Since moving to Colorado in June '04 my son, JP, had been bugging me to take him on one of my 14er climbs. One part of me has been excited to do this and another reluctant. I have had so many great days in the mountains up high and have always looked forward sharing these experiences with my wife and kids. However, I have had some miserable days on 14ers, like my first attempt on Longs Peak, and have wanted to avoid sharing one of those endeavors with the family. Still, I felt that I had gained enough experience to safely judge situations and safely take less experienced climbers up high. I have learned to stick to certain mandates that I have promised my wife and myself to keep. With 4 children it is not fair for me to take chances. First, climb in good weather. Second, always turn around by noon during the Colorado summers. Third, remember that you are only as strong as the weakest member in your group.
In late July I had a staff party at my house for my employees. We called it "Christmas in July." Two of my employees, Shari and Nora, were "admiring" my summit picture from Torreys Peak and expressed interest in climbing a 14er. I told them that I would be more than happy to take them up one of the "easier" 14ers. After looking over Roach's bible I decided on Huron. It would be a steep elevation gain, but only 4 miles round trip. I thought this would be a good one for JP to start out on.
We picked Shari and Nora up in Divide at 5:30 a.m. and met Alan at Chaffee Co 350 a few hours later. I was very glad that he was coming along. I had some trepidations about taking 3 first timers up by myself. We drove up the S Winfield Rd to the highest trailhead. It was a rocky road, but nothing my 4Runner could not handle. We started out at a steady pace around 8:30 a.m. After the first 20 minutes we realized that we were over dressed and took a layer off only to realize that were then being eaten alive by mosquitos. At ~ 11,500 ft. Shari started to get some sharp pain in her left ear. She had been dealing with some respiratory problems over the past couple months, but felt good at the start of the day. I asked her to rate her pain on a scale of 1-10 and she called it a 7. We pressed on and got above treeline. JP started to fatigue at ~ 12,500, but got his wind back after a gentle verbal kick in the pants from his dad. I started to get concerned about him and Shari and being up high with them. I asked Shari what her pain scale was and she told me 8. It was already 10:30 and I was starting to get concerned about our turn around time. At 13,000 I noticed that Shari had sat down on a rock ahead of us. She had put her head in her hands and I could tell she was in a lot of pain. She told me that she felt dizzy and that the trail was going up and down. At that point I told her we were turning her around. Huron was just a pile of rocks and it was not worth her getting worse. I ran up to Alan, Nora and JP and told them that she had to go down. I wanted them to keep going up and I would hopefully catch up with them. I wanted to get Shari down to an altitude where she would hopefully feel better. After getting her back down to 12,000 ft. her pain started to decrease and she felt better. I gave her one of my radios and started back up the peak. I could see my son with Nora and Alan far up the ridge. It was a little disconcerting to see my son over 1500 ft. higher than me on a 14er. Even though he is 12, he looked very small as a dot along the ridge. Still, I was so glad that Alan was with us. I trusted him completely with the safety of Nora and my son. If he was not there I would have turned the whole group around. I felt totally responsible for the groups safety and there was no way I would have had JP and Nora keep going up while I got Shari down to a lower altitude. I kept in touch with Shari on the radio and watched her move through the basin just above treeline. She told me that she was definitely feeling better. I realized that the group above had stopped just below the summit. JP had asked Alan if they could wait so that he could summit with me. I caught up with them at 13,700 ft. a little winded, but glad that they waited. Alan lead the way over the steep final 300+ ft. to the top. He took pictures and a video of the 3 of us coming over the summit ridge. I was so proud of JP. After tiring at 12,500 ft. he really kicked it in and never looked back. It was so special to share a 14er summit with him. I think it meant even more to me when Alan later told me that JP wanted to wait and summit with his dad. We took a ton of pics at the top and spent almost an hour there. We did not leave until 1 p.m., but the weather was great and there were no threatening clouds in the sky. I felt comfortable breaking one of my 14er creeds on a special day like this. 14er summits are transcedent for me. They touch me in a way that it is hard to explain. I always feel a peace and closeness to God when I summit one and it was very special to share this with my son. It was also great to see Nora reach it as well. We were all sad that Shari had to turn around, but it was not worth the chance of her getting worse up high. As always, I love climbing with Alan. More than half of the 14ers I have climbed I have done with him and he has become a close friend. We called mom at home with the good news and headed back down. I was amazed at how strong JP was coming down. He was like a jackrabbit and did not tire until below treeline. We made it back to the car in less than 2 hours and kept in touch with Shari on the radio. She was safely back at the car feeling better. I was glad to have everyone down safely.
Huron Peak is what many call an "easy" 14er. Easy or hard it was great to share it's summit and trails with close friends and especially my son. I'm looking forward to climbing many more Colorado 14ers with my boy.
Great report! It struck a chord with me because, as luck would have it, I led a family climb up Huron on the 21st of August. The party included my 14-year-old grandson doing his first fourteener. Did you post any pictures?
great story! I also sumitted Huron that same day, along with my dog Spencer. I have unfortunately not been able to get my kids to catch my love of the mountains (except for skiing, which they both love). Each of them has done only 1 14'er with me, never to repeat the feat. I wish you many more pleasant days in the high country with your family.
I very much admire your committment to the well-being of the team, and how incredible it must have felt to know your son wanted to summit with his Dad! You just cannot put a price on experiences like this one; it is my hope that I may soon have a similar experience with my daughters. Well-written report, keep us posted on future climbs with your son!