Just another day in the mountains
This week I met up with some others from 14ers.com to hike Mount Princeton. We left Denver at 4:30 am and drove through the snow and sleet to arrive at the lower trailhead around 8. Conditions there were good so we decided to drive the Jeep Cherokee to the trailhead at 11k via the narrow jeep trail. We took a wrong turn and had to back down a ways, then got the Jeep stuck precariously on the edge of a steep slope while attempting to turn around. None of us favored a tumble over the precipice, so we got out and pushed. Eventually we were able to turn the Jeep back onto the road and were on our way. The higher we drove, the steeper the snow became until we hit a 3-foot drift and were forced to stop at around 11,000 ft.
Wind, snow and other perils
We set off shortly after 9 am and were soon enjoying the snowshoe action on the remainder of the jeep road. Over the section of trail leading from the jeep road to the north slope of Tigger Peak the wind was blowing 70-90 mph. After struggling across this stretch, we reached the scree slope which, despite being covered in 3 feet of snow was too rocky yet for snowshoes, and we soon found ourselves rock-hopping, post-holing, and intermittently flailing and cursing. Anyway it was a beautiful morning, and we were here to climb a mountain.
The going was slow as a member of our party had hurt a muscle in her leg earlier but was trekking like a champ despite. Around 13,200 ft. she was dubious about reaching the summit and wanted to turn back. It was now 4:15 pm. Quite determined to summit, we considered various options which all left her hiking alone. At that particular moment (and altitude) this seemed perfectly logical--the will to summit is a strong animal, and we had already invested a good deal of time and energy in this pursuit. Looking at the situation objectively, though, splitting up would compound that already unstable equation of weather and daylight; things could get away from us. But altitude and stubbornness conspire against objective thinking. For me the mental turning point was not any rationale but rather the recollection of a previous outing and how I felt after letting a member of my group turn back by himself in better conditions than these. After considerable debate we decided, miserably, to leave the summit for another time and descend together.
I wouldn't have it any other way
A week ago I looked up Mount Princeton and based on the data judged this an easy fourteener. And from a purely technical standpoint, it is. But I believe now there are no "easy" fourteeners. Someone has probably said this before, but I just learned it for myself. And only now do I think I'm ready to climb Mount Princeton.
This story should have ended by now
Now I've sprayed my philosophy I'll get back to the fun stuff. Backing the Jeep down in the dark, we again got stuck attempting to turn around. But we had experience in this sort of thing and were soon unstuck and pointing the right direction. Going North on Hwy 91 the conditions worsened. A few minutes later the driver of an SUV in the southbound lane lost control and came sliding sideways across the road. Our driver miraculously and narrowly avoided an 80 mph impact but lost control and our Jeep went in the ditch. Drat! No one was hurt and we stood around poking fun at our plight waiting for the other driver's brother to come with his truck. After he pulled us out of the ditch and parted ways, we discovered that the Jeep was still stuck in some muddy ruts on the shoulder. Now mechanically proficient at unsticking this vehicle, we made short work of the obstacle and proceeded home without further excitement.
Oh, and someone was not pleased at our choice of parking on the jeep road. We apologize for the discourtesy, but we humbly submit that we saved your lives by blocking access to the snowy deathtrap beyond. That was sarcasm. Of course we shouldn't have parked there. Sorry.
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