|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Aug 31, 2019|
Tomasz, my dad, calls me a week before Labor Day.
“I have an extra vacation day and do not want to spend a 4-day weekend in Virginia.”
Of course, who would?
“Do you have any plans?”
“Just rented a house in the mountains for a few days, but can cancel.”
“Ok, can we meet in Colorado?”
“Sure! Let’s go backpacking and climb some 14ers”
“Perfect, I’ll book my tickets”
My Dad built me into his perfect adventure partner; molding me from the time I could barely walk to be able to ski, hike, windsurf. At the ripe age of eleven, I was creating presentations to organize trips and leading 100 mile excursions into the wilderness for the two of us.
The Christmas that I was thirteen, we bought each other matching climbing helmets; we’d be adventure partners forever.
My friend drove me to the airport after work; I flew over the tops of my familiar Cascade mountains right as the sun set; sipping on tea; I’d luckily been upgraded to first-class, and felt a sense of both familiarity and exhilaration, I’ve sat here and looked out this window so many times before. It hasn't jaded me, I love it every time.
The days leading up to the trip were full of planning and shopping. We needed to hit the ground running to be able to climb up the mountains we had set our goals on in the allocated time frame of the long weekend.
I made a spreadsheet, see here, of each day’s food and beverage necessities, as well as a comprehensive list of items to pack, and/or buy. I highly recommend this for any adventure excursions, it saves you from trying to think about each thing to pack; make a checklist and use it every time you go on an adventure. One forgotten item could mean the end of your trip, especially if there are no real stores for hours.
He was waiting for me at the baggage claim when I landed. We talked and caught up; twenty minutes later we realized that my bag was not showing up, we were not at the right baggage claim carousel.
It was getting late, and we still needed our car rental to drive into the mountains. The shuttle to the car rental service was crowded. We made a plan that I’d carry all the bags while he power-walks to the service counter so that we would not have to wait in line. It worked perfectly, as soon as the shuttle door opened he swept out while I collected the bags and met him at the front of the line, where we picked up the key to our Jeep Grand Cherokee.
We woke up at a reasonable time the next morning, surprisingly. As my Dad is getting older, I’m no longer getting the extreme pressure to wake up before the sun rises. I got a happy 6 hours of sleep.
Packing had gone very well, and we were ready, just needed a bottle of propane so we stopped by a Target, and a Chick-Fil-A, before heading south to the Sangre de Cristo Range.
The road turned from highway, to country road, to gravel, to rocky, to the point where we considered just parking before the trailhead. Coffee spilled everywhere from my Chick-Fil-A to-go cup as we tackled some very tough terrain, even crawling over a huge metal drainage pipe.
We arrived slightly later than we had originally anticipated, but set off in good spirits to our first destination, South Lakes Colony- where we would be camping for three nights.
A ptarmigan ran across my path, and fresh raspberries grew on the side of the trail. The sun shone through the trees creating beautiful dappled shade in the perfect weather. Everything buzzed with life and I felt myself relax. Cellular service was gone an hour ago, it would just be my Dad, myself, and nature for the next 4 days.
Time passed very quickly as we talked and hiked up to the lakes, making it there in the early afternoon. It was not long before we had found a perfect camping spot on the crest of a hill by a stream and set up camp. We had done this so many times. We looked for the flattest section, laid on the tarp to make sure we didn’t roll or there wasn't large chunks of debris that would bother us at night.
South Colony Lakes sits at over 12,000 ft in elevation; and after setting up camp, I could feel my head spinning with the lack of oxygen. Nevertheless, I asked Tomasz if he was ready to hit the first 14er today. The experienced mountaineer, my Dad, said as much as it would be great, the symptoms of altitude sickness set on quickly, and can be irreversible for days. This evening, we will not overdo it, like we often do, but will rest and start conquering mountains the next day.
So, we went fishing. Trout were swimming in the lakes near our tent. We found a nice place to sit by a large boulder to fish. There were no mosquitoes and the weather was perfect, so we took our time. The sense of relaxation and happiness deepen. How lucky am I to have such a great relationship with my dad, and for us to be so healthy and blessed to be spending a Friday evening fishing in the perfect valley surrounded by majestic cliff faces.
The trout we caught was a perfect addition to the ramen noodles. We even found one big Boletus mushroom to slice into the soup.
My head spun as I lay down in the tent. The attitude was affecting me, but it did not feel unpleasant.
Day One of real climbing; we decided we would attempt the summit of Crestone Peak, a lengthy Colorado 14er, with loose rock and class three scrambling.
The sunrise over the mountains was stunning, and we were above tree-line in a matter of minutes. Everything glowed orange as nature woke up- pikas started squeaking, and the marmots crawled out of their dens to warm their fur and begin their days.
The trail wound around the lake but quickly descended into a steep loose gully. We put out helmets on our heads and put away our hiking poles, it was time to climb. The gully was looser than we expected, and we had to work hard to not dislodge any precarious rocks onto the hikers below us. We had the same concern for those above us; and made sure to move quickly along the scree fields, taking deep long breaths of the ever-thinning air.
Past the gulley was the first saddle, Broken Hand Pass. We couldn't figure out why it was named that. I ate some dark chocolate covered acai berries and sipped on my gatorade at the gulley, but my Dad had no appetite, altitude can do that. From the saddle we unfortunately had to head all the way back down to another small valley with a lake, before starting the actual climb.
But, it was so beautiful. Everything was absolutely perfect. The weather, the sunshine, the crystal blue color of the lakes, the greenery of the luscious grass surrounding it, it was a little piece of heaven.
The next big part of the hike is the red corridor, otherwise known as the bacon. And indeed, it looked exactly like a piece of bacon plastered onto the mountain face. A piece of bacon that is thousands of feet long, and where people die every year from the rock fall, weather, or simply slipping from the steep climb.
It was a long, arduous climb up the bacon. It was loose, but for the most part, the conglomerate rock was good for handhold, and we climbed up steadily and confidently, passing many people while also engaging in some nice conversations.
Closer to the peak, the terrain became steeper and looser. A rock, dislodged by a hiker in front of me, about the size of a human head, starting hurdling at me. My Dad was about ten yards below me. Ten yards with the force of gravity is a lot of time for something with no air resistance to gain speed. I locked my eyes with the rock and stuck my leg out to where it was going to pass me, stopping the rock. The man in front of me yelled out an apology.
I let out a deep breath as I tried to calm my mind from the onset of post traumatic stress from my time on Rainier, where my Dad and I got trapped in the middle of a huge rock avalanche, and I thought he had died right next to me. I hate loose rock, we have no control over it, and it kills.
From the saddle, the trail turned left, and we only had a couple hundred yards left from the summit. There were a few class four maneuvers, with exposure, a fall would be deadly. I repeated to myself to constantly have three points of contact, calculating each move.
Reaching the summit always bring a sense of exhilaration. Walking the last few yards towards the peak feels like floating. I am in between the clouds, and the peaks that were towering above me in the morning were all below me. It is truly incredible that a seemingly fragile human can wedge themselves up a mountain for days on end, standing where no other species would like to stand.
Several other people were relaxing on the summit and chatting, it was a rather lively bunch. An athletic man in his forties was talking about how we always gives away exact replicates of a USGS Summit Survey Marker to the oldest person on the summit. He was about to hand this medal to a lady there but I quickly interjected that my Dad was, in fact, the oldest person on the summit. Plus he was carrying the heavier pack and doing most of the navigation- a real machine!
The clouds were darkening, and we did not even stop to snack and drink on the summit, but started making our way down.
At the saddle, however we wanted to wait a while for the other folks to pass us, so they could not be shedding the loose rocks on us. The sky rumbled with thunder and we thought better of it, starting to descend.
We continued the tricky climb down, and time dragged on.
I was right next to my Dad and we quickly leaped under a large boulder pressing ourselves against it as our ears strained to anticipate the exact location of the falling rock.
As we had suspected, the group above us was dislodging rocks, sending them loose down the 2,000 ft gully; a narrow bowling alley with no way out of the trajectory of the rocks.
I let out a long sigh, I didn’t like this. I wished for more solid rock, or less people. I decided at that moment to sit and wait until this group passed us. From my experience on Rainier, I picked my steps very carefully. After an experience like that, you know the potential consequences of one falling rock, which can pick up and dislodge many others on it’s way down, creating an avalanche that can take out whole teams.
My Dad is really into hygiene, so naturally, he wants to swim in every lake that we encounter, no matter how ice-cold. There was a small snow-melt lake in the valley below Crestone Peak, so while I attempted to nap in the grass, he let out shrieks as he plunged himself into the snowmelt. I am sure it is absolutely refreshing and then makes for a better night's sleep, but most often I cannot bring myself to enjoy cold water like that- I need a hot spring, or something turquoise and tropical.
We returned to the campsite in the late afternoon, with only a few hours before sunset, we prepared our Mountain House freeze-dried dinners, made a small fire, and packed up for the next day, for which we were going to make an alternate route attempt to Kit Carson and Challenger Peak.
The tasks of hiking to the stream to get water, boiling water, filtering bottles of water, mixing electrolytes, bringing down the food from their tie-up spots in the trees, and prepping clothes, takes a surprisingly long amount of time. Even bending over to pick something up off the ground at over 12,000 left me lightheaded.
At sunset, we were tucked in for the night, relaxing before day 3 of our climbing adventure.