Miss Lilly’s Last Big Adventure

Lone Eagle Peak
Miss Lily and John


Miss Lilly was an awesome German Shepherd gal whom I enjoyed the companionship for more than a dozen years.  She was a bit wild in her teenage years, but she matured into an incredible creature who shared many of my best adventures. 

She was almost ten when I talked her into our last great one.

She was starting to feel a bit old, but I promised her lots of treats, and a previously unexplored region, and her tail responded very quickly.

The adventure started at the Long Lake trail head, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and we enjoyed the spectra of the new dawn as we hiked briskly up a pristine valley with awesome views of the morning light on the high local peaks.

Miss Lillie’s tale was wagging at a record breaking frequency as she rushed out to sniff and mark every bush in the valley.

The crowds and smells eased as we passed Isabelle Lake and headed into the high tundra.  She had never seen a Marmot, and introduction to this new species was infatuating. It took a lot of persuasion to convince her that she shouldn’t play with them, but she was a smart gal and finally understood. But she watched them very attentively. as I continuously warned her to stay on the trail.

It was a new thrill to cross Pawnee Pass and drop into the gendarme filled slopes of the western drainage. A slight breeze cooled the summer air, and the dwindling crowds added a whole new aspect to this great adventure. She was showing a bit of fatigue at the pass, but her energy quickly revived as we approached Pawnee Lake. Miss Lily could obviously smell the cool water from a great distance and rushed ahead to cool her warm fur coat in the frigid waters of the pristine lake. 

We stopped to take a brief break and let her sniff all the local bushes, but our planned camp was still a ways away, so we plodded downward until we met the confluence of another canyon that lead us upstream again to a remote and stunning lake that was our planned camp.

One of Colorado’s many “Crater Lakes” sits near the top of another natural canyon that boasts the view of one of our most famous peaks. 

The “Lone Eagle Spire” isn’t really a mountain or a spire, but only a prominent high spot on the ridge of Iroquois Peak (12,799’). But its spectacular view from Crater Lake and somewhat challenging routes has given it enough fame to gain the cover of “Colorado’s Indian Peaks” by Gerry Roach.

The view from the lake is truly spectacular, but Lilly didn’t seem to be very impressed. But the smell of water and enticing scents that had been left by the local creatures soon caught her fancy, and she eagerly sniffed every bush in the near vicinity and took a short swim before finding the perfect grassy spot to lounge in.

The day was still a bit young, and dusk is usually the best time to fish, so after a brief nap, I grabbed my fishing rod and rambled toward the lake. I have never been much of a fisherman, but I do enjoy the serenity and meditation of the sport, and I love to eat fresh fish. Crater Lake is one of the Colorado gems that doesn’t see a lot of visitors, so the fish are not aware of the many elusive tactics that fisherman have perfected. A few casts with simple spinning gear yielded a 12 inch Brook Trout that put up a thrilling fight and supplied a splendid dinner.

Both Miss Lilly and I were quite exhausted, and we quickly found slumber just after dusk. I let her share my tent, and she seemed very content as she snored away in the mountain paradise.

We both awoke at dawn, but our aspirations were very different. I was anxious to try and bag a peak, and she seemed very content to lounge after the previous hard day. She didn’t wish to share my cup of coffee and wasn’t very hungry, but I left her a large bowl of food and plenty of water before scratching her ears and belly to say goodbye.  When I looked back, she had resumed her old lounging position and seemed very content.

The morning air was a bit brisk at the high altitude camp, but the trail was dry and the fragrance of the high mountain plants awakening was extremely invigorating. I was in a valley where I had never been, and the excitement of exploring a new peak brought my energy to an exuberant level. The path that I had chosen was well documented, but it still left a feeling of exploration, and I was completely alone in the vast canyon. The route involved climbing quite high in the canyon and then traversing across fairly steep and exposed terrain to the ridge. I probably didn’t find the easiest way to gain the ridge, but the exposed moves felt solid and the adrenaline rush was quite refreshing. 

A cup of good coffee and a bit of adrenaline is a great way to start the day, and all the other pieces suddenly fit together. The exposed ridge just above the peak offered some fun scrambling and incredible views of of the western slope, and a marked trail of cairns led to a brilliant, but quite challenging view of the awaiting scramble. Many lost hikers seem obligated to force others to share their fate, so I was faced with at least two sets of cairns. The first one that I followed led to a 20 foot vertical foot cliff that looked quite challenging and a bit harder than I wished to solo (especially on a down climb).  After examining this route very carefully for a few minutes and meeting another pair of climbers who were running away in fear, I stumbled across another set of cairns which gave way to a much easier route. The last few moves to the summit were a bit precarious, but the rock was solid, and the empty summit was beckoning. This high point was truly grandiose, and I was now the only soul in this grand valley. The weather was perfect, and I found a comfortable rock chair, so I sat and lounged in this heaven for at least 20 minutes. I could have stayed much longer, but concern for my dear dog was pulling my energy back to camp. The exposed forth class near the peak was easily repeated, and soon I was wandering back through the empty valley to our remote camp. 

Lilly was very anxious to see me and looked well rested. She seemed a bit anxious about my absence, but a good tummy rub and some ear scratching relieved her tensions. After a brief siesta, I managed to catch another trout for dinner, and enjoyed a very sound sleep in the empty paradise.

The next dawn brought another perfect day, but our goals were easy, so we lingered and absorbed the awesome energy of this remote abode. We had plans to spend one more night before crossing the divide, and the hike to Pawnee Lake was only a few miles, so we waited for the very pleasant sun to climb above the canyon walls. It was a very content feeling to gaze up at the famous spire and recall the blissful moments of the past day. 

The late morning sun seemed to arose both of our spirits, and Lilly seemed eager to move on, so we cleared the camp and slowly wandered back toward the continental divide. It was sad to leave this truly awesome valley, but the new memories that we had made remained, and I often looked back in wonder as we trekked away. 

The day was becoming quite warm and Miss Lily was very excited to find out that we were camping at another lake. When I started to set up the tent, she tilted her head and gave me a big smile. This seemed to be her method of expressing contentment, and she quickly dove into the lake. A quick swim and a sniffing concerto of the surrounding area completed her daily exercise and she decided to spend the rest of the afternoon joining me in a grand siesta. 

The next morning dawned with another perfect Colorado day, but we were not anxious to leave, so we lingered and enjoyed the serenity. The much more inhabited region of Brainard lake was awaiting on the other side of the pass, so we postponed our travels till almost noon.  

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