Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Solo Hike, Mt. Audubon; 13,221 feet. Fighting the wind in Indian Peaks Wilderness

Field of Wildflowers at 12,500 ft; Trail to Mt. Audubon
I woke up at 3am unable to sleep, so I decided to get up and try to get some work done.  However, I ended up reading some of my favorite hiking blogs and it started to get me thinking about going hiking this morning.  I was already awake early, I could pack my bag, hit the road and do a long hike on this beautiful Tuesday morning and make it home to do some work by the time Josh got home.  I read a few more blogs and decided where to hike until my husband's alarm started going off at 4:30.  I got into the shower, packed my bag, and was out the door before 6am. 
I had decided at 13er, Mt. Audubon, one of the highest and longest hikes I have ever done alone.  But I was feeling great after my birthday 13er and really wanted to push myself more.  The dogs and I jumped into our new SUV (new to us)  and drove up the mountain, it's much smoother than the Explorer and the ride was really comfortable.  It was a peaceful as the sun peeked through the trees over the mountains, it took me nearly an hour and a half to reach my destination!  I was eager to hit the trail, even after I paid the surprising $9 entrance fee to the Brainard Lake Recreation area, found my parking spot,  then I stepped out of the truck and noticed that while it was sunny and beautiful, the wind was fierce! 
Looking back down the trail to the peaks in the distance

Getting there:  It took me an hour and 20 minutes to reach the trailhead from my home in Lakewood/Golden.  From the mountain town of Nederland, northwest of Boulder, continue North on Hwy 72 to the 'town' of Ward 11.5 miles north.  The turnoff to the Brainard Lake Recreation area is a sharp left turn marked by a large sign just before the Brainard Lake Road/America St road.  Continue down Brainard Lake road to the fee area.  
Specs: Pay the $9 vehicle fee and drive through the park to the Mitchell Lake parking lot where the trailhead for Mt. Audubon starts; this is a beautiful park with lots to look at, crystal clear lakes, and numerous other trails in the area.  There is a pit toilet at the trailhead and a large parking lot that was completely full when I returned from my hike at 12 noon.  The trail to the top of Mt. Audubon and back is 8 miles round trip, be sure to check the trail map at the start of the trail, there are several other trails that start from this lot.  It took me just under 5 hours to do the hike; I left my car at 7:45 and returned before 12:45. 

Longs Peak in the distance, looking north. 
The Hiking Journey:  When I arrived at the parking lot at 7:30am there were just 3 other cars in the lot;  and a jeep with 4 hikers had just pulled up and they started the trail ahead of me.  I quickly got my pack, changed into shorts (a decision I would question later in the hike) and started up the trail in the woods.  The sun was shining brightly through the trees as I hiked in the woods, the trees sheltered me from the wind and the hike was really pleasant.  Both dogs were really excited to be let off the leash and run around, but Brainard Lake has strict leash laws and I kept them on the leashes until higher up on the mountain. 
Once you start to come out of the woods after about .75 of a mile, the views you are greeted with are incredible; the large jagged peaks of Indian Peaks Wilderness stand out against the bright blue sky.  The trail is well marked and there are numerous cairns that will help you along your hike in the winter months when snow covers the well worn trail. 

Looking up, final push to peak & several wind shelters on top
At 1.5 miles you are completely above the trees and you will come across a trail sign where the Beaver Creek trail continues north; turn left or west and continue on the Mt. Audubon trail.  After passing the trail sign, continue over a bluff to a large meadow filled with green grass, flowers, small streams, and rocks.  This is where the wind really picked up!  I even debated, looking way up at the mountain, if I could hike all that way up the mountain, with my shorts on, and the wind could only get worse and the temperature cooler.  It always amazes me, its 90 degrees in Denver and I can actually see the city from this high up, and its freezing and windy up here.  But, I do not give up easily and I continued up the  trail. 
The trail takes the hiker away from the snow field to the north side of the mountain, climb up the rocks and then hit the saddle where the wind was even stronger; here there are ample streams and wildflowers, even more than the meadow below.  We stopped at a bluff here to eat and take a rest out of the wind somewhat.  Belle was constantly after the Pika on the rocks which chirp and tease her; but run away just before she reached their spot.  I ended up putting her on the leash due to the strict dog/nature laws.  The Pika seemed to know this and chirped and teased her even more, it was hilarious to watch and kept my mind off my numb legs and freezing wind. 

Looking west over cliff on the peak
After eating and re-gaining some strength, the dogs and I started back on the trail again.  I had been able to see the hikers that arrived in the jeep when I arrived; they were much higher up on the mountain at least 30 minutes ahead of me.  I was able to see where they were hiking and knew where I needed to go (not that the trail wasn't obvious, it was). Once on the high saddle meadow, the trail takes the hiker to the back or northwest side of the mountain to climb up that way.  This seemed, to me, way out of the way from the summit, which was straight up from where I had eaten lunch.  After studying the rocky mountain during lunch, I noticed a worn path up the east face of the mountain, away from the main trail.  I decided to go up this trail, which would get me onto the warmer rocks and the mountain would block some of the wind for me.  As I got closer, I noticed that this trail was definitely used fairly often and I was able to follow it to near the top, where I lost it, but just scrambled up the rocks to reach the very windy peak.  There were 6 or 8 rock pile wind shelters on the top; and I quickly chose one and sat down with the dogs to enjoy the views.  Looking back west was incredible, the Indian Peaks Mountains looked gray compared to the green grass and blue sky; the craggy mountains are an incredible sight.   It took me just 50 minutes to climb from my grassy meadow where I had lunch below to the top of the peak up the eastern face.  I cut off a lot of time, as the group hiking ahead of me arrived just a few minutes before I did at about 10:30am. 
Views of Boulder Flatirons, city of Boulder, plains beyond
The views from the west side of the mountain provide a sheer drop off to a cold looking, high altitude lake, in the bowl of the large mountains; I got a little vertigo just looking over the edge, it was so very steep.  The dogs started to walk over near the edge which caused me to yell at them in fear; sometimes Rock doesn't see very well, she is 12, and I don't want her to topple off the edge.  The wind on the peak was much stronger and colder than the wind even just a few feet down in elevation, and I was not able to stay on the top very long; plus Rock gets impatient and really wanted to leave.  To the east, I could see all the way to the plains past Boulder, I noticed several of the Boulder Flat Iron peaks which I had climbed this winter and I remember looking west to the Indian Peaks Mountains, and now, here I was, climbing on them myself, on a Tuesday because I was finally able to quit working full time to work from home part time.  This is the life! 
After re-fueling again, we started down the mountain.  I went down the eastern face again, as it was much faster and warmer; however I was missing some of the most incredible views, but I was OK with that because the wind was so brutal and cold.
It didn't take long to get down off the rocks and shortly we were back on the windy meadow trail, we came across several hikers in the meadow going for the summit, and I remember thinking that I was very glad I had already made it up and back. 
WINDY!  can you tell?
I passed several hikers who had questions about the trail, the Pika, and the conditions; I was happy to answer the questions as best as I could.  Once I reached the trees again, I didn't run into any other hikers, and the dogs and I hurried down the mountain and back to the car.  I was shocked when I reached the parking lot, it was completely full and several cars were waiting for cars to move so they could park.  I had a rude lady come up to me shortly after I got the dogs in the car, gave them water and was walking to the bathroom, she asked me when I would hurry up and move so she could park.  I had a few choice words for her, but was so beat from the hike that I said I would leave shortly, and took my time before starting my car and going.  I had just hiked for 5 hours straight and wanted to enjoy the beauty of the area, but decided to just go home so this lady in her car wasn't sitting on my bumper giving me dirty looks. 
Aside from the annoying parking situation, Brainard Lake Rec area was definitely worth the drive, wind and $9 entrance fee! 

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