Buchanan & Pawnee Pass Loop

3rd and possibly last backpacking trip of the 2016 season! 

I've had my eye on this loop since reading about it online a few years ago.  It's basically a 26-mile loop that crosses the Continental Divide twice in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area just west of Boulder.  Meg, Bennett, and Zena and I have day hiked and snowshoe'd in the Indian Peaks Wilderness quite a few times, but I'd never really ventured that far into the area.  I never was really that intrigued by the area as it was pretty close to home in Denver and I always felt like I had to drive 4-6 hours to really get away from the crowds.  I'd read Gerry Roach's guidebook on the Indian Peaks Wilderness a few years ago and figured if he thought it was worth it then I needed to give it a shot.  I was planning and preparing for a 2-night backpacking trip, but figured if I could do it in a single night, great.

Upon arrival to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area I found I was a dollar short and couldn't afford the $10 cash to get inside.  I was probably 30-40 minutes from the nearest ATM.  Ugh.  That meant I had to park at the winter closure trail head and that automatically added 7 miles round trip.  What was originally a 26-mile trip was now a 33-mile trip.  Oh well.

Despite my inability to effectively count cash I felt pretty good as the sky was relatively clear and blue, the wind wasn't too bad, and the temp was in the 50's.  The winter closure lot can be a pretty darn cold and windy place to start so I figured that was a good sign.

I headed up the Waldrop Trail for the 3.5 miles to the Mitchell Lakes/Beaver Creek Trail head.  It turned out that I was probably better off for not paying the $10 as there was absolutely no parking anyway and people circling around looking for spots.  That made me feel way better.  I headed up the Beaver Creek trail to the Mt Audubon trail.  I saw hardly anybody once on the trail.  It was certainly a beautiful afternoon with clear skies.  I was doing the loop clockwise, so after I climbed the Audubon saddle I headed up to Buchanan Pass.  I saw hardly anyone almost the entire afternoon.  The trail was a mix of above treeline and below treeline hiking.  Not bad so far.  

I started heading up Buchanan Pass about 5 hours after starting out from the parking lot.  It was late (5p-ish) and the skies weren't looking to friendly as darker clouds were crowding around Sawtooth Mountain and the surrounding peaks.  If I was going to do this in a single night then I needed to keep moving and get as far down the other side of Buchanan Pass as possible.  Upon reaching the rather undramatic summit of Buchanan I realized the skies weren't as bad as they seemed and I could push onward.  I ultimately kept moving for the next 3 hours with a short stop for some Pad Thai ramen dinner (I never cook/eat where I camp - risk of bears and mini-bears getting into my stuff is too high).  I kept moving through the night and finally stopped around 8:30p well after sundown and finding a suitable place to camp.

The next morning I tried to get an early start and was on the trail around 8a.  I made great