Kessler, my three-year old son loves to be in the mountains. He is fascinated with the pictures hanging on our wall of the great ranges of the Himalayas, Andes, Southern Alps (New Zealand), etc. When he sees those pictures of his mom and dad in those mountains, he often comments that he wants to go to the “big snowy mountains”. We often take him around the local mountains and he loves to hike and climb in them. He still comments that he wants to climb a “big snowy mountain”. For a three year old, the Colorado 14’ers seemed like a nice goal for his big snowy mountain. During the 4th of July weekend (2005), there should be plenty of snow about to give the feel of a snowy mountain, at least hopefully for him.
This trip took much preparation. We had to see how Kessler would perform at altitude. He had been up to a few peaks at above 12,500 feet elevation, but he was carried for much of the way then. This time, if he wanted to climb the mountain, he would have to climb it himself. Before climbing a 14’er, I had thought he should be able to hike six miles round trip in a day and hopefully be able to do a hike with 3000 feet elevation gain. Moreover, he had to enjoy it. Climbing a 14’er for three days with someone who was not enjoying it doesn’t sound fun at all.
We did many preparation hikes. Cross Mountain, Fish Creek Falls, Rifle Arch, Cedar Mountain (several times), Sandrocks Mountain (almost every weekday evening), and the Lower Loop Trail on Black Mountain were just a few. Kessler could definitely hike six miles in a day, but those hikes were all at lower altitudes. Several of the hikes had around 2500 elevation gain in a day, but we didn’t do any with 3,000 elevation gain, or ones with high altitude, mostly due to the fact that those hikes were all buried in snow before July! It was felt that Kessler was ready for the challenge before the 4th of July weekend, and he was very excited for the week to come. In the weeks preceding the climb, he would often ask how much longer it was going to be before we could climb the big snowy mountain.
The time finally came on July 1. It was time to leave and drive to the mountain! We got to the trailhead at around 8pm and camped nearby. Kessler did not want to camp near the trailhead, but wanted to hike up the mountain. He just couldn’t wait for morning.
July 2, Day 1
We awoke early the next morning and packed up. The trailhead was at 9600 feet, so ahead we had over 2000 feet to climb. We crossed the creek and started up the endless switchbacks. Once again I grossly over packed and had a tougher time of it than Kessler. I had packed every sort of clothing I could think of, but it definitely turned out to be too much. Kessler had a good time and didn’t complain once about the steep trail. He proudly told all the hikers that passed that he was three and that he was climbing a big snowy mountain. Crossing the creek on the wobbly log proved to be the most exciting obstacle. We ate lunch at the cabin just below timberline. From there we hiked up to where the trail branches off for Mount Belford. It seemed that most of the good campsites around had “campsite closed” signs on them, so we hiked farther up Missouri Basin and found a nice meadow in the willows at 11,700 feet elevation. Unfortunately above timberline there are not much places to hang food, and the marmots got Kessler’s gummy worms! Kessler had a great time playing in the snow at camp. Luckily, I had carried his snow boots up the mountain so his feet wouldn’t get wet.
July 3, Day 2
This was the day we had been looking forward to. We would now attempt to summit Mount Belford. We awoke pretty early. It was 30 degrees outside and a bit chilly. Kessler didn’t want to eat breakfast yet, but wanted to carry it up the mountain. We crossed the icy creek and started up the steepest part of the climb. At the first ledges we stopped to eat some muffin bars and to watch the marmots. Some hikers passed us and were quite surprised to see a three year old up there.
Slowly but surely, we climbed the slopes of the mountain. We took several rests and drank lots of fluid, which is always helpful at higher altitude. The views got better and better until we found ourselves surrounded by a sea of mountains spreading for miles and miles in all directions. Unfortunately, more and more clouds rolled in. They were not thunderclouds yet, but I knew they would turn into them as afternoon came. Also unfortunate was the fact that the camera stopped working. Luckily, there were many other people on the mountain who kindly offered to take photographs and email them to us. We were really thankful for this. Everyone who hiked up would stop and talked with Kessler, and many took his photograph. He sure got lots of attention, and he liked it!
By the time we reached 13,750 feet, almost everyone had already headed down the mountain. There were some sounds of thunder and some black clouds. It was time to go down the mountain. Kessler was very disappointed and tried to continue, but I would not let him. We couldn’t take a chance with thunderstorms. On the way down the mountain, the clouds spit a bit of snow at us. The sky got darker and darker as we headed down the mountain, but it never did start to rain or snow hard at this time. Right after we got back to camp, it started to snow hard with much thunder. The sky was now black. Kessler said he wanted some dinner. When it stopped raining and snowing, I went out to cook dinner. It only took 10 minutes, but by the time it was finished, Kessler was fast asleep in the tent. It had been a tiring day for him. I woke him up to eat dinner, and right after he ate it, he wanted to go play in the snow. Usually, we have a hard time getting Kessler to go to bed, but this time, at around 7:30, he had ask to go to bed. He was obviously tired. The weather had put an end to our attempt, but it was still a noble effort.
July 4, Day 3
When we woke up in the morning (21F degrees!), Kessler wanted to try and climb Mount Belford again. When I tried to explain to him that we were out of time and couldn’t climb Mount Belford, he said he wanted to climb Missouri instead. I explained that it was time to go home, because I had to go to work the next day, but I don’t think he understood why I couldn’t just skip work another day so we could climb the mountain. It would have been nice, I must admit. After convincing Kessler that we had to head for home (this actually took a while), we headed down the mountain. We could see just how much elevation we climbed. Once again the log crossing a bit of a challenge, but we made it safely. The only notable event on the return trip was during lunch. A dog was hiking well ahead of his owner and when it came to us, it snatched Kessler’s sandwich and ate it. Kessler started crying. The owner saw this from below, but when he reached us, he just walked by without a word. It was a bit of a shock since dogs are required to be on leashes, and I thought he would at least say he was sorry. Luckily, there were many nice people on the way down, that stopped for a chat. Kessler had a blast at the end of the hike and he stopped to throw rocks in the creek. He also liked to stop along the way and scramble up some of the boulders.
We arrived at the car and headed for home. Although we didn’t reach the summit, it was still a great trip. We’re already planning an attempt on Castle Peak in the Elk Mountains for August, and Kessler is already excited for the trip. Hopefully, the weather will be good!!