Elevation: 10,400 ft - 13,233 ft
Elevation Gain: 2,833 ft
Dogs: On leash only...wilderness area
Date Hiked: 16 July 2009
Mt. Audubon is a easy to moderate 13er in the Indian Peaks Wilderness whose rocky trail will make you wish you had taken out stock in Dr. Scholls. Still, on a summer day with no thunderstorms, you may just find yourself blissed out, drunk on Mt. Audubon's Alps-like views. For petal peepers, the Mt. Audubon trail holds many treats from the majestic Columbine to the delicate Alpine Forget-me-not. So I don't neglect mentioning our furry friends I will say that the Mt. Audubon trail seem particularly pleasing to the Pika, which scurried in great numbers among the rocks. Additionally, we saw many Marmot holes, protruding snouts, and even two cat-like specimens frolicking on a snow field. Such delights do bring the hordes, particularly on weekends, so it is best to save Mt. Audubon for a mid-week trek and don't forget to get an early start.
The trailhead to Mt. Audubon is located in the Brainard Lake recreation area. A US Federal Parks pass gets you in. Parking at any of the Brainard Lake trail heads can be an adventure so start either early (for Mt. Audubon and Pawnee Pass) or late, for the any of the area's lakes.
Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa) begin to dominate the flora as the views grow expansive to the west.
The first mile of the 4-mile route to the summit is in the trees. Twisted tree roots and voracious gnats can either plague or delight the hiker. The difference depends upon whether one is at the beginning of the hike when moods are euphoric or at the end of the hike when one's feet are aching.
View to the east. There were many more lakes in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area than I knew existed. You can see many of them from the trail.
A sharp curve upwards affords a panoramic view of Mitchell Lake and marks a change in topography to more stunted trees. The views increase the higher one climbs. On the southern end of the mountain we were torn between views of forests and lakes to the east, knobby rock piles to the north, and Columbine clusters amongst the rocks to the west. At 1.7 miles is the trail junction with the Beaver Creek Trail. This spot is a perfectly good turn around point for folks who just want to stick their toe in the tundra but have no desire to get totally wet. From this point the trail gets much rockier as it transects the southern end of the mountain and climbs relentlessly but gradually upwards.
A short series of switchbacks brings one to a small saddle. From the saddle, the trail skirts the northern side of the mountain to a broad plateau at 3.5 miles. Past the turn off to the summit is an incredible view looking up at Paiute Peak (13,012 ft). The view of this jagged hunk of rock with its attendant snow-covered couloirs is precisely why I abuse my body and climb peaks. Filled with woe and such a view will make it seem insignificant. Feeling a little egotistical and such a view will cut you down to size. Either way, it is a great equalizer. The earth, the air, the sun. These are the elemental forces that have awed us since the beginning of human consciousness.
The last 0.5 miles of Mt. Audubon is a chore. It is a very large, mixed scree/talus, and boulder pile. While there are cairns and some worn trails, neither connect in any coherent fashion. I found it easier to stash the camera, pack up my pole and just scramble hand over foot upwards. This area is not particularly dangerous but I frequently ran into shifting rock and caused a milliseconds of anxiety. The right-hand side of the pile is close to that precipitous drop-off overlooking Paiute Peak, so it is advisable to stay to the center or left. For anyone used to climbing 14ers, this last pitch will not be technically difficult. It is just annoying and slow. Coming down is even worse because one's center of gravity is much farther away from the slope.
Looking northwest from the junction with the talus pile into the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The rock pile. It goes on for 0.5 miles. The hiker in this picture is standing up. Be prepared to scramble as well.
I was surprised by the summit of Mt. Audubon. It is long and flat but still very rocky. There must have been 9 or more rock shelters scattered along the edge, a testament to the perpetual Indian Peaks winds. We walked to southern edge for our lunch. From here one can see Paiute (13,012 ft), Pawnee (12,943 ft), and Shoshone Peaks (12, 967 ft). These are not smooth edifices, but ragged monsters with seemingly unscaleable sides.
Looking north from part way up the rock pile. That is Longs and Meeker in the distance. They look much smaller in this wide angle shot.
Looking east from someplace on the rock pile. That is a marmot in the rock cleft. Note the view of the hazy plains in the distance.
The best views to the north exist on the upwards slope of the rock pile itself. There one can marvel at the Long's Peak Massif. Meeker, Indian's Head, and Long's herself dominate the skyline, a forbidding hunk of stone. From this angle, it seems like it would be impossible to climb Long's. Many do of course. Mt. Audubon must seem like a mere bump from that summit.
Looking at Paiute Peak and its couloirs from the edge. This picture does not begin to do justice to the magnitude of the view. Paiute dominates and the overwhelming sense of vertigo I felt looking down that 2,000 ft drop made me feel incredibly alive. It was this view that reaffirmed to me while I climb mountains.
Strolling across the summit. It was actually flat here. The summit turned out to be much larger than I anticipated. We headed south for views of the Indian Peaks.
The trail up Mt. Audubon is not technically challenging, but it is a Class II, which means one will need to use one hands periodically. The rockiness of the trail is very similar to what I experienced on Quandary Peak, so in that sense it has the feel of a 14er. Everyone should climb Mt. Audubon. Whether it is a training hike or the culmination of a summer's efforts will depend upon the individual. Either way, prepare to ogle the scenery and don't forget the Ibuprofen, you'll need it!