13,223 Feet (458th Highest in Colorado)
East Slopes Route (Class 1)
Beaver Creek/Mt. Audubon Trailhead (10,500 Feet)
13,088 Feet (578th Highest in Colorado)
East Ridge Route (Class 3)
8.8 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 3,800 Feet
Descent: Greenhouseguy, Steve Hoffmeyer, Greg Helmerick
July 12th, 2008
The Indian Peaks Wilderness offers some of the most outrageous scenery in the Front Range. While there are no 14,000-foot peaks in this wilderness area, the 13ers and 12ers along the Continental Divide have incredible views to the east and the west. Glacial activity has given many of these peaks unique and distinctive profiles. Alpine lakes and tarns reflect a shade of blue that just canít be found elsewhere. Wildflowers are abundant, and unfortunately, so are tourists. The relatively close distance to the Metro area makes the IPW an attractive destination for recreation.
Mount Audubon is the large rounded summit in the middle of the image. Paiute Peak is the lower triangular summit immediately to the viewerís left of Mt. Audubon.
Iíve read glowing descriptions of the traverse between Mt. Audubon and Paiute Peak. Itís been on my to-do list for a while, and circumstances dictated that I needed to find a challenging hike that would require less than half a tank of gasoline. The Indian Peaks are not only close to the Metro area, theyíre also 2WD accessible.
My joy at saving a ton of gas money came to an abrupt end when I had to pay the $8 entrance fee at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I drove around Brainard Lake and was at the Beaver Creek/Mt. Audubon Trailhead by 6:15. There were several cars in the lot, so I expected company on the trail.
Below treeline, the trail was easy to follow as it wound through the fragrant spruce and fir trees. Only one small snowdrift remained on the trail. The trail was not particularly steep, and I popped out of the trees in no time. The tundra was blooming, and it was punctuated by a variety of wildflowers. I saw a particularly nice cushion phlox beside the trail.
The cushion phlox (Phlox caespitosa ssp. pulvinata)
It was eerily quiet above treeline Ė no highway noises, no airplanes, and no birds. I enjoy the sounds of nature when Iím hiking solo, but Iím particularly alert when I hear nothing. I heard a shrill chirp, and caught a pika busting some Class 3 moves in the talus. Oh, theyíre vile little creatures; they eat their own feces to extract the undigested nutrients. I had always assumed that they were rodents, but theyíre actually more closely related to rabbits.
The Beaver Creek and Mt. Audubon trails split just above treeline. A sign marks the junction. The Beaver Creek trail heads north towards the scenic Coney Flats; coney is another common name for the pika.
The left fork of the trail heads towards Mt. Audubonís summit. The trail was free of snow, but the meltwater made things kind of sloppy in places. There was a wide variety of alpine wetland plants in the moist tundra.
I passed the unranked 12,706-foot subpeak known as ďNotabonĒ as I worked my way towards the shoulder below the summit. ďNotabonĒ gives Mt. Audubon a unique silhouette that makes it easy to identify from the Metro area. As I stood on the shoulder below Mt. Audubon, I could see a pair of hikers high on the slope.
The view from the shoulder was incredible. Itís always hard not to stare at the Longs Peak Massif. The view of Chiefs Head Peak, Pagoda Mountain, Longs Peak, and Mt. Meeker was unsurpassed.
The final summit pitch on Mt. Audubon was exceptionally rocky, but the trail through the talus was well-cairned and fairly easy to follow. The grade was not particularly steep.
The upper part of the slope was just a rounded pile of talus. Weather on the Continental Divide can be harsh and windy, but not today; I was grateful for the sunshine and gentle breeze.
The summit was roomy, and had several wind shelters. The shelter on the north side offered the best view of Longs Peak and some of the summits in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Paiute Peak was due west of the summit.
Brainard Lake and Left Hand Park Reservoir were easy to spot to the southeast.
Brainard Lake (foreground) and Left Hand Park Reservoir (background) seen from Mt. Audubon
I made good time getting to the summit, and I wanted to keep my momentum. I fueled up with a hideous Clif Bar, had some water, and hit the trail. The slope down to the Audubon/Paiute ridge was a steep 600-foot talus hop with a few short stretches of trail. Paiute Peakís east ridge looked intimidatingly steep.
I climbed over the first two bumps on the ridge before I figured out that it was easier to sidehill around them. Whenever there was an obstacle on the ridge, I dipped down on the south side. It was never necessary to go more than 20 or 30 feet below the crest of the ridge. I found a few ledges on the south side that made travel easier.
I had a good time hiking on the ridge. The exposure was minimal, the scrambling was fun, and the scenery was incredible. I saw the two hikers ahead of me winding their way through the slabs just below the summit.
Approaching the final pitch on Paiute Peak. Note hiker on summit.
The slabs below the summit were moderately steep, and it required a little fun scrambling to navigate them.
When I reached the summit, I met Steve Hoffmeyer and Greg Helmerick. Steve is the founder of the 14erWorld web site and leads hikes for the Colorado Mountain Club, and Greg is a 14erWorld member. Both could be described as experienced hikers. We had some pleasant conversation and took in the outrageous landscape. The Indian Peaks are some of the finest-looking mountains that Iíve ever seen.
Steve Hoffmeyer resting on Paiute Peakís summit
Looking down the Continental Divide at Mt. Toll, Pawnee Peak, Shoshoni Peak, Apache Peak, and Navajo Peak
The scenery was lovely, but we couldnít stay up there all day. Steve and Greg were kind enough to let me accompany them on the descent to Blue Lake. I knew that it would be steep, but I had no idea that it would be so long. We had not descended far before we encountered a large snowfield. I didnít have my ice axe, but I considered glissading down with my trekking poles. The runout looked pretty rocky at the bottom, so I chose to climb over and around the snowfield. Steve and Greg had their ice axes, so they took a more direct route on the snow. Snow and scree are equally deplorable in my opinion.
Did I mention that the scree was steep? I descended hundreds of feet with scarcely a single solid foothold. It was not dangerous, but it pushed my knees and ankles to their limits.
For most of the descent, I got to enjoy Mt. Toll from many angles. Itís just a few feet short of being a 13er, but itís a fine mountain by any standard of measure. Despite its rugged appearance, it has a fairly easy Class 2 walkup route on the south side. There are several Class 5+ routes on its north side.
We found ourselves descending another steep snowfield on the north side of Blue Lake. A slip here would not have been fatal, but it would have given us a heck of a ride for several hundred feet. Greg and I both lost our footing, but caught ourselves before we went hurtling down the slope. A group of noisy skiers were obviously having a good time on the slope above us.
The area around the unnamed lake at 11,833 feet was relatively flat, but it still required some rockhopping and willow-bashing to get down to Blue Lake. Water was plentiful, and we had to wade through a few creeks and puddles. The wildflowers were thriving with the abundant moisture.
When we reached Blue Lake, thank goodness, we finally found a trail. The navigation had not been difficult, but it wasnít exactly effortless. Perhaps the biggest visual payoff of this hike was the view of Mt. Toll above Blue Lake, which was still partially covered with ice. This scenery draws hundreds of hikers per day on a sunny summer weekend. There was no shortage of people when we arrived.
The good but sometimes muddy trail was mostly downhill for the 2.5 miles back to the trailhead. We met plenty of pleasant hikers and non-hikers on the trail, many of them with their canine companions.
Parryís Primrose (Primula parryi) in the wetlands near Blue Lake
The weather and the scenery couldnít have been better, and Steve and Greg were great hiking partners. The Mt. Audubon/Paiute Peak traverse definitely lived up to its hype; it was a fine hike, and a relatively easy introduction to Class 3 scrambling.