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Peak(s):  Mt. Audubon  -  13,217 feet
Paiute Peak  -  13,094 feet
Mount Toll - 12979
Pawnee Peak - 12943
Shoshoni Peak - 12967
"Notabon" - 12706
Date Posted:  09/04/2015
Date Climbed:   09/02/2015
Author:  Derek
 Brainard Lake Loop   

Indian Peaks Wilderness

September 2nd, 2015
Start : Mitchell Lake Trailhead
End : Long Lake Trailhead
14.5 Miles
4,700' Elevation

For the last number of years, I have been slowly working my way through the Indian Peak Wilderness list. For some odd reason, I had started through this list by climbing mostly the western and more secluded peaks, leaving a good chunk of the more popular and accessible peaks unclimbed. Finally, I figured I had waited long enough and made a plan to head up there on a weekday (to avoid some crowds) and get to work!

Trailhead to Audubon / "Notabon" - Class 1

Every time I hike in an area that requires a day use pass (Brainard Lake Recreation Area is $10) I always try to make the best use of my time. To do this, I tried for a decently early start and was on my feet headed up the Mt Audubon trail a little after 5AM. I could hear an awful wind howling above the trees, but for the first mile or so I was protected by it. The trail is well loved and very easy to follow up to the first trail intersection. The main trail continues north towards Coney Flats area, while the summit trail heads west up the slopes of Audubon. Almost immediately after heading west I was blasted by a direct wind roaring straight down the slopes at me. I have been in plenty of windy days, but this was one the strongest I had experienced on a summer morning. I tied my ball cap to the front strap of my pack to keep it from blowing away, but the winds ripped it off anyway and I saw it shoot UP into the darkness. After getting up (the gust had also knocked me to my knees) I headed back down the dark trail to see if I could find it, but gave up after a while figuring it had probably made it to Boulder by that point.

I continued on up the easy slopes towards the saddle of "Notabon" and Mt Audubon with daylight appearing right as I reached the saddle. The wind, while still bad, appeared to relent a bit with the first rays of sun. I took a right and ascended the large but easy talus to the summit of "Notabon". While only an unranked/unnamed summit, it does provide a nice view of the north slopes of Audubon to the south. After a brief (10, 20 second?) stay I headed back down and rejoined the Mt Audubon trail. I continued on up the last few hundred feet to the summit and my elevation high point of the day. The backtrack search for my hat and the side trip to "Notabon" didn't end up costing too much time, and I was still able to reach the Audubon summit in less than 2 hours from the trailhead. (Its amazing what a good trail can do!)

Looking down towards Boulder at first light, near "Notabon"/Audubon saddle.

Nice and mellow Audubon Trail.

Remaining route to Mount Audubon from the summit of "Notabon".

View from "Notabon". Red Deer and Sawtooth (center) with Rocky Mountain National Park in the background.

Summit of Mount Audobon.

Looking ahead at the rest of the day from the summit of Audubon.

Ridge ahead to Paiute.

Audubon to Paiute - Class 2+

After another quick stay on Audubon, I packed away my headlamp and began a descent west towards the saddle between Audubon and its 13er neighbor Paiute. The wind made a brief comeback while on the descent and ended up knocking me off my balance twice while descending the talus slopes. I took a few minutes to pause and evaluate whether I should really continue on if the winds were going to blow the way they were for safety sake. However, in just those few minutes the winds again died down and would stay decent for the remainder of the day.

The descent to the saddle from Audubon is slow over talus, but easy. I hung either on the ridge top or just off to the south (left) side. The ascent slope of Paiute looks steep while on the way over, but after reaching the saddle it becomes apparent that it is quite manageable. I ascended straight up the ridge on solid talus. There appeared to be a light use trail just off the ridge to the left that may be slightly easier, but staying on the ridge was nothing worse than class 2+. I topped out after about a 45 minute traverse from Audubon. There were two almost equal high points and while the closest holds the register, I wasn't too sure that the further point wasn't slightly higher. I made the brief over and back to make sure. Better safe than sorry!

Looking back at Mt Audubon from near Paiute.

Looking down into the Lone Eagle Cirque from Paiute.

Paiute to Toll - Class 3

Now began the traverse that I planned on being the crux of the day, the route from Paiute over to Mt. Toll. At first glance it looks like it would be impossible to find a route that isn't technical, but as is usually the case, the closer you get the more options show up.

The initial descent from Paiute doesn't present any issues, still just simple talus hopping. About half way down, it becomes apparent the sticking to the ridge isn't possible. I was able to make loose but still relatively easy progress just off to the right (west) of the ridge. I crossed the ridge a couple times back and forth between east and west sides, but was able to keep everything class 2. (Again, just loose.) After reaching the low point notch between Paiute and Toll, I donned the brain bucket and began to traverse across the talus on the NW side of Toll. My object was to maintain a steady elevation and head for a large sloping ramp that was visible from my descent from Paiute. While the ramp doesn't represent part of the route, there is a weakness just above and to the left of this ramp that is needed so it is a good marker to head for. As I crossed talus slopes and got closer to this ramp, I spotted one or two cairns that appeared to be telling me I was heading in the right direction. I neared the top of the ramp and was able to easily see the small gully I was looking for. It was only 20-30 feet up, and the top exit required an awkward (but still only class 3) move to overcome a chock-stone. Once out of this gully, you are presented with...you guessed it!...more talus to cross. Luckily, by now you can see the south ridge of Toll above you and to the left. There is a large slope leading directly up, however a bit further to the right there is another slope also leading up. I have read of people using both slopes, both seem to be about the same steepness and the same looseness. Due to my absolute hatred of loose rock, I decided to try riding the spine of rock separating the left and right slopes. While more technical (class 4) it seemed safer. Nearing the top, the spine eventually became too technical to stay on without protection so I descended into the right gully to finish the ascent to the ridge. Once on the ridge, you join the standard Mt Toll route for the final hundred feet to the summit. I am quite sure that someone (if they are ok with loose rock) can do this entire traverse from Paiute to Toll without exceeding class 3. I took a couple minutes on the summit of Mt. Toll to grab a bite to eat and relax knowing the toughest part of the day was in the rear-view.

Mount Toll on the descent from Paiute.

Terrain on descent from Paiute.

Last major "notch" marking the saddle of Paiute and Toll.

Starting the rocky traverse onto the backside of Toll.

The west side of Paiute definitely looks interesting!

Looking back at Paiute from the traverse.

Ramp on the lower left, the weakness to bypass directly in front.

Chockstone "crux" move that allows access to SW side of Toll.

Once beyond the crux section, the "left" gully opens up in front. The much more solid spine is on the right.

...and on the other side of the spine is another "right" gully that provides another option for ascent.

Looking back down the "right" gully after reaching the standard route just below the summit.

Pauite (left) and Audubon (right) from the summit of Toll.

Nice views to the southwest.

Pawnee from the summit of Toll. The two gentlemen I would meet shortly at the saddle are just visible on the summit.

Toll to Pawnee - Class 2

The descent from Toll is (again) large talus blocks. Every once in a while I spotted a cairn and a brief piece of trail, but for the most part it was just jumping block by block down. As I neared the saddle, the terrain become more grassy and easy. On the saddle I also ran into the first people of the day. Two gentlemen were descending from Pawnee on their way over to Mt Toll. After a brief chat where they pointed out to me where on Pawnee's north slopes I could find pieces of trail, I continued on. The ascent up Pawnee was simple, but I was starting to slow down a bit. The traverse over to Toll seemed to have taken a lot out of my legs, so I slowed to an easier pace. I reached the summit without issue, took a picture or two and headed down the south side towards Pawnee Pass.

View of the day so far from the summit of Pawnee.

Pawnee Pass and Shoshoni from summit of Pawnee.

Pawnee to Shoshoni
Class 2

I was able to find a pretty clear path for a nice and easy descent of Pawnee. On my way down, I kept eyeing the north side of Shoshoni, still unsure whether I would continue on or not. By the time I reached the pass, the easy descent seems to provide my legs with some new life so I decided to go for it. I crossed over the Pawnee Pass Trail and headed up the (shockingly) talus slopes towards the long north ridge of Shoshoni. About half way up, I came across a couple cairns that seemed to lead me left. I figured why not, so I followed the cairns and ended up circling the east side of the ridge point I was heading up towards. Eventually the cairns petered out, but by then I could see a continued traverse would eventually lead me to a low point in the ridge, leaving nothing but a steady slope to the summit. All went as planned, and I before long I was below the final summit. This final scamper to the summit block was much more exciting than I had planned! While not difficult, the exposure is pretty significant and the views were outstanding. A good final summit to cap off the day!

Views to the west from near Pawnee Pass.

The pass, with Pawnee in the background.

Looking back at Pawnee Pass as well as my ascent traverse on the far left.

Nice view of Apache from near the summit of Shoshoni.

Shoshoni summit block.

Navajo and Apache from the summit of Shoshoni.

Looking down towards the trailhead. (Brainard Lake is the most distant lake.)

Shoshoni to Trailhead - Class 3 Down NE Ridge, Class 1 Remainder

The day prior, I had send a quick text to SenadR and Kimo as I recalled they had used a class 3 direct option for ascending Shoshoni's northeast ridge a few years back. They gave me some info and noted that it shouldn't be too difficult following the route in reverse. During my ascent of Shoshoni, I did my best to eyeball this ridge in preparation.

It was just before noon when I carefully descended the summit block of Shoshoni, making my way southeast a few hundred feet to a sub-summit of sorts. This point marked the top of the NE ridge. From here I descended a short distance of talus before the terrain gave way to grass and ledges. The ledges continued almost the entire way down making the descent quite simple. A few sections likely cause this route to have a class 3 label, but for the most part it was just steep class 2. Near the bottom of the ridge, I came to a small cliff out where I traversed to the left and descended a loose gully down the rest of the way to flat ground. From here it was only a few hundred yards to rejoin the Pawnee Pass trail. On my way to the pass, I was startled by a couple and their dog sitting in the grass. Apparently, they had been sitting and watching me since before I reached the Shoshoni summit. Maybe I would have tried to be more graceful descending the ledges had I known I had an audience. After a quick chat, I continued on and reached the Pawnee Pass trail about 12:45. The rest of the descent followed the standard Pawnee Pass route all the way back to Long Lake Trailhead. The trail is nice and gradual (although switchbacks like crazy) and I was able to make it back to the trailhead easily. I only had one problem left...I wasn't parked at the Long Lake Trailhead! This added a half mile walk along the road to reach my starting trailhead of Mitchell Lake. Halfway along my road walk, I passed the two gentlemen I had first seen at the Toll and Pawnee saddle earlier in the day. Apparently, they had done just the opposite and ended at Mitchell and were walking their way over to Long Lake.

I reached my car just after 2 PM, making it a 9 hour day. Fun day out (minus the early wind) and it was nice to get back rolling on finishing up the IPW list.


Traversing to the sub summit of Shoshoni to start the NE Ridge descent with some nice views to the south.

Brief loose stuff to start the descent to the ridge. Pawnee Pass trail is just visible at the bottom.

Ledges on the way down.

Looking back up at the NE Ridge from the base. (Left of the gully.)

Pawnee Pass trail.

Looking back west right at treeline.

View of the day from back at Brainard Lake.



My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
Excellent report, Derek!
9/4/2015 11:31am
And timely too! I’ve been thinking about doing a loop like this for the past couple of years, and may have done part of it this year had it not been for an invitation by Kitten and Mike to do Apache. But I’d really like to hit this loop sometime in the future. So thanks for the great beta and pics! It will definitely prove very helpful if and when I ever get around to it!

Nice, Derek!
9/8/2015 9:59am
I will always have a soft spot for Audubon as it was the first mountain I ever hiked about 55 years ago when I was in Boy Scouts. Great, great report with much detail and nice pics – as all your reports are.

Got your money’s worth!
9/12/2015 4:28pm
Excellent TR and strong work!

I did Audubon & Paiute yesterday. Didn’t see this helpful TR until afterwards - had some of the same thoughts you did about the E Ridge of Pauite - was glad to find bypasses to the south of the ridge, rather than needing to cross the ridge proper solo. Only found minimal C3 just prior to the E summit. Agree with you, the west summit appears higher.
Was looking at Toll and Pawnee, interesting to see the contrasts between the 2 summits!
Superb area, splendid beauty. A treat, for sure.

Impressed with your IPW loop, that’s a big day! Thanks for posting.

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