You'll be in trouble with my wife once I do some research on ZB packs and want to buy eight of them. Thanks for the tip though. Already in touch with Chris and I'm having trouble being restrained about it ... but honestly a $200+ pack is probably meant for next year ... or never.
Thx for the recommendation though, and again about the bladder thing. Good simple counsel.
Are you saying you actually hike in the old school ragg socks? That's interesting. Thanks for the +1 regarding the bladder.
Wow dude, it was awesome. I've done a scattering of trips in the New Mexican Rockies and at Big Bend, and a lot more short trips in the TX hill country. But this trip was a true, classic, quintessential high mountain summer trip. Mostly big blue days, with an interspersing of thunderstorms and clouds on occasion, as noted in my summary doc.
We started at Brainerd Lake and headed north toward Coney Flats on day one, camping right where the 4x4 trail from the east comes in and meets the wilderness boundary. Camp that night was peaceful and had a great view up to the Divide at Buchanan Pass to the west.
Second day we took way too long to get moving (not *my* fault :-) and didn't get up to Buchanan Pass until about 3:30pm. The hike up there was nice with a few crossings of small snowfields and gradually more impressive views as we climbed up. When we finally got up to the final cirque right below the pass, we got hit with a momentary LOUD, STRONG storm cell, so we made a break off and trail for some small boulders, used my TrailStar as a big bothy bag, and laughed and gritted our teeth in close quarters together for 10 minutes while the storm passed over. It took about 5 extra minutes for us to realize the storm was gone, birds were singing again, sky was clear, before we came out and forced ourselves up over the final climb :-)
On the other side of the pass, things got beautiful, green, and the scenery was big. We descended quickly because some of our group was battling altitude and exhaustion, and found a really picturesque campside on a raised bar in the middle of a zone on the map called Fox Park, just west of Buchanan Pass and on the northern fork of upper Buchanan Creek. It was gorgeous. We felt like we earned that campsite and it was beautiful with gigantic trees and wide open meadow spaces. Everyone slept great that night.
Morning of the third day, woke up happy and descended quickly through the remainder of Fox Park, which was personally my favorite venue of the entire trip -- just a huge series of skipping green meadows flowing with late spring melt, and the morning had perfect clear skies -- it was like an Austrian fantasy world. We headed rapidly down Buchanan Creek in high spirits and met up with the Cascade Creek trail around noon, where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the company of many passers-by and dayhikers coming in from the west edge of the wilderness -- by far the most people we had seen since getting on trail 80 hours before. From lunch that day we began the climb up Cascade Creek under increasingly cloudy skies. The waterfalls in Cascade Creek are TOTALLY NUTS. We stopped every five minutes to admire the falls -- some were huge, others just gorgeous. The creek is aptly named there you see :-)
Camped that third night up Cascade Creek, a little ways before the junction with the Crater Lake trail. Our campsite again was fairly well used and had some established dirt pads, which my friends enjoyed and of course I purposefully avoided. We had terrible mosquitos that night.
Fourth morning, woke up and completed the climb out of Cascade Creek to arrive at Pawnee Lake by around noon. Everything was serene and beautiful up there, with only a couple other small parties sharing the lake with us peacefully. We set up my TrailStar in a sky-high pitch for a shade / lunch shelter, had a great rest time with shoes off and skipping rocks on the lake. Half our party went 200 feet up the trail to scout out our last campsite for the trip (which was a good one) while I and another adventurous member of our party spent the afternoon scrambling as high up the basin walls as we could, with daypack loads on. We got about halfway up before storm winds started to threaten and we felt way too exposed to continue.
That last night we had a super LONG sunset due to the high elevation and a perfect view out from the basin walls toward the west. We watched the sun go down for two hours after dinner, it was great.
Final morning, woke up and immediately hit the Pawnee Pass trail up out of the basin, gaining the final ridge of Pawnee Pass in about 3 hours. It was a heck of a hike, with ridiculously high winds, steep switchbacks, and totally incredible views with each passing stage of elevation -- mainly back to the west, behind us.
Got over the ridge and out of the wind, took some pictures of Lake Isabelle, descended quickly, and found ourselves in a sea of dayhikers coming in from the east. Decided we didn't need to camp one more night so close to the cars, and decided to hike the last couple miles out back to Brainerd, catch an early dinner in the town of Nederland, and head back to Golden.
Super great trip. You probably got more detail out of this reply than you wanted, but anyway ... it was awesome. It felt like a storybook backpacking trip, with all the normal good things you want. Serenity at times, scary thunder and wind at times. Great community and camraderie on the trail. Great food. Good wildlife sightings of deer, ptarmigan, pika, marmot. Awesome scenery. Decent mileage.
It was a blast. Thanks for asking!