As previously mentioned, a lot of attention in Colorado’s mountaineering community is focused on the state’s 54 14,000-foot peaks with many residents pursuing all 54 summits. But this week, Bryon and did a hike of one of our local mountains near Nederland — Mt. Audubon, all 13,229 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and it possesses a special beauty that rivals almost any of the Fourteeners.
In fact, if you want to really appreciate the high alpine environment of the western 2/3 of Colorado, savor this — Colorado has 637, (yes over 600) 13,000 foot peaks in addition to those 54 14,000 foot peaks. Most of the high peaks east of the Mississippi top out around 6500 feet and yet the Rocky Mountains of Colorado have over 600 peaks twice as high as that — amazing!
Mt. Audubon is a beautiful hike, but it is really just that — a hike, no special climbing skills required and unlike our foray into Chicago Basin last month, does not make you lose your lunch by having to tiptoe across any “catwalks.” You don’t have to worry about your fear of exposure or heights to hike to the top of Mt. Audubon. It’s a great hike for anyone who just wants to sample the beauty of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and have terrific views of the high peaks along the Continental Divide. At 8 miles round trip and about 2400 feet of climbing, Mt. Audubon also makes a great warm up hike for those possibly planning a hike up their first Fourteener. It will test your stamina and your ability to deal with high altitudes, but won’t be too much for most people with a moderate grade and a trail that is easy to follow.
For us, it’s a particularly enticing option for a nice summit hike requiring only a 20-minute drive from our house to the trail head, located at Brainard Lake Recreation Area. And what a perfect day we had for our hike. When you have unseasonably warm weather lasting long into the fall season, October can be a terrific month to get outside and go for a summit hike. Unlike summer, where the thunderstorms can roll in every afternoon like clockwork, the weather is often incredibly sunny and stable. Though we endured a bit of wind above timberline, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky the entire day. And that wind brought with it clear skies in all directions, so clear that you could see all the way to Pikes Peak, almost 100 miles away. You’d be hard pressed to be able to find that clarity in most parts of the country on any given day.
The other enticing part of hiking in October when the weather Gods cooperate is the lack of crowds. Try to go to Brainard Lake on any day in July or August, and you’ll often be turned away at the gate because of lack of parking. We went on a holiday weekend, and didn’t arrive until noon, but still found plenty of empty parking spaces at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead.
So let’s hear it for the Thirteeners! Despite all the attention paid to our state’s 14,000 foot mountains, a hike up one of the lower peaks is a worthy destination. When you experience the fresh air, the views, the lack of crowds of these peaks, that 1000 feet or so really won’t matter.