| Mt. Audubon East Slopes Route
Mt. Audubon, 13,223 Feet
East Slopes Route (Class 1)
About 8 miles Roundtrip
About 3,000 Feet Elevation Gained
Beaver Creek Trailhead (10,500 Feet)
Indian Peaks Wilderness Area
Botanist Charles Parry was the first European to climb Mt. Audubon in 1861. He named the peak for famed French artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who never even visited Colorado. Mt. Audubon is possibly the most visible of the Indian Peaks, because it looms over the heavily-used Brainard Lake Recreation Area.
Mt. Audubon dominating the Brainard Lake skyline
Mt. Audubon is scenic year-round (Image taken in February 2007)
After barely eking out a victory in an epic struggle against Longs Peak last week, I was looking for an enjoyable and not-too-difficult dayhike close to the Metro area. Mt. Audubon was the first peak to come to mind; I had attempted a summit early this spring, but turned around due to my inability to keep down my own cooking. Relatively little effort is required to reach the summit, and the payoff is huge with outstanding views.
The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is easy to reach from Boulder. Head up the scenic Boulder Canyon; this is usually a pleasant drive. Bear straight through the traffic roundabout in the quaint village of Nederland; this is your last chance for gas and supplies. Signs direct traffic towards Estes Park on Hwy 72. Follow Hwy. 72 north to Ward, and watch on the left for signs marking the entrance to Brainard Lake. There is an $8.00 admission fee that covers amenities such as paved roads, picnic tables, and outhouses. Drive past Brainard Lake, and follow the signs to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. The Beaver Creek Trailhead shares a parking lot with the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. There are ample parking spaces, but the lot frequently fills up on summer weekends. Arrive early to ensure a good parking spot.
I arrived at the self-serve pay station at about 6:00 a.m., and deposited my payment. Another solo hiker, Blade H., arrived at the trailhead at the same time. We agreed to hike together, and hit the trail about 6:15. The sun was barely up, but we had plenty of light. I had driven through dense fog at lower altitudes, but the air at 10,500 feet was crisp and clear.
The Beaver Creek Trailhead at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking lot (image taken 6/9/07)
The Beaver Creek Trail starts to the northwest through a mixed conifer forest. As we gained altitude, the trees gradually became shorter and spaced further apart. The short spruce trees at treeline are known as krummholz, which is German for "crooked wood." As we reached treeline, I looked to the east and saw the rising sun illuminating the sea of low clouds. Mountain peaks sticking through the cloud cover resembled islands.
The sun rising over a sea of low clouds
The lower and middle portions of the trail are broad and easy to follow. A few hundred yards above treeline, there is a fork in the trail. The Beaver Creek Trail continues to the north, and the Mt. Audubon Trail veers off to the northwest. The Mt. Audubon Trail is the obvious choice.
Conditions near the Mt. Audubon/Beaver Creek Trail intersection
The full scope of Mt. Audubon's East Face came into view at about 11,300 feet. The summit cone is about 550 feet of talus with a fair trail winding through it. While the trail is not perfectly marked, there are numerous stone cairns to guide hikers through this steep section.
The summit still appears to be far away, and the most difficult hiking lies ahead
There was a short stretch of relatively level trail before we switchbacked up the side of a saddle.
The remainder of the route. From L to R: Mt. Audubon, the saddle, Mt. "Notabon," and Pt. 12,114
Shortly before starting the summit pitch, there is an opportunity for extra credit. Mt. "Notabon" is to the hiker's right, on the north side of the trail. This wind-blasted 12,706-foot summit offers an interesting view of the Coney Creek Valley. There is a substantial wind shelter on the summit, and there is a mayonnaise-jar summit register among the rocks. There is no trail to Mt. "Notabon," so it is necessary to do some Class 2 rockhopping over talus to the summit. We chose not to visit this subpeak today, but I had some images from an earlier visit.
Mt. "Notabon" offers some interesting views to the north
Shelter on Mt. "Notabon's" windswept summit
We followed the convoluted trail through the talus on the final summit pitch. The true summit was just beyond the line of sight from the bottom of the pitch. This section of the trail is steep, and is probably the most difficult portion. It was windy and not quite 50º on the summit.
Greenhouseguy on Mt. Audubon's summit with Paiute Peak in the background
Blade H. on Mt. Audubon's summit
There was a particularly nice windshelter on the summit, so we took advantage of it and sat down to have a snack. After I quickly downed a Clif Bar, I took a moment to enjoy the view. To the north, there is an excellent view of the Longs Peak massif.
The Longs Peak massif lies to the north of Mt. Audubon
A 12X zoom shot of Longs Peak taken from Mt. Audubon's summit
To the west, Mt. Audubon is connected to Paiute Peak by a talus-covered saddle. It is a Class 2 downclimb, but there are some Class 3 slabs near Paiute Peak's summit.
Looking down on the Mt. Audubon/Paiute Peak saddle
Mt. Toll's distinctive profile is visible to the southwest
It was difficult to pick out all of the peaks to the south. In the foreground, Pawnee Peak's East Ridge resembles a dragon's back. Behind that was Shoshoni Peak's East Ridge, and behind that was Niwot Ridge.
View to the south from Mt. Audubon's summit
The low cloud cover made the view to the southeast more interesting. The clouds stretched out like an ocean as far as the eye could see. Rocky peaks stuck through the clouds like islands. I was able to identify Brainard Lake in the foreground, with Lefthand Reservoir above and behind it. Niwot Ridge provided the backdrop for Lefthand Reservoir.
Looking down on the clouds to the southeast
As we descended, the wind slowed and the sun came out. It was warmer and the weather was much more pleasant than I had anticipated. The trail's excessive rockiness slowed our descent, but we still managed to make excellent time. Mt. Audubon is not ordinarily a place that one visits for solitude, but we were more than halfway down before we encountered any other hikers. We passed about four pairs of hikers before we reached the trailhead. We arrived at the trailhead at about 11:00.
Epilogue: I enjoyed a pine-scented forest, windswept tundra, rugged talus, unmatched views, and was home in time for lunch. The 3,000 foot elevation gain and 8+ mile hike was more than sufficient for exercise purposes. Meeting a like-minded hiker on the trail added to the experience. Mt. Audubon is an excellent short hike that nearly any trekker could appreciate.