A Summer of Fourteeners (June 14-August 14)A journal of our summer in the high country of Colorado climbing mountains and backpacking.
TRIP 1- Tenmile-Mosquito
For our first trip, we stayed at the unoccupied second-home of a relative in Frisco (with permission of course). This would be our basecamp for six days. Our goal was to climb 6 mountains: Quandary, Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, Bross, and Sherman. We thought this would be an easy way to ease in to the summer as these mountains have a reputation as some of the easiest 14ers in the state.
Drive to Frisco and set-up basecamp. Hope that our training program was sufficient because we plan to climb somewhere around 25-30 14ers in the next two months. We plan to start our statewide climbing adventure tomorrow on Quandary Peak.
Rained out on Quandary. Spend the afternoon reading John Muir essays and then swimming at the Community Center Pool.
Quandary. Perfect blue sky day. We were the first up the mountain and had to break trail through a surprising amount of fresh snow. Obviously it had been snowing above 12,000' yesterday while it was raining in town. Perfect summit day. Our summer is off to a great start.
Day off. Spend the day exploring Frisco and hanging out by the lake. Pack up that night and set our alarm for 4 am so when can climb the Decalibron tomorrow (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross). Weather reports call for sunny skies but high wind. We decide to go for it.
Wake up to a very windy morning, but there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Drive over Hoosier Pass and up to Kite Lake. Hit the trail by 6 am. It is very windy, icy and cold but we are excited at the chance to climb four mountains in one day. By the time we reach the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, however, the wind starts blowing at 40-50 mph. We are already at 13,380’ and decide to attempt Democrat’s summit. The ridge is somewhat steep and intermittently icy. We don’t feel comfortable with the traction we are getting so we strap on our crampons. Even so the wind is already bad enough that during the worst gusts we drop to all fours for stability. Despite this we make Lincoln’s summit and have a snack. Here we debate on turning back as the wind seems to be getting worse, but we decide to push on. We have come all this way afterall and so far the wind has been a nuisance but nothing we cant tolerate.
We descend back to the saddle down the icy slopes. I am glad that we have our crampons when I watch other climbers who don’t slip and crawl down the steepest section. The wind seems to have calmed and we push on, first climbers of the day heading towards Lincoln and Cameron. Very quickly, the wind returns and is worse than ever. We spend a lot of time down on all fours in the snow, waiting out the strong gusts. The progress is slow but at least we wont blow off the mountain. By the time we finally make it to Cameron’s summit, the wind has exhausted us. No longer are we having fun. It’s more controlled suffering. We sit huddled on top of Cameron trying to decide what to do. Lincoln is tantalizingly close but it has become difficult to stand in the windstorm. We decide to push on.
The going is extremely difficult. The gusts that we used to wait out by crouching to the ground have become constant. We try to crawl the last ridge to Lincoln’s summit. Standing no longer seems safe. We are blasted by ice and snow. It sounds like we are surrounded by 747 jets. We make the frustrating but prudent decision to turn back only a few hundred yards short of the summit.
At this point we just want out of there but it was a long retreat no matter which direction we go. We decided to continue the loop forward instead of retreating back the way we’d came. We are hammered by wind for at least another hour as we make a slow escape. On more than one occasion I am literally blown off my feet. By the time we got back to the car all we can do is laugh. What a strange experience. We only made two of the four summits, but it was a day I wont soon forget.
Back in Frisco we debate on trying our planned climb of Sherman the next day. We have to head back home tomorrow afternoon and we want to climb, but we are still rattled by our experience. Ultimately we decide that we will be bummed later if we don’t at least try, and we set our alarm for 4 am again.
Mt. Sherman. We are tired from the last three days and it is windy again, though not as bad as the day before. Luckily Sherman is a relatively short climb. We hit the trail around 6 am and am back to the car by 10:30. It was icy and windy on top but we made it. We drive back home that night and collapse: our first trip of four on the summer is over.
TRIP 2- Three Weeks in the Sawatch
For our second trip, we abandoned the comforts of indoor life and camped in the Sawatch mountains for three weeks. We planned to climb thirteen mountains: Huron, Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Antero, Shavano, Tabeguache, Massive, North Massive, and Elbert.
Drive over Independence Pass. Turn up Clear Creek and set-up basecamp for next few days.
Huron Peak. One of the most beautiful days we could have asked for. A relatively easy up to a beautiful summit. Most of the snow is gone here in the Sawatchs. The sky is perfectly blue and most of all there is NO WIND!!
Rest day. Mostly spend laying around in hammocks at camp and swimming in the lake.
Missouri. Long but beautiful hike to an exhilarating final ridge and awesome summit.
Decide to backpack back up Missouri Gulch and set-up a high camp to attempt the notoriously long Belford-Oxford traverse tomorrow. We climb 1,500’ to a basecamp at 11,200'. The hike is much harder today with a 40 pound backpack on than it was yesterday.
We are the first on Belford’s summit. Another excellent day. We decide to pass on Oxford’s summit, deciding that the point isn’t really to tick as many mountains off our list on this trip as possible but just to have a really amazing time in the high country. We are tired and the weather looks like it could change. We turn our backs on Oxford without regret. Summit fever can be dangerous and it just means that we get to come back another time
We decide to retreat to Buena Vista and suffer a night at the KOA for a chance to take a shower and have internet access. We treat ourselves to a nice dinner on the town.
Backpack into the Horn Fork Basin to set-up for Harvard and hopefully Yale too.
Mt Harvard. A majestic, beautiful and probably underrated mountain. We have great weather for the summit but clouds have moved in by the time we make it back to camp that afternoon. We decide to bail on climbing Yale from the north and hikeout back to our car as the rain starts to fall. We find a campsite at the Collegiate Peaks National Forest Campground. Its $12 and night but it’s at right at the base of Mt. Yale. We decide to stay for a few days.
A day of rest. We explore the shops and restaurants of Buena Vista before returning to camp that night. A beer at the Eddyline Brewery in Buena Vista is like heaven. Playing around on the boulder problems there at south Main and watching the kayakers is a perfect way to fill an evening.
A group of friends comes in from out of town to meet us for Yale the following day. We are excited for some company.
Yale. It is 4th of July weekend and Yale is crowded as expected but we have a nice climb anyway. We end up with a group of seven, a larger group than I have ever climbed with before. The clouds seem to want to build all day but never do and we have a great day on another great mountain.
Festivities in BV. We watch part of the parade downtown and have burgers at the 50’s diner off the highway. Who wants to climb on a day as busy as the 4th of July anyway? We hear the fireworks go off that night as we go to sleep early to prepare for a long day on Princeton.
Mt. Princeton. We start all the way at the bottom (8,900’). It is a long climb, but I am really against driving up mountains. We are mountain climbers, not mountain drivers. Not my favorite route but Princeton is a powerful peak. A Search and Rescue Helicopter circles the mountain for most of the day. Rumor has it a girl has fallen. Turns out later that she was just separated from her mom when they both tried to climb Tigger Peak thinking it was Princeton. In a panic, the mother called in Search and Rescue. The girl was perfectly fine all along. Glad it had a happy ending but it seemed like an unnecessary amount of trouble. I think some people undertake these mountains too lightly. Despite the popularity of climbing 14ers it is still a serious activity.
Well earned day at Princeton Hot Springs. Cant argue with that. We decide that we to pass on Antero. It is too long and most of the hike is on a road. We’ll come back another time if we feel compelled.
Spend the morning in Salida exploring the town before heading up and establishing a base camp at the bottom of Mt. Shavano. A mean storm sideswipes us that night and we doubt we are going to be able to climb.
Shavano. It is a foggy and beautiful day and we are able to reach the summit of Shavano without trouble. We have an amazing close encounter with a herd of bighorn sheep as our paths cross. They are headed down the mountain and we are heading up. I was good to see about 8 lambs in the herd. Simply amazing. At the summit, the weather starts to deteriorate rapidly and we decide to pass on Tabeguache Peak. We have now passed on three mountains that we had planned to climb, but we are having a blast anyway.
Drive to Leadville and set-up base camp inbetween Massive and Elbert.
Massive and North Massive attempt. At 13,500 we are forced to turn back because of thunderstorm. We are crushed and very grumpy as we hike out. This is the most devastating failed summit attempt yet. We have now failed to summit four mountains already on this trip and six for the whole summer. Our spirits are low.
Day off. We explore the Halfmoon area and spend some time laying in the hammocks. We drive into Leadville that night to meet a friend for dinner. He decides to join us for Elbert tomorrow. We spend the night in our tent both sad and excited. We have been camping for three weeks and this is our last night.
Elbert. It is windy again but we make the top. A much needed morale boost and a great way to end our second trip of the summer. We drive back home and collapse. The next week we spend back in town picking up work shifts here and there and re-adapting to the real world.
Trip 3- Front Range
For our third trip we planned to nab the entire Front Range (Grays, Torreys, Evans, Bierstadt, Pikes, and Longs). But first, we started off the trip with a 2-day backpack into the Holy Cross Wilderness to complete the Sawatch portion of our summer.
Drive to Minturn and up Tiguwon Road. We backpack into the Holy Cross Wilderness Area and set-up a base camp near East Cross Creek. We decide this is the most beautiful place we have seen yet this summer and spend the evening exploring the boulders and pools above our camp. Clearly this area deserves more than two days and we vow to come back.
We set our alarms for 5 am the next morning and go to sleep to perfect skies.
Thinking we are being smart to beat the weather with a very early start, we are up at 5 am and on the trail by 5:45 ahead of everybody else. It is overcast and we are nervous that weather might be imminent. As we climb the mountain and watch an amazing sunrise, it is clear that we are not due for a blue sky day. Rain seems to be sweeping over the mountain all around us. We climb on hoping for the best. At 11,800’ it starts to rain and we grudgingly decide to turn around. It rains pretty hard all the way back to camp. Not having slept well the night before, we sleep hard for several hours before packing up and hiking out. When we wake up at 9 am, we are shocked and irritated to find blue skies. We decide we have spent too much energy all ready for another summit attempt. We ponder staying another day to attempt the summit again but decide that we will just have to come back. Next time, though, we’ll spend at least four days to fully appreciate the area.
Back to the relatives in Frisco to set-up for Grays and Torreys. Its strange being back after a month.
Grays & Torreys. Perfect day. Being able to reach two summits in one day is a huge confidence boost after what seemed like an unlucky streak of failed summit attempts. We leave Frisco and move over to Guanella Pass to attempt Evans and Bierstadt via the Sawtooth the next day.
Bierstadt and Evans. So far, to this point we have done nothing but easy class 2 walk-up mountains. Now, I am a rock climber so I love technical rock, but I find oftentimes that I love the easy walk-up mountains just as much as the more challenging ones. That being said, it was nice for a change to be on a technical route like the Sawtooth. It is one of the best class 3 14er routes in Colorado.
The initial hike to Bierstadt was easy and short compared to what we were used to after climbing for so long in the Sawatch Range. From Bierstadt the view of the Sawtooth was impressive.
The Sawtooth is an intricate and complicated class 3 route. There are many possible variations. The route we took undoubtedly had some class 4 moves, but the rock was solid and there wasn’t much exposure. Mostly it was just easy climbing and good fun. At the end there is an exposed dirt ramp that allows access through some impressive cliffs. It looked loose and it was, but it climbed much easier than we thought. Once through, the exciting portion was over and all that remained was as long trudge to Evans.
After Evans we descended down the gnarly west slopes gully shortcut and through the frustrating willows. A hail storm moved in and lightning started unleashing on the mountains above and behind us. By the time we made it back to the car our hair was standing straight on end. Needless to say we got out of there pretty quick.
Drive to Manitou Springs and set-up for Pikes. We opt to do the classic Barr Trail knowing that it is 25 miles roundtrip and gains 7,500’ in elevation. No other mountain in Colorado can match that and we welcome the challenge. We decide to backpack in and do it in two days.
A friend from Colorado Springs joins us and we start at backpack amidst the chaos of a very busy Manitou Springs. To make a long hike even worse we have to park almost half a mile from the trailhead because how busy the area is. We are at 6,700’ elevation. Crazy to think that we will be at 14,110’ tomorrow morning.
The long hike up Pikes is hot and strenuous with a 40 pound backpack. It takes a few hours to hike the 6 miles to Barr Camp at 10,000’. We camp out and enjoy a perfect night.
We get up at 4 am and hit the trail by 4:45 am. We climb the 4,000’ to the summit of Pikes and make it just in time to get donuts and coffee at the summit house. This is a different 14er experience. Astonished tourists ask us if we actually climbed the peak and we tell them yes. When we tell them that we started in Manitou on foot at the same place they did (the trailhead and the Cog Railway station are right next to each other) they look at us like we are crazy and don't let their kids get too close. After a short rest we descend back to our camp just in time for lunch.
At this point we have already hiked over twelve miles and gained and lost over 4,000’ of elevation. But now we must shoulder our backpacks and hike an additional six miles down 3,500’ of elevation back to our car. My feet are screaming by the end. Ultimately, it is the longest day of hiking we do during the summer.
We stay with a friend in downtown Denver and watch the Rockies lose at Coors Field. It is a pleasing and strange juxtaposition.
Drive to Estes Park and set-up for Longs. I am very excited for Longs but the weather report is not good. Highway 7 was buried in a mudslide yesterday. We camp out at the base and set our alarm for 1:30 am.
It’s much harder to wake up at 1:30 than 4:00, though neither is easy. The weather is already bad so we go back to bed. It’s a bitter loss, having to pass on Longs Peak. It was my most anticipated mountain of the summer. I comfort myself knowing we’ll be back soon. We drive through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way home to end our third trip.
Trip 4- Backpack in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area
Our last trip of the summer was less about climbing mountains than it was just about being in the mountains and enjoying them. Summer was ending and it was nearly time for a new semester at college (my senior year) to begin. We decided that the best way to cap off our summer was with a longer backpack trip in our backyard Elk Mountains and a climb of Snowmass Mountain.
Begin backpack at Maroon Lake. Backpack 5 miles up Maroon Creek and camp at the base of Maroon Peak. One of the most beautiful valleys in Colorado, rivaling if not usurping Holy Cross as the most beautiful place we have been this summer. And less than an hour from our homes! We are awoken in the middle of the night when a marmot tries to raid our camp.
Hike over Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass and camp in the Farvert Basin. A very beautiful and awe-inspiring hike. The flowers are still out in deep bloom and the weather was very beautiful. The trail is busy for mid-week but most of the people are pleasant. Ah! Wilderness.
An excellent day. King’s Falls is an impressive sight in the morning. It rains a little around noon but we are able to climb the "Cut-off" trail and have lunch before the worst of the afternoon storms. We depart from the Four Pass Loop and drop down to Geneva Lake where we get the most solitude we’ve had yet. Spend a perfect evening laying in the hammocks overlooking the lake but a storm moves in before bed.
A crazy night! One of the worst I have ever experienced! Wave after wave of intense thunderstorms. Hail, lightning, thunder, rain, wind. You name it. I always wondered how I would handle a night like this in the wilderness. I've had plenty of rain and even lightning but never a full-on, tornadic-if-it-had-been-in-Kansas, severe thunderstorm. Needless to say it was nerve-racking. We were pinned in the tent for 15 hours. I didn't sleep a minute.
The storms finally end around noon and we explore around the lake. We meet some other backpackers and they look as shell-shocked and wide-eyed as us after the night before. We hope that this is the end of the weather for this trip.
A perfect day! Not a cloud in the known universe. We hike over Trail Rider Pass and down to Snowmass Lake to set-up for our climb the next day. Three friends of ours from Grand Junction hike in from Snowmass Creek to meet us. I love backpacking but am looking forward to climbing a mountain again, it seems like forever (July 27) since we were on a summit.
Snowmass Mountain. A great route. I enjoy the scrambling immensely. From the top we can look down on both Snowmass Lake and Geneva Lake and I feel proud that we were able to visit this great mountain from both sides. That night we eat some fresh fish for dinner.
We say goodbye to our friends and make the long hike out over Buckskin Pass back to our car. It is Sunday and Maroon lake is overwhelmed by two-legged humanoids when we get back. We are tired but sad. Not only is our backpack over, but our summer is too. It has been great to spend this much time in Colorado’s high country.
AFTERWORD: Well we didn't end up climbing as many mountains as we had hoped. Early in our summer we realized that for us it wasn't about "peak bagging", it was about enjoying some of the most beautiful parts of the state where we live and the personal challenges that come with climbing mountains. Some of my favorite moments from the summer were when we had a day off and we found a place to tie our hammocks overlooking a lake or stream and just relax as the day unfolded. There is a lot for us all in the mountains, and if we tread lightly we can enjoy these places for decades to come.
**Please see the image gallery for more photos from this summer**
For a more detailed account of our adventures this summer, check out: summeroffourteeners.blogspot.com
Two-Month TotalsMiles Hiked: 203
Elevation gained: 85,000 feet
Mountains attempted: 23
Mountains Summited: 18
Summit List: Quandary, Democrat, Cameron, Sherman, Huron, Missouri, Belford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Shavano, Elbert, Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, Evans, Pikes, Snowmass
"Failed" Summits: Massive, North Massive, Holy Cross, Lincoln, Bross
Summits Planned but not Attempted: Antero, Oxford, Tabeguache, Longs