Since the Tetons still looked awfully snowy, I took a friend’s advice and checked out the Indian Peaks Wilderness (IPW), an area south of RMNP that is home to a few dying glaciers and, on 4th of July weekend, a lot of lively rednecks on ATVs. While I’m glad I visited, I wish I had taken my chances with the Tetons sooner.
The Arapahoe Peaks form a bowl protecting the Arapahoe glacier near the southern end of the IPW. Their connecting ridge is rated class 3 to 5, depending on the speaker, but it is really mostly class 2, with a few tougher and/or exposed sections. Both are popular peaks, with large cairns and various junk on their summits, but worth the short climb for views of North Arapahoe’s spectacular southeast face.
Navajo Peak is reached from near Lake Isabelle, in one of the most highly visited, regulated, and patrolled areas of the IPW. My Golden Eagle pass got me in for free (normally about $10), but they wanted to charge $17 per night for a campsite, and overnight parking didn’t seem like an option. The Lake Isabelle trail itself is quite crowded, even on a weekday, so perhaps this makes sense.
The cutoff to Niwot Ridge is easy to find, though the grassy part of the ridge goes on forever, especially with a headwind. Once the ridge narrows there is some fun scrambling, but it is mostly just long. From the summit, there are good views of the Lake Isabelle area and Long’s peak to the north, and of the Arapahoe Peaks to the south. I had originally thought of traversing around the lake and returning via the Pawnee Pass, but the gap northwest of Navajo looked tricky, and the ridge had already taken longer than expected. I returned via the standard Airplane Couloir, dodging one melted-out portion on a wet ledge to one side.
I startled a pigeon-sized bird (a ptarmigan?) no more than a few feet ahead beside the trail, but it strangely just clucked at me instead of flying away. Maybe it also had a pigeon’s instinct for staying just outside kicking-range.