This is supposedly an "easy" 14er hike if you read other TRs on here. I'm here to tell you that "easy" is relative. Based on the TRs I read (which were all great, don't get me wrong) I expected to get this 3,400 ft elevation gain, 7.5 mile trip, in the bag in 7 or 8 hours. It took me about 9.5 hours... with snowy trail, lots of sun, lots of photo breaks (aka rest) and strong winds about 1/2 the time. So, risking my reputation of being labeled as weak, I decided to write a TR for the other hikers out there that find they aren't as fast as many of their fellow SPers. Chuck it to in-experience at these elevations or just one of those days that we all have, whatever excuse we can come up with, I found that I just wasn't as fast as I expected I would be.
8:45ish: started trail
11:45: Mt. Democrat
12:00 left for Cameron
2:30: Mt. Cameron
3:00ish: Mt. Lincoln
4:15ish?: Mt. Bross
6:15: Returned to trailhead
So I decided to do this early spring hike solo - it would be my 5th through 7th (or 8th depending on who you talk to) 14er summits with the first being Mt. Whitney (Mountaineer's Route http://www.summitpost.org/mountaineer-s/155528) and the rest being Rocky Mtns. But I've hiked tons in the past so I felt this would be a good first solo 14er adventure for me. I decided to start at 7 am to give myself plenty of time... I started after 8:45 am. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from Denver with a stop at Starbucks for coffee (mistake?). I got back to my car around 6:15 EXHAUSTED but proud.
View of Kite Lake TH
The road to the Kite Lake trailhead once you get out of Alma was in decent condition though full of ruts that were fun to drive around at times. A low-clearance 2wd vehicle could make it though I was glad to have the high clearance. I parked about 1/10 mile away from the trailhead because I saw two other cars there and wasn't sure if the lot was already full. So the walk up to the trailhead was a nice warmup, and the lot was pretty empty.
After a pit stop at the restrooms, I was ready and eager to go. The trailhead offers a great view of the trail if you know what to look for. Perhaps in the summer when there isn't snow and ice it's easier to see. I asked a girl with a cute dog if she's done the trail before and if she knew how long it should take... well, it's ONLY 7.5 miles so that would normally take her about 4 or 5 hours. Okay... well she looked to be in good shape, so my estimate of 7 hours should be okay. In the distance I could see a couple group of hikers glinting in the sun. Wonder if I can catch up with them? I also chatted briefly with a fellow hiker who was just getting ready for this trail, this was also his first attempt and didn't know what to expect.
View of Democrat
The trail to Mt. Democrat http://www.summitpost.org/mount-democrat/150204 was easy to follow, well worn where there wasn't snow and plenty of footsteps where there was snow. I kept my trekking poles in my backpack, saving them for the descent. I made pretty good progress to the saddle between Cameron and Democrat and then the trail got quite steeper and perhaps I started to feel the effects of the elevation... that friendly guy I met at the trailhead, apparently named Scott and also there from Denver, caught up with me about 1 hour into my hike and probably found me dull since I couldn't keep a conversation going due to lack of oxygen. He decided to try to catch one up with of the groups I spied from the trailhead and darted off. I stopped to put my microspikes on and also took frequent photo breaks. I did see Scott again, on his way back down to the saddle. That would be the last I saw of anybody else until back down. About 3 hours later, at 11:45, I was at the summit of my 5th 14er ever. Two dudes were up there, but they were getting ready to ski down a colouir on the other side. Great view from up there. I relaxed for 15 minutes and ate a PB&J sandwhich. Feeling re-energized, I grabbed my treking poles and was ready to tackle #2.
Mt. Cameron - I'm counting it
Ridge to Mt. Cameron
The descent back to the saddle didn't take much time at all. But the climb up to Mt. Cameron seemed to drag. I kept my microspikes on for this entire summit even though I wasn't in as much snow as I was for Democrat. I found them helpful for the soft trail as well. The wind also picked up which made the ridge part of the hike I expected to use as recovery a challenge instead. The energy from the PB&J started to wear off and I told myself (I know better than this...) I'll snack at the summit, it's gotta be just a few more minutes. It seemed to take forever to get to the Cameron summit. In fact, I finally summitted around 2:30 and was concerned about the time it would take for me to finish up. I was also feeling quite weak. There isn't much shelter to block the wind up there, so I huddled up against the cairn and tried to eat an energy bar and convince myself I can bag the other two peaks. I ate about 1/2 of the Cliff bar and told myself I will eat the rest on Lincoln. I took a look at Lincoln and decided to go for it.
View of Lincoln from Cameron/Lincoln saddle.
Re-(re-?)nergized, I didn't want to sit another minute on the windy Cameron. I was ready to tackle Lincoln. Descending along the trail, I found a nice snow patch to glissade down and looked forward to some shelter from the wind that the ridge may offer... it didn't offer much. I still had my microspikes on for this part and probably didn't need them. But frankly, I didn't care, I just wanted this one in the bag already so I didn't have to descend in the sunset. There isn't much to say about the hike up to Lincoln except that the class 2 scrambling took my mind off being tired. I found it fun and surprisingly only took about 30-40 minutes! I recalled in another TR that from Cameron, Lincoln looks deceptively far and more difficult that it really is. The views from Lincoln are beautiful. This summit is definitely worth it, especially for the short time it takes from Cameron. I took a couple photos and then tried to eat the rest of my Cliff bar... I had no taste for it and put it back in my pack. I didn't even think about the other snacks in my bag that are easier to eat. All I wanted to do was drink my water (which I dutifully made sure to do throughout) and get to Mt. Bross. I did, at least, take my microspikes off in preparation for this seemingly easy ridge hike. And I was cheered by the thought of another TR detail I read that I have only 3 more miles to Mt. Bross and from there 1.5 miles back to the trailhead. So 1.5 miles to Mt. Bross and it's mine!
Trek to Mt. Bross
View from Mt. Bross of Cameron (left) and Lincoln (right)
I started down Lincoln around 2:45ish. I was so exhausted but I knew that I just had 1.5 miles to go until Mt. Bross and most of it was ridge hike with great views. The wind was relentless but it was a little more protected than on Cameron/Lincoln. The sun was still high in the sky, so I was feeling reassured that I've got this one. The ridge hike is fairly pleasant but I was very tired and my head was pounding so I was not able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to. I continued on the well worn trail but took the one that took me off the ridge per the trail map I had studied... I probably should have stayed on the ridge since my goal was Mt. Bross summit, but it is private property and I was semi-respectful of that. As a result, I made a beeline straight to the summit when I got to the S. Gully to minimize my impact. I do hope the public can get legal access to this summit. From what I saw of how clean the entire trail was, the private land owners don't need to worry about hikers causing damage. Oh well... I was too tired and chilly from the wind (and too tired to put on one of either of the two extra down layers I brought!) to check the time, but I would guess it took me another 1-1.5 hours to reach this summit, so the time was about 4:15. I was quite ready to get down and didn't even take my pack off for a few minutes break.
Boy was I glad to start the descent. Only 1.5 miles, how long could that take? The trail was pretty easy to follow going down albeit a bit slippery. That's where all the S. NV hikes pay off - so much scree... this wasn't too bad but it could be irritating and scary for someone not used to it. At times the trail was pretty steep going down on the loose rock. I felt I lost the trail a few times here and there and was discouraged that I couldn't see the trailhead. Toward the bottom of a steep ridge that seemed like it would cliff out, I finally spied the trail on the other side of a gully. I was hoping this was the right trail because while I could still figure my way out of this into the valley below, I didn't want this to be any harder than it had to be. I trudged along skeptically and felt very joyous upon seeing a tiny car in the distance. I guess this was the right trail after all. The trail down seemed to take FOREVER and I could not believe it was only 1.5 miles. The trailhead didn't seem to get any closer. I was so tired that my legs were shaking... this coming from someone who exercises as much as I can and is an avid hiker... Finally got off the mountain into relatively flat terrain only to find that I kept POSTHOLING through the meadows, sometimes to my waist. It was so frustrating because the trailhead is so close, yet so far... (ok, enough drama, but for real, my head was pounding and I was so tired). I got to the trailhead about 6:15 pm, so I estimate that the 1.5 mile descent took me 2 hours. At that point I only rested for about 2 minutes and did not stop for any photos. I was so glad to be back on pavement but felt very accomplished and proud for my first solo 14er hike.
The Drive Out
Be careful in monitoring your mileage on that dirt road. I did not, and seemed to remember reading it was only 6 miles... When I went what I felt was 6 miles and still didn't get to Alma, I began to think I missed the turn. Maybe it was the exhaustion from the hike and the sun setting making everything look different. But I kept going for a while on this dirt road and then turned around to see if I missed a turnoff. When I recognized a sign from my drive in, I was thoroughly confused and turned around again. This time I stuck it out and eventually ended up back in Alma. Wow... I still had the drive all the way back to Denver ahead of me.
In summary, this hike was more difficult then I expected, for whatever reason. Don't let other TRs lead you to believe it's "easy" unless you have done similar hikes and truly know how your body behaves in those conditions. It's a gorgeous hike and challenging. I highly recommend it and will probably do it again, but will eat more frequently (I seem to say that each time!).