The Brainard Lake Cirque, including the Mitchell Lake and Long Lake trailheads, offers some of the easiest access to alpine terrain in the Indian Peaks. This area sits just west of the town of Ward, making it easily accessible from the Denver/Boulder area.
The Brainard Lake Cirque offers mostly easy to moderate snow and mixed climbing terrain, along with some popular mountaineering routes. During the winter and spring, the area is a popular cross-country and backcountry skiing destination. There's also a hut operated by the Colorado Mountain Club (day use visitors are welcome, but a small donation required).
During the summer and fall there is a day use fee for all vehicles. During the winter and spring, the road is gated off about four miles east of Brainard Lake. In the winter, popular cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails allow access to the peaks.
In the spring, the snow typically melts off of the road before the gate is open. It's common to see backcountry skiers riding bikes from the gate to the trailheads with skis on their backs or lashed to their bikes.
At Brainard Lake, the cirque splits into two valleys. The northern valley leads to Mitchell and Blue Lakes, the south side of Mount Audubon, Paiute Peak, Mount Toll and the north side of Pawnee Peak.
The southern valley leads to Long Lake and Lake Isabelle the south side of Pawnee Peak, Pawnee Pass (providing access to Lone Eagle Peak, ext), Shoshoni Peak, The Isabelle Glacier, Apache Peak, Navajo Peak, and the long Niwot Ridge.
The east ridge of Mount Audubon and the south face of Mount Toll are two of the more popular mountaineering routes, but there is plenty of more interesting terrain to be explored.
From Ward, drive up to the Peak to Peak highway, go north and take the first left onto Brainard Lake Rd. Follow this west to either the winter trailhead, the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, or the Long Lake Trailhead.
Just east of the north ridge of Mount Toll lies a moderate mixed couloir leading straight to the summit. The climbing is generally easy, and when Brainard Lake Road is open, offers a great alternate to more popular alpine routes in Rocky Mountain National Park.The route can be climbed in the spring or fall. Fall conditions will likely yield more exposed rock cruxes, where as spring will be more of a classic snow climb. Either way, its a pretty fun outing. In winter, when the road is closed, t...[more]Browse More Classics in CO