I first became captivated by the Colorado 14ers in 1995 when I picked up a copy of Gerry Roach’s “Colorado Fourteeners”. I read all about the difficult peaks, the easy ones and of course the high summits got my attention as well and I had to read about the highest, Mount Elbert. I knew that day that I wanted to climb all of the 14ers and set a personal goal to do it over my lifetime and I have always been interested in the highest peak around, so naturally I picked Elbert for my first 14er.
I recruited my brother in law, Dustin to go with me and I didn’t want to take any time off of work, so I got off a little early at 4:00 pm and within 30 minutes we were on I-15 South headed to the Elbert trailhead. The drive actually went really fast, as we talked about politics, religion and school and when we passed through Grand Junction, Dustin put in a CD that he had, Millennium Hip Hop Party. With some great classics artists like Tone Loc, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J and Digital Underground, we were kept busy singing along for the next few hours, as we had to replay it a few times and the part that had us laughing hysterically was trying to get all of the lyrics to the “Humpty Dance”, as Dustin had to replay a certain part of the song at least 9 times. At least it made the time go by fast. When we started getting closer to the trailhead we could see that the high ridges had been dusted with snow and that concerned me somewhat, because I had opted to bring my running shoes instead of my hiking boots and I really didn’t want to deal with snow, but I knew it wouldn’t be that bad.
When we reached the Halfmoon trailhead at about midnight, we were both tired and it was very cold out and neither of us wanted to set up a tent, so we opted to sleep in the car, which made for a rough night. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or the car, but I was restless all night and had a slight headache and I never did do more than doze off for a few minutes at a time, before I would be awakened. It was one of the most miserable nights of sleep I have ever experienced.
At about 5:30 I did not want to prolong the punishment any longer, so I woke up Dustin and told him we should get ready. We cranked the heat, because it was bitter outside and I ate a pop tart and had some granola, while we got our gear ready. We were off on the trail by 6:00 and after about 10 minutes of hiking I started to feel queasy and without much trouble at all I could have easily given up my pop tart to the trail critters, but I did my best to keep it in, knowing that I would need the energy. I was not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the altitude that was making me feel crappy, because I had done a warm up hike to an 11K peak in the Wasatch Mountains a few days earlier to help me acclimate, but I don’t do well at altitude, so I think it was probably a combination of both. After about 20 minutes, I started feeling much better and our pace picked up.
When we came out of the trees the first thing we noticed was the wind. It was blowing really hard and it was COLD, so we continued on the trail and tried to deal with the wind by adding a few layers. We could see our route ahead and figured that what we could see was likely a false summit and we also noticed a few other hikers making their way up and they were the first people we had seen all day.
The hike up to the summit was not all that difficult, but the dusting of snow from about 12,500 on made things a little annoying, because the rocks were slippery and my feet got cold and wet. As we got higher the wind only got worse and that made this a very cold hike. We were prepared, but every time we stopped even for a few seconds we got blasted, so we didn’t stop for long. We finally crested the final hump and the summit came into view, so we both had an adrenaline rush that quickened our pace up to the summit.
On the summit the views were outstanding in every direction and it was really cool to see all of the fourteeners dusted with some snow. Mount Massive was well, massive and there was a guy on top pointing out all of the peaks, which was cool, because I had read about them in Roach’s book and now I could see where they actually were. This was by far the coldest summit that I have ever been on and the wind chill was well below freezing. It was almost unbearable. We hunkered down in a wind break and signed the register, but it was too cold to get a snack and Dustin vigorously complained when I asked him to pull my camera out of my pack. He had to take off one of his gloves and the bitter cold instantly froze his fingers, so he complained about that for the rest of the day. We snapped a few pictures and both decided that it was just too cold to hang out here any longer, so both wanted to get down and out of the wind to eat our lunch
Just after we left the summit we ran into a teenaged kid wearing a t-shirt and jeans. He had his arms tucked into his shirt and was shivering uncontrollably. He did not have a backpack, so I’m not sure if he was carrying anything at all and I was shocked. A kind hearted gentleman that was just behind us offered him a fleece jacket from his pack and the kid quickly took it and put it on. We made really good time hiking down and it actually warmed us up substantially and getting out of that wind helped too. It was still windy, but nothing compared to the summit. We were both a little surprised at the army of hikers making their way up the slope. There had to be at least 100+ people and I had not seen anything like it before in the mountains. It almost seemed like a ride at Disneyland or something and we were happy we got an early start, because we avoided most of the people on the way up. Once we were back down to the trees we decided to stop and have some lunch and the wind had really died down and the sun was out, so we took off some layers and enjoyed a nice lunch of jerky, clif bars, crackers and Gatorade.
The hike back to the trailhead seemed much longer than on the way up and my body was exhausted from the lack of sleep, but it felt great to be in the mountains and to have just been on the highest peak around. When we got back to the trailhead we were shocked at how many cars were there. The lot was completely full and it was rather hot back down at 10K ft. The drive back home was uneventful, although we were both really tired and when I got home at 2:00 am I crashed. We had been gone for 33.5 hours and spent about 16 in the car, but it was worth it to get my first real taste of the 14ers