I woke up in the back of my truck at Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Indian Peaks not wanting to run, climb, nor scramble. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. It was the feeling I had a week earlier when I had the same objective, scrambling from Mount Audubon to Paiute Peak to Mount Toll, which requires a 5.6 scramble up Mount Toll’s impressive north ridge. I ended up bailing because I was sore and it was cold. This time the weather was excellent and I was rested. I took my time getting ready. I made coffee. I had a yogurt and a banana for breakfast. While I gathered the essentials for the day I watched half an episode of Last Chance U (thanks Brian and Lily for the recommendation) on my iPad. The parking lot began to fill up with eager hikers. I stretched.
It was 8:30am when I departed the trailhead for Mount Audubon. As usual, the first few miles felt painful. My knees ached. It was hard to catch my breath in the thin air. And I was nervous about scrambling Mount Toll. I turned up the volume on my headphones and focused on something beautiful to help ignore the pain. It worked. Before I knew it I was on top of Mount Audubon. It was near 10am. I made good time and enjoyed myself.
The ridge between Mount Audubon and Paiute Peak consisted mostly of casual Class 3 scrambling and short stretches of single track ridge running. The views were awe-inspiring. Fluffy clouds hung in the sky and the wind stayed relatively calm. I took a few photo and safety breaks during this stretch, which gave me time to orient myself and pick a line to Mount Toll, which was in view at this point. I knew I’d soon have to make a decision, whether to climb Mount Toll or not.
When I reached the base of Mount Toll I was tired, but not exhausted. The thought of scrambling the North Ridge still made me nervous, but if I didn’t do it now I’d have to do it all again and the conditions weren’t going to get much better than this and the alpine season was drawing to a close. I had to take the leap. I switched into my rock climbing shoes, clipped on my chalk bag, and started up Mount Toll’s North Ridge (5.6). I climbed up 200 feet to a small ledge that leads to the ridge. The traverse looked intimidating, and I didn’t feel up to the challenge. I looked around for other options and saw an easier line up the NE face of Mount Toll. It didn’t take much time to decide this was a safer option. I started up following a line of clean rock in a sea of choss. The scrambling to the big ledge on the was mostly Class 4 with a few technical moves sprinkled throughout – nothing over 5.2. I topped out on the ledge just a few yards from the top of the North Ridge route. Everything worked out perfectly. I traversed the ledge to the west to the final section of climbing, a short chimney pitch that goes at 5.5 or 5.6. I took my time scrambling this section, enjoying the exposure and each individual move, knowing that I was a mere 50 feet from the summit.The scary part was over. A huge wave of relief came over me. All that was left was a casual scramble and run back to the truck. With a calmness I hadn’t felt all day I took time to reflect on the accomplishment. For two years I strived to complete this loop, but never felt strong enough, mentally or physically. I finally had the confidence needed to take on an objective of this scope. The hard work was worth it. I took some photos from the summit and performed the normal safety checks, then headed down the south slope passed Blue Lake and Mitchell Lake to the trailhead.
It was 1pm when I got back to the truck. It took 4.5 hours to complete the 9.7 mile loop. I was proud of the accomplishment, but I knew I could do better next time. I drank the final sips of a chocolate milk I had in my cooler, ate some carrots and hummus, and washed off with a hand cloth. After an hour of relaxing I packed up the truck and headed back down to Boulder to celebrate with a personal pizza and a tall glass of beer.