|Climb that right shoulder to 13,223 feet|
I started early cuz that's when I woke up. I had been trying to decide on a trail and had seven marked. It was not without difficulty that I settled on going to the Brainard Lake Rec Area outside of Nederland. Since I was going solo, I had resigned myself to doing just a couple of the lakes; stay low, play it safe. However, there was more than a touch of drool on the page describing the route to 13er, Mt. Audubon.
But, only a crazy person solos big mountains in the winter. I took no axe and just enough water/food for a moderate trip. Content. Safe. Low. Safe. Content. Blah.
I made it to the TH at 9AM and realized that I had given no one the specifics of my itinerary and that I had no cell signal. Whoops. Parked next to me were three late 20s guys from Boulder. They got out and had ice axes. Cue drool! I quickly ascertained that they were doing Mt. Audubon. With a backward glance at those axes, I trudged down my flat, well-trammeled trail to the lakes.
Turns out... the Mt. Audubon route starts that same way. The boys caught me at about 2 miles in, and reading my expression accurately, told me I could hang with them and they'd spot me on the mountain. One even offered me his axe. It was a Black Diamond. Should I have said, "Yes"??
Turns out... I don't have a lot in common with 20-something guys from Boulder. I can only laugh so many times at Audubon pronounced "Autobahn" in an exaggerated Arnold accent. When the boys stopped to stash their beer, I forged ahead, thinking they would catch me. They never did. But the idea was planted and the mountain was there. Itching for my snowshoes to scratch its icy spine.
Well, that mountain just kept going up and up. There was a snowshoe trench all the way to treeline so route-finding was a gimme. Once at treeline, the wind picked up and kept increasing. It scoured the rocks and snow, covering tracks of people who'd gone before. No longer a gimme. I assessed the weather; it was gorgeous with just one itsy-bitsy cloud in the sky. My water and food were holding out. I had only daylight and my energy level as limits.
About halfway between treeline and the summit, I spotted a hiker ahead with his pants down. I decided it was a good time for a snack and to check for cell reception. (Nil.) After an appropriate interval, I approached this 70-ish year old man with tobacco stains in his beard and mustache. I asked him if everything was all right and he responded, "Oh, I just had to take a dump. I sent my partner on ahead. You can follow his tracks."
I continued climbing, finally able to lose the snowshoes and be lighter on my feet. I avoided snowfields and wound a circuitous route up the mountain. The wind was steadily increasing as I climbed and I started getting a little rattled. I stopped at a relatively still spot and did a risk-analysis. I still had no cell signal. It was 1:00 in the afternoon so I'd been on the route for 4 hours. The summit was still a good hour away. I would descend faster than I'd climbed but who knew when the sun would set with the peaks all around this area? Did I want to be searching my way back to that trough, potentially in the dark, alone, at 12000 feet? No.
I decided to turn back. Upon deciding, I felt relieved. I passed Tobaccy-Man, asked him again about his plan, and continued on my way. I made it back to the TH at 4:20. Turns out that hour to the summit would have been iffy.
Autobahn, I'll be back.