike around the lake. My buddy Cameron calls the beast the Tramplesaurus for good reason. Makes me laugh every time. We give this moose family a wide berth and then continue on the trail to the wilderness boundary.
The Arapaho Pass Trail heads deep into the distant valley.
Good things lie behind this sign.
This is my first time hiking through the Arapaho Creek valley. I am amazed by the place. We hike the Arapaho Pass Trail for miles and encounter no one else. The forest gets thick, tall, and wild. This place feels like a faraway land thanks to its wilderness protection.
Eventually we reach the creek that leads into Wheeler Basin. We continue on the trail a little further, turn left and leave the trail. Our bushwack begins. After a half mile of unpleasant 'shwacking we find a gift: an unmaintained foot trail that leads up into Wheeler Basin. The trail is a godsend with heavy packs on our back. We hike past beautiful meadows high in the basin and eventually choose one to be our home for the night.
The sunset is remarkable.
These peaks are named Apache and Navajo.
The night passes quietly and we all sleep well. The alarm clock wakes us before sunrise. Coffee and various sweets keep us moving and by first light we are ready to hike. We leave camp, cross the creek, and start bushwacking up steep rocky slopes. Eventually we reach a low-angle grassy ramp that angles toward the upper lakes. We follow the ramp upward.
The steep approach is a lung buster.
This is classic Indian Peaks terrain.
North Arapaho Peak dominates the view behind us.
Morning light finds Mount Neva to our south.
Nearing the top of the grassy ramp.
The grassy ramp makes for easy going to Lost Tribe Lakes. We crest the top of the ramp and the view explodes into a beautiful mess of alpine rock. This is a rare place to be in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the entire Front Range of Colorado for that matter.
Our first view of Iroquois.
To the west, Mount Hopi catches some early morning sunlight.
Mythical Lost Tribe Lakes.
We refill our water supply at the lake and take a few minutes to relax. The cold breeze get us moving again. We turn our attention to our goal. I feel like I am on a fairy-tale quest for the summit of Iroquois.
We scamper over slabby rock past a group of deer that make this fantasy land their home. The left trending gully is our plan of attack. Once above the cliff bands (top center of photo) we will cut right on a ledge above the cliffs. From there we will scramble carefully up a steep talus field and on to the summit.
Idyllic. Iroquois' summit is the first bump to the left of the V-shaped saddle at the top-center of the image.
The south face of Iroquois intimidates.
The terrain turns steep and loose.
We continue up the steep gully. Derek locates our crossover ledge at the top of the cliff band. We exit the gully to the right and traverse on a ledge.
Anna stands near the exit from the gully.
The upper gully seen from the exit ledge.
North Arapaho Peak.
The ledge leads us to the bottom of a steep talus field. We turn left and work our way up the steep but mostly stable talus.
We reach the upper ridge line and stare north over the vertical edge. Impressive mountains stretch out over the abyss. The highest point on Iroquois leans out over the abyss. It will take some nerve to complete. To reach the tallest point one has to lean on the boulder and put weight on it.
Don't fall in.
Iroquois' highest point.
Anna approaches cautiously.
A remarkable summit.
Derek goes next.
9 years ago I first put my eyes on Iroquois. The peak inspired me to go deeper, to go further, to take the trail less traveled. I have dreamed of reaching this mythical summit since I started exploring the backcountry. And now here I was. All I need to do is reach out and touch it. We sit back and enjoy lunch on top of Iroquois. The southern Indian Peaks stretch out over our aching feet.
Easier said than done.
We enjoy an hour on top. I rarely spend that much time on a summit but this one is rare and deserving. It takes strange desire and serious effort to get here. But all good things must come to an end. We begin to head down. In the distance is Hopi Peak.
High peaks to the north.
High peaks to the south.
Derek takes in the view.
We begin our descent.
We cross the ledge to the gully.
We move slowly and carefully down the loose gully. I give a sigh of relief when we reach the bottom without incident. I take one last look and say my thanks to Iroquois. We reach the top of the grass covered ramp and begin our descent back into civilization.
Giving thanks to Iroquois.
Derek descends into Wheeler Basin.
We tear down camp and shoulder our heavy packs. We arrived here 24 hours ago and we regret having to leave so soon. This place is special. I round a corner on the hike out. A small black bear stands on the trail 30 feet ahead. For a moment we are very much one and the same. Then the bear turns and runs the other direction. This place is something special indeed.
On the trail again.
Trail side vistas.