Four of us, all flatlanders from Minnesota, left the great white north on the evening of the 25th and drove all night to reach Colorado as soon as possible. We stayed in Denver for a night and up in the mountains at 9,500 feet for a night before heading up to Kite Lake.
With it being the middle of winter we were not expecting to reach Kite Lake due to snow drifts but we decided to drive our gear up as far as we could and drop it off before taking the truck back and parking it past the mine. One of the drifts not too far past the mine caught the truck and we had fun digging out in sub zero temps with heavily gusting winds. We got most of the event on tape including the final drive out on a number of pine bows. We gratefully thanked the pine trees that donated some of their lower branches... :) We continued up in the truck and make it past the switchbacks before running into the biggest (very long) of the drifts and decided to off load the gear and sleds. Once we got turned around we saw a couple of locals driving up in an older pickup truck. They asked us what we were up to and when the found out we would be staying for a few nights and climbing Democrat they said we were crazy. When we asked them what the were up to they replied, "Oh, just drinking and driving." Yeah and we were the crazy ones. Wish we had gotten that on tape.
We unloaded the truck and my girlfriend and I decided to start taking gear up to the site while our partners took the truck back down and hiked back up. I started out by putting my full 5500 cc pack on and hooking up to the sled that held the rest of my girlfriend’s and my gear. I started slogging up through the snow drift and my flatlander lungs were not so happy. Further I was not too happy, the harness I had made for the sled sucked and I was working much harder than I wanted to be. With temps on their way down to -15F and the winds gusting hard, you would think that I was a bit cold. Not at all, I working hard I needed as much venting as I could find while not freezing any exposed skin, I was trying really hard to not sweat at -10F. Finally about half the way up to the site I was done with the sled/harness and parked it sideways (don't want it heading down on its own) and head up with just my pack . Between my girlfriend and I we bring up most of the gear except for (as I recall) one full sized pack that Neoday showed up to collect. Neoday called my GF our sherpa because she was hauling full packs sized for the bigger guys and passed Neo while doing it.
I scouted out the camp area looking for some terrain that would shield us from some of the wind and had enough snow to dig into. I start digging out a pad for my tent and find that there is a picnic bench there! Crap and this looked like a good site, so I start widening out to the west only to run into a stone bench! Crap! It almost looks wide enough so I finish digging out the length and pitch my Moss Stardome tent. I get my GF to help me pitch the tent and when we finish she disappears inside while I throw her four sleeping pads, three sleeping bags, a sheet and other odds and ends. After that I don't think I saw her out of the tent for any long stretch of time for the next couple of days! :D Neoday and our other partner hastily put up their pad and tent and head inside for the night. It has long since been dark and the temps are nearing their -15F degree (or a bit colder) low. Also the winds are picking up and gusts are hitting 45-50 mph.
I am concerned about the wind and keep working on our snow walls. Of course in all this I have forgotten to eat or drink anything for hours and I am getting a little bit cold. Being a bit chilled I head in for the night and by now I am shaking. I crawl into my -25F degree bag to warm up and end up shaking like a Mexican jumping bean for a little over an hour. During this time Neoday is out and making some hot soup and he asks if I would like some to which I reply, "I am mildly hypothermic so that sounds good." I never did see that soup. I think he fell asleep. No harm, no foul. I get some water and dry food down and manage to warm up after a while. I then decide to head out to the other tent and use its much larger vestibule to cook up some hot soup. Mmmmm, Mmmmm Good. I wake my GF up and make her eat some too.
That night the winds gust so hard I could feel the heat leave my sleeping bag (sucked out really) when the stronger gusts hit the tent even though I had a snow wall and my good ole' Moss mountianeering tent. I guess I know know what -55F wind chill feels like now. Based on wind speeds recorded in the mountains that night we think the winds hit about 60mph at our location. Not too far away winds hit 73mph for peak wind speeds. There were a couple of times where the wind hit me so hard it staggered me and once sent me to my knees. We ended up spending three nights at Kite Lake as we waited to become acclimated and for the weather to clear.
On the 31st we wake up before first light but get a late start, no need for headlamps. This is the first time we can actually see the top of the mountain so despite the somewhat late start we head up The four of us head out but take some extra time to some practice glissading near a collapsed building. After our break we head up trail and turn up the face below the false summit preferring to hike on the rocks than wade through the deep, in some cases waist deep, snow. Despite the temps being in the low teens I end up stripping down to my base layer as the sun comes out and warms up the snowfield. We continue up slope crossing from left to right until we make the upper portion of the saddle connecting Democrat to its nearest neighbor. We take a short break but decide to get moving again as the wind is stronger here and the temps a bit lower. My three climbing partners decide to stay on the rocks to my right as I kick steps in a snowfield below the false summit. After we get over the false summit the wind starts to hit hard, some times making us stop or walk leaning into the wind. At this point I decide I will put my BD Ice Gloves on instead of my REI fleece plus liners and my hands feel like I have heaters in the gloves! We make for the summit with my GF and me in the lead and our two much younger partners coming up behind us. About 15 yards from the summit I look back at the two "youngsters" just in time to see them start sprinting in a race to the top. Of course it doesn't last long and they collapse together about 10 yards below me. Heads pounding no doubt.
We wait for them to recover and the four of us walk onto the summit together. We spend the usual amount of time taking pictures and the like and then my GF makes an announcement. "I have not been climbing alone", at which point she takes out a film canister in which, she explains, is some of her mother's remains and she tosses them up in the air and scatters them on the summit of her first 14er ever.
With some dark clouds closing in from the West we decide to beat a retreat and head back down fast. Glissading saves us some time but some of the snowfields have an inch or two of powder on top that makes glissading hard. I follow the trail down with my GF and the youngsters following. At this point I am learing a new lesson that I should have learned that first night when I ate and drank too little. I should be eating more and drinking more but instead I am heading down as fast as I can and stay safe. Despite feeling more and more tired I mindlessly push down hill. After we pass the collapsed building on the way down the youngsters and my GF pass me and I pretty much stagger into camp and fall down. Of course I failed to eat enough on the climb so I am pretty tired.
What took us about 5 1/2 hours to get up took us a measly 1 to 1 1/2 to get down. We did use our ice axes the whole way up and down but the crampons stayed on our packs and were never needed. We get back in time to make a decision. Should we stay another night or bug out before night fall? We decide to head out. I am tired of melting snow for hours every day and feel the need for some real food. In the cold temperatures we found that two MSR stoves and two pots were not enough to melt water fast so next time we will have a bigger pot and at least one more stove.
We break down camp and head down to the truck. On the way out I keep looking back happy to have completed my first winter ascent but happy to be heading down for a really big and sloppy burger!