“The Blam” sings a song I like called “8546.” For more then half the song Jerry Adler sings, “iso-iso-iso – lation…..you sure got your teeth in me.” I sang this song internally and externally most of the day. I’m sure Chris thought I lost my mind, luckily, he’s pretty used to my insanities.
So, how do I put this delicately without hurting any feelings? Isolation Peak is gem of a mountain neatly tucked away in the southern end of Rocky Mountain National Park within the grasps of the incredible Wild Basin. It’s quaint summit towers over four drainages and provides some of the most unique views of Longs Peak and the park. It is on the list of very few Colorado mountain climbers and is reserved for those who want to climb all the Colorado 13ers, love obscure RMNP summits, or enjoy riding the pain train as this peak requires 8.5 miles with 5,000 feet of vertical gain….one way. The surrounding terrain and peak itself are the definition of what a pristine healthy high alpine ecosystem should look like. With beautifully sculpted glacial rock, endless wildflowers, mountain rivers, waterfalls, lakes, rolling green saddles, and wildlife abound, there is no trash to pick up and it should stay that way. It is not an easy mountain summit and I will not give a play by play with arrows on how to attain it BUT if you like a good story and photos of a rarely visited place then this is the read for you!
Isolation Peak (13,118’)
Mahana Peak (12,632’)
19 miles/5,800 feet of vertical gain
There is no camping at the Wild Basin Trailhead or the incoming road and because there is a ranger station literally right there, I wouldn’t test that theory, especially on a Friday night in the summer. I got a motorized vehicle usage map from the ranger station in Boulder in hopes of finding some dispersed camping in the Allenspark area but the roads were pretty rough and Lola has been through enough. I ended up snagging the last spot in the Meeker Overflow Campground; campsite 3, right next to the camp hosts (who are really lovely people), and across from the porta-potty and locked dumpster. Simply put, it is the worst place I have ever camped. Go there sometime and you will see what I mean. Maybe it was just our location but there was no where to set up a tarp at the actual campsite so unless I wanted to cook dinner in a down pour I had to use the trees behind the shitter.
As lightning and thunder crashed down upon my refried beans I watched an endless stream of loud people roll in and out of my home for the night, which was really a glorified dirt parking lot. I don’t require amenities to survive in the wild but there was a generator running all night, a light blasting in my rear view window, and constant noise from people driving in and out. Do not camp here if you have a 4 a.m. start time.
Chris arrived around 9 p.m. and we retired to our respective trunks shortly after.
Alarms a buzzing at 3:45 in the morning, Chris eating a massive donut, me trying to brush through my tangled hair, confusion, we got to get out of this “campground.” Even though the trailhead was a mere 10 minutes away we managed to procrastinate start time until 5 a.m. That’s okay though, NOAA forecasted the chance of storms as “40%—>70%,” so confidence levels were high.
We made our way through the dark forest, pretending to run, slipping on wet rocks, and then settling into a power hike justifying it as saving our legs for the descent. We came to the crux of the route, the washed out bridge at Ouzel Falls. They are in the process of rebuilding and this is how they feel about people crossing it….
However, the sign is on the oposing side of Ouzel Creek so we may or may not have accidentally crossed on the bridge. On the way back, in daylight, there is a clear path across the raging creek.
Slowly but surely the sun began to creep into the night sky illuminating the path before us.
I had been down this road before with Abe, when we made a huge day of Mount Copeland, Ogalalla Peak, and The Elk Tooth just two basins over. Only Abe and I never crossed Ouzel Creek to find the nice established trail on the other side and ended up bushwhacking through a watery hell marsh until finally making the call to gain the ridge the trail is on. I was remembering our day a little under a year ago (fall 2014), my first time in Wild Basin, the leaves changing, and how awe struck I was. Despite the descent off the Elk Tooth (can be appropriately labeled the third dimension of hell) it is in my top ten days in the hills. Would today compare? (Spoiler alert: it did)
As we made our way towards Bluebird Lake the beauty of Wild Basin reared its flowery head.
We walked through marmot lane where families of fat butts clamored in and out of rocks stopping to look at the crazy girl who wanted to pet them all. We crossed gentle creeks, passed roaring waterfalls, and wove our way through wildflowers and slabs a plenty. It is ridiculous how much I love this place.
Bluebird Lake is some odd 6.5 miles in, meaning the iso-iso-iso-lation had officially begun, sort of, we actually didn’t see anyone until we were well into our descent. Ouzel Peak towers over Bluebird Lake guarding her west shores.
The trail came to an end and the route finding began. At first there are cairns leading in the correct direction but they slowly petered out. Our next objective was Lark Pond.
The route is not obvious nor intuitive and Isolation Lake and Peak cannot be seen on the approach but Mahana Peak aggressively looms above.
Isolation Peak eluded us until we finally stood upon her summit, meaning, we could not see the summit until we were standing on it. With no visual we went solely on spidey-senses and a map and compass ( :
At eight miles we arrived at Isolation Lake. I was incredibly taken a back by the immensity and raw beauty of this basin. It is places like this that remind me why Colorado is home and why I am going to school to protect the wild. I can travel to the moon but I will always come back to the one place that my heart belongs….right here….
After a brief discussion about all the things we wanted to do to Isolation Lake we took on the task of gaining Isolation Peak’s south ridge. Like anything worthwhile, it was a lot of work. We passed the time by asking each other where the 40% chance of rain was, because a cloud would have been real nice. We both forgot sunscreen and my lips were burning off my face.
Once on the south ridge the views opened up and we both squealed with joy.
I would say the terrain never exceeded difficult class two.
And then the summit, everyone was there.
We are a weird kind of party.
There was a register but it was missing the cap and had nothing in it. My day was ruined.
But then Chris saved the day and took this dope shot of me in my new Territory Run Company shirt.
The wind was ripping and we decided it was time to move along. Instead of retracing our foot steps we cumulatively decided to descend Isolation’s north ridge and go explore what appeared to be a humongous drop off in the line over to The Cleaver. The reason for our exploration was in the summer of 2016 we are going to attempt to climb every single peak in Rocky Mountain National park in one day. There’s only 125, so, totally feasible. People keep upping the badass level round these parts, Chris and I are only trying to hang. After we execute, perfectly of course, it will be named the Kummessler (combo of our last names) 125 and people will try to beat our time for centuries to come. All will fail of course.
There is a serious drop off on the west side of the north ridge. We stayed proper and made things interesting. Stand on the edge of a cliff sometime. I absolutely adore the tingly ass sensation it induces (even though I am still afraid of heights). It is the same feeling you get when you first fall in love and see the object of your affections. So if you are out there, feeling lonely, go find your nearest cliff and peer over it.
Whew, there is no gash in the ridgeline over to The Cleaver, not that that would have dashed our super plan. Chris found an antique bottle, well I thought it was antique, Chris told me it had a patent and I was nuts. But then again he also insisted big horn sheep were deer and he kept seeing a person over on Mahana. We fought all day.
We descended the northeast face into the saddle between Isolation and Mahana.
Going for the summit of Mahana was not even a question. Once again, I would rate it a difficult class two. After Bluebird lake there are a lot of slabs, and rock piles to deal with but not much exposure. Things get tedious when steep talus slopes move. I was careful with every hand hold and foot placement and I still got dinged up.
It’s incredible how moving just one mountain over awards a different perspective. Our jaunt up Mahana Peak was definitely worth it.
We descended to Isolation Lake and began hiking back to Bluebird Lake. It was incredibly hot and our water was so warm we couldn’t even feel it going down our throats, so body temperature. Where are those storms NOAA?
All we could think about was filtering cold water and the billions of wildflowers that seemingly came out of no where. Things were reaching the critical stage, threat level wildflower.
At some point we began running and did not stop until we arrived back at Ouzel Creek. As we made our way to tree line we saw the storm NOAA forecasted.
Chris filtered us cold water and suggested a little scramble to the top of Ouzel Falls. I loved this idea.
We ran the remaining 3ish miles out and arrived safely in the parking lot to more warm water and melted granola bars. It was great to get out with Chris, thanks for keeping me company friend!! It started storming on my drive home.
So happy to have gotten to enjoy some of Colorado this summer. It warms my heart to know that a mere 1.5 hours from my home exists such raw undamaged beauty. There are still wild places and this my friends is one of them.
“Life is short. If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.”