Situated in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness 13,221 foot Mt. Audubon is visible from many parts of Boulder. One of these areas happens to be a large stretch of what was my morning bike commute for the past two years. During the winter I have seen it’s summit scoured by high winds sending ribbons of snow off into the sky. In the summer I have struggled to pick it out behind the ripples of heat flowing above Boulder. In the past two years I have stood on it’s summit three times and hiked and skied many miles on it’s flanks. At some point during one of my commutes while looking up at the peak I hatched a plan to ride my Bike from my house in Boulder to the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary, hike to the top of the peak and then ride back home. Bike assisted peak bagging.
With only a few days left before departing Boulder for California and a high pressure system firmly planted over the Front Range I decided it would be a good time to see if I could pull this off. As frequently happens, my “alpine start” turned into a mid-morning start. Normally I would have been worried about getting shutdown on the peak by afternoon thunderstorms but forecasts called for almost no chance of storms this day. So off I went.
I decided to ride up to the Peak to Peak Highway through the old mining town of Gold Hill. This route, while steeper than the main alternate Left Hand Canyon, is nearly all on dirt which, in my mind, beats riding my knobby tire shod singlespeed up a long gradual road climb. At Gold Hill I stopped to take in some food and snap a few pictures. I have ridden this route countless times and know the topography between Gold Hill and the Peak to Peak Highway well. I settled into the climbing at hand while reminding myself that I was planning to climb a peak at the top of this road not just descend back to town like usual. Energy conservation would be my mantra for the day. After over three hours of climbing from my front door I reached the Peak to Peak highway. From here it was a road burn slightly uphill to the town of Ward where I turned left on the access road to Brainard Lake Recreation Area, the gateway to the Mt. Audubon portion of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
“Are you watching the Tour? What do you think of Lance’s comeback? Wow, you cyclists sure are tough.” This burst of rapid fire questions and exclamations came from a kind southern accented gate attendant at the entrance to the Brainard parking area. As my oxygen starved brain struggled to catch up with her I couldn’t help but marvel at what Lance Armstrong has done for our sport as far as bringing it closer to the mainstream, but that is a different story. After bidding farewell to the gate attendant I headed up to Brainard Lake to re-fill my bottles and fill my 100 oz. bladder for the hike portion of this little endeavor.
Upon reaching the Mt. Audubon trail head the elapsed time on my watch read four hours exactly. The mosquitoes were swarming after a late, wet winter so I wasted no time in the transition. I stowed my bike, shoes and helmet under a fallen pine bow just above the parking lot. I traded bike shoes for trail runners and helmet for hat. I also took a moment to inhale a peanut butter and jelly burrito and an large amount of Redvines. My favorite endurance food.
The trail up to the summit of Audubon is four miles long and reaches tree line just about a mile and a half in. I figured I could reach the summit and be back down in less than four hours. It being a Thursday the traffic on this normally packed trail was light. Just the way I like it. I cruised along through though the cool pine forest keeping an eye out for the black bear mother and cub the gate attendant told me had been spotted here recently. Soon I found myself at tree line looking back down into the brown smog cloud filling the Boulder Valley on this hot windless day. With not a cloud in the sky I continued up into the alpine past the first of the Pika colonies along the way. I have heard that due to rising winter temperatures Pikas are being forced to move their colonies up in elevation. Sure enough this first colony that I have seen bustling with these rabbit like creatures on several occasions was silent. Farther up the trail I heard the familiar Pika squeaks coming from the scree fields a good one hundred feet higher in elevation. Continuing up the rocky trail toward the summit I couldn’t help but think about cars, gas, global warming, and the idea of fossil fuel free recreation.
As I reached the final push up the steep boulder field to the summit I cranked my Ipod to fend off my increasing faigue. Looking back down at Boulder far bellow I began to feel pretty satisfied at the distance I had covered under my own power. From the summit ridge I was treated to an amazing view of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park to the north and the pyramidal ridges of Paiute Peak to the west. At just about the six hour mark, according to my watch, I reached the summit. After searching in vain for the summit register I took a seat in one of the half circle rock shelters. The warm mid-day sun and amazing views out over Colorado’s eastern plains began to lull me to sleep. I shook myself awake with the realization that there was no car waiting for me back at the trail head and that while it was 8,000 + feet down hill from here to my house the journey was really only half done.
Back on my feet I downed a Gu and some Redvines, admired the view one last time and began to pick my way carefully down the boulder field. After reaching the relatively smooth trail I was able to get into a good downhill rhythm and reach my bike in just under 3 and a half hours elapsed time from when I first stowed it. Climbing back onto the bike I struggled to change gears from hiking to steering a bike down a steep traffic filled mountain highway. With the singlespeed geared at 32×20 this would be a long, slow coasting decent. Upon reaching the top of Lefthand Canyon I assumed the aero singlepeed downhill tuck and before I knew it I was back down in the 90 degree heat of the valley cruising down Colorado 36 on the final leg towards home. As I reached my morning commute route I looked up at the peak nearly hidden in smog and heat. Knowing I had finally reached the summit under my own power gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and I assured myself this would not be my last bike assisted peak ascent.
I rolled into my backyard at just over nine hours elapsed time. A log day at the office for sure! I opened the door to a worried girlfriend, a delicious dinner on the table and a copious amount of cold hoppy bevrages in the fridge. Life is good!