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Mount Audubon, Colorado 13er


Author: Gary Swing

Participants: Gary Swing and Mark Laity-Snyder

Guidebooks: 100 Hikes in Colorado by Scott Warren, and Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness Area: Classic Hikes and Climbs by Gerry Roach


  • Elevation 13,223 feet

  • Standard Rank: 457

  • Round Trip Distance: 8 miles

  • Difficulty: Class 1, Easy Hiking

  • Starting Elevation: 10,500 feet

  • Elevation Gain: 2,723 feet

  • USGS Map: Ward 7.5 minute

  • Round Trip Hiking Time: 4 hours, 25 minutes

Mount Audubon is a popular hiking destination due to its easy access from a paved road and its relative proximity to the Denver-Boulder metropolitan region. While Audubon is undistinguished by its altitude, it offers an easy trail to a high summit with extensive views in every direction.

My friend Mark and I did this trip as a full moon hike. I had hiked either up or down mountains at night before, but this would be my first time hiking a high peak entirely at night. Indian summer had brought an extended period of warm, clear, and sunny days to Colorado, melting off much of the early season snow in the high country.

Mark and I had originally planned to do a night climb of Pettingell Peak from Interstate 70, but logistical problems caused us to make a last minute change of plans. I drove up from Denver to Boulder to meet Mark at a restaurant called Zucchini's. From Boulder, we drove 16 miles west up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, then north about 14 miles to the town of Ward on Highway 72 (the Peak to Peak Highway). We turned left from 72 onto a paved road marked with a sign to Brainerd Lake. We took two right forks from the west end of Brainerd Lake to reach the Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake trailhead parking area. These roads are paved all the way to the trailhead. There is supposed to be an entrance fee for visitors to the Brainerd Lake area, but we didn't pay it. I'm not sure if the fee is seasonal, or in effect only during the daytime. Perhaps we were supposed to pay on a self-service basis, but if so, this was not evident.

We started our hike at 7:05 pm, nearly an hour after sunset. We had one pack which I brought, stuffed with layered clothing, water, snack foods, a map which we didn't need, crampons which we didn't need, and a headlamp and batteries which we also didn't need.

The trail to Mount Audubon started from a signpost at the north end of the parking lot. The route followed the Beaver Creek Trail for 1.5 miles to a signed junction for the Mount Audubon Trail at 11,300 feet, shortly after climbing out of the trees. The Mount Audubon Trail turns left at this junction.

The moon shone brightly, without a cloud in the sky. The trail was good, with intermittent patches of thin, hard-packed snow. On the way up, we were walking in our own shadows, which made the footing a bit trickier to see, but we didn't need to use the headlamp.

Mount Audubon is the large summit on the right
Credit: Denver Public Library

Above treeline, we headed west-northwest up the broad, sweeping east slopes of Mount Audubon. In the distance to the east of us, we could see the eastern plains dotted with the lights of more than two million Boulder-Denver metropolitan residents. There was a cold, stiff wind above the timber that forced us to bundle up. We took a rest break around 12,400 feet. While we were sitting, a small dog passed us, leading its three companion humans back down the mountain.

We reached a small saddle northeast of Mount Audubon around 12,580 feet. From here, the route was more difficult to see at night, and we strayed from the trail. The wind became stronger as we approached the summit. It was especially harsh when we reached the ridge top. There were several breastworks around the summit area, providing shelter from the wind. We reached the summit at 9:30 and took a snack break for about ten to fifteen minutes until we felt too cold to remain sitting. We did not see a summit register.

The return route was easy, but the wind was picking up. It was all downhill, so no particular exertion was needed, and we were no longer walking in our own shadows. Some of the hard-packed snow patches proved slippery on the way down, and the rocks tried to trip us from time to time. Soon after we re-entered the trees, we saw another dog coming up the trail, taking its man for a nice evening walk. We reached the parking area at 11:30, just under 4 hours after we started.

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