Archive for the ‘14′er’ Category
My first 14er of 2013 was Mt Sherman at 14,036 feet. This is not considered a difficult climb, but nonetheless, another 14er checked off the list and a good time to break in my new Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX boots. I have had them out a few times now and am impressed so far. A friend and I left early and headed out U.S. 285 towards Fairplay for the trail head. When we turned off county road 18, I saw something just in front of my headlights. I backed up from the turn, hit the spotlights and two enormous bull elk were standing there to greet us with steam coming from their nostrils. After they gave us the go ahead, we continued on up the dirt road for 10 miles and had a brief encounter with some deeper snow than was expected. After a little digging, we pressed on to the trail head.
The weather was not supposed to cooperate so we were trying to beat the incoming snowstorm. The clouds began to build with brief flurries here and there and the trail became more snow-covered as we headed up. We had to break trail up a fairly steep snowbank, which we both looked forward to glissading down on the way back. Once we made it to the top of the ridge, we continued up to a small saddle where we ate some lunch and added a few clothing layers. With about 200 vertical feet to go, the cloud deck fell and the wind let loose. We made it to the summit in just enough time to snap a few pics and head down. One of the pics was a little motivation for Mom, who just had back surgery. Hang in there Mom!!
Saturday was supposed to be a beautiful day, so a friend and I met up early in the morning and headed for Breckenridge. We arrived at the Quandary Peak trailhead around 8am and were on the trail by 8:30 after putting the gaiters and spikes on. We took our time on this one, as there was no weather to beat. It was a crisp 30 degrees or so when we started, with promising bright blue skies to the west. We had intermittent snow on the trail of 2-4 inches, most was packed. After we stopped for a brief snack at tree line, we headed up into the wind. The south side of the mountain was creating a wind tunnel that we had to march into. Just guessing, the winds were about 40-50 mph and of course, it was much colder above the trees. We both put on the balaclavas and took out the down jackets. This climb was only 6.75 miles, but you have 3,450 feet of elevation to gain, which proved a good workout. Off to our north east, we could see Grays and Torreys, which I had completed back in September. As we neared the top, we saw someone hunched over, spilling his breakfast. We asked if he was alright and he said he just didn’t feel well. He was experiencing altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness. This is nothing to mess around with and the only cure is descending, which he did. After he left we had the 14,265 foot summit to ourselves. We hung around up top and enjoyed the views and had some snacks. I gladly partook in one of my new favorites from the Rocky Mountain Popcorn Company. I took the Naked flavor, which has just enough salt to taste. Pick some up if you see it.
We headed down and were treated with another awesome Colorado sunset. After stopping to put our headlamps on at dark, we arrived at the car around 7pm.
The Colorado Mountain Club is celebrating it’s centennial anniversary this year (1912-2012) and Kristy and I took part in it by joining the 14er Challenge. Climbing teams were attempting to ascend all fifty-four 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado on the same day. Team ascent, descent times and progress on the mountains were monitored back at a makeshift climbing headquarters and the teams brought CMC signs and flags for the summit celebrations. Kristy and I signed up to climb a moderately rated Grays Peak at 14,270 feet to join in the fun and be a part of CMC history.
Our group started at the Grays Peak trailhead around 8am with temps around 32 degrees. With the help of the outstanding weather, we made pretty good time and a small ambitious team of 4 of us were able to peel off and tackle nearby Torreys Peak at 14,267 feet. We were still able to meet the rest of the group, who stuck to the original route, up on Grays for lunch. This made two 14′er summits in one day completing the Grays-Torreys combo!!
We had perfect temperatures, crystal clear skies and saw some of the best views of the front range all summer. After pictures at the top were taken with the CMC sign, everyone finished up lunch and started the descent. Big thanks to our trip leader, Lorna and the Colorado Mountain Club!!
For the long labor day weekend, we packed the Land Cruiser and the camp trailer and headed to the San Isabel National Forest for an attempt to climb Colorado’s highest peak: Mt Elbert; and to get a way from the masses of Denver. After driving for 2 hours, it was dark when we reached the trailhead, but we managed to find a great camp spot and set up. We immediately climbed into our sleeping bags, as we would get up at 5am and head for the trail. It was a refreshing 34 degrees when we woke up, very welcomed from the 90+ heat wave we have had in Denver. We got our packs ready, ate a quick breakfast and went to the trailhead. We were anticipating a 9+ hour day, so we wanted to get an early start to beat any weather that could show up. It was warming up quick as the sun came up over the distant mountains about an hour into the hike.
We have had some haze the last few weeks from the wildfires in Montana and the smoke has slowly made it’s way into Colorado. The views were not as clear as they normally are, but it was still beautiful. As we left tree line we could see the trail winding steeply up to what looked like the top of Elbert. This was one of two false summits on this side of the mountain. A false summit is when you look up and think you see the summit and when you get there, the actual summit is beyond where you thought. This can be a mind game and frustrating, but you have to keep going. We began noticing the clouds building when we were around 12,500 ft and kept a close watch on them. As we neared the 13,150 ft mark, we decided to call it a day and headed back down. When you are above tree line (approx. 12,000 ft) you have no cover and you are at the complete mercy of the elements. The weather can change in an instant in the mountains, so you better be prepared. A week after our summit of Mt Bierstadt, there was a snowstorm, yep, in August… Colorado also has the highest percentage of lighting strikes just after Florida, a lot of these being on the high peaks and you do not want to be at 14,000 ft when a storm comes in. Sure, we were disappointed, but the mountain will always be there and we will be back. As we headed down, we saw darker clouds rolling in and then it would clear, but we still didn’t want to risk it. When we got back to tree line, we stopped for brief lunch and then just enjoyed the rest of the hike back to camp. About a half mile from the trailhead, we found an Aspen grove near a creek, so we stopped and took some pictures. When we got back on the trail, we ran into someone heading down and he said it had gotten pretty nasty up top with hail and sleet. This made us feel better about our decision.
We shed our packs and took our boots off back in camp and it was time for some burgers and beer. After we ate, the thunder began, so we packed everything up from getting wet, unhooked the trailer and took the Cruiser to do some exploring in the rain. It was brief and didn’t last long, but we found some great trails and really liked the rest of the camping area we didn’t get to see on the way in because it was dark. We will definitely bring the 4wheeler next time we go. We also found the Mt Massive trailhead, which is CO’s second highest peak at 14,428 ft in the same area. I think we will be visiting this area again and again.
I’m now an official member of the club…the Fourteeners Club. (J joined the club last year, when he conquered Pikes Peak.) Fourteeners and summertime in Colorado go together like peas and carrots. With over 300 days of sunshine and awe-inspiring scenery, who wouldn’t want to be in this great state and have a view from the top! Mount Bierstadt stands at 14,060 feet and is a great 1st for a beginner like me. Roundtrip, the standard route is almost 7 miles and takes about 6 hours to complete. There is no easy 14er, but this mountain is considered to be one of the least difficult of the 54 summits.
The trailhead begins at Guanella Pass, with the first mile winding through willows and marsh. After that, it is all uphill straight to the summit. As we ascended up the trail we were surrounded by amazing views of the mountains – including a few 14ers, the Colorado blue sky and the marshy pools bordering the willows below. We stopped for a few rest stops along the way to enjoy the views and fuel up on some healthy snacks.
The path is well-defined until approximately the last half mile, when the trail fades into a field of rocks. This rocky area welcomes you to your final ascent up the boulder field to the summit. After about 4 hours, victory was mine! Reaching the summit was exhausting, but so exhilarating! To be on the summit, is almost indescribable….to be on top of the world, eye to eye with the clouds, enjoying the outdoors at its best.
At the top, we enjoyed some lunch, were visited by a whistle pig (marmot), and of course took lots of photos to document our accomplishment. <Listen to the Whistling Whistle Pig – CLICK HERE.> With clouds rolling in, we decided it was time to start our return trip to the trailhead. Descending went a little faster, but it was slightly more challenging to move down the rocky trail with tired legs. About a mile from the trailhead, we were visited by a few claps of thunder and an afternoon summer shower. Thanks to our training from the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC), we were prepared for almost any weather and quickly pulled out our rain jackets. I don’t think the couple we passed hovering under the tree in their shorts and sneakers have yet taken any courses from the CMC. As we approached the trailhead, we were congratulated on the days’ efforts by two moose frolicking in a marshy pond. Colorado outdoors is simply astounding.
Today was a day of accomplishments, physically, mentally and personally. It was an accomplishment for my body…climbing a mountain…hiking 6 hours…high altitude…I got this. It was an accomplishment for my mind…no more 14er intimidation…if I can climb one, I can climb, 2,3,4…even 54 …I can do this. It was an accomplishment in my life…a goal succeeded…to explore Colorado from the best vantage point – the top of the Rockies!
So, watching the snow creep further down the faces of the front range mountains here in mid October, I realized my goal of climbing a 14′er our first year here was quickly fading away… We had our first snow of the season last weekend and the mountains got hammered, with Wolf Creek Ski Resort already opened. I noticed we were supposed to have a quick warm up this week, so I started thinking I might be able to squeeze my hiking goal in, but I only had one shot…
It has been said, that hiking Colorado’s 14er’s is an immediate addiction. Living near them and seeing them daily, hiking around them and fishing in the many lakes and streams in the area are one thing, but to actually hike a 14′er to the top, that is what it is all about. I have been a long time researcher on www.14′ers.com getting trip and route data, conditions and packing suggestions and just general information. A 14′er is defined as a mountain that exceeds 14,000 feet above sea level and the great state of Colorado has 53 of them (some say 54…) more than any other state. There are some technicalities on how they are measured, but you get the point.
We have many 14′ers right here close to home, but I decided to attempt Pikes Peak for my first one (for years Pikes Peak was believed to be 14,110 feet. It’s actually 14,115 feet. Measuring equipment has improved and the sign has not caught up). What better mountain to start with than “America’s Mountain”. This is the mountain that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” in 1893. Another big deciding factor was that I was to attempt this climb solo and I knew this was a popular trail and would come across people if I needed something. There are two main routes to the summit. The trail I was going to take is Barr Trail (east slope) and it is the longest (14 miles) of any trails leading to the top of the 54 mountains in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet, and offers the greatest base-to-summit elevation gain in the state: 7,400 feet. Let the planning begin.
After watching the summit webcams for over a week, I could see some snow melt and Saturday, October 15th was supposed to have highs in the upper 70′s in Manitou Springs (at the trail head) and highs in the upper 20′s on the summit. There is a guy I work with who has climbed this route a few times, so I got a lot of information from him. I started putting my gear list together, as this was different from any other hike I have attempted. I would be hiking through 4 different “life zones” (the foothills zone, montane zone, sub alpine zone and alpine zone) http://pikespeak.us.com/Learn/life-zones.html. This would require more and different types of gear, aside from just layers of warm clothing. I invested in some Micro-spikes to help with traction in the snow/ice, gaiters to help in the deep snow and trekking poles. Not all of this is necessary, but I am very glad I invested…
To summit a 14′er in the summer months, the single most important factor is time. Simply put, you need to have reached the summit and back to shelter before thunderstorms move in. Lightning strikes are the biggest killer on mountains. Many people try to summit a 14′er and get within a few miles of the top and have to turn around because of the weather and deteriorating conditions. Weather at these altitudes is extremely unpredictable. Since it is October, I didn’t have to worry about thunderstorms, I did however want to be off the mountain before dark and didn’t know what my pace would be and how long it would take. I was told 6-10 hours depending on endurance and frequency of stops. I decided to leave at 4am.
K, Furry B and I drove down to Manitou Springs after work on Friday and stayed in a hotel near the trail head. We woke up early in the am, packed, made sure I had everything and headed to the trail. It was a short 5 minute drive down the road. I borrowed two hand-held radios and due to little to no cell service I was to contact K via radio at certain times and when I reached the halfway point, Barr camp http://www.barrcamp.com/. Barr camp was 6.5 miles up and for me, was the point of no return. If I went past Barr camp I was going to attempt to summit, if not, I was to head back down to the trail head and meet K. I knew there was snow, but I wouldn’t know if it was passible until I reached the camp and spoke to the caretakers. We said our goodbye’s, went over final contingency plans and K made one final call to the information line. Everything came to a grinding halt. Due to time restraints, my original goal was to hike to the summit and have her pick me up there. A lot of people hike to the halfway point, stay the night at Barr camp and then summit the next day. I wanted to attempt the entire hike in one day. The information line said Pikes Peak highway was closed 4 miles from the summit because they could not get the road cleared of snow. I told K to drive as far up to one of the pull offs as she could, I would summit and walk the 4 miles down the road to meet her. We stuck to the plan and I was off at about 4:09am
I headed to the trail head sign and into the dark canyon with my headlamp on, the twinkling lights of Manitou Springs fading behind me. About twenty minutes in, I realized I was sweating and needed to shed some clothes. It was about 35 degrees when I started and I would need these clothes later and I needed them dry. I put them in my pack and continued. It was an eerie feeling hiking in the dark with a head lamp and the almost full moon, but it was very peaceful. I was in awe of the landscape being lit up by the moon. Switchback after switch back, I slowly made my way up the trail. I never heard, or saw anyone for the first two hours, then I saw a headlamp flickering through the trees. I met up with a guy that was from Colorado Springs and was attempting the same plan I had. He had hiked to Barr camp the previous weekend to scope it out, so we decided to stick together. We rounded a bend and before us was the first glimpse of Pikes Peak from the trail. It was still dark, but the moon was reflecting off the snow covered peak and hopefully in a few “short” hours, we would be on top. About an hour after we met, the colors in the sky began changing and the sun peeked over the horizon east of Colorado Springs. We were still in the treeline, so our view was a little obstructed, but we stopped for a few pictures, some water and then kept going. After walking in the dark for almost 3 hours the sun was a welcome sight. We arrived at the primitive, but welcoming Barr Camp, built in 1921 by Fred Barr (hence the name of the trail) around 7:30am. We were welcomed by the permanent caretakers, went inside to warm up and ate some breakfast (trail mix, jerky and Cliff bars). The caretakers hike all supplies in, or it is delivered by the cog as there are no roads. The snow was spotty at this altitude, but there were people heading up the trail, so I tried to contact K via radio, with no luck. I was able to get one text message out, saying we were heading to the top and should be there around 1:00-2:00pm. We repacked our bags, strapped on the gaiters and micro-spikes and headed up. By this time, my legs were already feeling tired and I could feel blisters beginning on my heals. This was not going to stop me. Further up the trail, the snow started covering the trail more and more. We pressed on and reached the treeline at about 12,000 ft and knew we had about three more tough hours to the summit. The snow was getting deeper in spots and my feet felt like cinderblocks. We briefly stopped and talked to two guys who we yielded to. One of them does this trail frequently throughout the year, has climbed some of the most famous peaks and uses the Barr trail as a training ground. I was glad to be following them. Looking up, we were on the east face of the mountain. The wind was ferocious at times, which didn’t help when you were on the side of a mountain at the mercy of the elements. This part of the trail was by far the toughest and with each switch back, there seemed to be no end. The views here were unbelievable. We got off track a few times because of the depth of the snow, losing the footprints of whoever was in front of us. After one more long trek across the face, we headed up to the ”16 Golden Stairs”, which is more like 32, as they are switchbacks… We were postholing in some spots above the knees, which made it that much more grueling. We came around the last switch back and reached the summit at 1:30 that afternoon, 9.5 hours from start to finish. Not bad for first timers with the snow conditions that were present.
What an indescribable feeling to be finished!! We went to the summit house took some of our gear off and sat down. We found out that they had cleared the road and it had opened at noon, so no 4 mile hike down to the car. It was funny to see the tourists who had driven, or taken the cog railway up looking at you like you are crazy. With our red, wind burnt faces and wet, snow-covered boots, I guess I could see why. I stood in line for a world-famous Pikes Peak doughnut and coffee and the cashier said with a grin, how was the trail? I checked my phone and had a message, K was almost to the summit for our ride down the mountain. We finished up and went outside to get the famous summit picture by the Pikes peak sign. Another tourist came up and said, you guys hiked all the way from the bottom, with a smile, I said yup.
What better way to spend the 4th of July than to hike a 14’er??
14′er Defined: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14er
Well, we can’t claim a 14’er yet, we just hiked part of one and started around 10,000 ft, but we have big plans to summit the majority of Colorado’s 14ers: http://14ers.com/
We started at Summit Lake around 12,000 ft up Mt. Evans and headed up the trail. Beautiful scenery, lots of sun and, of course, wildlife. We saw mountain goats, marmots and a pika and then spent lunch on the south side of the mountain with views of Chatfield State Park and Pikes Peak, some 50+ miles away. Mt. Evans, at 14,265, can be seen from over 100 miles away to the east and many miles in other directions. It is one of the most dominating peaks of the Denver skyline/Front Range and is also home to America’s highest paved road.
Click HERE for information about Mount Evans.