The Epic Buchanan-Pawnee Pass Loop Adventure

We all have bucket lists. Today I managed to check off one of those boxes and meet an all time great trail runner (and genuinely nice guy) in the process. Five of us managed to make it around the famed Buchanan-Pawnee Pass loop yesterday. There are running adventures and then there are outdoor survival adventures. This was a hybrid. Never have I felt so at the mercy of the elements with the only solution to just keep going…..and we did. By my Garmin, 26.6 miles, 7,020ft in 7:20. Garmin route here:

We followed a counter-clockwise loop out of the Long Lake trail head going north onto Beaver Creek, Buchanan Pass, Cascade Creek, Pawnee Pass and finishing on Long Lake. Silke found a great article by Anton Krupicka about this loop that convinced me now was the time. He did in 4:50! The odd part about the profile is that at mile 15 you are lower than where you started.

This is a portion of the Beaver Creek trail which at the time, was an after thought for me, incidental to the passes. But once you are on this trail, it is easy to appreciate what a great pure single track experience it is. This is the best lighting we had all day as the clouds and fog continued to roll in. I really like the depth layering of this shot.

Looking up at the sky, we had hoped this was the end of the weather front moving through…..Hope is eternal but it did not bring what we thought (photo by Silke).

Buchanan Pass is just coming into view on the right hand side in the distance.

Coming off of Beaver Creek and heading west towards Buchanan Pass in the distance. I had been up the pass earlier in the year, but had not gone over to the other side.

This being my first full alpine season and also having the good fortune to get above tree line most every weekend, it has been interesting to observe the weekly changes in color of the wildflowers. Something new every week.

Making the final power hiking charge up to Buchanan Pass at 11,800 ft.

Mike, Silke and I are all smiles on the Pass. Windy but otherwise beautiful. Time to run on the western side of the Divide for the first time!

Charging down the Buchanan Pass trail on the way down to 8,800 ft. It was noticeably wetter one the western slope…..and foggier. Not great lighting for photography.

I believe this is Buchanan Peak and the last bit of sunshine we experienced before climbing back onto the other side of the Divide.

The next ten or so miles are relatively flat. It felt like Oregon to me, wet, foggy, lots of moss, bouncy pine needle covered terrain and waterfalls. I was just chugging along, kind of in a bit of a low spot for the day when out of nowhere this guy shows up…..

Trail runners can figure this out, even with the blurry photo. Scott Jurek (with his wife and a buddy), seven time Western States champion, amongst many other honors. I had attended Scott’s book signing for Eat and Run several weeks earlier. He stopped, shook my hand and said he remembered my face from the event. Whether he did or was just being polite, it was thrilling for me to shake his hand out on the trails. It was the bolt of adrenaline I needed.

Emerging out of the low lands to the backside of the Pawnee Pass area, the ridge line was cloud covered. It was impossible to see where exactly the Pass was. We knew it was 2.5 miles to get to the top from the intersection of Cascade Creek and Pawnee Pass, but beyond that, ignorance was bliss, at least for a few more minutes (photo by Silke).

Pushing towards the top, above the clouds, it became very windy, perhaps 60+ mile gusts. Everyone had extra layers and rain gear. The wind was literally pushing me up against the rock on the up-slope side. Looking up with no end in sight I found to be un-motivating, so I took one step at a time (photo by Silke).

Doesn’t look like much, but this is the Pass which you don’t see until you are maybe 100 ft below it. The wind was brutal at this point. Never did I believe we would not make it over but, it was the first time since moving to CO that I remember feeling the brute force of the power of nature. I am glad everyone in the group was a super strong runner. Things could have turned out differently had that not been the case.

Jubilation after making it over (photo by Silke).

Our first glimpse of the sun on the eastern slope with Long Lake in the distance (and our cars), 4 miles away.

With the finish line in site, I have a bad habit of letting my concentration drop when I think the worst is behind me. Shortly after this, I did a nice belly flop face plant into the dirt. Ben the guy behind me said as I was hitting the ground, “Dude, that does not look very good.” Sure enough man, felt even worse 😉 (photo by Silke)

In the end, it was another great day and an epic adventure (photo by Silke).

3 thoughts on “The Epic Buchanan-Pawnee Pass Loop Adventure

  1. Pingback: A Bear, Moose, Scott Jurek, and Me: A Wild Day in the High Country « Kind of Like Fun

  2. Pingback: Buchanan-Pawnee Pass Loop | DirtProof

  3. Pingback: Fall in the Rockies – St Vrain Glacier | Single Track Mind

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