Pawnee Peak, 12,943'

Pawnee Peak from the east (P1 are the Keyholes on Pawshoni).  Photo: Rob Writz

Pawnee Peak is yet another of the many mountains accessed from the Brainard Lake area. Pawnee tends to be hidden behind other peaks when it is viewed from the plains and on the approach on the Brainard Lake Road. It is highly accessible as the Pawnee Pass Trail climbs to four hundred feet below the summit. Pawnee has several excellent routes and can be skied directly from the summit.


Routes 1 and 2 have a shared approach to the tarn at 11,200'

From the Long Lake Trailhead, ski or hike southwest about two tenths of a mile to Long Lake on the Pawnee Pass Trail. Follow the trail west, or the approximate path of the trail if snow covered, along the north side of Long Lake just over 2 miles to Lake Isabelle. At Lake Isabelle, and just west of the east end of the lake, look for the line of the Pawnee Pass Trail switchbacking to the north. Follow this line about two tenths of a mile to a small pond and then ski away from the trail north and west just over a third of a mile to a tarn at 11,200’.  The approaches for the routes below assume that this terrain is snow covered and you can ski across it without causing damage. If the Pawnee Pass trail is snow free you can hike that about 2.6 miles from Lake Isabelle to Pawnee Pass and then proceed to the top of the routes from there. 

Route 1 - Southeast Slope

  • Rating: II D3
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: Southeast
  • Vertical: 1,750'
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 12,943'
  • Approach Distance: From Long Lake TH: 4.4 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 7.3 miles

Pawnee's Southeast Slope is a moderate line from the summit that provides at least 1,800 vertical feet of great skiing. Even more vertical can be had depending on your timing. You may be able to ski from the summit of Pawnee Peak to Lake Isabelle, just over 2,000 feet! This is a great route for someone who wants to get the feeling for skiing these high peaks, but does not want a face melting steep descent. As with all the other routes up here, you can easily combine this with the chutes and bowls on Point 12,878 (Pawshoni) and Shoshoni Peak for even more.

From the small tarn at 11,200' described in the shared approach, ski across snow a third mile west to the final tarn in this basin. From here head due north a third mile into the basin below Little Pawnee Peak. Climb west up a steeper and wide slope to 12,400'. This helps you to avoid the Keyholes on Pawshoni Peak. From here continue up the moderate Southeast Slopes to the summit or go to Pawnee Pass and follow the ridge from the pass to the summit.

Route 2 - Pawnee Couloir

  • Rating: II D10
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: Southeast
  • Vertical: 1,750’
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 13,441'
  • Approach Distance: From Long Lake TH: 4 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 7 miles

This is one of the best ski lines in the Indian Peaks. It is steep and aesthetic. If the conditions are right you can ski from near the summit of Pawnee Peak into this couloir. This chute gets sun early in the day and during the spring ski season this can steepen and narrow the initial turns at the top of the couloir beyond the descent rating that is given. There may be shallow rocks here as well as exposed larger rocks to navigate. Have a great time on this spectacular line.

From the small tarn at 11,200' described in the shared approach, ski across snow a third mile west to the final tarn in this basin. From here head due north a third mile into the basin below Little Pawnee Peak. Climb west and steeper another third mile and the couloir is to your right. Climb the couloir. The final steps out of the couloir to the ridge below the summit may melt into separate chutes. From here continue about 120 vertical feet to the summit of Pawnee Peak.


Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead (10,000’) and Long Lake Trailhead (10,520’)

Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead is the access point to the Mitchell Lake and Long Lake Trailheads. The road from the Gateway Trailhead to Mitchell Lake and Long Lake may not be open to cars until mid-June. Because of this closure the spring and early summer ski adventures in the Brainard Lake area are launched from here. The spacious trailhead at the Gateway is host to a large gathering of backcountry skiers and mountaineers in the pre-dawn hours on spring weekends. When the road opens in mid-June there is an access fee into the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Access the Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead on Brainard Lake Drive west of the town of Ward on Highway 72.

Gear up and ski, hike or ride your bike to the Long Lake Trailhead. It is about 3 miles from the Gateway on the Brainard Lake Road to the right turn leading to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead and the Long Lake Trailhead. Go about one eighth of a mile up this road and turn left and go another quarter mile to Long Lake Trailhead (straight goes to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead). You can check the status of the Brainard Lake Road at the USFS Roosevelt National Forest Boulder Ranger District Road Status website. The commitment grades assume you are starting from the Brainard Lake Gateway and riding your bike in on a mostly dry road.


  Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website

Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website