First, some background
Last weekend I went up Mt. Bierstadt with plans to cross the sawtooth to Mt. Evans. As it turned out a member of my group whom I will call Greg has a fear of heights, and we were not able to cross.
Nonetheless, having summited his first 14er, Greg was eager to hike some more. So I planned the next hike on the Decalibron, a relatively easy 7.25-mile class 2 loop to gain Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross.
Greg wanted to invite a buddy whom I will call Jeff. Jeff had climbed Longs Peak, so I approved without hesitation.
The first 14er
The forecast looked good, though cold, through midafternoon. I estimated 6-8 hours for the hike and planned our arrival accordingly. A late rendezvous set us back an hour, but still we had plenty of time, I thought.
My 2WD Sentra handled the rough drive up to Kite Lake like a champ. We parked at 8:15 am and set off, preceded already by a dozen or so hikers and campers.
The day was perfect. The cold kept us refreshed as we gained the steep slope to the Democrat-Cameron saddle in little over an hour. We summited Mount Democrat around 10:30 am.
Minor difficulties on the ridge
After Democrat my group began to slow a bit. We made our way back to the saddle and up again to Mount Cameron, which we reached at 1 pm. From there, seeing the narrow ridge on the final stretch to Mount Lincoln, Greg decided to proceed to Mount Bross while Jeff and I summited Lincoln.
Intending to intercept Greg before reaching Bross, Jeff and I gained Lincoln's summit in 20 minutes, snapped a few photos, and left. We met Greg and continued on to Mount Bross with another group of hikers--we felt the blame for ignoring the "No Public Access to Mount Bross" sign could be spread thinner this way. ;-)
We reached Bross' ugly summit at 2:45 pm. Though the views were fantastic, the wind had picked up so we were eager to get moving. We began our descent shortly after 3 pm.
The nightmare begins
Soon after reaching the official trail, our troubles began. At 14,000 ft. this trail becomes little more than a scratch on an exposed, steep slope composed entirely of loose scree. To add to the difficulty, the only level part of the trail was covered with slick hard pack, leaving the only solid footing on the outside, towards the downslope.
Neither Greg nor Jeff were keen on this exposure. Greg was immediately paralyzed by his fear of heights. Both he and Jeff began to move at a snail's pace. For 30 minutes I attempted to coax and coach, but fear of the slope drove them to hug the slippery footing on the high side of the trail, thereby putting themselves in real danger.
We had moved 50 ft. in the last half-hour. Dark clouds were building. I had not brought headlamps. Feeling helpless and afraid for all of us, at 4 pm I decided to go for help.
I literally ran down the 2,000 ft. to Kite Lake in 20 minutes. No one on the trail had a sat phone. At the parking lot, a group on their way out offered to alert the sheriff's office. Meanwhile, some others volunteered to climb back up to meet my group with headlamps.
A tense evening at Kite Lake
Every person in the Kite Lake basin at that time offered assistance in some way. By 5:45 pm, having collected plenty of gear, three of us started back up the Bross trail.
Completely spent, I grew dizzy at 13,000 ft. and was forced to stop. Lee and Scott gained fast and soon came within shouting distance of my group, who, now in view, were clearly off trail and descending a ridge which turns sour before reaching the basin. With some coaching Greg and Jeff returned to the trail just before sunset around 6:30 pm and I met them all soon after. Everyone was ok and quite happy for the assistance.
A short while later, as we descended, the sheriff drove in. Scott went ahead and I presume the cop learned from him the situation was under control. He stayed for awhile with his high beams pointed towards the hillside.
We all reached the parking lot around 8 pm to close out our 12-hour stint on the Decalibron.
Once again in a mood to take photos, we were treated to this view at 6:50 pm
Lee and each member of his group
Scott and Ned
Don and his group
Group who went to alert the sheriff
Thanks for your concern, time, and gear! We each learned our own lessons here. If you are on SP give me a shout.