Indian Peaks Southern Loop

Traffic on the Boulder Turnpike slows to a crawl.  On the day after Labor Day, it seems as if the entire population of the metro area is headed back to work.  The congestion eases and we’re moving again.  Cresting a hill, the Flatirons come into view, partially obstructed by a thick haze.  A CBS newscast comes on the radio.  Tornadoes in Texas.  The second story is about a fire in the Boulder foothills.  3,500 acres burned, a dozen homes destroyed.

Driving up Boulder Canyon, I notice that all roads leading to the north are blocked by sheriff’s deputies who are only letting in fire crews.

The mood is somber at the Ace Hardware in Nederland.  Customers and sales clerks discuss which neighborhoods are burning and speculate how far the fire will spread.  A clerk shows me where the fire is on the map and issues my backcountry permit for the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  We discuss ways to get home if Boulder Canyon is closed.

Climbing the Devil’s Thumb Trail,  the fire soon slips to the back of my mind.  It feels good to again feel the earth beneath my feet and breathe the mountain air.

Mountain and forest

During a snack break, a hiker appears climbing around the bend of the trail.  We hike together for a while, trading stories of past trips.

At Jasper Lake

Some clever person has fashioned an easy chair out of dead wood and boulders and set it at the edge of the lake.  Unrolling my Ridgerest pad, I take full advantage of it.  Later, I explore the shore of the lake and the surrounding area.

Fields of gold

A mile up from Jasper lake is Devil’s Thumb Lake.  The scenery is dramatic.

Devil’s Thumb

Looking west

High camp

Not much weather is predicted for Tuesday night, so I choose a high camp for the views, making sure the shelter is taut, the stakes sunk deep.  At 4:00 AM,  I awaken to a violently shaking tent.  The wind is intense and seems to come from nowhere.  Half-asleep,  I re-tension my trekking poles from inside the shelter.  The flapping settles to a low hum and I fall back to sleep.The wind remains strong in the morning; I have breakfast huddled in a thick clump of trees.  Afterwards, I spend time exploring  my surroundings.

The way out is a trail that leads to a low spot on the ridge.



Wind-tossed grass

Rugged peak

A look back at Devil’s Thumb Lake

The way up is steep in sections.  Strong gusts of wind sweep down from over the ridge.  This is not a place where you would want to fall from the trail.  A big marmot runs by wearing a thick, dark coat of fur.  Early winter?

Almost there

At the top of the Continental Divide, the wind is so strong it almost knocks me off my feet.  The trail leads down and becomes the High Lonesome Trail.  The National Weather Service had predicted a 20% chance of rain this afternoon for the area.  Looking up, I’m astonished to find a large bank of rain clouds advancing rapidly toward me from over the Fraser Valley.  It appears that I’m going to have a 100% chance of rain within the next few minutes.

Storm approaching

Soon I’m enveloped in a mass of clouds that are sweeping in from the west so quickly it seems like time-lapse photography.  The Fraser Valley has disappeared.  Visibility is reduced to a few yards around me.   Rain blows fiercely across the landscape.  Up here, there is no escape, no place to take shelter.  The only thing to do is follow the trail south and hope the storm ends in time to find my exit back to the eastern side of the Divide.  Striding across the tundra and struggling against the storm, I become, for a moment, extraordinarily happy.  It’s hard to explain, but moments such as this are why I keep coming back to the mountains.

The storm eases.

Enjoying a break

Rock on tundra

In the early afternoon the storm moves on, visibility gets better, and I’m easily able to find the trail descending back to the eastern side of the Divide.

King Lake



Past King Lake and back down into the trees, it starts raining again, this time with just a little wind.



By mid-afternoon, I’m damp and chilled.  Setting up my shelter, I try to get warm again.


Early in the evening, there’s a break in the weather.  I take the opportunity to have a quick meal and explore Middle Boulder Creek.


While I’m getting ready for bed, my self-inflating pad delaminates and I’m left with just a section of Ridgerest.  It’s been years since I’ve slept on just a closed-cell pad.  In the morning, I’m stiff and sore and really feeling my age.  But I wait for the sun to rise and dry my gear before packing and hiking out.

Farther on,  I encounter a couple hiking up the trail.

“Gorgeous day.” I say.

“Yes, it’s beautiful.  You’re the first person we’ve seen all day.”

“You’re the first people I’ve seen since Tuesday morning.”

“You’re traveling pretty light.”

“Yeah, I’m getting older and 20 pounds is all I care to carry.”

We talk a bit about gear and about wildlife before wishing each other a good hike and walking on.

Descending farther, I’m amazed at varieties of reds, oranges, and yellows in the understory beneath the aspen.  “How did fail to notice this on my way up?” I’m thinking.  A line from the end of Walden pops into my head.  “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” After looking around once more,  I turn down the trail and walk back to my car.


10 thoughts on “Indian Peaks Southern Loop

  1. Wow. Beautiful pictures. It’s dark, wet and windy outside. I’ve just had to get the plumber in and missed a function at work as a result. The boss will not be happy. But seeing your pictures has put me in a good mood. I will have to brave US immigration and get to Colorado next summer.

    By the way, I followed up your advice on Saucony footwear and got some of their trail shoes.

    • Thanks for that, John. Glad that I was able to brighten your day a bit. Based on what I’ve seen on your blog, I’m betting that you would really love Colorado. Hope Saucony footwear works out for you. After my disaster with New Balance shoes on my previous trip, I got another pair of Sauconys for this one. Keep an eye on this blog. I’ll be following up with an evaluation of some of the gear used on this trip, including my new Saucony trail runners.

  2. Hi, Dondo.

    It’s good to hear that people are starting to look at my blog. I was beginning to think of WordPress as a free cloud.

    I am serious about Colorado. Northern Europe, including Scotland, is blighted by vast clouds of biting insects in August while the great cycling country of southern France bakes at that time. As a teacher, I am restricted to when holidays can be taken and the Colorado Trail website suggests August as a good time. Apart from the cost, with the pound in a pit, US immigration is very off-putting. I will just have to be strong.

    Maybe see you on a mountain somewhere. I’ll be the one suffering with the altitude. Cheers, John

    • Ah, you’re a teacher; I envy your summer vacations! You must be referring to the infamous midge season. No midges here in August–just a few mosquitoes. August is monsoon season so it’s best to try to get down below treeline by early afternoon to avoid the sometimes intense thunderstorms. But all in all, August is a great time to visit Colorado. You may have an easier time with altitude than you think. Assuming you’re going north to south, the Colorado Trail gains altitude slowly, giving you enough time to acclimate.

    • Thanks, Mark. “Truckin” turned out to be an easier photo to make than I expected. The clouds came over just in to to kill the high contrast on the landscape. And the ten-second timer caught me just at the right place on the first take-a rarity. Back at the computer I liked the way the higher peak on the left was balanced by the hiker coming into the landscape at the right. But I felt that the expanse of sky and foreground took away from the feeling of motion so I cropped the sky and grass to give more emphasis to the movement of the hiker through the landscape.

  3. Hi Dondo It appears that we are following in each others footsteps. I did the loop by Devils Thumb Lake again this year about a week after you did. My loop however started at 4th of july TH and after hitting the divide we circled north toward MT Jasper . Then the last weekend of Sept I soloed the Goose creek Loop through the Lost Creek Wilderness. I thought; wasnt Dondo up here somewhere? When I got home I checked your blog and found out where you trekked. Looks like you did that remote stretch above 11000′ (Brookside ?Trail?) now I want to go there as well . What a beautiful area !! you can check out my escapades at ….. Cheers David Heath

    • Yeah, David, I guess we both have exquisite taste in fine wilderness areas. 😉 From your photos, it looks like you caught the turning of the aspen leaves at just the right time. Toting in a can of Guinness–why didn’t I think of that? That stretch of trail near Bison Peak is amazing; I’m sure you’ll like it.

    • Hi Therese, I’m glad you like the card. Check out the James Peak Wilderness trip and you’ll recognize the photo on your card. The light was so great on that trip. That image was taken just as the sun was rising.

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