Deer Mountain, "How I fawn for thy velvet meadows...
Tom Ela climbs above Deer Mountain's icy lake. Twining (aka Blue Peak) is the high 13er on the left skyline.
"I fawn for thy velvet meadows, thy elegant rocky flanks, and pointy antlered summit."
A graceful creature, Deer Mountain straddles the continental divide as if leaping the continental divide near Independence Pass. Here is a tail of hunting 13,761’ Deer Mountain in Colorado’s Mount Massive Wilderness.
My old Gladstone's boss Tom Ela surprised me years ago with his ambitious mountain climbing career. He long since completed his goal of climbing all fifty-four of Colorado's fourteen thousand foot peaks. But he's not done. He plans to surmount Colorado's two hundred highest summits, all over 13,580 feet. I'm chasing Tom's goal. I use it as an excuse to escape summer’s stifling heat.
I recently camped under Mount Sneffel's magnificent north side with my Randi wife and 1 year-old baby Ace. We spent hours soaking in the grandeur as if on a beach in awe of the hugest wave that refused to break. My mind was satiated but my body freaked out. I needed to scale some peaks.
If my brother Dirk can't join me, Tom is my next call. Training for his twenty-second Silverton Kendall Mountain Run, Tom needed some altitude training. Most of the 13’ers we have left require backpacking or three-hour drives. Tom decided that our most accessible target was Deer Mountain.
Tom Ela in the velvet meadows below Deer Mountain
We camped at the small trailhead on the east side of Independence Pass. We woke at six A.M. and cruised up the mellow North Fork of Lake Creek. Reports of wading through dew-slopped willows were gladly exaggerated. Stepping from tree line into the velvety alpine meadows gave us a pleasant thrill we both were hunting for.
We abandoned the route at Deer Mountain's ice-coated lake. We clawed Mount Deer's high and rocky haunches. We turned and stalked up Deer's stilted north ridge. Elegant views of the Mount Massive Wilderness expanded as we climbed. Sometimes wilderness is just a name. On Deer Mountain, the vastness feels breathtakingly real. We quickly reached Deer's antler tipped summit. Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest summit lurked above other beastly mountains of the Sawatch Range.
Looking south, our continued route loomed under a sky turning from clear blue into thick rolling clouds. Deer's summit dropped away to an imposing rack of rock, the lead up to an unnamed 13,736' peak I've dubbed "Super-Champ Peak," then the ridge ducks and rolls up to 13,646’ Mount Champion.
We shot down the tricky ridge taking the buck by the tines... gingerly. A badly placed prance could have mortal consequences. The hairy ridge was in a state between solid, rock scree, and powdery dust. I dubbed the terrain as "scrog." Tom informed me that Boston has a traditional codfish dish known as "Scrog." I like it, both substances are rather flaky and malodorous... mostly I enjoy saying the word “Scrog”.
Reaching the lowest saddle, the clouds leered down their barrel. We had a half-hour to safely top "Super-Champ Peak's" bulky ridge in time to follow the mountaineer’s idiom "off the summit by noon".
Idiom indeed. I convinced Tom to fight up the ridge until the darkening clouds pummeled the blue-sky into submission… We made it!
Another fast paced climb landed us triumphantly on Mount Champion. We escaped lighting exposed high ground by sliding down snowfields and stumbling down the staggeringly steep tundra then broke for a well-deserved lunch next to the namesake Champion Mine Site.
One clap of thunder applauded our efforts then spit rain on us as we fled into the steeply banked forest. We waded North Lake Creek’s cold rushing water back to the waiting car.
Sandals and cider perfectly spiked our day of hunting for Colorado's beautiful Deer Mountain and two victorious peaks. My mountain lust is temporarily quelled. Now I can turn my poetry homeward for my fourth anniversary with my wife!
I long to peer deep into your sparkling jade-green eyes, to bask in your heart stoking beauty…
I’m no poet, but I find mountains inspire me to live adventurously, but nothing beckons a hasty return like a lovely wife and a loving home.
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