Traversing from Mount Audubon to the Arapahos first came into my mind when I heard about the LA Freeway a few years ago. Starting from the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and finishing at the Fourth of July Trailhead outside of Eldora, Colorado is a logical minimization of the full Freeway that allows one to explore the best that the Indian Peaks have to offer (minus the Lone Eagle Cirque). This section is also home to some of the more continuous and technical sections of the Freeway, with lots of 3rd and 4th class scrambling and even a few spots of 5th class depending on how true you stay to the ridgeline. It is the perfect type of outing that gets me excited about being in the mountains.
I set off from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead at 6:43am with a sense of pep and excitement in my legs. I found a nice rhythm in the gradually ascending non-technical trail, my legs and body felt great. I felt so good that I ended up missing the direct turnoff up the East Slopes of Mount Audubon. No worries, I was back on track after a somewhat brief thrash through chest high willows. It was early in the morning and I was too stubborn to take the extra effort to ascend around the vegetation. An hour after I had started, I was standing on top of my gateway to the Divide; Mount Audubon. Without much hesitation besides glancing South to see my journey ahead, I was off to Pauite Peak. Pauite actually lies on the Divide and is quite the spectacular mountain when viewed from the N/NE aspect. I quickly tagged Pauite and was on my way to Mt. Toll, the scrambling highlight of the traverse. Mt. Toll's North Ridge offers some steep 5.4ish scrambling on solid alpine rock. I hadn't done the North Ridge of Toll in over 2 years but an adequately warmed up mind and legs brought me to the summit in 1hr and 44mins from starting. Like Audubon and Pauite, I touched the summit and continued on. Pawnee Peak and Shoshoni Peak where next up, the easiest peaks out of the traverse to tag. The LA Freeway has a large section of Tundra (Ouzel to Algonquin), and this was just a mini taste of that. 39mins after topping out on Mount. Toll, I was standing on top Shoshoni's small summit and looking SW towards the Kasparov Traverse and the eastern ledges I would take over to Apache Peak.
The terrain between Shoshoni and Apache is fairly complex, route-finding starts to come into play and one can find themselves wasting a bunch of time here trying to figure out where to go. I had done this section of the Divide last year and was confident in my route. Although if it seems like one is stuck, defaulting to the east side almost always does the trick. After passing by the Kasparov Chessman, I went up the eastern side of Apache Peak and was soon on top. I love Apache because it's views from the summit are unbeatable and expansive; Navajo is right next door, Longs way back to the North, and the peaks leading down towards Lone Eagle back to the West. The theme of not stopping continued and I was off Apache 3hrs and 9mins since starting and heading SE towards Navajo Peak. After a fun little west face hand/finger crack, I was on top of Navajo 20mins later and running down the rugged South slopes towards unfamiliar terrain. I'd never been on the divide between Navajo and Deshawa, so I was looking forward to testing my route finding skills and hopefully maintaining my efficiency.
The ridgeline between Navajo and Arikaree is fierce and devious. I stayed as true to the ridgeline as I could, which was extremely difficult given the steep nature of the terrain. I bypassed several gendarmes on the east before reaching a huge notch with a tiny pedestal in the middle with insane exposure off to the west; quite the location! I was starting to get super thirsty and hungry. I'd yet to eat anything or find water to drink. I had brought an empty flask hoping to fill it up along somewhere between Shoshoni and Navajo but due to the overcast conditions, snow was not melting. I stayed focused and traversed the final false-summit on the east before reaching the proper summit of Arikaree in 4hrs in 28mins. It had taken me almost an hour to navigate from Navajo and I felt like I was starting to slow down. Again, without hesitation, I ran down from Arikaree still feeling good but in search for water. Luckily, there was a snowfield down some ways that looked promising. The sun had just popped out after a full morning of overcast conditions and I was hoping that things were beginning to melt. I grabbed a rock and smashed it into the snow/ice to create a little bowl. Water began to drip into the bowl and I was able to drink. Glorious! I hit a gel, filled my flask with slush, and took off.
The last obstacle in my way before returning to familiar territory with a small handcrack tower before Deshawa. I dispatched this with ease, feeling energized after fueling up. I then worked my way along a couple other towers, one including a gully full of airplane debris before coming to a notch and having to retreat back down to the East. After working some ledges, I was on Deshawa and heading up the final grunt to North Arapaho. N. Arapaho is the tallest peak in the Indian Peaks at 13,502 and it felt like it, I was tired and the day was beginning to get to me. I reached the top in 5hrs and 55mins and looked back North (picture below). What a place to be! I quickly scrambled through the Arapaho Traverse in 18mins, tagged South Arapaho and blasted down towards the 4th of July Trailhead. I knew I could go under 7hrs, but I found some leg speed and was able to huff it down with one little annoying section of bushwhacking and marsh stomping. 6hrs and 42mins and 51 seconds later I had completed the traverse.
I had stashed my bike in the woods the night before so I could ride back to my car at Brainard Lake. After stumbling around, I found my bike and thanked myself for packing snacks and water in my frame bag the night before. Soon I was heading down the bumpy and jaw rattling 4th of July road on 30mm road tires questioning my decision. Was a bike shuttle really a good idea? I knew if I could get to the pavement and then down to Salto in Nederland, I could have an actual meal and rest up before getting back on the bike. After a delicious burrito, hydration, and conversation with Tony Krupicka, I was back on the bike. The grind from Ned to Ward was pretty hateful. I could barely crank and the road seemed extra busy. It's practically all uphill to Ward and I was really feeling the days effort in my legs. I ended up hitting an espresso gel right before turning left at Brainard and miraculously found some energy for the 1,000ft climb up to the lake itself. I wasn't going fast by any means, but I felt good. I was a bit relived to reach the lake and took a second to enjoy the scenery. It was calm and peaceful, simply perfect. I gazed across the lake at the bulk of my traverse and felt extremely satisfied and grateful. Moving simply and freely in the mountains.