Any doubts about Hooper's hiking abilities, including high altitude, cold/snow, distance, have been put to rest. Hooper is a wonder dog.

With the holiday weekend winding down, and with the entire Front Range experiencing a very late start to the snow season, I decided to go up to Brainard Lake and scope out the trail to Mount Audubon, a hike that Brenda & I successfully did last summer. Mount Audubon stands over 13,000' tall, so generally by this time of the year it's totally covered with snow and is a challenge to summit. But with the dearth of snow we've had so far this year, I thought it might be a doable climb, and a great intro for Hooper to a longer and higher hike. Brenda's been a bit under the weather, so she stayed home but Hooper & I headed out around 8:30 this morning to see what kind of trouble we could get into.

The access road to Brainard Lake is closed this time of year, which adds another two miles of walking just to get to the trailhead; I totally underestimated the impact of this, especially in winter with all the snow. Forty minutes after we left the car, we finally arrived at the Marshall Lake trailhead (I was totally going from memory of our hike last year, and I have to say I was pretty happy that I was able to find my way back!). At this point, I had already pulled a couple of chunks of ice from Hooper's paws and his whiskers had icicles hanging from them, but he seemed interested in nothing but proceeding in a forward direction. I decided to hit the trail for a little while.

As we walked along the trail, I recalled the great hike Brenda, Bryce and I did up this trail last summer, and on we pushed, through the snow. I decided we should at least try to make it to treeline...

When you hike these high peaks, you eventually reach a point somewhere around 11,000' there the oxygen is so thin, most vegetation gives up and heads for lower ground: treeline. You emerge from the cover of the thicket of trees and enter a rocky moonscape, windy and barren; ironically, I find myself the most alive when I'm up there.

And so when we emerged from the trees, and the winds began to blast us--no longer shielded by the trees--I concluded that we simply must continue on. I was not expecting to make the summit, but I wanted to press on for a little bit at least, in hopes of making the ridge before the final push to the summit where there are some spectacular views in their own right.

The winds picked up as we pressed on, and there was little shelter available for relief from the wind. Checking my watch I realized we had been walking for almost two hours, and simple math makes that out to be a four hour hike to the car, so I decided we were done for the day. I found a spot that wasn't quite so windy, fed Hooper some food, and snapped a few pics:

Here's my favorite picture from the day, with Hooper looking at some hikers on a lower peak while Long's Peak looms in the background:

After that pic was taken, we headed back home, and arrived at the car three and a half hours after we left. Looking at a topo map after we got home, I estimate we turned around just a little short of the goal, but sill walked about ten miles in total and got up well over 12,000' high. After giving him dinner, Hooper has been asleep ever since, but I think he's proven his mountain mettle. Next summer is gonna be awesome. You'll be seeing us on top of many high peaks, you can bank on it.