Buchanan Pass - Rocky Mountain Joe®

September 18, 2016

Buchanan Pass - Indian Peaks Wilderness

BUCHANAN PASS, INDIAN PEAKS WILDERNESS, COLORADO, September 18, 2016 The western border of Boulder County is the Continental Divide which separates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds. Along the divide there are six passes which trails rise to from Boulder County. I'm on a hunt to get to all of those passes, so on a Sunday in September, I headed for Buchanan Pass. It would be 18 miles round trip, about the same as Imogene Pass, but without the same degree of vertical climb, although it does make it above tree line.

Wanting to get a spot at the limited trailhead, and make it home for the 2:25 Broncos kickoff, my alarm went off at 4:45 am. Kerry made me eggs, I had all trail gear ready the night before, and I was off at 5:15, heading off to a unknown trailhead, a new trail, in the dark.

I had picked this Sunday for this adventure because the weather looked perfect-- clear skies and warm highs. As I headed west up Lefthand Canyon, I noticed it was quite windy - I was surprised, how could a cloudless sky be so windy? I typically associated wind with stormy weather.

I was pleased to find a parking spot at the trailhead just west of Camp Dick. It was 6:15 as I started, with enough pre-dawn light to find the start of the trail and be on my way. I absolutely love the first time on a trail. Everything is a lovely surprise. With the forest of pines around me, while I could beer the wind, it wasn't reaching me on the trail.

I had the place to myself - I didn’t see a soul. After four miles, which went surprisingly quickly with a combination of running and fast hiking, and stopping for photographs, I was across the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary. Soon I was hitting some long switchbacks that confirmed where I was and signaled the climb up to the pass. I could still hear the wind, and soon I would be above tree line.

The only thing I like better than a new trail, is being alone in the mountains. Still not a soul, as the trees turned to shrubs and the disappeared. But this time, I figured the wind had either died down, or I was in the wind shadow of the divide.

As the terrain seemed to turn lifeless, I could look up and guess at where the trail would rise up and top the ridge. Before long, the last few switchbacks were quite visible - I was close. Although I didn't feel any wind at all, as I hiked up along the last 30 yards or so, as a precaution, I took off my cap and jammed it in the pocket of my shorts.

I closed the last yards, peering up, looking for the top of the ridge and a glimpse of the mountains to the west. I saw two stacks of rocks, Cairns marking the pass, and I knew I was almost there. I could hear wind, but I was still mostly protected. So then I took the last few steps to the ridge, camera in hand strap around my neck.

So then, I stepped forward and up, and raised myself up on the ridge: WIND TUNNEL!!!! OMG - I've never felt anything like it. Full force wind blasting continuously. I had the presence of mind to rip my glasses off-I knew if they even caught a sliver of this jet stream, they would land somewhere in Kansas. Summoning all my courage I crept westward so I could get a little angle on the divide an a photograph to capture the view to the west. I didn't make it far- it was all too intense and other worldly.

I looked around a few last times, hardly even being able to take in the scene, snapped a few more photographs, and headed back to the safety on the eastern side. Only a few steps, 10 yards or so, and it was still. I was out of the wind. The sun was warm on my face. It was probably 50° up there, but I realized my bare hands were COLD - the wind sucked all the heat out of them. But I was safe and completely thrilled to have experienced the wind tunnel without the threat of storm or lightning. Right there, only few beneath the ridge, I celebrated with the last of my trail food.

I was buoyant on the way down, running more and in quite a good mood calculating that I would make kickoff. My hands went through that tingly stage as the warmed up, and I made a note to add gloves to my big trails list. By the time I got down to stream level, and about four miles from the trailhead, I peeled off two layers down to my t-shirt. It was a glorious day. And only then did I encounter another person for the first time: 14 miles in absolute solitude.

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