Colorado and Utah 2012I had the opportunity to go to Vail, Colorado in June, 2012. Have a timeshare there and our normal time is in June. It’s after ski season and a bit before summer comes to the high mountains so wasn’t sure about the timing. One good thing though was that my wife, from Germany, checked who was playing at Red Rocks and lo’ and behold the Scorpions were going to be playing on their farewell tour while we would be there. Well, maybe I can relive my 80’s youth and finally get to see a show at one of the most amazing venues in the world.
As it turned out, my wife would not be going so this meant I could really devote time there to tagging some peaks. I had not been back to Colorado in a number of years and was excited to go back.
I drove to Salt Lake City the first day and then made Vail by midday the next. Was happy I slept somewhere between 4000 and 5000 feet in Utah and then it’s about 8200 feet at the condo. Hit the grocery store the first day and then played tourist the next day. I wanted to give myself a chance to acclimate before heading up and trying Elbert the next day. Weather looked good the whole week I would be there so I could just relax, walk around the incredibly pricey shops in Lionsgate and watch the hordes of mountain bikers taking the lift up Vail Mountain and bounce down the grassy ski runs.
The first night in Vail I slept somewhat restlessly with a few big breaths now and then to catch up on the O2 intake but the second night I was fine. Woke up the next morning at some ungodly hour to make sure I could get up and down before any of the famous afternoon storms rolled in. I didn’t know if they did so this early in the year or not but I was playing it safe. The drive to Leadville is fine but noted that it is about 15 miles from the middle of Leadville to the intersection turn, not 10 as the route page suggests. Or maybe the page meant from the last gas station in Leadville, I don’t know. The road to the high trailhead for the South Trail was fun in my Xterra, no issues though. I started a bit later than I wanted to, at about 6:20 a.m., but was off and enjoying a nice hike through a whispering aspen forest.
The South Trail hike is very pleasant and I took my time making sure whenever I stopped I slowed my breathing back down to where my heart rate was normal. Coming from sea level 3 days before and hiking solo, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t have any issues. The forest gave way to smaller conifers and then an open ridge with some small snow patches up top. Didn’t look like I would have to worry about much snow, appears it was a light year for that in CO. Glad I didn’t have to have the extra weight of crampons and ice axe.
The hike was gentle under a cloudless sky. The last thousand feet or so I was sucking some air for sure though. I’d hike 75 steps, stop, catch my breath and slow my heart rate and then continue. It was repetitious but not boring for me as I tried to make a game of seeing where in the 75 steps I started to get winded. It was always somewhere between 40 and 50 steps. But before I knew it, I was walking up to the summit ridge about 11 am. And while I was hiking on a weekday, and had only seen 2 or 3 other people the entire time, there were still about a dozen people at the top. Appears the northeast ridge was just the favorite this day.
There was a group of 4 women passing a bottle of champagne and topping off their wine glasses. One of them had a wedding veil on so I assumed it was a sort of bachelorette party. There was a guy with a dog and a couple of men with a group of young kids. All in all a pretty happy group and we were all pleased to see absolutely no sign of storms on the western horizon. So, I dawdled at the top and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Took a bunch of photos and had to ask one of the men near me to help identify the peaks. The dog came over to inspect my baggy full of food but then I was soon headed back down.
Going down was literally twice as fast as coming up. Never got winded going down and I just kept on going. Came across a young elk with velvet antlers just before the conifer forest began. He watched me for a while trying to determine if I was headed his way or not and when he saw I was, he scampered off in small bounds over the ridge. FYI, near the trailhead there is a short side-trip to a lake with one of the biggest beaver lodges I’ve ever seen, worth the little jaunt over there.
That night, I picked up my buddy Bill from Spokane who was in Colorado for a wedding. He was going to extend his visit and join me for the Scorps. His brother-in-law owns a Mexican restaurant in Keystone called Dos Locos so we went there for food and extremely good and large margaritas (recommend the fajitas too). I do believe some high end tequila was sipped too.
The next day was going to be a hike up Notch Mountain to get views of Holy Cross but the road in was gated. Went back to the ranger station and was told it is closed until June 20 every year for elk calving up there. The SP page doesn’t mention dates but you will want to note this if you are thinking about Notch.
We ended up hiking up to Whitney Lake. Great spot but that was all we could get in before we had to head down to Denver to see the show. Red Rocks is a gorgeous place. I wasn’t sure about the opening band, Tesla. Never cared much for them but they put on a good show. Then the Scorpions took the stage and knocked us out. Klaus’ voice was mostly there. Matthias’ is flawless on guitar. And Rudolf has to be the most fit 63 year old man around. He looked like he was running an aerobic class up there. They did most of the Lovedrive album and the rest of their classic hits along with a few new ones. Plus, did I mention I was in Red Rocks? Is there any other place for climber types to want to see a show? Red sandstone pillars surrounding us. Scorpions jamming 14 rows in front of us. Aside from the 40 and 50 year olds pulling out their too-tight black leather pants for one more night pretending they were 18 again, ‘twas awesome.
But wait, this is a climbing trip report.
The next day I dropped Bill at the Denver airport which is apparently located in western Nebraska and headed back to Vail but not before hitting the Denver REI (cool building) and the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden.
The following day I planned to hit the Decalibron to try to maximize my 14er intake. Last time I was in CO, I went for fun scrambles, this time I was going to try to tick at the list. Woke up at a worse ungodly hour in the morning and was in Alma while it was still dark. Had some fun trying to find the right turnoff for Kite Lake. I didn’t see any “general store” type building called Placer Trading Company but found what looked like an alley with a sign that said to Kite Lake. Turned out to be the right way and I headed up.
I didn’t have 3 singles at the trailhead for parking so Colorado got a ten-spot for their trail maintenance from me. But I was starting out right at dawn. The hike up Democrat is pretty straight-forward. There was one other guy ahead of me on the trail and I met up with him at the saddle between Democrat and Cameron. We chatted a bit and then I headed up without incident to the summit. I signed what was left of the summit register. A few scraps of paper in a tube with a broken end. Then I was off. Passed more people coming up as I headed down and then I was ambling up the trail to Cameron.
For some reason, I didn’t realize this would be the longest past of the day. Not sure if it was the false summits or what but I kept thinking I was getting behind because this one went on and on. Eventually, I crested the final mound and saw the summit “cairn”. Not much to see so I just kept going. Fortunately, the descent is not much to the saddle with Lincoln and I took a break there for a power bar. Noticing some clouds out west, I got up and kept going as I could also see the ridge I’d have after that to Bross. On the gendarme/false summit of Lincoln I spooked a goat who hopped up over the top of it and headed off to Cameron. I don’t think my calm chant of “It’s ok, buddy,” meant much to him.
There was a wooden sign at the summit but nothing to sign. Took some photos and started heading to Bross. On the ridge over, I noticed more clouds moving in so I kept up the pace. Tagged it and headed down. Fun, loose scree all over. Made the car about noonish and headed back. Stopped in Breckenridge and checked it out and have pizza at Downstair’s at Eric’s on the recommendation of Bill a few days earlier. Great garlic wheat crust there.
The next day I left the timeshare and drove back to SLC. Or well, Orem, UT where I got a motel room. Couldn’t decide what to do on Saturday, kept vacillating between Pfiefferhorn and Timpanogos but I didn’t know anything about the snow levels in Utah and didn’t want to end up wasting a day. I could only see the west or south sides of the peaks and knew the trails to those were up the other sides. From my motel I could see a cool-looking one that looked like a ridge hike with no or little snow. Got on my laptop and through SP, identified it as Cascade Mountain. Looked like 12-13 miles of Class 3 fun with 4000+ feet. So, another early morning for me.
Started later than I wanted to that next morning as I had some issues finding the right trailhead. It’s not marked except for a brown plastic thing that looks like the old Hot Wheels tracks with an 060 on it. I started up the trail hoping it was the right one and it worked out. The first 3 miles are through forest to the ridge, no issues except a hen grouse and her chicks that decided to pop up and scare the crap out of me. (They would get me again in the same spot going down too.)
At the ridge, you get two feelings. The first is that it is a really cool ridge with 3-4 peaks along the way. The second feeling is that you are at most, halfway there. I was feeling strong though as this was the lowest altitude hike of the trip for me and I kept going. The worst part was figuring out the route just before you get to South Cascade summit. Nothing bad, just slow and tedious. Seemed like it took me forever to reach South Cascade but the scramble to the summit from there went faster than it looked (thankfully). At the summit, I saw some goats below on a ridge and there was a guy parasailing up around the summit.
On the way back, I had the bright idea to try to cut to the trail below without going all the way to along the ridge in the big long switchback. I quickly gave that up as it was steeper scree than I thought and there was thick thorny brush in spots. Eventually, I made my way back up to the ridge and slogged back. Not sure why this one takes so long, it just does. And 3 quarts of liquid is not quite enough. But it worked out.
Once back down, it was already like 7:30 pm and I still had to head back to Portland. It was a long night with a couple stops for naps at rest areas in the middle of Idaho and somewhere around Baker City before I got back about noon. And took a nice nap.