After spending the previous two days mountain biking (12 and 35 miles) I set out to climb Audubon, Paiute, Toll, Pawnee, and Little Pawnee on Friday the 13th (August, 2004). It turned out to be a wonderful day with a variety of challenges that I will describe in detail in the following paragraphs.
It was my goal to stay close to the ridgelines and to cover as many highpoints along the way as possible. Since the forecast predicted a beautiful day I was not interested in speed, but I wanted to enjoy the hike/climb and take as many pictures of the surrounding mountains as possible (83 total). I chose to start by hiking up Mount Audubon’s East Slopes as described by Roach, starting from the Mitchell Lake trailhead. I started my hike at 7am and headed up the trail, heading towards the first highpoint along the ridge, which I reached at an elevation around 11350ft. This point is located to the north-east, close to the junction of the Audubon and Beaver Creek trails. It only rises a few feet above the surrounding area and is easily reached from the trail. From this point I took my first pictures of Long’s Peak.
From “Point 11350” I returned to the trail and followed it till about 12000ft. Then I left the trail towards the north, to climb “Point 12114”. From “Point 12114” I hiked towards “Mount Notabon” (12706ft), covering at least one more high-point along the way. “Mount Notabon” is mentioned by Roach in his Indian Peaks books, and provides beautiful views of Audubon, the Audubon-Paiute ridge, and the neighboring valley, as well as nice views of Longs Peak and the Southern portion of RMNP.
From “Mount Notabon” I rejoined the East Slopes trail and continued towards Mount Audubon. I reached the summit of Mount Audubon (13233ft) around 9:15am and took my first longer break, enjoying the beautiful mountain landscape with views of Pikes Peak in the distance. I also saw an impressive ridge between two mountains, but have not been able to identify those mountains, yet (I will post the picture shortly to see if anyone can help me out). In addition I had great views of the ridges that were still ahead for me on this trip, as well as of the Navajo, Apache, and Dickers Peck area. However, before continuing, I rested my legs for a few minutes, since they were sore from the mountain bike adventures of the previous days. However, since I had now reached the highest point of my trip, I was not bothered by my legs any further.
I then continued along the Ridge between Audubon and Paiute and reached the summit of Paiute (13088ft) at 10:20. This route is called the East Ridge by Roach and is described as a containing a few sections of Class 3 climbing. However, I did not encounter those sections and the ridge traverse was a perfect class 2 for me with no mentionable difficulties (as described on the summitpost page for this ridge). Once I reached the summit of Paiute, I enjoyed the views of Monarch and Grand Lakes, and the many mountains in the Indian Peaks that are visible from this point. In particular, I closely studied the North Ridge of Mount Toll, which would be my next undertaking. Before leaving Paiute, I spent a few minutes taping up my feet and then off I went, towards the base of Mount Toll. On the way, I climbed several smaller high-points with great views into the valleys on the western side of the ridge.
Once I reached the base of Mount Toll’s North Ridge, I took a break and considered my options. I had originally planned to take the Northwest Route (Class 3), but after taking a closer look at the North Ridge, and always being up for a challenge, I decided to climb the 5.6 North Ridge route. However, I should mention that I follow and top-rope 5.10-5.11 and lead 5.9 sport routes. Thus I felt that I could safely attempt the North Ridge and that I could always turn around.
On the North Ridge I followed the route described on the Mount Toll summitpost webpage, leading to 3 class 5.6 and 1 class 5.5 pitches. However, I should mention that these pitches only had short sections of the highest difficulty and were generally not very exposed. Thus I felt that I could have always stopped myself in case of a fall. There are a few things worth mentioning about this North Ridge. First, it is much easier than expected. Second, only one chimney provided some smaller problems. Due to the size of my pack, I had problems squeezing my way up, but finally managed. Third, there are wonderful views from the ledge below the choke stone. Forth, the ledge is wide as a road. Fifth, there are some old bolts and protection (I think that I saw 2 pieces total) along the route.
Once I reached the summit of Mount Toll (12979ft) at 11:40am, I met the only other hikers along my trip (a group of 3) and had lunch. I expected that I had covered the most difficult section of my trip, but as I will describe in the following paragraphs, this was not the case. The ridge between Pawnee and Little Pawnee turned out as difficult as and more exposed than Mount Toll’s North Ridge.
Leaving the summit of Mount Toll I first climbed its unnamed neighbor to the south-west, before I continued my way towards Mount Pawnee, the easiest section of the trip. Once I reached the top of Pawnee (12943ft) I actually started planning my next adventure (Shoshoni, Apache, Dickers Peck, Navajo, and the Niwot Ridge), took a short break, and started along the East Ridge towards Little Pawnee. This section is described by Roach as an exposed class 3 ridge which forces one to drop below the ridge at multiple points. In my opinion the ridge was class 4 with some sections having a possible class 5 ranking. However, it was my goal to stay as close to the ridge top as possible and I believe that the route described by Roach would drop much further below the ridge. (A different option would be that I simply do not agree with Roach’s ranking – see the Little Matterhorn page for another example of one of Gerry Roach’s Class 3 ridges.)
I will include a route description of this connection ridge asap.
As mentioned before, I started to descend Mount Pawnee along the top of the ridge towards Little Pawnee. The first several hundred yards were easy, until I entered a much more difficult section. The ridge becomes very rugged with some significant and unexpected drop-offs, as can be seen in one of the pictures submitted on the Pawnee and Little Pawnee pages. In order to stay towards the top of the ridge, I had to continue on some very exposed class 4 ledges (often times with less width than my boot). At one point I started to downclimb a class 5 section and almost made it to easier ground, just to be forced to turn around when I reached a 15 foot drop which was at least a class 5.8 climb. Much below my down-climbing abilities. I traced my route back for a probably a couple hundred feet and down-climbed a system of steep class 4 ledges. Next I had to cross several steep gullies until I finally reached the base of Little Pawnee. I had to climb up a steep, but fairly easy chimney and then scramble across some rocks to reach the top of Little Pawnee (12466ft).
I have to admit that I did not choose the easiest route, but my goal was to have fun and practice my climbing. This was the toughest part of my trip, it got my adrenalin flowing, but I enjoyed every bit of it and highly recommend this ridge traverse (but not for the faint of heart).
Following the summit of Little Pawnee, I continued along the East Ridge, passing another high-point around 12000ft and then stopping at the very end of the ridge, beyond “point 11483”, the last high-point on the East Ridge. From this final point of the ridge, I had a great view onto Brainard Lake. However, I could not descend the ridge towards Brainard Lake, since it drops off abruptly. I chose a route leading north from the ridge towards Mitchell Lake, going past the east side of a smaller lake. This route required some route finding and resulted in a class 3 down-climb from the ridge, some boulder hopping over talus sections close to the lake, and some easy bushwhacking (there is actually a faint trail) to get the Mitchell Lake trail. The final part of the trip consisted of 0.5-0.75 miles along Mitchell Lake trail to the Mitchell Lake trailhead.
Altogether this led to a wonderful all day adventure that challenged my climbing skills and allowed me to enjoy this beautiful area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The trip took 9 hours, including lengthy breaks for pictures and relaxation, and resulted in approximately 5200ft of elevation gain and 10 total miles covered. The weather was beautiful all day, starting in the 40/50 during the morning hours and toping out in the high 60s/low 70s.
I recommend this trip to anyone and would do it again. For me the route turned out to be class 5.6, but by choosing the Northwest route on Toll and a lower route along the Pawnee/Little Pawnee ridge, the difficulty can be reduced to a moderate class 3.