Peak(s):  Audubon, Mt  -  13,223 feet
Mount Notabon, 12,706' (unranked)
Date Posted:  04/13/2020
Modified:  04/14/2020
Date Climbed:   12/22/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 Fourth (and a Half) Time's the Charm on Mount Audubon  

It took me four (and a half) attempts to finally get Mount Audubon, a 13er in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. That's three (and a half) attempts too many for this absurdly easy peak. To be fair, all have been winter or winter conditions attempts (except the half), twice via the Class 3 southeast ridge and twice via the standard Class 2 Mount Audubon Trail (called the north slope here on 14ers.com).

Attempt #1: February 18-19, 2017

Shortly after I moved to Colorado one of the first things I did was join the Colorado Mountain Club. Living in Boulder I was naturally a member of the Boulder Chapter and I quickly threw myself into the Club, flying through Basic Rock School, Basic Snow School, and Basic Mountaineering School in the first few months. I took an avalanche course during my first Colorado winter with Climbing Life Guides, formerly of Estes Park (now Puerto Rico), and continued through Intermediate Snow School and into Advanced Mountaineering School (the Denver CMC hordes know this as HAMS - High Altitude Mountaineering School), or AMS, my second winter. For our graduation climb we obtained a permit to climb Mount Audubon's Class 3 southeast ridge. The weather was phenomenal that weekend, but unfortunately our group size (of eight) was too large for a mildly technical route and we turned around at the scramble itself.

20064_01
Me scrambling around in the notch but not going anywhere further. Photo: Unknown

Attempt #2: February 17-18, 2018

Again with the CMC, Boulder Chapter, AMS grad climb, but this time my friend Chris and I were the two trip leaders for a much smaller group on the southeast ridge. Muzhou and Brian were our two trusty acolytes, and unlike last year the weather this year was 110% absolute suck. We didn't even attempt the southeast ridge. We knew better. We got just above treeline on the standard route and facing brutal winds we could neither make forward progress nor even stand in, we decided to call it.

20064_02
The hottest album to drop in 2018, "Mount Audubon Can Suck a Fat One," featuring Chris, myself, Brian, and Muzhou. Photo: Chris B.

Attempt #2.5: August, 2019

I drove to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area to put this silly peak behind me, paid the fee, then drove around for nearly an hour searching for parking which I never did find, it was just so crowded. I got so frustrated that I gave up and went home after wasting a couple of hours and $12 to drive there and back without even getting out of my car.

Attempt #3: December 7, 2019

My friend Michelle and I made an ill-fated attempt on this abominable peak via the standard Mount Audubon Trail and were turned around by - you guessed it - the truly absurd winds coming off the Continental Divide. We made it to treeline and called it since the wind was knocking us down in the trees. I'm curious what it would have been like even higher but that probably would have been an impromptu lesson in flight.

Success: December 22, 2019

On December 21st I climbed my 98th and 99th new ranked 13ers to this point in calendar 2019 and wanted my hundredth. The only problem? I had a flight to catch at about 9pm back to my birthplace of Wisconsin for the holidays and I wouldn't return until late on New Year's Eve. This was my only chance to hit 100 for the year, I didn't care what it took.

I was tired from the previous two days of climbing "Tincup Peak," Emma Burr Mountain, and Fitzpatrick Peak, and got a later-than-I'd-like start just after 7am.

20064_03
7:30am sunrise on Mount Audubon.

I hoped I'd have enough time to catch my flight, and questioned whether I'd be willing to give up my flight home for #100. I went fast so I wouldn't have to test that commitment. Things started off their usual winter way in Brainard: stupid cold, even more stupidly windy. Go figure. Maybe I'd just get shutdown, but goddamn if I wasn't going to push as hard as I could to get this sucker done. I kept my eyes on the prize the entire approach to Mitchell Lake Trailhead.

20064_04
I'm not seeing lenticular clouds or massive plumes of spindrift, so that's a good sign! The southeast ridge is in left center below the summit, while the standard route ascends the hill on the right and then the gentle slopes to the summit.

I cranked out the road to Mitchell Lake Trailhead quickly and donned my snowshoes as soon as it became appropriate. I was pleased to find relatively fresh tracks through the trees, which would save me time and effort breaking trail.

20064_05
Merciful tracks.

In less than two hours from the car I was ascending the steep switchbacks below Audubon's long east slopes. The wind was howling in the trees. My fingers were crossed in my gloves.

20064_06
The mostest spectacularest view EVAR of a hillside. Yeah, great.
20064_07
More broken trail up the switchbacks.

I reached the upper, lower angled area where the gnarled krummholz began. To my east in the foothills was a massive shelf of layered clouds. I wasn't sure if these were lenticular clouds that were so dense they weren't in their natural lense shape but they were definitely indicative of the high winds in the area.

20064_08
Well that's not good.

Meanwhile, uphill towards Audubon, skies were blue and friendly. The wind still screamed anyway, I really couldn't have expected it not to. This section of the route is marked by innumerable interconnected, shallow, boulder-filled gullies with trees separating them.

20064_09
Parallel gullies everywhere.

I snowshoed in the general direction of Audubon since it really didn't matter with the trail buried in snow. As I slowly gained elevation Audubon began peeking out, still a couple of miles away.

20064_10
Mount Audubon in center with 12ers Mount Toll and Pawnee Peak on the left and far left, respectively.
20064_11
Mount Audubon on the left and "Mount Notabon" on the right. The smaller bump farther right isn't anything.

The slopes flattened out here and were windswept so I took off my snowshoes and stashed them in an obvious spot so I wouldn't lose them in the largely uniform terrain. This proved to be a bad choice as once the slopes started to steepen again they also got snowy, and this snow was awful. I don't think I took a single step on it that didn't punch up to my knees, most of it deeper than that. I was going painfully slow and wasn't sure if I'd have time going that slow.

20064_12
Snow-covered slopes off of Audubon. It's not that steep but the snow was in terrible shape.

Off to the north things looked drier so I started cutting straight across the hillside instead of up in an effort to reach tundra.

20064_13
"Notabon"'s sub-summit looking a lot drier and faster. The clouds now are taking on far stronger lenticular shapes.

As it turns out the trail cuts up between Audubon and "Mount Notabon" (an unranked 12er) anyway so I hopped on the trail and up towards "Notabon".

20064_14
Thin snow on the trail itself but nothing too bad.

I stuck to the trail where it made sense to do so, then as it cut up the center of the valley between the two peaks I once again cut off in chase of "Notabon" first.

20064_15
The trail doesn't go up "Notabon" and is off to the left down lower.

From here "Notabon" remained a largely unexciting and rocky hike on easy terrain, and before long I found myself on its summit.

20064_16
The view of Mount Audubon from "Mount Notabon" with Paiute Peak on the right.
20064_17
Looking back down on the route from "Notabon"'s summit. Not a whole lot going on.

Since time was of the essence I started to move quickly even though I knew the ascent up Audubon proper from here would also be easy. The change of routes to go over "Notabon" proved worthy as well, since Audubon's northern flank was far drier than its east slopes.

20064_18
Northern flank up Audubon.

There was a trail up Audubon here marked by cairns but the trail had more snow than anywhere else and didn't make sense to stick to. I ended up simply climbing straight uphill to save time. There were a couple of short snowfield crossings but nothing like what I had encountered lower on the mountain and though this section was steeper and longer than I had expected I made quick progress to the summit. Ranked 13er #100 of 2019 was mine!

20064_19
Cairns and a mostly snowy trail segment.
20064_20
One of the short snowfields with the summit in view.
20064_21
The summit of Audubon is dead ahead.
20064_22
Apache Peak in center (details in next photo) and Mount Toll on the right.
20064_23
Navajo Peak on the left with "Dicker's Peck", the tower, to its right, and Apache Peak making up the remaining ridge and peak on the right.
20064_24
Wild looking ridge in the foreground with the addition of North Arapaho Peak on the left.

It was right around noon and while I had considered Paiute Peak farther to the west if I had the time that just didn't pan out. I had to zoom back down in the hopes of getting home early enough to relax for a moment before heading to the airport.

20064_25
Open, mixed slopes heading back to the trees.
20064_26
The upper part of the ridge was nice and dry, but a mess of talus. I opted to just go in a straight line rather than take the trail.

Along the way I stopped to scope out the southeast ridge, since I hadn't made it high enough to see it from this vantage on attempts two and three.

20064_27
The southwest ridge in full.
20064_28
The notch, which one can rappel (as we were going to do with the CMC) or down climb at Class 3.
20064_29
Some of the cool terrain heading down towards Blue Lake and Mitchell Lake.

It didn't take me too long to reach the strips of snow I avoided earlier in the day. It hadn't improved in the intervening hours but fortunately going down awful quality snow is infinitely better than going up the same snow.

20064_30
Plunge stepping to freedom.

While I'd marked my snowshoes on my GPS there was no need and I found them easily standing up in the snow where I'd left them at the edge of the snow. I strapped in and began the hike back down to the trail.

20064_31
Back in the trees with my tracks already nearly filled in, even though it was just a couple of hours later.

I followed my faint tracks back to the switchbacks atop the hillside, and followed those down into the forest. Upon arriving back at the Mitchell Lake trailhead there were people and dogs all over the place, the first I'd seen all day. The going of course became easier once I was back on the road, which was mostly dry. I kept my snowshoes on as I navigated snow patches back to the car, eschewing even a brief stop to take off my snowshoes. I got back to the car fast enough to get home and shower and eat while still comfortably making my flight on time. More important than that to me at that moment? I'd hit my 100th new, ranked 13er for the year and even though I was cutting it incredibly close I couldn't have been more stoked to accomplish such a grand project.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself, all attempts), numerous others (unsuccessful attempts)
Trailhead: Brainard Gateway (Brainard Lake winter closure)
Total distance: 13.88 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,559 feet
Total time: 7:48:23
Peaks: One ranked 13er, one unranked 12er

  • Mount Audubon, 13,223'
  • "Mount Notabon," 12,706' (unranked)

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Brainard Gateway "Mount Notabon" 4:03:35 4:03:35 0:00
"Mount Notabon" Mount Audubon 0:44:12 4:47:47 0:00
Mount Audubon Brainard Gateway 3:00:36 7:48:23 Trip End

Version history:

Date Notes
April 13, 2020 Initial publication.
April 14, 2020 Added (unranked) designation to "Mount Notabon," cleaned up some ambiguous language.

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




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31


 Comments or Questions
Eli Boardman

Beautiful area, fun memories
04/13/2020 16:32
Thanks for sharing! Audubon via Notabon was my first 13er, and also (just previously) my first time getting turned around on a peak, so I can relate!

That area is really special in winter conditions. Great pictures and congrats on #100 within a year, that's impressive!


supranihilest


The 'Bons
04/13/2020 17:14
Thanks Eli! The Indian Peaks is a truly special area. I'm hoping to knock out the remaining 13ers in the IPW this summer. It'll help me get to 100 again this year.


Jay521

Memories!
04/14/2020 11:29
Ben - Audubon was my very first mountain - just shy of 60 years ago. I was in Boy Scouts at Camp Tahosa and our scout master took us on a hike up. I thought I was on Mount Everest and I honestly think that's when I fell in love with mountains. Thanks so much for putting this one up (and reminding me I need to get back to it one of these days...


ryannadire

Nice!
04/14/2020 14:25
Reminds me of my failures on James Peak this winter from St Mary's Glacier. Another easy peak that I had to turn back on four times due to wind and whiteouts.

100 ranked 13ers in a year is a huge accomplishment, congrats!


supranihilest


Everest
04/15/2020 09:06
@Jay: That's so awesome! I got my start with all the climbing in the Boy Scouts as well, top roping at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin. There's not quite anything one would call a mountain in Wisconsin, and there were a number of years between my scouting days and rediscovering my love for climbing, but it was my first step! Thanks for sharing the memory, Jay.

@ryannadire: That whole area is just crazy windy for some reason. I climbed James once in early April and while successful it was brutally windy and bitterly cold. Those open meadows between the top of the glacier and the bottom of the summit block just let 'em rip! Thanks for reading and for the kind words.


Tornadoman


Finally...
04/15/2020 13:35
Something I have been more successful than you at in the mountains, as I am 2 for 2 on Audubon! Of course those were both summer days, I have been thinking about trying it in winter, but winds up there are insane and it hasn't made it to the top of my winter want list yet.


supranihilest


Succcess
04/15/2020 16:27
Hell yeah, and you defeated the dreaded summer parking nightmare! Give 'er a god some time in winter, the winds are seriously awful but it's good character building or something, right?



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