11,471 Feet (Unranked)
Route From Brainard Lake Winter Closure, 10,114 Feet
January 13th, 2008
5.45 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 1,400 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy (Brian C.) and Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay F.)
Niwot Mountain is the easternmost peak on Niwot Ridge in the Indian Peaks. Its windswept summit offers hikers a unique panoramic view of the Indian Peaks, from Mt. Audubon in the north to South Arapaho Peak in the south. Fourteener Longs Peak dominates the northern skyline, and Pikes Peak is clearly visible in the distance. Niwot Mountain lacks the prestige of the taller and more rugged 12ers and 13ers in the Indian Peaks, but the outrageous scenery makes this summit equally worthy of a visit.
Point 11,557 and Niwot Mountain (far right) seen from the Peak-to-Peak Highway
There was no need to rise at the crack of dawn for this relatively short hike, so Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay) and I rolled up to the Brainard Lake Winter Closure gate shortly before 9:00. The temperature was about 20°, the sky was sunny, and the wind was calm. We geared up, put on our snowshoes, and headed up the Left Hand Reservoir Road.
Sign at the junction of the Brainard Lake Rd., the Left Hand Reservoir Rd., and the CMC Snowshoe Trail
The Left Hand Reservoir Rd. is closed and gated in the winter months, and is exceedingly popular with cross country skiers. Consequently, the snow was packed down well and it is questionable whether we even needed our snowshoes on the road. The road follows a pretty easy grade, and does not offer any significant challenges to hikers or skiers.
The snow-covered Left Hand Reservoir Road
As we hiked up the road, we could barely see Niwot Mountain above the trees.
I anticipated that the crux of the route would be the bushwhack through the trees to get to the tundra above timberline. I have hiked off-trail in the area many times, and the snow can get pretty deep. I studied the Trails Illustrated map of the area, which includes the tree cover, and determined that the shortest route through the trees was south of a strip mine that was on the south side of the road. I plotted a course through the trees, and stored some waypoints on my GPS to mark the route up the northeast ridge. As we hiked up the road, we encountered the mine at the 1.25-mile mark. The mine is almost directly across from the sign for the Little Raven Ski Trail where it diverges from the road on the left-hand (west) side.
The abandoned strip mine on the south side of Left Hand Reservoir Road. The spot where we entered the trees (N40 04.189 W105 32.872) is out of view to the left of this image.
We plunged into the trees, and carefully avoided the deepest drifts. As we headed to the southeast on a bearing of 129°, we encountered a trail or old mining road. Fortunately, the wind had scoured the road down to the bare earth. We took off our snowshoes, and headed towards the light.
Jay booting it through the trees on the old road
When we emerged from the forest at 10,842 feet, we had a good view of the summit. It was mostly tundra between us and the summit, with quite a few flagged and stunted Limber Pines along the way. We were obviously entering a much harsher environment.
Niwot Mountain rising above the tundra
We took a water break, and stashed our snowshoes in a snowdrift. We would not need them beyond this point. I stored a waypoint to mark the spot so we could find the snowshoes on the way back.
Jay enjoying a beverage. His beard was frozen from the condensation on the inside of his mask.
The ridge route that I selected was obvious on the topo map, but it was not so easy to interpret on the terrain. The course that I plotted worked quite well, and appears to have been the most direct route. As we climbed higher on the peak, views opened up in three directions.
Jay moving uphill with Longs Peak behind him on his right and the Twin Sisters behind him on his left
The summit cone was nearly featureless frozen tundra. There was very little snow, and the surface was littered with softball-sized rocks. The slope angle ranged from approximately 5° to approximately 22°. There was a brisk wind above timberline, but it was not strong enough to present any problems. We were cold, but not miserable.
Niwot Mountain’s summit cone. The true summit lies about 100 yards south of this knob
Clouds moved in over the Indian Peaks as we approached the summit, but the views were still spectacular. The rock wind shelter on the summit was filled with snow. We took a break on the summit, and posed for the obligatory summit shot.
Greenhouseguy (on the left, with goggles over mouth and nose) and Slow Moving Fun Seeker (on the right, with crooked mask) on the summit of Niwot Mountain
It was about 10° on the summit, and the wind was a shade over 15 miles per hour. This translates to a wind chill factor of -15°. We were cold enough that we didn’t consider lingering on the summit for too long. I’ve rarely been as impressed by the view from any mountain. We had an excellent view of Longs Peak. I could have taken a better image of Longs, if my zoom lens hadn’t frozen.
To the west of Longs Peak, we had a good view of Mt. Audubon. Audubon’s summit was in the clouds, but the massive cirque was clearly visible.
Mt. Audubon as seen from Niwot Mountain’s summit. The pointy peak to the left of Mt. Audubon is Little Pawnee Peak.
Clouds obscured many of the peaks to the south of Mt. Audubon. We could see Little Pawnee Peak, but Paiute Peak, Mt. Toll, Pawnee Peak, Shoshoni Peak, and Apache Peak were socked in. Navajo Peak was barely visible through the clouds.
Arikaree Peak is on the far left, and Navajo Peak is to its immediate right. Little Pawnee Peak is on the far right (thanks to KeithK for helping to identify these peaks).
Mount Albion (far right) and various other peaks to the south of Niwot Mountain
I briefly entertained the notion of exploring Niwot Ridge, but the frigid wind turned us around after a couple hundred yards. We started back down, and enjoyed the scenery all the while. I stopped to check out a flagged Limber Pine along the way. Virtually all of the growth on the west side of the tree was killed back by the bitter prevailing winds.
We backtracked to retrieve our snowshoes, and carefully worked our way through the trees without having to put our snowshoes back on. We navigated around the snowdrifts in the mining area, and headed back to the road. When we reached Left Hand Reservoir Rd., Jay decided to put his snowshoes on. I booted it all the way back to the car. The throngs of skiers had packed the trail down until the snow was roughly the consistency of concrete. We passed every conceivable breed of human and dog on the way back to the car. It was a great day to ski, but skiing with the mobs couldn’t possibly compare to the solitude of hiking off-trail above the timber. This classic hike was enjoyable, and not too strenuous. The scenery is not likely to disappoint any hiker who chooses to visit this airy summit.