Climbing Mt. Audubon is like visiting an old friend. Audubon was the first “high” peak that I climbed way back in 1998, a year after I moved to Colorado from Maryland. As Audubon is my first high peak, I hold a special affection for it. Audubon however, is an excellent mountain in its own right. Its a beautiful hike through some of the best of the Indian Peaks and gives the hiker views of some rugged front range terrain including spectacular Longs Peak.
I recently found myself with an unusual amount of free time during the week. I wanted to find a way to clear my head and started thinking of some logistically easy hikes I might do nearby. I wanted to do a solo hike. My personal rule for solo hiking is to only climb something I have hiked before. Going solo on a familiar hike can help reduce surprises and ameliorate some of the risk.
The week of the 17th looked like great weather that would be stable for days. So everything looked like it would come together on Thursday the 20th for a hike.
Wednesday evening I drove up to Brainard Lake hoping to find a spot at Pawnee Campground. I arrived at about 8:00pm. While driving into the campground I saw a huge moose meandering down the road. I have never seen a moose in the wild before and this was pretty cool. I found a first come first served camp site. Set up my tent and went to sleep.
I was on the trail by about 6:30am Thursday morning. The weather looked incredible. I started up the wooded trail with not a soul in site.
The Start of the Excellent Trail Below Tree Line
The trail starts out relatively easy through the trees. Soon enough however you encounter switchbacks that elevate you quickly taking you to the edge of tree line and some great views.
Some of the Incredible Scenery you are Treated to Just Before you Start Ascending the First Switchbacks
One of the Lower Switchbacks
This first set of switchbacks puts the hiker onto a broad shoulder of Audubon where tree line abruptly ends at about 11,500 feet. From this point the trail weaves around some magnificent krumholtz in a predominantly rock and boulder strewn alpine tundra.
The End Of Tree Line in Thick Krumholtz
Wind Sculpted Krumholtz
The Change From Trees to Rock at Around 11,500 feet
The trail maintains its rockiness from this point to the summit. It is well maintained and very straight forward. Even when the trail is mostly dirt it is still well peppered with rocks.
The trail had been very rutted out in the past as I remember. It appears now that there has been some trail work to fill in the ruts and uses less erosion-prone material (i.e. rock).
The Rocky Trail and Your First Views of Audubon (tall peak left of the snow field)
As you hike up to 12,000 feet you are treated to fantastic views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and all the way into Rocky Mountain Nat. Park.
Longs Peak Looms in the Distance
The trail continues to wind higher and higher on a rocky trail. There is another set of switchbacks at around 12,000 feet that leads you across a talus field then back into the alpine tundra. The obvious trail continues to a broad saddle between the base of the final bouldery pitch of Audubon and Point 12,706. There are good views if you continue Northwest on the saddle to where it drops off steeply.
The Rocky Trail, Well Marked by Cairns, Leads You to a Saddle Between Audubon and Point 12,706
The trail continues to this steep drop of then sort of just fades away. There is however a large cairn on the trail marking were it cuts away Southwest (to the climber’s left) to climb steeply up Audubon a few hundred feet before it fades out. There are a series of large cairns marking this turn leading up the final pitch.
After making the turn, the trail winds up the steep rocky slope of the final pitch on a good trail.
The Rocky Trail is Well Marked By Easily Visible Cairns
After several hundred feet of climbing the final pitch I finally reached the summit of this great peak. And the really great thing was…I was all by myself. Not another soul. I have seen this summit packed with hikers. I had seen three other hikers behind me as I made my way up the trail. For some reason none of them made their way to the summit. So for 45 blissful minutes I had this large summit to myself.
There had been a pretty cold wind blowing on my ascent. Especially after I made it to the saddle. However, there was only a light breeze on the summit.
Me, With the Summit to Myself
From Audubon there are incredible views in every direction including Longs, Toll, Paiute, Pawnee Peaks.
Looking in the Direction of Toll and Pawnee Peaks
Longs Peak, Way Background on the Right and Upper Coney Lake
It was finally time to head back down and back to the rest of the world. The weather was still perfect and I felt great. I headed back down to the trail head and my truck. I only saw a few people on the way back. Coming back to Audubon was truly like seeing an old friend again.