Everybody Loves Rawahs!

Looking south along the ridge toward the Neversummers and RMNP

Looking south along the ridge toward the Never Summers and RMNP

The mountains have me on speed-dial and I must go.  This time, it was the Rawahs on the line.

The Raw-whats?” you say.

“Why, I’m so glad you asked! The Rawahs (pronounced Ray-wahs) are the northernmost extension of the Front Range here in Colorado; a long ridgeline running north from Cameron Pass (north of Rocky Mountain National Park) before piddling out somewhere near the Wyoming Border.”

Even though they’re close on the map, the Rawahs are a solid three hours from Boulder and it’s easy to forget about them with bigger, flashier wilderness areas to the west. I’ve been here only once before; Brian and I got in a nice day of backcountry skiing in the Sawmill Creek basin three years ago but didn’t get very high due to a late start and inauspicious weather.

I’ve been trying to pin down Brian for some much-needed mountain fun all summer, but our busy lives have always intervened. Finally, we managed it. After a low-key trailhead bivy (so cold!), we hit the Mongomery Pass trail and quickly ascended to the pass of the same name. Our goal from here was Clark Peak, the tallest Rawah available (12,951’), five miles north along the undulating ridge. Trails quickly vanished, but traipsing across the tundra under cerulean skies proved easy enough. Easy peasey!

Except that there were at least five significant summits along the ridgeline between us and Clark. We surmounted the first (good views), circumvented number two, climbed #3 (good views of all the yurts down to the west), and managed to skirt four and five before lining up for the final 1000’ slog up Clark. The view from Clark was superb of the Rawahs to the north and south, the smoke-hazed North Park, the distant Medicine Bows in Wyoming to the north, and the more distant high peaks of the familiar Front Range to the south. Immediately below stretched several cirques worth of alpine lakes which definitely bear further exploration.

The ridge had been arduous and, given the option, I’ll always pick a loop over an out-and-back trip. I’d spotted a likely-looking ridgeline from the fifth peak east into the Sawmill Basin where we knew there were a set of good trails out to the road. We stopped at a lovely tarn hard under the east faces of the fourth and fifth peaks and spent quite a while poking around. Brian braved the frigid waters for a full dip while I, after getting shin-deep, decided that I didn’t need that level of character-building adventure on this trip. My delicate heart would probably stop in water that was, at most, a few micro-degrees above freezing; so cold and clear that nothing lived in it. Instead I poked around in a small ice cave under the glacier feeding the tarn and admired the fields of purple flowers.

Peak 4, purple flowers, and Purple Tarn.

Peak 4, purple flowers, and Purple Tarn.

On the map at least, our escape ridgeline intersects an old trail right at treeline which in turn takes you down to the familiar Sawmill trails. No problem… Again, the Rawahs proved tougher than they looked. We found not one but at least twenty five old trails, all of which vanished after a short period. We thrashed around through steep forest, climbing over deadfall and whacking through all the bushes. I was hot and bonked and kind of done with the day. This area may be “familiar” terrain, but that was based on (for me) one trip here three years ago in the winter and from the other direction. What are well-established ski trails turn out to be only vaguely-hinted-at tracks in the summer.

Peaks 1-5 as we descend the ridge into the Sawmill Basin.  This is the last photo I took, so the rest of the trip must not have been very fun at the time.

Peaks 1-5 as we descend the ridge into the Sawmill Basin. This is the last photo I took, so the rest of the trip must not have been very fun at the time.

But eventually we thrashed onto something which, generously, could have been called a logging road ten years ago. Eventually this turned into more of a going concern and we finally ended up unambiguously on a path and, eventually the paved road. A quick bit of hitch hiking brought us three miles back up the road to the car just as the rains started.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.11.36 AMGood trip, more strenuous than I’d expected but also much more scenic and rewarding. I look forward to another exploration farther north in the many lake-filled basins. If the small taste I had (one named summit, one unnamed lake) are any indication, the Rawahs are well worth the trip from the more populous south.

It was good to finally connect with Brian again and compare notes from our busy summers. Speaking of summers, this was a nice cap on my frenzied season of spur-of-the-moment explorations. Three significant mountain runs in less than ten days… oy, I’m tired! Time for a new semester and the grateful settling-down of the fall. I’ve got enough pictures to keep me warm for a while now.

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