We’re in Boulder this week visiting family, and whenever I’m in CO I like to spend some time on the trail, especially if I can convince family members to join me. For this trip, Tom, my Dad, and I decided to summit Mt Audobon. Audobon is a relatively mellow summit in Colorado’s Front Range, only about 8 miles and 2700 ft of elev gain if you do it as an out-and-back.
However, I’d read about a loop that involved tagging the top of Mt Audobon, and then dropping down a steep gully and traveling cross-country to Blue Lake. It sounded like a great way to see more of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I read the trip report, mapped the route, and figured that we could always turn around if we reached the top of the gully and it looked awful. We decided to give it a go.
The trail up to the summit of Audobon starts out at a moderate grade and then steepens a bit at the end, but it’s easy to follow and generally in good condition. The biggest difficulty for flatlanders like Tom and me is the altitude: the trailhead is at 10,500 ft and the summit of Audobon is at 13,200 ft.
After reaching the top of Audobon, we started our descent down the southwest ridge. Route-finding was easy (just follow the ridge) but many of the boulders were unstable, making for slow travel as we picked our way unsteadily down the ridge.
We finally reached the gully, which is known as Crooked Couloir, and it was a mess. Even more steep and loose than anticipated. However, no one really wanted to turn around – partly because we’d already spent so much time picking our way down the unstable southwest ridge, partly because the thought of climbing back up to the summit of Audobon sounded tiring, and partly because we all liked the idea of a little adventure. We decided to descend the gully.
It turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for. We quickly realized we’d have to descend one-by-one to avoid raining rock and sand down on each other. Going one at a time was the right choice in terms of rock fall hazard, but so very time-consuming. As we painstakingly made our way down the couloir, clouds started to roll in. (We knew thunderstorms were common in the afternoons in the Rockies, but there was only a 30% chance of t-storms that day, and we honestly didn’t expect to still be above treeline at this time of day.) Ultimately we lucked out and the weather held. In the end, we all agreed that our little adventure was high Type 2 fun at worst, but thunderstorms would’ve quickly bumped it into Type 3.
Anyway, back to Crooked Couloir: It’s obviously passable (hey, we made it). However, I’d recommend leaving yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re with a group or if there might be other people in the couloir below you. And we all wished we had helmets.
After the couloir we still had ~1 mile of cross-country travel ahead of us. One thing I like about doing hard stuff is that it makes other stuff feel downright easy. Finding our way off-trail from Upper Blue Lake (Lake 11833) to Blue Lake seemed like a cake-walk compared to the gully. Sure, we had to do some route-finding as we made our way to Blue Lake, which included picking our way over talus fields and down moderately steep rocky balds. No bootpath or cairns. However, it was better than the couloir! We didn’t have to worry about unleashing large boulders with every step, and if we fell we would’ve simply landed on the ground, rather than tumbling down a steep rocky gully.
This wasn’t a super long day in terms of hours or miles, but it was still a big day for me in terms of mental exhaustion. I felt responsible for my Dad and my husband, since this whole route was my idea. Even though it was a mutual decision to descend the couloir, when it turned out to be even more challenging than anticipated I definitely felt the weight of it on my shoulders. Unsurprisingly, Tom and my Dad are more than capable, and it all turned out just fine – a day of family “fun” in the mountains!
p.s. Tom just read this post and said it is too understated. He says “Don’t go down the f#%$ing gully.”