As of June 2005, certain landowners had blocked access to Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron and Bross because of private property and liability issues. However, according to an Associated Press article dated August 8, 2006, the town of Alma recently leased the land for these 14ers for a total of $1 a month and plans to open the trails sometime next year. The town enjoys governmental immunity in lawsuits, which limits how much it could be sued for. Great news!
Mount Democrat is a Class 2 mountain from the most popular Kite Lake traihead. It is the 29th highest peak in Colorado. The normal route starts at Kite Lake at approximately 12,000 feet. The obvious trail starts with a long slow ascent until getting to the base of the mountain. The well marked trail takes you to the saddle between Democrat and Mt Cameron and then starts to switchback as you turn left (heading south west) to start the climb up the east ridge of the mountain. The trail narrows and there is a bit of scree, but nothing significant. A false summit awaits the climber, only to find the real summit maybe a couple hundred yards farther and a couple hundred feet higher. Descent by the same route unless you plan to climb Mt Lincoln next. If that is your plan descend to the saddle and then back up the other side past Mt Cameron to the Lincoln summit.
From Denver take Hwy 285 to Fairplay, then North 8 miles on Hwy 9 to Alma. You can also reach Alma by taking the Hwy 9 exit (exit 203) off of I-70 through Breckenridge. Once in the heart of Alma- across the street from an old general store type building-called the Placer Trading Company- take Buckskin Creek Road to Kite Lake. If you want to get an official gain of 3000' you will need to check your topo and stop at about 11,000 feet- which is approximately 4 miles up Buckskin Creek Road from Alma. There are several turnouts to park along the last couple miles to Kite Lake, but there are also a few creeks to cross. It used to be that you would need to scout out the creeks before crossing and a 4wd might have been necessary. Now, however, the creek can be crossed by a new bridge and passenger cars can drive all the way to Kite Lake. Parking is available there as is camping for a modest fee.
Maps: USGS Quads Alma, Climax, Pike National Forest
A summer climb of Democrat is a good climb for anybody in reasonable shape. Trails are well marked for the most part although the trail does disappear in spots where there is some scree. If you only climb Democrat it is no problem to be down before afternoon storms. If you climb Democrat, Lincoln and Bross be more aware of afternoon weather. You can call for mountain weather reports for this part of the state for a recorded weather and avalanche message at 303-275-5360.
Conditions on this mountain, like all Colorado 14ers, are subject to change rapidly- especially during the prime climbing summer season. The mountains are their own weather system, and weather forecasts from nearby towns often have little to do with actual mountain conditions. You can generally count on clear to partly cloudy in the morning, and heavy clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon during the summer.
There is no substitute for getting an early start, and getting as much of the mountain "behind you" as early in the day as possible. Keep a good eye on the sky as weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. The greatest weather danger is from lightning strikes, and climbers are killed almost every summer in Colorado by lightning strikes. July seems to be the most deadly month for lightning.
Two climbers were killed by lightning in Colorado within a couple days of each other in the summer of 2003. I think the following important information from Gerry Roach's book "Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs" bears repeating. Added here with permission from Gerry Roach:
Colorado is famous for apocalyptic lightning storms that threaten not just your life, but your soul as well. This section will have special meaning if you have ever been trapped by a storm that endures for more than an hour and leaves no gap between one peal of thunder and the next. The term simultaneous flash-boom has a very personal meaning for many Colorado Climbers
1. Lightning is dangerous!
2. Lightning is the greatest external hazard to summer mountaineering in Colorado.
3. Lightning kills people every year in Colorado's mountains.
4. Direct hits are usually fatal.
1. Start early! Be off summits by noon and back in the valley by early afternoon.
2. Observe thunderhead buildup carefully, noting speed and direction; towering thunderheads with black bottoms are bad.
3. When lightning begins nearby, count the seconds between flash and thunder, then divide by 5 to calculate the distance to the flash in miles. Repeat to determine if lightning is approaching.
4. Try to determine if the lightning activity is cloud-to-cloud or ground strikes.
5. Get off summits and ridges.
1. You cannot outrun a storm; physics wins.
2. When caught, seek a safe zone in the 45-degree cone around an object 5 to 10 times your height.
3. Be aware of ground currents; the current from a ground strike disperses along the ground or cliff, especially in wet cracks.
4. Wet ropes are good conductors.
5. Snow is not a good conductor.
6. Separate yourself from metal objects.
7. Avoid sheltering in spark gaps under boulders and trees.
8. Disperse the group. Survivors can revive one who is hit.
9. Crouch on boot soles, ideally on dry, insulating material such as moss or grass. Dirt is better than rock. Avoid water.
Camping is readily available all around Kite Lake. Reservations are not required. A modest fee is charged and parking is right there. It is a quite scenic campground. As of July 2003, camping is $7 and parking is $3. There is ample parking and many fire pits.
When To Climb
This is a popular summer peak because of its ease and the availability of being able to bag 3 peaks in one day. Conditions are best June- August and snow is generally not a problem. Accordingly, the summer routes can be quite crowded- especially on the weekends. Try a weekday if you can. Getting to the summit from Kite Lake is only a few hours, but beware that if you also do Lincoln and Bross that thunderstorms can come up pretty quickly in the Colorado afternoons. As always, an early start is best. Fall, winter and spring ascents can be done also but will require winter gear. ATTENTION WINTER CLIMBERS: I received an email from Scott Farish about an accident he experienced on Democrat in October 2002. Please read the account WINTER ACCIDENT ON MOUNT DEMOCRAT