| Getting our Money's Worth in the IPW
Climbers: traderaaron (Aaron), Jenna7166 (Jenna)
Route: A loop of Mt. Audubon, Paiute Peak, Mt. Toll and Pawnee Peak, in at Mitchell Lake TH, out Long Lake TH and road walk back to the car. Maximum difficulty, a stretch of sustained class 3 on the Northwest Face of Toll, a few easy class 4 moves, and of course the walk back to the car after a long day.
I actually met and became friends with Jenna through 14ers.com, or as someone described it, the facebook of Colorado. When I got the urge to climb some 12ers and 13ers via some class 3 routes as I do about this same time every summer I was hoping Jenna was ready and willing to step things up from hiking 14ers and I was excited to have a partner to attempt this loop. As is often the case in Colorado you actually step it up by staying below 14,000'. She eagerly said yes (although next time she may think twice). This loop was harder than the miles and elevation profile would have you think, the largely off trail and on talus/boulder route beyond Audubon can really slow things down. It took us much longer than I expected.
We departed from the north side of the Mitchell Lake trailhead parking lot just after 7:00 and proceeded to the easy east slopes route of Audubon. This was a nice warm-up for the day ahead of us. The wind was gusting on Audubon but things were pretty normal for a front range peak really, just a nuisance.
Slopes of Paiute, then Toll and Pawnee from Audubon
Another climber overheard our plans and saw my climbing helmet and I described our plans to head over to Paiute via the east ridge, down to Toll, up the northwest face route on Toll and over and out Pawnee and Pawnee Pass. We were both sort of hoping someone else would be following us just to have some additional company but we were apparently the only climbers of the loop on that day.
Looking back at Audubon from Paiute east ridge
Nearing the top of the east ridge of Paiute
The east ridge of Paiute appears steep, it is, but as is usually the case once you get to it and on it things aren't as bad as they seem, we gained elevation quickly and met a couple class 3 moves on the ridge below the summit. The views down to the lakes below and over to Iroquis, Hopi and Achonee and the snow below them were stunning. We didn't spend much time on the summit though as the clock was ticking and our crux peak of the day, Mount Toll, still lay ahead.
Iroquis, Hopi, Achonee, Lone Eagle Cirque and snowfields.
Mt. Toll from traverse from Paiute. The route aims for those snow patches, avoids the slab and cairns mark a way.
The route over to Toll was slow going, you first confront large rocks to climb around or over and then near the saddle things get smaller and looser. Getting to the route is perhaps as challenging as the class 3-4 climbing once in the actual route.
That's Paiute and the ridge down to the Paiute, Toll saddle, ascending traverse over to our route
Spot the cairns, upper left and upper near right to guide way to and through that ledge and into the gully above.
The Northwest Face, class 3 route, as described on the internet and by some fellow climbers here on 14ers is certainly doable. Exposure is not bad, the slope is not too steep and routefinding, once actually on route, is not difficult. Look for cairns to get you on route. There appear to be two choices, a left and right gully. I had descriptions for both but decided on the larger right gully. In hindsight though this appears to have been more difficult, a little more small and loose stuff to contend with and we encountered a couple class 4 moves as we took the most direct route up. Jenna remarked that she would have liked her climbing shoes here for a couple of the steps and nooks to put your foot in. The left or north gully is marked with a cairn at the top if descending off Toll and down via the northwest face.
We saw our first person since Audubon on Toll and he was kind enough to offer to take our photo. His description of Pawnee as not steep, it's not, was unfortunately not that comforting to us. It was our easiest peak of course but it was also coming at the end of the day and we were running out of mental energy to stay excited about what we had accomplished, not to mention physical energy.
We descended off Toll and just took what appeared to be the easiest and most direct line up Pawnee, rested for a little on the summit and then tried to zone in for the march back down the trail and out. Of course our thoughts were largely on where we would eat dinner in Boulder. (I didn't bother much with pictures as this point, the route from Toll to Pawnee and off Pawnee is straightforward and non-exciting.)
The late afternoon sun was starting to soften the light and we only met a few hikers coming up. I purified some water for the remainder of the hike out with my Steripen and then I think Jenna thought it was death march time back to the car at the Mitchell Lake trailhead. Just getting to the car made things a lot better and pizza and a pitcher or two or three of water (even the waiter suggested we just have water, no beer) at Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse in Boulder sure helped our mood and allowed us to reflect on the day, hopefully with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The day did wind up being much longer than I expected, those that know me tell me I am fast, this climb was more about slow and trying to maintain steady and then safe.
So if you are looking for beauty, fun but challenging routes and at times a sense of isolation on 12ers and 13ers even when the parking lots are full it's possible to find all that in the IPW. And next time Jenna will probably question me a little harder on exactly what's in store. Thanks for helping me complete this loop
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):