Peak(s):  Audubon, Mt  -  13,223 feet
Date Posted:  01/07/2022
Date Climbed:   10/01/2021
Author:  MaryinColorado
 A Lovely Drive on the Audubon   

Mt. Audubon - 13,223'

MY STATS:
Mileage: 7.8
Gain: 2808'
Total RT time: 5 hours, 34 minutes

Why Write a Trip Report About Audubon?

There are so many beautiful places in Colorado. (Call me Captain Obvious.) But as a child of the Pacific Northwest, my heart has seemed to find a home in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (IPW). While the peaks are distinctly Colorado, the forests, animals, rain, and lakes provide some semblance of the spirit of the Pacific Northwest in a way I've yet to find elsewhere in Colorado. Given my love for high peaks, it makes sense that my numerous trips into the IPW now start to include its 12ers/13ers. I had it in my mind that Audubon would not likely be an interesting hike, and while that holds true from a route perspective, everything else was surprising and wonderful. It was unpopulated, conditions varied a bit, views were stellar, and just the right amount of moody weather presented.

The Reservation System

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is now under a reservation system of which I am 100% supportive; the area has previously been trampled uncontrollably. I found the system to be really easy to use! It means typically having to plan ahead; however, with it being late in the season, I nabbed a spot at the Mitchell Lake lot at the last minute. (Bonus: timed entry means your time sitting in a long line at the entrance is much decreased!)

Reservations can be made by visiting https://www.recreation.gov. (This information accurate as of 01/06/2022.)

I Went With Two Plans in Mind

Plan A: Audubon only, out and back.
Plan B: loop it - standard route to Audubon, traverse to Paiute, down to Little Blue, scramble to Blue, Mitchell trail back to car.

The Hike

It was a chilly morning, and at 7 a.m., I was only the 2nd vehicle to the lot. Most folks today would be headed to Lakes Mitchell or Blue; I would be headed to Audubon via the Beaver Creek Trail No. 911 on the north end of the parking lot.

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A mostly empty lot was a rare and welcome sight! The trail starts at that sign straight ahead in the trees.

The trail through the forest was easy to follow. I hiked and ate breakfast as I went along (salami, cheese, and crackers, if you must know) and enjoyed the gradual "glowening". You know, when the morning light is just right, golden, and brings out all the best colors around you from trees to rocks to nearby peaks and maybe even luscious locks of red hair. (Argh. I was alone, so nobody can attest to this!)

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The trail is gradual and obvious. You'd really have to try hard to get lost.

Key landmarks soon came into view as I gained elevation, such as, Brainard Lake, Mt. Toll, Kiowa, and even Navajo Glacier. A bit of snow had fallen during the week, but so far I didn't see much evidence of it.

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Just barely starting to see Kiowa and Navajo Glacier off in the distance

Then coming out of the trees, the landscape "just might feel like singing autumn song". Hello, fall colors! I was surprised to see them considering the cold snap that had just occurred. The day was warming up now, and my layering/de-layering dance was well underway. The sky was blue, and I was happy as a clam (specifically the one spared a chowdery fate).

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A nice touch of golden happiness along the trail

Around 11,400' is the junction with Beaver Creek, so I swung left and aimed for the gentle slopes of Audubon. If I'm being totally honest, from here until 12,700', I was thankful for distracting views and the ability to sink deeply into my own thoughts. The rough, rocky trail seemed to drag on forever! While I appreciate how accessible Audubon is for people who maybe haven't had - or who want - a relatively safe alpine experience, the amount of trail erosion is shocking compared to the photos in the .com route description (which I believe is from 2014).

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Turn left at the Beaver Creek junction. Also, the sign is a lie! I saw no beavers, and I saw no creek.
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This was one of many spots like this where the trail is so wide, braided, and out of control.

It can be tempting to want to hike on the grass for ease vs. trekking the rocky path, but resist the urge so as not to contribute to the damage.

Is it bad if I summarize the route between 11,400' and 12,700' as "unremarkable with no noteworthy features"? (Asking for a friend.) The trail is easy to follow, cairns exist where a few turns need to be made. There is no guesswork. What I will say is that it is pleasantly gradual with great views!

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You'll do some switchbacks up the gentle "hump" up ahead. After the final switchback, you'll be at approximately 12,200' and then will gradually gain another 500' making your way westward to the base of the scramble to the summit.
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Looking toward Audubon from one of the switchbacks. Looks can be deceiving; Audubon's summit is still a little ways away and over 1000' gain from this point.
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A close-up of the portion of Kiowa that was visible to me, and now I see evidence of the snow - hurray!
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A close-up look at Navajo Glacier

The switchbacks aren't bad, and then you just keep on heading west, gradually gaining elevation.

21545_15
The rocky path continues!

Pro tip: once you clear the "hump" and start feeling like you're on a very wide ridge, don't forget to turn your head far to the right and take in stellar views of Longs, Meeker, and Pagoda! For some reason, I'd blanked on the fact that I could expect this, so I was in awe when this majesty came into view.

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Perspective is such an interesting thing. Even though Pagoda is only 750' lower in elevation than Longs and 400' lower in elevation than Meeker, it looks absolutely dominated by them from this vantage point.

Scrambling to the Summit

Well, I love a good scramble, so let me tell you I was so happy for the rocky path to end and to have about 500' of scramble in front of me!

The thing is, right around 12,700' there's a cairn. If you turn left at it, it leads you to what some would rightfully call the social path of least resistance to the summit. There is no formal trail at all, so you may as well seek the social trail that has formed, and it is genuinely a path, not a scramble. If you're like me - for better or for worse - you'll forget you read about said cairn, accidentally miss it even though it's huge, and just keep trekking happily along thinking you're just going to turn and find your own way up. The cairn is actually useful, though, and if you prefer a path vs. a scramble, the cairn is your friend. Let me show you the pictures I took on my way down of where the cairn is and what it looks like.

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[insert dramatic music here] Land ho! Wait. Cairn ho!
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The cairn is now out of frame to my right, and here's the unmistakable social trail going up!
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This also would have been the smarter choice on this particular day because the social trail is closer to the southern aspect and is more dirt-based, not so much talus and boulders. So, ice was not an issue.
21545_20
I blame this succulent for why I missed the cairn. It caught my eye near the cairn and was the last succulent of its kind, hanging on for dear life!

Ok, back to me. I missed the cairn, so what happened next? The views where the rocky trail ended were great, and that's where I found myself going, "Ah! Time to turn left and scramble!" A couple other lady hikers had caught up having also missed the cairn. They were a little confused and uncertain about how to approach the scramble, and my meager advice to them was something along the lines of, "The summit is that way [pointing], so just head up any way you want in that direction." I picked out a line with talus and medium boulders, and away I went. They picked a different line based on spotting some cairns.

"You're ignoring more cairns, Mary??" Yes, but for good reason! Should you end up doing as I did, it's not like navigating the scramble is rocket science. You know where the summit is, and there's no trickery on this section of the peak. HOWEVER. I remembered reading that there are cairns everywhere on the scramble. This is true. There are so many that they don't make sense, and unfortunately, I don't think this dawned on the sweet lady hikers for a while. I could hear their dialogue most of the time as they went from cairn to cairn, sometimes confused about which cairn, and ultimately dead-ended numerous times.

Ok, back to me! "I don't remember ordering a glas of ver." *ba dum tiss* ("Where do you come up with this stuff??" I don't know. It just happens!) Verglas was everywhere; the freeze/thaw activity had been healthy. Being more toward the northwest aspect didn't help; my route ended up being a touch spicy strictly because of the verglas. Out of an abundance of caution, I was darn slow and often maintaining 3 points of contact for stability. I arrived to the summit without injury, but admittedly I cringed at the thought of going back down. I put that thought out of my mind for the moment and instead took in the breathtaking views!

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Mt. Toll on the left, Paiute on the right
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Closer view of Toll
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Closer view of Paiute
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Low-lying incoming clouds/weather
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Looking down on Upper Coney Lake. Anybody else think it resembles a fish, or was I just hungry?

Decision Time: Plan A or Plan B?

Weather was rolling in pretty swiftly, it seemed, and one particular cloud bank gave me visions of snow and white-out conditions. I also now knew for sure some decent freeze/thaw had taken place which would make the scramble from Little Blue to Blue pretty interesting. (To me, the scramble is kind of hearty - albeit in a fun way - even without the threat of ice.) Oh, and I was solo. Pretty straightforward no-go on plan B. So I spent a few minutes taking in the rapidly changing mood. Longs became obscured by clouds, the sky darkened. Exciting! But before the clouds could wrap me in their cloak of no-more-visibility-for-you, I ditched the summit.

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No more views of Longs

Winding Down

I opted to aim more southern-aspect-ish upon leaving the summit so as to hopefully not deal with as much verglas, and whaddya know, I found the social trail that leads to - yes, you guessed it - the cairn I missed at 12,700'. As mentioned before, the social trail is more dirt, less talus. There was practically no ice to deal with which was a relief.

With the change in mood (the weather's, not mine!), shadows were cast, and more rustic fall colors appeared. The summit of Audubon became obscured, and I felt validated in my decision not to proceed with plan B.

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"Let cloud shapes form, let chaos storm..."
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The clouds descended even more; I wondered for a minute if I'd end up in low visibility conditions, after all.
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Beautiful textures, ridge after ridge!

Near treeline, I realized I'd forgotten my other plan of recording a special video on the summit for my dad since it was his 74th birthday that day! He's often my safety contact, having dubbed himself "Comm. Central", and wears his 14ers.com t-shirt with pride around Ohio. I paused at treeline to record the video, but I fear not remembering to take it on the summit cost me the coveted Daughter of the Year Award.

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Here's me not making eye contact with the camera while enumerating my excuses. Do I get points for at least remembering it was his birthday?

There's a shack next to the Mitchell Lake trailhead, and sometimes there are volunteers in the shack. Highly recommend stopping in for a chat! The volunteer this day was a most delightful older gentleman with vast hiking and climbing experience in the IPW, so we ended up chatting for at least 25 minutes.

As I drove past Brainard Lake on my way out, a young man walking along the road stuck out his thumb for a ride since he'd parked down in the winter lot. I drove him down and learned he'd summitted Paiute, stating the ice on the scramble up from Blue was there but not too bad. He had a good, safe day, and so did I. Success all around!

Closing Thoughts

Audubon is a worthy trek; gentle, embedded in a beautiful wilderness, and surrounded by a treasure vault of views and more peaks I need to climb. (Which one will be next, I wonder?)

I enjoyed the aspen groves as I left the area, knowing that autumn up high was quickly coming to an end. As Robert Frost said, "Nothing gold can stay." But that which is gold remains forever in a photo, so I "leaf" you with the picture below.

As with all things beautifully outdoors, please practice Leave No Trace principles, but by all means take photos and leave a trip report. Happy hiking to you all!

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"Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

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 33 34


Comments or Questions
Jay521
User
Another nice one...
01/07/2022 12:15
As usual, I sincerely enjoy your writing style. And this one holds a special place for me as Audubon was the very first mountain I ever hiked up some 60+ years ago as a Boy Scout. Yeah - I'm just a few months younger than your Dad...

Thanks again for bringing back some fond - albeit old - memories.


MaryinColorado
User
Jay521...
01/08/2022 07:43
Wow, what a special memory to have, and I bet the peak was incredibly pristine and trail-less back then. Not a bad first, if I do say so myself! Thanks for sharing your connection with it; that's really neat.


mathguy
User
Nice one indeed!
01/08/2022 08:23
I enjoyed your narrative and nice pictures. I too have sometimes
gotten into a trance-like state on hikes and missed desired turning
points, though maybe that's part of the "zen" of hiking. Given the
weather conditions you were facing, you definitely made the right
choice on bailing on Plan B. The traverse to Paiute is more tedious
than it looks (even without the verglas), and getting down to the Blue
Lakes is no picnic either (I had the benefit of @MtnHub's refined
route finding skills when we did Audubon-Paiute a few years ago).
Anyway, nice report...keep 'em coming.


MaryinColorado
User
Mathguy...
01/08/2022 09:36
Thanks so much! I appreciate the validation of my bail on plan B. I had read some conflicting opinions on the nature of the traverse to Paiute, so it's helpful to know from yet another person that it does, indeed, present some level of tedium. I also happened to end up giving a ride back to the winter lot to the only person that day who did Paiute; he confirmed the ice was "not great". Hope to go back during dry season to do it with my climbing partner.

Thanks for your feedback and insight!


ltlFish99
just delightful
01/08/2022 21:20
Another great report with wonderful photographs.
The ipw is one of the few things I miss about no longer living in the Denver area.
Audubon is a fun hike with views, views, and more views of so many beautiful mountains.
Thanks for posting this.


DaveLanders
Audubon trail conditions
01/09/2022 16:43
Thank you for a nice report. It's a shame that the trail is in such bad shape, especially considering all the fees collected to get into the Brainard area. Those fees were originally justified on the basis that the money would be used to fix the impacts of the crowds.


MaryinColorado
User
Dave...
01/09/2022 17:47
This is mere hypothesis, but because crowds were uncontrolled for so long, I wonder if they simply have resourcing issues causing a need to prioritize which trail work to focus on vs. being able to address 100% of the trail work that's needed. The trail to Lake Isabelle, for example, sees an extraordinary amount of traffic but is in fantastic shape, as are other populated trails and facilities. Maybe they've had to put their efforts to the trails that see the majority of the traffic? It could be hard to justify turning attention to what's going on above treeline on Audubon, but like yourself, I certainly hope they do! (I'm not even sure who the "they" is in this case. BLM? USFS? Both? and is the Audubon trail above treeline even an "official" construction, or is it just a social trail that's developed over time? Either way, seems like a good time for whichever agency has jurisdiction to survey and prioritize!)


MaryinColorado
User
lilFish99
01/09/2022 17:49
As always, thank you so much for your kind words. Hope you have a chance to re-visit the IPW if you're ever back in the area again!



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