Mount Audubon: The Four Season Challenge

James Dziezynski
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Mount Audubon’s neatly rounded dome is one of the most recognized summits along the Rocky Mountain skyline when viewed from Boulder. Standing at 13,223 ft., Mount Audubon is a popular hike thanks to its proximity to town (about an hour’s drive to the trailhead) and the well-established trail to its summit, which features boulder-strewn scramble to the finish. While it sees plenty of crowds in the summer and autumn, Audubon is also a fine peak to attempt year-round -- it you’re ready for it. Thus, we present the Mount Audubon four-season challenge.

A spot of tea during a January winter ascent.
A spot of tea during a January winter ascent. James Dziezynski

The goal is to stand on the summit of Mount Audubon is each of the seasons (and yes, you can count early or late winter ascents -- anytime between December 20th and March 20th or so). It’s a challenging endeavor but one that benefits from good access and relatively safe mountain conditions.

When the access roads are open and it is possible to drive to the standard trailhead at Mitchell Lake, the class 2 hike is an 8-mile round trip affair -- perfect for late spring through mid-autumn. When the access gate closes in mid October, another 4.5-miles round trip must be added just to reach the starting point (even in winter, it’s often possible to mountain bike this road).

A wicked windy April spring ascent.
A wicked windy April spring ascent. James Dziezynski

Winter ascents, while difficult, are somewhat safer than other peaks of a similar elevation. Because the peak is heavily windblown, the potential for avalanche activity is usually minimal, barring a large storm (though always use avalanche gear and safety procedures). The downside is that Mount Audubon can be a difficult backcountry ski. It’s a long, rugged day but the summit in the winter is a magical place and chances are, you’ll have it all to yourself.

Spring opens the possibility of new routes such as the Crooked Couloir (a good ski descent) and ski combo climbs with nearby Mount Toll. You’ll still have the long mileage but with more sunlight, warmer temps and fewer storms, spring may be the best time to summit.

A relatively clam August summer ascent.
A relatively clam August summer ascent. James Dziezynski

If you’d like to mix up your summer routes, the class 3 southeast ridge is an exciting variation that finishes on the large east facing headwall below Audubon’s summit. And for those looking to go huge, a traverse that crosses Paiute Peak, Mount Toll and Pawnee Peak is possible (class 3 with a descent down Pawnee Pass).

A midnight October full-moon autumn summit.
A midnight October full-moon autumn summit. James Dziezynski

While not as epic as other Colorado mountain quests, the chance to see a legitimate peak in all four seasons is a unique and rewarding challenge. To officially complete the challenge, the peak must be climbed within the designated seasons and as a reward, you’ll have the respect of Colorado climbers and a deep sense of satisfaction. Or at the least, you’ll have had some great adventures on a peak whose distant presence is a reminder of the mountainous world just beyond the Boulder city limits.

From Boulder, the easiest way to reach the Mitchell Lake Trailhead is to take US 36 west to Left Hand Canyon. Follow Left Hand Canyon 16 miles to the town of Ward; at the end of the road take a right then a quick left towards the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Follow this road 2.5 miles to a pay station (which is also the winter trailhead). Follow the signs another 2 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, where the Mount Audubon Trail begins.

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