Peak(s):  Audubon, Mt  -  13,223 feet
Date Posted:  07/27/2020
Modified:  07/28/2020
Date Climbed:   07/19/2020
Author:  MichelleLW
 Southeast Ridge Scramble - Mt Audubon  

I don't typically write trip reports, but given that there's not a ton of detailed info about this route, I figured I'd throw my two cents in. I'm not known for my brevity, so this also turned into a brief dissertation. So if you're just looking for route pics/description, you can skip down to the bold. And really, the route is pretty straightforward, so if routefinding and going in with minimal beta is your jam, this is a great one for that. But if, like me, you're a bit tentative in committing to class 3 routes without a really strong idea of what to expect, this may be helpful. I don't know if this would be a good first class 3 as there is some significant exposure, but except for the crux notch section it felt generally easy.

Like many, I spent most of April and May running laps around Denver (not sure how much I appreciated the roll out of the local legends feature on Strava...I didn't really need to know that I did 90 laps of Wash Park over the past three months, thanks). I finally started getting back to the mountains in June and knocked some of the longer, but easier hikes off my list (Harvard, Humboldt, and Culebra - not a long hike, but definitely a long drive! - plus an overnight to Conundrum Hot Springs). But due to a combination of some health issues and weather related turnarounds, I hadn't been on any class 3 peaks for a couple of years and I'm going to start running out of class 2 hikes pretty soon (be smarter than me folks, save some easy ones for later). So, feeling properly acclimated and reasonably fit (though certainly not fast), July's goal was to get to some scrambling.

I like to say I have a strong survival instinct - I've never been super comfortable with exposure, and coordination is not my thing, but in 2017 and 2018 I did manage to knock out (in order, with varying degrees of success) Wetterhorn, Pettingell E Ridge, Pacific W Ridge, Kelso Ridge, Tour de Abyss, Father Dyer East Ridge, and Citadel --> Pettingell traverse before doing some couloir climbing in 2018/2019 and Pico de Orizaba in December of last year. I never really got comfortable doing these routes, but one or two good days at least reassured me that I could get there. Flash to this year when, contrary to my plans to ease back in, a friend I trust pitched heading to El Diente and attempting the Mt. Wilson traverse over the Fourth of July, followed by the via ferrata in Telluride. I put on my big girl pants and drove to Telluride. We got stormed out of the traverse, but somehow I was more confident on the loose rock and relative exposure of El Diente than on anything I'd done previously, despite my complete lack of scrambling since Citadel in 2018. I can only guess that getting used to snow climbing, combined with more time spent in the mountains has increased my confidence over time. I followed that up with a summit of Longs via Keyhole which felt, if anything, trivial despite the amount I'd built it up in my head since turning back upon finding slippery snow and rock past the keyhole in October of last year.

In any case, I was looking to confirm that this newfound confidence wasn't a fluke, but also to stay closer to home and maybe do a shorter route. Enter Indian Peaks. Some googling led me to the SE ridge of Audubon which looked appealing for a number of reasons. The approach is pretty short, and there are a ton of options to bail or extend it. We planned on doing Audubon SE Ridge --> Paiute, to get a little more scrambling in and then descending the S Slopes of Paiute. But you could also bail down the standard of Audubon (a few of us ended up doing that) or if you're planning on a really ambitious day, you can head over to Toll. Stats are below, as tracked by GPS device, so are likely a bit overestimated.

Audubon SE Ridge --> Audubon Standard Descent: 7.75 mi / 2900 ft of gain

Audubon SE Ridge --> Paiute --> Blue Lakes --> 8.65 mi / 3500 ft of gain

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View of the ridge on our approach. The crux notch can be seen on the left before the large bump at the end. You can see that on the ridge itself there is not a lot of elevation gain.

The Approach

The approach is pretty easy - take the Mitchell Lakes TH (not the Audubon TH) from the Mitchell Lakes parking lot. It's on the left of the bathrooms/ranger cabin, so if you don't pass those, you're on the wrong trail. We walked until we were well past the lake and crossed a bridge over the river, then took a right off the trail, below. On the GPS track, it did look like we may have overshot a bit compared to some other tracks I saw, but we found that there was a minimum of bushwacking (though plenty of mosquitoes) and we were able to contour above the lake pretty well without giving up much elevation. Once you get to the talus field, go up. It looks pretty miserable but actually goes by relatively quickly. I wouldn't call the rocks stable, but they are at least predictable and not quite as tedious as they look.

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L: This is about where we turned off. You can see the saddle to the right of the pic that we are aiming for. R: The talus field up close and personal. But the views while you're climbing up it are pretty great

As we were climbing up, we saw a moose crossing the lake!

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One of the coolest parts of climbing in the Indian Peaks!

At the top of the rockpile you gain a saddle. There was some snow hanging around at what is technically the foot of the ridge, but you will want to go behind the ridge and gain it partway up. Plenty of ways to go here, and the rock was all a little more stable than it looked.

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Gaining the ridge

The Ridge

From here, there's pretty much only one way to go. The ridge does narrow a little bit, and there are some spots that you can bypass to the left. Generally though, it seems possible to stay ridge proper until you get to the notch.

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Heading up!
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As the ridge flattens, it also narrows.
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Some minor difficulties on the ridge, possible to bypass on the left

I will note that while I found the ridge pretty stable, my friend did step in a spot where "everything moved." So definitely worth taking the usual care and considering carefully before dropping off the ridge proper.

The Notch

The crux of the ridge is a large, obvious notch with a downclimb that I saw listed as class 4 to low 5 and a class 3 workaround to avoid the downclimb. Looking back at the downclimb, I can see maybe a class 4 way to get down it, but definitely above my paygrade. Various other reports mention approaching the downclimb and then backtracking until you see the bypass to a notch on the ridge on climbers left. We had no need to backtrack - you're shooting for an obvious area where a ledge juts out on the left side of the ridge, below.

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Pretty cool looking spot!
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This is the downclimb you are avoiding - a little overhanging

From the ledge pictured, you continue around to hug the rock on a sort-of ledge to reach a class 3 downclimb. The exposure here definitely made me nervous, but the solid rock and foot (and butt-) holds make it pretty doable. I was able to stay calm and just focus on "tunnel vision" to my next move.

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Climber in blue at probably the most awkward move of the traverse
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Proper butt scooting demonstration

After the exposed ledge-y moves is a less exposed, short downclimb. Still wouldn't want to fall here, but a little more protected feeling

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Downclimb from above, with the headwall visible
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And below - the upper bit of this picture is what we bypassed

Once you've downclimbed, you approach the headwall. It looks a bit intimidating from far away but is easy climbing once you start up it. No need to get cute, the path of least resistance works just fine.

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Not as steep as it looks! Climb up the pile of rocks at the bottom, then generally work left along easy grass ledges

After the headwall, don't forget to get some cool pictures! It's pretty much just a tundra slog from here, so this is your last chance to look extra cool.

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Coming up from the headwall. Traverse section and downclimb visible in the background.
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Top of the headwall


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Decidely less epic, about 800 feet of gain to Audubon Summit

The Descent

From Audubon, you can go over to Paiute (easy class 3, about 0.8 miles / 500 ft of gain) and go down the steep, loose south slopes to blue lakes, ultimately joining up with the Mitchell lakes trail. Two of us did that, but three of us decided to call it a day, descend the easy Audubon standard trail, and take care of the beers waiting in the car for us. I will say that the two who went on are much faster hikers and felt that they were moving pretty efficiently, but we still beat them back to the car by a good hour despite them only adding on about a mile and 600 or so feet of gain. It took them about 40 minutes over to Paiute, but the descent to Blue Lakes from Paiute was tedious scree which definitely slowed them up a bit. They reported that the ridge over to Paiute was fun, but barely noticeable as class 3 and much easier than the SE ridge of Audubon.

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Another view of the ridge in the middle-ground, but let's be honest, the peaks in the background are way cooler.
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No points for originality on sock choice - or pants color





Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
mindfolded
Socks
07/28/2020 14:29
So what brand are the socks?


MichelleLW

Darn Tough
07/29/2020 14:48
Gotta get that lifetime warranty! I was actually also wearing Darn Tough socks, but a much more colorful variety.



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