Peak(s):  Audubon, Mt  -  13,223 feet
Paiute Pk  -  13,088 feet
Date Posted:  04/08/2012
Date Climbed:   04/08/2012
Author:  AndYouSeeMe
 Easter Celebration in the Indian Peaks  

Mt. Audubon(13,223)
Paitue Peak(13,088 )

Mileage: ~13 miles(~6 on bike) from winter closure gate
Elevation Gain: ~3700ft

"My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing." - Aldous Huxley


Mt. Audubon was the first mountain I ever attempted in Colorado, in the summer of 2006. We had already lived out here for over a year, and somehow had not tried for the summit of anything yet. My girlfriend and a friend had planned on a hike in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park, but there were no parking spots left, so we headed back towards Boulder and pulled into the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. After paying the fee we drove to the Mitchell Lake trailhead, and that is when we decided we would try for Audubon.

We got an alpine start of about 1:30pm with a small daypack with some water in it, that was it. As we broke treeline there was a storm moving in that we thought nothing of. Actually I remember being a little annoyed by all the people on their descent giving us unsolicited advice about the time of day and weather, the nerve of these people! Well, we made it to roughly 11,800 when the lighting, thunder, rain and graupel started. Hiding next to a big boulder was all we could do at that point, and fortunately nothing bad happened. That was the end of our summit bid and we scurried back to the car. We had no idea about starting early to avoid summer thunderstorms or even what the appropriate gear was. We knew so little that we didn't even know what we didn't know.

Fast forward almost 6 years and that girlfriend is now my beautiful wife, an alpine start of 1:30AM isn't unheard of, and I feel I have a good handle on what to bring into the mountains to stay safe. Since then I have climbed 54 of the 14ers and am up to 82 13ers, and if you would have told me that back at the car that day in '06 I would have said you were crazy. But alas, I am hopelessly addicted to getting high, and don't see it letting up anytime soon.

Toll, Paiute, Audubon

Full moon

When I saw an update that the Brainard Lake road was mostly dry, but still gated down at the winter closure, I knew it was time for a rematch with Audubon, and add on Paiute Peak for good measure. I arrived to the empty trailhead parking lot at 6:15 and was on my bike a few minutes later. A fairly easy 30 minute bike ride on the 90% dry road got me to the trailhead, where I locked my bike to a tree and hit the trail.

SE Ridge from Mitchell Lake

Ramp to gain ridge

Mitchell Lake

I brought my snowshoes but the trail to Mitchell Lake was well packed by skiers so I didn't even have to take them off my pack. Arriving at Mitchell Lake I ditched the snowshoes since I would be walking past the lake again on my descent and was pretty sure I wouldn't need them at all. From the lake you can see most of the SE ridge of Audubon. After crossing the well frozen lake to its northwest shore, I headed up the obvious ramp that grants access to the ridge proper.

Left Hand Reservoir, Brainard Lake, Mitchell Lake from the ridge

Once on the ridge, there was a small snowfield to ascend, but soon after it was mostly bare rock. The ridge is very straightforward at first and does not exceed class 2 hiking. When I got a little higher the climbing got more difficult, and then I got to the oft-mentioned class 3 notch in the ridge. From the top of the ridge it looks pretty intimidating, but to the east there is a really nice ledge system that gets you where you need to be. From the bottom of the notch it was an icy, slippery climb up a steep section of rock and grass, but it didn't last too long.

Downclimb into notch

Notch fun

Looking south from inside notch

Climb out of notch

With the notch in the rear-view mirror, all that remained was a simple hike up to the summit. As usual it was deceivingly long and not without a false summit or two. This was also the point that I met my hiking partner for the rest of my time above treeline, the wind. It was extremely strong with a couple gusts each minute that knocked me off balance, no big deal since I was now on the wide part of the ridge. Finally pulling myself up to the true summit at 9:15, it felt great to win round two with Mt. Audubon!

Apache, Navajo, and friends

Rocky Mountain National Park

Ridge up Paiute

Looking back at Mt. Audubon

The views of Longs and Meeker and the other peaks in the park were great, as were the views to the south of the other 13ers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I had also wanted to do this climb in order to do some recon on Apache and Navajo, as well as the other peaks that are not to be mentioned, let alone climbed, because they are off limits due to being part of the Boulder County watershed. They looked like a lot of fun, and it sure would be a shame if I get off route and accidentally ended up on those forbidden summits.

Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker

Indian Peaks goodness

I did not stay long at all on the summit and quickly began the descent down to the saddle with Paiute Peak. The trip to the saddle was mostly class 2 rock scrambling on snowy rock. At the saddle the view up to Paiute is pretty fun looking, and it did not disappoint. Maybe a few class 3 moves but nothing too bad. The greatest exposure is off to your right at this point, and anytime you need to drop off the ridge, the only option is to the left.

Summit of Paiute

The wind had calmed a little for the narrow ridge up to Paiute, but upon topping out, it was back in full force. Arrived on the summit an hour after leaving Audubon and sat down behind the big summit boulder to sign the register and hide from the wind for awhile. There was only one, all torn up, piece of paper in there with no room for any more names, so I folded it back without signing it. But not before seeing a note from our own FireOnTheMountain Abe from last August remarking how sick the north face of Mt. Toll looked, and he is right, it looks pretty gnarly from this vantage point.

Mt. Toll

Mt. Toll

After eating some trail mix and chugging some water it was time to go, and hopefully leave my old friend the wind up there. The descent down to Blue Lake was AWESOME! The sun had been working on the snow and it was the perfect consistency for glissading as well as the most important part, stopping myself with the ice axe. I was able to piece together roughly 1000 feet of glissades and made it to the lake in what felt like no time, with a soaking wet butt and a huge smile on my face.


Descended continuous snow section

SE ridge on descent

closeup of notch

The trip back to the snowshoe cache and then my bike went very quickly on a nice trail from all of the skiers up there enjoying some turns. When I parked my bike in the morning I was the only one there, but now there were at least 15 bikes locked to various trees and signs around the turn off for the trailhead. After 2.5 mile in just over 15 minutes I was back at the car and it was only 12:30, for a roundtrip time of 6 hours 15 minutes. Thanks for reading!

View from Brainard Lake

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

04/08/2012 23:18
What, were you bored or something? Navajo and Apache weren't too far away. A quick little stroll

Toll does look pretty cool - I think there's a scramble around to the right/West from Paiute, but I haven't been there during the dry months.


Enjoyed the read
04/10/2012 13:50
Cool story to begin with man. That was the trip I slept on the summit of Autoban and woke up with these bright flashes in the sky and thunder over Denver. Won't ever forget that trip and o ya that was after the Pikes Ascent

Thanks for reminding me about Toll's NF. Looked at my pics and it is awesome!


Nice report, Aaron!
04/13/2012 03:26
As always, enjoyed the report and your pics. You have been on a tear! When we hiked Bull & Casco in Dec, you referred to me as ”more experienced.” That hasn't been the case since the end of January! Let me know if you plan Navajo & Apache; these are on my short list.

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