February 21st, 2016 (pics by Ben, text by Steve). Just one of many bluebird days during the winter of 2015-16, and fitting to tag a peak named Audubon on such a day. The quick reference I had for this name is the speedway in Germany, but I think a likelier origin is John James Audubon, a Haitian-born nature lover and bird watcher – I mean, ornithologist – for whom the Audubon Society is named. No slight to the Paiute tribe, monikers for the second peak of our day – I’m sure they could have taught ‘ol Audubon a thing or two about birds. (Or maybe just flip him the bird.)
You’d think a drive at dark-thirty could preclude stomach rumblings, but we drove through Boulder, Ben wanted coffee and damned if I didn’t break down and eat an egg, bacon, gouda sandwich that tasted great but meant snow would be defiled later.
The gate at the entrance was down, so we parked at the spacious lot just before it, geared up, and began walking. The road had very little snow, so we kept the snowshoes strapped to our backs. I was pleasantly surprised at both the patchy snow cover and the firmness of the snow itself, so we made excellent time. Nearing Brainard Lake, we managed a couple parking lot “traverses” and only had one spot of knee-deep powder between lots to negotiate, but we shaved some distance off the bends in the road.
This area gets a lot of foot traffic in winter, so we enjoyed a bomber snowshoe path all the way through the woods to reach Audubon’s eastern flanks. Our track led us upward through the woods to emerge below the southeast ridge, with a talus field to side-hill across. (This section is obscured by two tall trees just right of center in the picture.)
We had put on our snowshoes at a creek crossing in the woods, and now had to remove them for the tedious boulder field, but it was short and soon we saw nothing but dazzling snow ahead. This boulder field is below and just left of the rounded hump right of center, near the lower terminus of Audubon’s long east ridge.
Below, Ben pauses to take a shot of my progress up the slope toward the southeast ridge. As seen, we stayed left initially, but then struck to the right — picture a line to the rock in the snow at right — to avoid a bulge in the snow slope above.
This rightward angle took us toward the east ridge and the narrow cirque it forms. Ben salivated over the prospect of a ski descent down the ramrod straight couloir at right. Weaving between rocks and then switchbacking up firmly packed north-facing snow, we climbed southwestward to begin the southeast ridge.
The ridge quickly narrowed and grew drier, relegating the snowshoes back to the packs, and finally I got to put my hands on some rock.
We knew from other reports that the southeastern ridge hit a severe notch. My POMRanian tendencies go dormant in winter: a class 4 downclimb that gets my toes twitching eagerly in summer becomes less appealing with the prospect of ice/snow mixed in, so we went path of least resistance (fittingly, POLR) for this time of year. The spot to depart the ridge is very natural; as the rounded hulk of Audubon nears, we found an intuitive bypass to the south (left) that leads to a broad ledge winding beneath the ridge crest some 40 feet above.
Mostly class two, this ledge led to class 3 terrain to begin the descent into the notch, which is just around the corner.
From my vantage in the picture above, I looked up at the point that we had bypassed and marveled at the jugginess of it. It called to my mind parts of the Needles -particularly Jagged and Eolus — and other random janga blocks you see on the more solid mountains of the San Juans. The rock was dry and we could have found a way down – but much more slowly than our easy south-side bypass.
Besides marveling back and upwards at the tower we’d bypassed, we had not only the severe drop before us, but plenty of scenery both fore and distant to either side – there is no drab spot in the Indian Peaks.
After this very basic and easy scrambling around the tower, the view down the final twenty-five to thirty feet into the notch is much more serious. I would still call it class 3; just steep. Ben led the way here – he’d been patient up to this point but now wanted to move. I followed more slowly, and even faced in for two moves on the way down.
Walking slowly across the snow to gaze downward to both directions, we engaged the rock on the other side, and quickly found it to be more technical, presenting both a steeper rise and smaller holds.
After this section, the rest of the way presented itself as a mild talus slog to rival the blandest the Sawatch has to offer.
However, as with most Colorado mountain climbs, periods of unexciting terrain allowed us to relax and enjoy the surrounding views. Gazing south recalled to my memory a fun scramble from Apache to Navajo, and closer up, prospects of intriguing 12er Mt. Toll.
From Audubon, the way west to Paiute is straightforward, with a loss of I’d estimate 500 feet in between to make it feel longer than I expected. Though seemingly very close, it took us around 50 minutes to traverse.
Maybe it was just the relatively small size of the summit, but the vantage on Paiute felt wilder that of Audubon, more like we were in the heart of the Indian Peaks. The 270 degree views from north-west-south rivaled the best among the Front Range.
We had reached Paiute at 1:00, and the days, though lengthening, were still short, so we didn’t linger for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Our way back was a simple retracing of steps to Audubon. From there, rather than venture back into the notch of the SE ridge, we veered northward to the expansive east face, descending grassy slopes speckled with snow patches. Angling southward, we aimed for a route that would take us just east of the tedious boulder field. Ben had to wait for me for several minutes as I negotiated an equally tedious boulder field – with these aging knees, down is no longer easier than side-hilling.
After that, we donned the snowshoes to make easy work of the snow. As we neared the road, the sun neared the end of its road in the sky, granting us a beautiful twilight.
A local – a wild eyed craggy-bearded lean fellow who should be a character from a novel – caught up to us on his skis just before the snow became patchy on the road and we enjoyed spirited, rambling conversation for several minutes. Eventually more minutes than I wanted, as twilight darkened toward evening, the temp steadily dropped, and the only cold thing I wanted was the trail’s end reward waiting in the car:
Four Noses Brewery – solid stuff. A fitting end to a solid day.