Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mt. Audubon

Distance: 8 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,400 ft - 13,233 ft
Elevation Gain: 2,833 ft
Dogs: On leash only...Indian Peaks Wilderness
Date Hiked:  16 July 2009

Mt. Audubon (13,233 ft) in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is a tough climb similar to an easy 14er.Mt. Audubon (13,233 ft)

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 initial part of the trail is in the trees

The first good view occurs at a switchback near treeline. This is Mitchell Lake.

The trailhead to Mt. Audubon is located in the Brainard Lake recreation area. A U.Ss 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.

In the tundra now. This is the trail junction with Beaver Creek Trail at 1.7 miles.

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.

View looking north into the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness

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.

View of the summit from one of the switchbacks that head up the short ridge

Some tundra flowers and the summit in the distance

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.

Did I forget to mention the trail is rocky?

The Longs/Meeker Massive. Longs Peak (center) is 14,259 ft and Mt. Meeker (right) is 13,865 ft.

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!

View from the southern portion of the summit. You can see Pawnee, Navajao, and Shosoni Peaks. Now you can see why the area is called the Indian Peaks Wilderness.


Nina said...

Wow - an amazing looking hike. I love the marmot shot. I don't know why, but the piles of rock always surprise me. Very cool.

I can't wait to read about your trip to Nova Scotia and I hope you have much better weather than you experienced when you came to Michigan last fall (that still bums me out).

I'm off to Isle Royale National Park in 4 weeks and I am so excited I already can't sleep!

Linda said...

Mouthwatering virtual hike!

What's a 13er? is it a mountain over 13,000 feet? (We don't have these!)

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Linda,

Yes, a 13er is a mountain over 13,000 ft. We also have 14ers, which are over 14,000 ft. There are 54 of those in the state. To date, I have only climbed 4 of them. I have climbed 3 13ers this summer. Everyone is into peak bagging here and the 14ers are so popular you really need to do it during the week.

The difficult of the "bag" is not directly related to the mountains elevation. It is more a factor of mileage, elevation gain, and the level of technical experience required. I don't do anything involving ropes, which is Class IV/V on a I-V rating scale.

Valerie said...

Do you ever get used to the vast beauty that surrounds you? My gosh - I think I would be in awe all day long - that I would never get anything done!

Josh Hunter said...

Beautiful! I will be up there this Sat at 6am sharp for the climb. Last week we warmed up doing lower and upper blue lake. Did you by chance make this a loop by coming down the rear saddle and decending into little blue lake? Finishing up on the Blue Lake trail? That is my plan and wanted to see what you thought of that or if you have tried that. I look forward to reading more of your great posts.

sylvia murphy said...

HI Josh,

I have not come down the back way nor have any of my friends. You can not even see Blue Lake or that unnamed tarn from the summit without really going over the edge.

Unless you are very experienced I would not even consider it. The rock seems very loose and steep on that side.

If you are really interested in that, I would call the Boulder Forest Service office and get their opinion.

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

I just did Audubon today. I enjoyed your account almost as much as the hike itself. I did not see that last half mile coming and just made it up. The views are among the best in Colorado--wild and primitive. The rocky trail at the top half turns your feet to mush. Your pics are as wonderful as your prose. I wish I had read this before going up.