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With my wife, Suzanne set to leave for Central America on the 3rd, we decided that Saturday, the 2nd of September, was our last dependable chance to see that she got in at least one fourteener this season. Daughter Trisha had been waiting for this one, too, having passed on my climb of Pikes back in June in order to do it with the rest of the family. Granddaughter Amber couldn’t manage to get the day free, but we decided that the four of us (with grandson Ted) should seize the day and go for it.
With only a tiny chance of precipitation forecast, we set off before sunrise for the Crags trailhead. The sky was overcast as we set out, but after only a short while, we found that we were climbing through the clouds. Soon we could see blue sky overhead, and by the time the sun poked over the peak to shine directly on us, most of the mist was below us. We could clearly see our way onto the ridge above us, while the cloud deck remained solid over the land to the west.
We would continue to look down on that cloud deck virtually the whole day, with only a bit of partial clearing to the north and west in the early afternoon. The day was cool enough that we stayed mostly bundled up all day, but the sun was bright—bright enough that we really should have used more sunblock on our exposed faces. There were only the tiniest patches of snow left from the blanketing of a week before in very shady places, so the going was actually just about perfect in terms of traction.
Despite it being Labor Day weekend, we encountered only a few parties of other hikers. Although Trisha, Ted, and I had all gotten in plenty of climbing time this summer, Suzanne had been forced into a hiatus of just over a year by the demands of her job. By the time we passed Devil’s Playground, she was feeling the exertion and slowing down. We stopped for lunch before even reaching the base of the summit block.
Lots of help with the big steps, and lots of encouragement got her up the summit block, however. Getting to the top after 3 pm, however, Suzanne was frazzled. We decided that the sane thing to do was send her down on the cog railway. In three climbs of this peak, this was the only time I have ventured into the alien territory of that outpost of the city, the Summit House. Frankly, nothing but concern for the well-being of my wife (or some other member of my climbing party) would have made me do so.
Still, it was the sensible thing to do. Once we saw her on the train, and after taking a few photographs, the rest of us set off to make the fastest descent we possible could, since we knew that she would have to wait for us—or for someone else—at least for a little while, even at the very best. (While we waited, Trisha had the good sense to step across the rail tracks and snap a beautiful picture of the summit of Mt. Rosa poking above the clouds which totally hid Colorado Springs.)
Sweating a bit in the still-strong late afternoon sun, we did succeed in turning a good performance. An hour sufficed to get us back to Devil’s Playground, and we completed the 5.8-mile, 4,000-foot descent in two and a half hours. We managed to get back to the car before astronomical sunset. Although I was troubled by the worry about Suzanne, physically, the descent was wonderfully enjoyable. Even though we had spent 13 hours on our feet, we all felt great and glowing when we finally stripped off our excess clothing and piled into the car for the trip home.
Epilogue: Suzanne did get a ride home from the rail station, and everyone felt much better after a big dinner and showers. This was fourteener number four for Ted, number twenty-one for Trisha, and number twelve for Suzanne.
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