Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Auf der Audubon

Mount Audubon is said to be the easiest of the 13ers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Part of the reason for that is that it is much closer to a trail head than most of the mountains in that area. The main reason is probably because there is a trail that leads right up its broad east slope, making it an easy class 1 hike to the summit.

That's cool, but when you combine accessibility with a bit more of a challenge, things feel a lot more awesome. There's a class 3 route along Audubon's southeast ridge, as described in Gerry Roach's Colorado's Indian Peaks, that ups the ante and makes you feel like you've actually climbed a mountain when you're done.

One week after returning home from my backpacking trip on the AT, I was itching to escape from civilization for a little bit, and the warm weather meant that the higher elevations should be mostly clear of snow.

On Sunday I got a reasonably early start from the house and drove up to the Brainard Lake Recreational Area. I was hoping that the road would be open by now, saving me about 6.5 miles of hiking, but that was not to be. Parking at the road closure, I set out toward the Mitchell Lake trail head around 7:45. The weather was perfect, but I packed some cold-weather gear in anticipation of colder conditions on the summit.

From Brainard Lake, Mount Audubon dominates the skyline.

Mount Audubon, viewed from Brainard Lake

Mitchell Lake is about one mile from the trail head, just past Brainard Lake. It was here that I left the trail and made my way around to the north side of the lake. The map said that there would be a gully with a stream running down into the lake, but that's a pretty loose interpretation of reality.

Mount Audubon, viewed from Mitchell Lake. The ascent begins on the talus slope at the center, with the southeast ridge going to the left.

A talus-covered slope leads up to the ridge. It was a fun way to start things out.

Looking up from the bottom of the talus slope

Once on the ridge, the talus gives way to larger boulders. It's a fun bit of scrambling, and the views from up there are stunning.

A view of Brainard Lake and Left Hand Reservoir from the southeast ridge

The most notorious feature of the southeast ridge is a notch, perhaps 30 feet deep, which has to be negotiated. It was by far the best part, actually putting the climbing in this mountain's ascent.

Looking back at the notch after down-climbing the gully to the left (north)

After working up the far side of the notch, the terrain eases up into more talus and tundra. I was beginning to feel the effects of the high elevation. My energy was waning, my head ached, and it felt like I should have already been at the top. But I was still having fun.

Nice views between the ridge and the summit

From the summit, at about 13224 feet (4030 meters), the views were great and the wind was whipping from the north. There are several wind breaks constructed from stone where I ducked down to rest and have a snack. It was 11:45 when I reached the top, and I was happy to have a jacket and warm hat in my backpack.

A view of the Indian Peaks and Upper Cooley Lake from the summit

From there, I took the trail back down. It was frequently doubling as a stream bed for the snow-melt. The trail makes its way through more wide-open tundra, and it was after 13:00 before I got below treeline.

Looking back at Audubon from the trail. The southeast ridge is on the left.

I saw several marmots among the talus, both before and after the summit. I have a pet cat named after the 17th-century Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. I got to thinking that if I had a pet marmot, I would name it Thomas Talus. But I'm going to settle for giving that name to this one.

Thomas Talus, the Audubon marmot

It felt great to be hiking in Colorado's high country again. The Appalachians are nice, but this felt like home.

A cairn tells me that this where I'm supposed to be.

And of course, no discussion of Mount Audubon would be complete without some kind of word-play, so I'll leave you with this, which has been going through my head for the past few days.

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