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Mount Audubon SE Ridge Ascent
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13223 feet / 4030 meters Elevation

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Two weeks prior to this attempt, I had taken a picture of Mount Audubon, in the Indians Peaks Wilderness Area, and noticed how cool the Southeast Ridge looked and immediately wanted to climb it. So, it was Monday (Labor Day) September 4th, 2017, when I started up the Mitchell Lake Trail at 6:20 AM with the goal of summiting Mount Audubon via the SE Ridge Route. A mile up the trail though, I realized that I had absentmindedly taken the Beaver Creek Trail and needed to turn back. Clearing the counters on my GPS again, I started up the Mitchell Lake Trail, for real this time, at 7:13 AM. I was at Mitchell Lake thirty minutes later (7:42 AM) where I took this shot showing the scree slope up to the SE ridge, which rises to the west (left).

Suzy and I had taken a hike the day before, 7.6 miles, which had worn me down just enough to make the hump up to the ridge harder that I thought it should have been. Plus, the rocks were somewhat unstable and I found myself moving slow and cautiously with every step to avoid twisting or breaking an ankle. When I finally made it to the ridge, at 8:40 AM, I took this photo looking back down at Mitchell Lake below before turning my focus to the ridge.

Turning my attention to the ridge now, my first thought was, " #&%!, more loose rock hopping! " I slowly started up the ridge, comforted only by the knowledge that at least there wasn't a big threat of afternoon storms to worry about. I was also surprised to see a little snow still on the lower ridge this late in the season.

Coming up over the first hump in the ridge, at 9:00 AM, I got a good view of the rest of this half mile ridge and the east facing cirque it forms. At my current pace and energy level, this was going to be a long day, and I was fighting off the urge to turn back before I was too committed. As I worked my way up, the ridge narrowed to the point that exposure became a real psychological issue. This along with the unstable rock was making the climb more serious than I had planned on. At some point along the ridge, the thought of turning back became about as nerve wracking as the thought of continuing up. I started to wish I had stayed home.

By the time I made it to the notch at the end of the ridge, my nerves were a little on edge, and as I took this shot looking down into the notch, at 10:37 AM, I wasn’t feeling any better. I looked to my right and thought I saw a reasonable 4th class way down, but as I started over to it, the exposure got to me again, and I wimped out. I had read of an alternative way into the notch which backtracked a hundred feet or so down the ridge to a point where the south side could be carefully traversed into the notch, bypassing the worst of the 4th class descent. I took the alternative.

After traversing into the notch, I scrambled down and just before reaching the bottom, I stopped for a shot of the 3rd class west wall I would need to climb to reach the easier slopes above. This wall, while still requiring care on loose rock, was actually fun and the most enjoyable part of the ascent.

On the west wall now, I stopped for a photo looking back at the east side of the notch. I was glad to have the ridge behind me. Loose rock and exposure together can really psych my out at times.

At the top of the west wall, 11:18 AM, I turned back for a shot of the top of the notch with the ridge behind it. What a crappy broken up ridge. When I looked at this from the Brainard Lake camp area two weeks ago, I wondered why the ridge wasn’t considered a classic, because it looked pretty awesome from there. Now I know why. I thought about the east facing cirque to my left, and while it’s relatively small, it looked interesting enough that I just might scramble up into it someday and hike around just because I know that so few have.

Ok, time to shake off the ridge and focus on the summit. I had just over a half mile to go, but with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain remaining. Except for some scattered patches of tundra, it looked like mostly loose rock hopping again. I considered skirting the slope to the right and try to intersect the trail without going over the summit, but quite often shortcuts don’t go so well, so I put the thought aside and started up.

I summited at 12:30 PM. It had taken me about 5 and a quarter hours to ascent Mount Audubon by the SE Ridge, and it was only supposed to be 2.7 miles, trailhead to summit. I think the GPS showed a new low for my average moving speed. I took a photo looking across the ridge to Paiute Peak, to the west, which I had climbed two weeks earlier, by its SE Slopes, and then traversed its classic East Ridge to tag Mount Audubon. So, that makes this my third summit of Mount Audubon, via three different routes. I think I’ve had my fill of this peak, so I don’t expect to be up here again any time soon. I eat some lunch and started down the East Slopes route, getting back to the trailhead at about 3:20 PM.

The GPS stats were: total time out was 8:05, total accumulative elevation gain was 2,328 feet, and round trip distance was 6.85 miles.

NOTE: The thick haze in the background of this shot is smoke from the many forest fires burning throughout the western U.S. and Canada. The nearest, I believe, is northwest of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But, could I blame the poor air quality for my unimpressive performance? Hell ya, it was the smoke!

Indian Peaks Wilderness Area Topo Map

Indian Peaks Wilderness @ SummintPost.org

Area Guide Books

Gerry Roach
Colorado's Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs

Bob D'Antonio
Hiking Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness

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