Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mount Toll and Pawnee Peak

The elegant ridge lines of Mount Toll have held an attraction for me ever since I first saw it from the Brainard Lake trail head a few years ago. When visiting Pawnee Peak last fall I was tempted to take the short trip to the summit but was under some time pressure and regrettably had to retrace my route home.
Navajo, Apache and Shoshoni Peaks from the outlet bridge at Brainard Lake
It was cool leaving the trail head and the dense woodland around Long Lake didn't help. But there was no breeze and body heat soon rose. It's a little frustrating at Brainard at the moment as the forestry commission hasn't yet opened parking at the trail head. This adds an extra mile of jogging along the lake road which hurts me more on the return when my legs are tired.

I passed a few groups of hikers and hit the morning sunshine at the Lake Isabelle trail split and it was pleasant climbing through to the rocky moraine below Pawnee Pass. It was clear to me as I picked my way over the boulder field that the rising ascent up to Pawnee Pass would be a little tricky with a large snow field obscuring the switchback trail. Sure enough as I climbed to the snow line I was faced with a steep, loose rocky scramble, or a steep rising traverse across the snow. I chose the latter.
Crossing the steep snow slope to Pawnee Pass
A single trail of footprints was all I had to follow as I skated across the snow slope and it turned out to be straightforward. A stiff breeze blew across the pass and I kept a decent pace to the final slopes below Pawnee Peak.
Pawnee Peak from Pawnee Pass
It's a short climb from the pass to the saddle to the west of Pawnee and I avoided Pawnee summit until the return trip.
View down towards Pawnee Lake from Pawnee Pass
Crossing the saddle I descended a steep snow slope and then a boulder field to reach the col below the south slopes of Mount Toll.
Profile of Mount Toll is unclear because of Paiute Peak in the background
The climb up Mount Toll is a steady ascent, initially up loose rock and grass and then hopping across larger boulders. I avoided the snow by keeping close to the ridge. The summit arrives quickly and it doesn't disappoint. It is a small summit with airy views in all directions. It ia a great vantage point from which to survey the entire mountain range and I spent 10 minutes enjoying the sun. Although it was windy on the ascent the summit was still and warm and I reluctantly began the descent back to Pawnee.
Mount Toll summit looking south east
There is a faint trail on the way back up Pawnee and the summit was a lot windier and cooler than Mount Toll. The best ascent to the summit is a direct line and this avoids most of the loose ground.
Looking directly down the rocky descent ridge from the summit of Mount Toll
I didn't hang around on Pawnee and as I descended to the pass I saw a runner approaching. He was checking out the rout for an upcoming backpacking trip and we agreed to descend back to Brainard together. We made very quick time and although I descended the steeper rockier sections more quickly, he was a much younger and faster runner than I and with about 1500' more climbing and 3 miles extra distance in my legs he left me behind on the final flat section passing Long Lake.
The sharp profile of Mount Toll - my route ascended the southern ridge
It was a great view of Mount Toll from the parking lot.

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