alone on mount Audubon
Distance: 7.1 miles
Duration: 4.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 2,846 ft.
Mount Audubon was one of the most difficult trailheads to get to. The 13,229 foot peak is located within the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Usually, wilderness areas are very easy to get to, albeit not always the easiest areas at which to get a parking spot. Being pretty familiar with the regulations of many different types of land-use areas in the Western USA, our usual method of hike preparation is this:
Choose a trail/route that looks intersting (AllTrails, Instagram, Other Blogs, etc.)
Map the quickest route to the area on Google Maps
Determine what permits are required given the type of area
Arrive at the area the night before and sleep wherever it is legal to do so.
Wake up early and hike.
Having been lazy and not followed our typical planning routine, we failed to realize that the trailhead, and access to it, was recently transferred to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The problem with Recreation Areas is that they take control over popular areas, and then charge money to get in. Their rules are also usually more strict than that of National Forests. So, we spent the better part of the evening attempting to figure out where National Forest ended and Recreation Area began. After a good half hour of checking maps, and asking a kind Sheriff who pulled up alongside us to see if we needed any help, we found a spot to sleep for night. In the morning, we tried to drive up to the trailhead, but the road was closed due to snow (snow which we still don't think actually existed). So, road walking was added onto our list of activities for the day.
After some lengthy roadwalking on unexplicably snow-free roads, we arrived at a huge snow-free parking lot at Beaver Creek Trailhead. The nice thing about this road closure was that it kept away the crowds. The plan for the day was to take Beaver Creek Trail up to the Mount Audubon Trail. But, first, a warning about mountain lions:
Like many other Colorado trails, this one had the requisite 2-3 miles of walking through dense forest before the views began to open up. As elevation was gained, the tree density thinned out and their height noticeably shortened. Being located on the Front Range (the first mountain range as one heads from the flat eastern side of Colorado to the more mountainous western side), views of Boulder and even Denver were possible. Ahead were views of the types of mountains that we were about to encounter. The discrepancy between the warm snow-free low-lying areas and the snow-covered peaks is something that adds to the allure of Colorado. I don't ski (yet), but every time I visit Colorado I feel as if learning to do so would let me adventure further into this state's incredible backcountry.
Once above the treeline, the hike really began to feel like Colorado with expansive scree fields interspersed with wide rolling hills and jagged snow-capped peaks in the background. I really began to appreciate the details in maps that allow one to have a solid pre-trip understanding of what type of terrain/conditions will be encountered. With a little experience, this type of information becomes invaluable in keeping one safe. Until you have that experience, relying on trip beta, asking the advice of park rangers, and not being too stubborn to turn around when conditions put you in over your head, are what will allow you to live to hike another day.
Interspersed amongst the scree fields were large high alpine meadows filled with yellow and purple wildflowers. It was in these areas that snowmelt run-off would usually collect on the trail (point of least resistance) making for a somewhat wet hike. Rather than walk beside the trail on the fragile high alpine meadow and damage it, we tried our best to hop across rocks on the trail. Unfortunately, these areas incur the most damage during the springtime when hikers trying to avoid wet feet walk on the edges of the trail, or entirely off of it, thus widening the trail or even creating secondary trail (i.e. double-track). If you're only out for a day hike and the weather is great, wet feet are no excuse to damage an area. We saw many marmots in this area usually sunning themselves on boulders and then diving under them once they spotted us.
Like all exciting and rewarding hikes, the final push to the summit was the hardest part. This involved about 400 feet of scrambling up talus and scree.
PRO TIP: Scree is the term used for small loose rock, while talus is generally reserved for larger boulders.
While there were cairns throughout this area, they were often misleading. The best way to find the easiest route to the top was to look for more worn stones or ones that seemed to be lying flatter than those around them. For the more adventurous, one could just make a straight shot up to the summit with a little more effort. For some hikers behind and in front of us, the final scramble to the top just wasn't worth it. For us, the temptation of another challenge was impossible to pass up, and the view did not disapoint.
They say that the majority of injuries and deaths happen when people are coming back down off the mountain. Before heading down we took a brief break behind a windbreak to rest and refuel. This was definitely the quintessential Colorado hike. And the best part was that we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. If you're interested in doing a similar hike but have been putting it off simply because you're unfamiliar with the region, how to get there, and the regulations, check out my Custom Trip Planning services for some help.