|By J Herrington
From Livermore, Co
Jan 30, 2014
Paiute Peak at 13088, is frequently climbed from Mount Audubon to it's east, or from the Blue Lake cirque on it's south east face. It is part of the Front Range in Colorado and in a very popular area of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The continental divide runs north and south from the summit with the south ridge traversing to Mt. Toll and the north ridge up to "The Cleaver" and Buchanan Pass. Because Mt Audubon is so large to the east, the Cony Creek Canyon and Cony Lakes cirque are hidden from most view points to the east and north. There are a few points north east where one can glimpse the north face of Paiute Peak. Even at the bottom of Cony Creek the face is obscured by trees and terrain. When it can be viewed in the winter, spring, and even into mid- summer, the face stands out with two parallel snow gullies, as long as you know where you are looking. These couliors attracted my attention and I wanted to look at them more closely. I and other rescuers had been under the north face about 19 years earlier to recover the body of a pilot who crashed there in the winter. We were helicoptered in and focused on the recovery and really did not give much thought to the surroundings.
I had summitted Paiute a few times, always from Mt Audubon; but never could see into the north face. Even hiking and skiing the Middle St. Vrain creek area for years, I had not seen the face. When I began to notice it, it was from the Fort Collins area and I began to wonder about climbing it. There was no information on anyone having done the north face. (Since not all ascents are recorded I hesitate to call this a first but I cannot find a reference to this being climbed or even mentioned, prior to our ascent.)
Bob Bliss, who is one of the most humble but most experienced climbers I know; agreed to go try this with me. Our approach was to jeep in on the road to Cony Flats, then take the "trail" to Cony Lakes. Neither of us had ever been on this trail, which is pretty rare since both of us lived and played in these mountains and there weren't many places we had not been. The trail is not often traveled. A few backpackers and fishermen must use it a few times a year. The trees are thick and the views are skimpy until you reach Lower Cony Lake. Now at timberline, the view is great. The north face of Paiute is prominent from about a mile away. To the west is the "Cleaver" and to the east are the more gentle slopes of Audubon. Past this lake we found a large patch of Glacier Lillies. I don't think I've ever seen them on the front range and Bob thought they were endangered. When we reached the upper Cony Lake the endangered trail becomes extinct. The bottom of the canyon is now filled with willows and scrub juniper and boulders and shallow creeks. Navigating this was really slow and unpleasant. We decided to climb out of the bottom of the canyon and hike across the slopes of Audubon to reach the base of Paiute. Sidehilling on scree was was easier than the brush.
Since we had been looking over the possible routes we opted for the least serious of the two couliors, the left one. This had a lot to do with me being kind of nervous and pretty tired from the approach. It also had continuous snow whereas the right coulior was not visible throughout it's length. We angled our approach from the side of Audubon crossing scree and ledges and a few short walls. We ended up entering the coulior at its base and roped up. I believe it's roughly 60 degrees angle. Bob is a much better climber than I am and a lot more experienced. I don't think he would have roped up. The snow was very soft and he started out leading and easily kicking steps in his tennis shoes. (He calls himself the "K-Mart Mountaineer".) We swung leads up the route placing rock anchors occasionally. The upper part of the route is in a slight slot, not nearly as deep as the the right coulior. The coulior tops out on the summit ridge maybe 300' from the summit. We arrived at 1 PM with clear skies and no need to hurry off. The summit register was gone. The views were fabulous.
When we considered our options of returning to our car. Neither of us wanted to return to the Cony Lakes drainage. The next best option was to go over Audubon and down the east ridge and then down the north side of the east ridge. Going over Audubon was easy. Getting down the north slope was more rugged and brushy and took a long time. We got down at dark and jeeped out.
If you are considering doing a route on the north face of Paiute, I suggest you do what we did the next time we climbed it. We did Audubon from the Mitchel Lake parking lot, hiked down the saddle, then down the slopes between the north face of Paiute and the west slopes of Audubon. Crossing higher on Paiute will put you into some rugged and sometimes technical terrain. Crossing lower will put you closer to the base of the couliors. This approach cut our time down by at least an hour. We then descended down the Blue Lake drainage from the SE side of Paiute. The couliors may completely melt out later in summer but in August 1993 the right coulior (now named "Ghost Dancer") still had continuous some and some icy patches which required crampons,not just tennis shoes.