First of all, let’s define “solo”. We all know a mountain can’t be shut down so you’re the only one on it, so for the purposes of this exercise I define “solo” as: I did my own research on routes/directions. I drove myself to the trailhead. I hiked by myself. While hiking I did my own route finding. I hiked up and down the mountain without physical assistance from anyone else. I purposely stayed away from other hikers as much as possible by either giving them plenty of time to pass me, or by passing them (mostly by passing them).
Today I summited my 58th unique Colorado 14er solo. That means I’ve summited all of Colorado’s 14ers, solo, in less than 14 months. Many people ask me how I got started hiking 14ers. I’ve enjoyed hiking for as long as I can remember, but where I was first introduced to summit hikes and rock climbing was in the early 1990s at Girl Scout Camp.
I’ve been a Girl Scout all my life. I camped often with my Troop, and when I was old enough (around middle school) I went away to our local Girl Scout camp during the summers. Girl Scout camp is where I first learned how to shoot a bow and arrow, start a fire, cook outdoors, use a compass, hike at night, rock climb, swim and canoe in a pond, tack and ride and care for a horse (while backpacking in all types of weather) and successful problem solving and conflict resolution strategies. I was encouraged to lead where I could and to try new things. I have many fond memories of my times at camp, but two stick out when it comes to why I started climbing 14ers.
I was 12 and at camp the first time I went rock climbing. I loved it, but some of the girls were nervous (yes, that’s me)
I remember being at the top of my line when the girl next to me became scared about halfway up and froze. She couldn’t go up or down. One of the counselors, SP, talked to her gently:
“Honey, I know this looks scary and it’s ok to be scared but you can do this. You’re roped in, and my name’s SP and I’m here to help you. Do you know what SP stands for? (SP stretched out her arms): Soft Pillow. I’ve got you. You can do this”. The other girls started encouraging her as well, cheering her on and verbally assisting her with her footholds and hand placements. This encouragement helped the girl regain her confidence, make it to the top of the line, and rappel back down. Girl Power at its finest.
During my sessions at camp a few brave counselors would sometimes begrudgingly volunteer to lead a group of 20 or so ill prepared but enthusiastic middle school aged girls on a hike to summit a nearby peak on the Pacific Crest Trail. This was an optional hike I always chose to take. Pyramid Peak has 2100’ of elevation gain in 7 miles (3.5 each way), most often done in the blistering Southern California summer sun. Oh, the switchbacks!
We enthusiastically filled our trekking time dodging rattlesnakes, identifying dusty plants, shrubs, and trees, and of course, singing dozens of Girl Scout trail songs to keep the mountain lions away. When I reached the summit I was hot, dirty, tired, sweaty, and delighted with myself for being the first to the top every time.
From the summit (7035’) you could see the whole camp!
I remember looking down at everyone who’d foolishly stayed behind and thinking they sure missed out not hiking with us! Didn’t they all look bored lounging by the pool? I bet they were gazing longingly at the peak, watching us right now, wishing they’d hiked too…
By the time I was 12 I’d promised myself to someday hike the Pacific Crest trail in its entirety from Mexico to Canada. I have yet to do so, but it’s still on my bucket list.
I don’t remember much of the hike back down to camp besides enthusiastic singing, but we’d make it back and run and jump into the lake with all of our clothes still on: It was the fastest way to cool off! We were met with popsicles and extra shower time.
Summiting all 58 of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet is not an easy task. Most people spend years if not decades completing them all. It takes physical and mental strength, endurance, careful planning, determination, adaptability, high risk tolerance, willingness to ask questions and research, and a love of the outdoors, animals, and all types of weather.
A ‘finisher’ is the last peak a climber needs to summit to say they’ve summited them all, and it’s usually chosen for a special reason. 14er enthusiasts are known for choosing their finisher well in advance. I chose Mt Sherman because Girl Scout Camp started me on my path towards the love of the outdoors, adventure, goal setting, leadership, girl power, and wild wanderings. My Girl Scout camp experience took place at Camp Scherman in Southern California. Here’s my 14er Finisher Trip Report:
#58 Mt Sherman – 14,036 & Mt Sheridan 13,748
RT Length: 12.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3700’
If you read the above statement you know why I chose Sherman as my finisher. Also, it’s an ‘easy’ 14er (as easy as 14ers go), so it took away any pressure towards the end to summit a difficult peak. In fact, I made this one harder than it needed to be.
Yesterday after summiting Maroon Peak I gave serious consideration to just stopping by Mt Sherman on my way home and hiking it then, but as I passed the 9 from the 24 I was in the middle of a thunderstorm that didn’t look like it was going to give up anytime soon. So I drove home, made dinner, wrote a terrible trip report (because I was writing it while I was making dinner and doing laundry) and got a few hours sleep before my alarm went off at midnight. I did a mental calculation: well, that was 6 hours of sleep total in the past 48. No worries though, if all went well today I could sleep Sunday.
For the first time in a long time I didn’t see anyone else on the road from the time I made it past Divide until I made it to the trailhead. It was heaven! I made it to the Fourmile Creek TH at 3am on a 2WD dirt road. Well actually, I parked at the winter closure. I wanted to make sure I got that 3000’ of elevation gain in so no one could say I hadn’t ‘earned’ this summit, so I made sure to park at the lower trailhead. No one else was there when I parked, or when I made it back to my truck.
I got out of my truck and gathered my gear. It was a beautiful night to hike! The moon was full. It was so bright I didn’t need to use my flashlight at all the entire hike. Not even to read my directions. I took a few shadow selfies in the moonlight because I do that kind of thing.
Soon after I started hiking a car passed me. And then another one. Ugh! I really wanted to summit this peak alone. If that was going to happen I was going to have to book it. I picked up my pace, passed the gate and followed the road up the hill. In no time I’d passed everyone ahead of me (not bad, considering they’d had at least a 2 mile head start) and focused on route finding in the dark. The route is easy to follow, but in many places roads intersect each other, and in the dark talus tends to make the trail difficult to see. I’m happy to report I didn’t need to backtrack at all. Sorry there aren’t many route pictures in this report: it’s actually very straightforward and difficult to get lost.
I made it to the ridge crest and looked behind me. Uh oh. A steady stream of flashlights was lining the trail.
Luckily I didn’t see any flashlights ahead of me. Here’s what the ridge looked like.
I started hiking the ridge and the wind picked up, making it cold. This wouldn’t do! But there was nothing I could do about it, so I just hiked faster. Unfortunately I was hiking too fast. I was almost at the summit and the sun was nowhere near to rising! Hmph! I’d wanted a sunrise summit. Oh well, at least I was route finding and summiting solo, since no one was in front of me. If I’d started any later this morning I’d be with the throng of hikers behind me.
I’d planned on making a summit video for this hike as I was summiting, but I’d also expected the sun to be up. Well, I made the video anyway. In the dark. I’ll apologize now for the heavy breathing and sniffling: I swear I lose all my weight hiking through snot. I always come back with a raw nose… Anyway, if you’d like to join me on my finisher summit, watch the video below. (Disclaimer: it’s emotional)
I’d started at 3:15am, hiked over 5 miles in the dark, and summited at 5am. The only thing wrong with summiting at 5am? I couldn’t take a summit photo! So I sat and waited for the sun to rise. As I waited the peak began to fill up with other hikers. I sat and talked with a really nice girl for about half an hour until there was enough light to take a summit picture (notice the full moon?!?!?)
And another summit video
And a summit selfie. I’d made this hat special for today (ok, I made 6 different hats and had my daughter chose the one she liked best). It’s made with the same colors as the Camp Scherman patch I’d received at camp in 1993 when I was 12 years old. This was very emotional for me.
The summit was actually quite large. Good thing too as, it was going to be filled with hundreds of people soon. I’d wanted to stay until the sun actually rose, but I was a popsicle at this point, and needed to get moving.
Here are some photos of the ridge to the summit. You’ll notice from here on out it was virtually impossible to get a picture without people in it.
As I started hiking I started thawing out. I looked ahead of me and saw people on the trail intent on summiting 14er Sherman, but when I looked at 13er Sheridan it was vacant. That’s where I wanted to be.
I made it to the saddle and started up. The path was very easy to follow… no explanation necessary.
The summit of Sheridan was large, but not as big as Sherman’s. I wasn’t sure where the true summit was, so I kind of walked across the entire thing.
I also got a summit photo
And a picture looking back at Mt Sherman.
I was feeling fantastic! It was 6:45am, I’d already summited two ranked 14er/13er peaks, and I wasn’t even tired! Wouldn’t it be fun to re-summit Sherman, head over to centennial Dyer, and then back? Yes, it would have been, but if I left now I could make it home in time for my daughter’s 11:30am ice skating lesson. So I headed back down the mountain, practically skipping the entire way.
Look at all those people heading up Sherman!
Here are some pictures of the trail up the mountainside. Notice the people??? So. Many. People.
I love this one of the Dauntless Mine
Check out the cars at this trailhead!!! And they just kept coming as I was walking back down the road…
So, as I was hiking back to my truck (I found a dime on the dirt road BTW… lucky me!) it hit me:
Today I finished summiting all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers solo. I set this goal for myself and met this goal for myself. I did it while working full time. I did it while being a 37 year old (amazing) single mom of 3 teenagers on a limited income. I did it despite being tired and scared and at times so frozen and cold I didn’t think I could move another step. I did it while being band mom, team mom for my daughter’s softball team, merit badge counselor for my son’s Boy Scout Troop, Leader for 3 different Girl Scout Troops, in charge of Girl Scout Cookie distribution for hundreds of Girl Scout Troops, volunteering weekly at the Humane Society, serving on several community boards, and knitting over 300 hats for local school kids. I did it because I was determined to do something for myself. That being said, I couldn’t have done it without 3 such amazing kids! They really made the process easier for me. They deserve cake.
And finally, to answer “What are you going to do now that you’ve hiked them all?”
This question is obviously asked by someone who doesn’t know me very well. I have a lot of life goals, and this is only one in a long line of many. Off the top of my head some of the others I want to tackle are: Rim to Rim Grand Canyon, 14ers in California/Washington, Galapagos, Andes, Kilimanjaro, Mt Fuji, Mona Loa, Mt Everest Base Camp, Great White Shark Diving, thru hiking the PCT, Colorado, and Appalachian Trails… I also want to join a recreational softball league, become better at my winter climbing skills, visit all 50 United States (6 left!) and dive into that stack of books on my nightstand. I want to find a man to spend time with who understands an independent woman and can keep up with me both athletically and intellectually, and I want to go back to school to get my Doctorate. I want to write a book, become a motivational speaker, and don’t forget there are over 637 13ers in Colorado, and many, many more amazing local climbs to tackle!
Today’s peak wasn’t much of a mystery: With 2 left and good morning weather and a finisher already selected, Maroon Peak was my only option. I left my house at 10:30pm and made it to the trail head at 3am. Note: I made it on the first try this time!!! There were several other hikers already in the parking lot getting ready to hike when I got there. I jumped out of the truck to get a head start, putting on my gloves as I walked.
Ugh! I’d brought two left gloves! No worries though, I just turned on inside out: Problem solved!
The best part about hiking this morning in the dark? The (almost) full moon! If you’ve never hiked under a full moon you should. It’s fantastic and amazing and difficult to describe. You don’t need your flashlight, as the moon lights up the trail with a glowing mist. The moonlight was reflecting off the lake and mountains. I so wished I had a better camera to take pictures of the moon and stars. Also, there was a rather loud bird on the lake, which was weird for 3am.
I passed crater lake and did my best to get as far ahead of the hikers behind me as possible. I was about ¼ a mile ahead of the first group of hikers when I got worried: I’d made it to a creek, which meant I’d missed the turnoff somewhere. I should have been going uphill. Drat! So I backtracked and saw a string of flashlights starting up the mountainside. Ugh! I’d lost a good half mile of distance between me and the hikers behind me! Now we were all kind of clumped together. On the way back I took a picture of the junction. Can you tell which way I should go? Let me tell you, in the dark it all looks the same….
This is the way you’re supposed to go
In any event, I politely rushed past them as best I could and was on my way up the mountainside. The trail up to this point was very well maintained and has great signs
But not for long. It quickly turns into a slippery scree and gully trail that goes for 2800’ with some rocks thrown in. In the dark I noticed 3 flashlights ahead of me? Hmmm…. I hadn’t noticed them before? Maybe they’d gotten a super early start?
Your goal is to hike up this
Once you reach the top of the scree and gully trail you’re at a ridge that’s also full of scree and dirt
Here I saw goats. Side note: Last year I saw 1 goat. Just 1, and this year I’ve probably seen 50. Insane!
After I saw the goats the sun started to rise! I stopped for a bit just to enjoy
At the top of the ridge crest I met up with the three other hikers. They’d started at 3:45am from the junction (yes, the one I’d missed) and were impressed I’d caught up with them. We had a great chat, and I was on my way, intent on route finding alone (I like route finding… it makes me feel like I’ve “earned” the hike).
OK, so after the ridge crest this is the next obstacle…
The best way I can describe this is a lot of loose rock, and just keep going up and to the north. There are several routes to the top, but I tried to stick to the “standard” route. Several gullies are involved. But first you encounter a chimney. This was a great chimney to climb: very stable with lots of hand/foot holds
After this just follow the cairns… see them up there? Yes, those cairns.
I kept following the ridge north and came upon the two gullies. I’m not a fan of gullies. Either one of these gullies is climbable, but when I looked at them the first gully looked like it had more stable rock, and the second gully had that sand/scree mixture I dread. I chose the first gully. My instructions said to get a good look at the route you want to take before doing it because once you’re in it it’s difficult to figure out. Those directions were right. Take some time to study the route you want to take before diving in. Here’s the route I took. (I was very happy with this route…)
OK, more ledges and more going north until you hit another gully (big sigh). This gully had a lot of sand and large rocks, but if you hug the right side you have stable hand holds.
At the top of the gully is a notch
Aim for this and turn left. More ledges…woohoo! Actually, I like this type of climbing! These were taken from the way down (so you can see depth with other hikers). The ledges just keep going, and going, and going. Just aim up
Eventually you’ll reach a ledge. Follow that ledge to the summit (it has cairns)
I was so excited when I reached the summit! The climb had been intense but FUN!!! From the summit I could see Snowmass and Capitol
I took a summit selfie to prove I’d summited
And headed back down. I saw tons of people coming up as I was coming down! All those flashlights form earlier in the day took on faces. Some people looked more than prepared for this climb, and others looked scared out of their minds. I helped several with route finding. Just for fun, here are a few of the gullies on the way back down
I talked to several more hikers, and just after taking a photo of a group on the ridge lost my phone! I spent about half an hour trying to find it (I did, but backtracking up stinks!)
I made it back to the first ridge and noticed a marmot absconding with someone’s hat and water bottle. Marmots are notorious thieves, stealing everything they can get their paws on. I was surprised someone had left these items without putting something (a rock?) on them to hold them down. It was comical to see the marmot running away with them. Sorry to the owners, the marmot was actually pretty quick and far away from me when this happened, or I would have tried to stop it
I didn’t see any more goats on the way down, but I did see a lot of late and ill prepared hikers. Most had no clue what they were getting into, as they’d just come up for a “day hike”. Water? Check. Anything else (hat, jacket, map, food, sense of direction/upcoming weather etc?) Nope. They didn’t even know climbing as involved. I guess this is how people get into trouble….
Anyway, as I hit the final ridge I put on my microspikes for the scree/dirt descent. I’ve heard too many stories of people slipping here and breaking/spraining a wrist or ankle to take a chance without them. If you don’t use microspikes on scree you totally should! It makes a world of difference: I didn’t slip once!
I was down the hillside in no time and got a good look in the daylight at the small creek crossings
And the Bell Cord Couloir (for those interested)
Crater Lake looked really low…
And check this out!
There were tons of people on the trails today! Tons! I made it back to my truck at noon, making this a 14.8 mile hike in 9 hours.
The weather looked better in the San Juan’s than the Elk’s, so I decided to go for Wilson Peak this time. I left my house at 8:30pm and made it to the trailhead at 3am.
The best part about the drive? Listening to 105.7 ‘The Range’ on the radio after I pass Gunnison. I’ve always been an old soul, but in a previous life (High School) I used to love ‘old’ country music (Lorrie Morgan, Reba, Charlie Daniels, Patsy Cline, George Jones, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Pam Tillis, etc.). I’d go dancing every week at our local country bar (another story for another day: How a 14 year old gets into a bar…), and this radio station plays all the classics from the 1950s up through the 1980s. The same ones I grew up dancing to, and thankfully without many commercials. I like a lot of different types of music, but this was a relaxing way to fill a few hours driving. Yes, singing was involved.
The 8 miles on the dirt road to the Rock of Ages trailhead took me at least half an hour to navigate. It wasn’t a particularly rough drive, just slow going with a lot of little mud puddles.
The trailhead had plenty of parking space, two porta potties, and only one other vehicle in the lot when I arrived. There was a sign that said “Head in Parking” and since it didn’t also say “only” I backed my truck into a space. I’m a Girl Scout and I was a park ranger for a while, which means I never head into a parking space. Ever. It’s just not efficient in an emergency. If there’s an emergency I want to be able to get out of there as fast as possible, so I always either back in or pull through when I park my truck. No exceptions. It’s been drilled into me…
The trail starts here (note, no trail register)
I was on the trail at 3:15am. The moon had already set, so I had a great view of the stars as I started my hike through the trees. The ground was very wet, most likely from all the rain the San Juan’s have been having this week. This was great because it allowed me to look for recent human and animal tracks. I didn’t see any animal tracks (just a few from horses) so I didn’t anticipate seeing any wildlife on this hike. (I didn’t).
And this trail had great signs! All the way to the basin I knew I was on the Rock of Ages trail (that’s where the signs stopped).
Between the two basins (Elk and Silver Pick) you go up a hill, and then actually lose a couple hundred feet in elevation. I remember thinking as I was hiking in how this wasn’t going to be fun hiking out (it wasn’t).
The only thing wrong with this trail? It was made up of lots and lots of talus. The entire basin and in fact 90% of the route was made up of talus. I’m not a fan of talus in general, mainly because I don’t pick up my feet enough when I walk. Even though I’m light I’ve always walked heavy. I could never sneak up on someone, and I recall “Laura, stop stomping like an elephant” being a common phrase in our house, even though I wasn’t actually trying to be obnoxious. Since I walk fast lots of talus for me = lots of tripping. I had to consciously think about each step I took to keep myself from tripping on the talus. This was more of an issue on the way out. It’s also more difficult to follow a talus trail in the dark. During the day route finding is a non-issue, but in the dark everything looks the same (sadly, no CFI stairs here).
Here’s where talus at night became an issue. I’d been following the service road when it suddenly ended and cairns began. I’m a big fan of cairns, but these seemed to go in a circle, not leading anywhere. Also, the trail ended. I got out my topo map, and knew I was supposed to head straight over the hill into the upper basin, but when I started up the hill the rock was dangerously loose so I backtracked. I hiked up and down the hillside, looking for an alternate route, but there didn’t seem to be one. There was a snow bank without footprints, so I knew that wasn’t the correct way, and I kept coming back to the cairns. My flashlight wasn’t much help, as everything looked the same in the shadows. I honestly tried to find the route for at least 20 minutes, and finally decided to just go for it and trudged up the hillside, navigating carefully through the loose rock. This ended up being the right thing to do, as a cairn invisible in the dark from below awaited me at the top. Here’s what the route looked like
In the light of day the route was obvious (see below), but in the dark I wasn’t able to decipher between the trail and talus. There had been a rockslide of sorts over the direct trail, so there wasn’t a solid trail to follow. Here’s the route you’re supposed to take:
I hiked up and around the rest of the basin towards the Rock of Ages Saddle and noticed I was sweating a lot more than normal. My entire lower back was wet, which was weird? I felt around my backpack and noticed it was drenched. My water bladder was leaking. Well, this wasn’t ideal. I fixed my water bladder with a piece of duct tape and made a mental note to get another one before my next hike. Considering I’ve had it since 2003 it’s probably about time for a new one. The only downside? If the wind picked up I’d have to cancel my hike. Right now there was no wind, but that could change once I made it to the saddle. If it did, my Raynaud’s might start up and I’d get cold have to turn back. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen. The good news? I had on black yoga pants so while it felt like I’d wet my britches if I came across other hikers no one would actually be able to see that my pants were wet in all the wrong places: Let’s focus on the positive here!
Woot! I made it to the saddle, and no wind! The sun was just beginning to rise and I had a great view of the north sides of Mt Wilson and El Diente Peaks.
Here’s what the saddle looks like.
I stashed my trekking pole, turned left, and hiked toward the Wilson Peak / Gladstone Peak saddle.
From the saddle I put on my helmet, turned left again, and started my trek to the summit. I ended up hiking too high on the initial ridge and had to back-track because I got into an area I couldn’t traverse. Here’s the route you should take: Aim for the dip in the ridge, and then follow the ridge towards the summit.
Here’s another view… aim for the small saddle in the ridge. You don’t want to climb too high or you run into lots of choss, i.e. very, very loose talus that isn’t easy/possible to traverse.
Wilson Peak has a false summit. The cool part about this is it’s where the climbing fun begins. You get to climb up a wall, descend, and then climb up again to the true summit.
It was 7am. From the summit I could see Gladstone Peak, Mt. Wilson, and El Diente Peak
I took a summit selfie to prove I’d summited
And started on my way back down. The trail was much easier to follow now that I knew what to look for.
I made it back to the area I’d climbed too high at and had to backtrack, but this time at the correct elevation. I heard climbers above me and called to them, letting them know they were too high as I’d been. I placed a cairn where I was so they could see where they needed to be and wished them luck.
I made it back to the Gladstone/Wilson saddle. It was almost 8am, and the skies were pretty clear. It’s a centennial, and I was here, and the weather was nice, so I decided to attempt Gladstone Peak. I took off my (now dry) backpack to get out the directions I’d made up. Drat! Apparently I’d accidentally printed two sets of directions for Wilson Peak and none for Gladstone. Hmmmm. No worries, I had my GPS. I pulled up the route and drat again! When I pulled it up it kept me in the basin for the entire hike (and I knew that wasn’t right). I looked at the mountain before me and considered.
I’d put the directions together, so I tried to recall what they’d said. I remembered this was a class 4 hike, I was supposed to stay mainly on the ridge, only dropping down once to class 3 terrain to avoid a more difficult section, if the rocks are too loose you’re off trail, and if I had to go off the ridge to go left.
Well, I was here, so I decided to attempt Gladstone. I followed the saddle to the beginning of the ridge and did my best to stay on the ridge. I’m sad to say I failed almost immediately. There were no cairns. I quickly became a wuss and didn’t think I could stay on the ridge, so I dipped down and when I felt safe again climbed back up to the ridge. That meant I was going up and down loose gullies to avoid exposure. This happened over and over and over again. I knew I was off route and making this harder than necessary, but I kept looking for easier terrain (and not finding it). This was actually the more dangerous option.
The rock was all unstable, loose and shifting as I tried to step on it. I had to be careful with each step I took. I was frustrated but slowly making progress. When I got past point 13,341 I heard someone shout enthusiastically from the summit. Apparently someone else was on this mountain! He seemed pretty excited with himself. I watched him descend and aimed for where he was on the mountain. At one point a rock about the size of a microwave I was going to stand on let loose and cracked and tumbled down into the gully below me, producing a lot of noise and that fire and brimstone smell that comes from such an event. I took a deep breath and continued on.
When the climber was about 50 feet above me I called out to him. I wanted his advice on the trail back since the trail I took in hadn’t been all that pleasant. I called three or four times before I realized he had ear buds in. Why anyone would willingly take away one of their senses on a class 4 hike is beyond me, but I did applaud him wearing ear buds instead of blasting his music. Oh well, I was close, I could make it the rest of the way on my own and re-assess the route from the summit. I don’t think he ever knew I was there. Here’s the final push to the summit.
This is the path I followed (kind of… I probably went up to the ridge and down a gully a few more times). Please, please, please don’t do what I did. I realize this is a total mess.
But I did it! I summited at 9:30am and knew why ear bud guy was so excited: That was one tough climb! Here’s my summit selfie
From the summit I could see the ear bud guy had trekking poles (WHY on a class 4 route?!?!?) and was following the ridge. After point 13,341 he disappeared and I never saw him again. Nothing nefarious, I was just focused on the weather/views and wasn’t able to locate him again when I looked towards the ridge.
Here’s the view from Gladstone Peak, looking at Wilson Peak
Wow! What a mountain! OK, now it was time to head back down. I made the decision to do my best this time to follow the ridge, no excuses. I’ve done class 4 before, I know I can do this. And so I started down, doing my best to follow the ridge. Here’s what the beginning looked like
I began scrambling. Luckily the rock, although unstable, was sticky on the ridge. There was a lot of exposure but as long as I focused on the task at hand it didn’t bother me. The weather however did. The clouds were moving in fast, and this was slow going. I religiously stuck to the ridge, and you know what? It was doable! Scary as hell, but doable. I could do this! I was climbing up 30 foot rock faces, balancing on ledges, stuffing my hands into cracks and balancing my feet on thin lines that shouldn’t have been possible, but I was successful with every step. I just kept thinking to myself “If I can do this in the gym I can do it here”. Check out the view from the base of Gladstone looking at what I’d just accomplished, and what I had left
Here my confidence soared. I started picking up speed, still careful to make sure my placements were stable before using them. I was making great time and I was actually having quite a bit of fun with each new obstacle. I’d look at something, think “no way” and then go for it. Here’s the route I took back… I just followed the ridge.
I made it to the Gladstone/Wilson saddle and did a happy dance. Woot! I’d done it! Class 4 all the way baby! Let me tell you, Gladstone Peak gives Capitol a run for its money.
I learned a lot about myself on that ridge about what I can do. It’s ok to be scared because that’s your body’s natural response to a dangerous situation: Do it anyway.
The clouds were rolling in as I made it back to the basin. The basin was busy, filled with hikers coming in from multiple trails. I felt a few sprinkles, but nothing seemed too ominous or threatening. It was weird hiking through the basin in the daylight where I could clearly see the trail.
I could also see a bunch of abandoned mines I hadn’t known were there in the dark
And remember the 20+ minutes of route finding I had to do? That was a cinch in the daylight! The hillside is right next to the old rock house and yes, those cairns do lead to nowhere but in a circle.
I made it back to my truck at 1:15pm, making this 13 mile double summit hike/climb in 10 hours. Not bad considering I lost quite a bit of time to route finding both on the trail and on the ridge.
I decided to let my truck play in the mud puddles on the dirt road back to the highway, getting her dirty in the process. No worries though, because it rained the entire way home, so in the end I came home with a clean truck.
I didn’t make it home until 8:30pm, making this a 24 hour trip door to door. I immediately took a shower, and was confused at how many large bruises I had I didn’t remember earning, mostly on my shins, thighs and forearms. I guess the ridge bites back!
Oh, and push-ups were a killer this morning! I must have really used my arms yesterday…
Fridays are my hiking days, and today’s Friday. However, it’s also the day I pick my daughter up at camp (at 2pm), which seriously cuts into my hiking time. I’m totally ok with this however, because I planned ahead. I saved Mt Massive for today because it’s a peak I knew I could summit quickly and head back down to pick up my daughter.
So I left the house at 11:30pm and drove to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead. Just when I was almost there I saw a huge campsite with about 20 RVs set up. They had a pallet bonfire going, and I thought to myself how I used to do that kind of stuff at 2:30am when I was younger. It wasn’t until I reached the trailhead I remembered I’m pretty sure there’s a fire ban here and they shouldn’t have been burning like that. The road in was rough 2WD most of the way, and the last bit 4WD. Here’s the worst of it.
I arrived at 3am to just one other car in the lot. It’s a small lot, but there’s a larger one adjacent to it that probably holds 15 more vehicles.
I’m a sucker for signs. This trailhead had tons! It also had a memorial to a helicopter crash that occurred on Mt Massive and those who died. There were quite a few liquor bottles surrounding the memorial, as well as cigarette lighters, coins, and shot glasses.
Wow! After last weekend’s Chicago Basin trip, my backpack felt light! This was great! I was practically running up the trail. I hiked almost the entire trail in the dark, so here are some pictures from the way back. The trail started out through the forest. I was surprised at how much I could smell smoke from the surrounding fires. I’ve been hiking a bunch of 14ers the past few months, and this was the strongest smell of smoke I’d encountered yet.
There’s a wall you need to climb towards the beginning of the trail that requires you use your hands to balance yourself. This is much easier than it looks, and if you can do this, you can absolutely hike the rest of the trail. This hike is considered a class 2, but I think it’s only because of this one move. IMO, if Pikes Peak is a class 1 this should be as well. This trail is well maintained all the way to the summit. I came across this move in the dark and was sure I wasn’t supposed to go this way, but yes, this is the correct way to go, up the rock.
The trail passes through a meadow
Turn right at this junction
And then start climbing up some well made talus-stairs (thank you CFI!)
Your goal is to climb up this
It was a nice, steady climb on a well maintained trail with a lot of switchbacks. I never needed to stop to catch my breath or take a break. At the top of this hill you reach a rocky ridge and a couple of false summits. This is where the trek gets fun! There isn’t really any route finding or climbing to be done, but the stairs/steps up make for a nice change of pace.
This is the worst of the “climbing”, and you can skirt around it to the right and avoid it altogether on a trail.
Here’s a look back at the ridge
There are several false summits, but here’s the true summit. You know the true summit is coming up when you see the wind shelter: the true summit will be the highest point north of the wind shelter (about 15 yards away).
I summited at 5:30am, just in time to watch the sunrise!
I’d summited in plenty of time and intended to use my extra time to head over to Massive Green and then to North Massive and maybe some of the other sub-summits of Massive. The route goes through a rocky area, but doesn’t get much lower than 13,900’. Here’s the route:
It wasn’t that cold, and the temperature on the summit was supposed to be 40-60* with 5-10mph winds. This sounded perfect for today! I decided to go light with layers and just bring my moisture wicking zip-up and a hat. This had worked perfectly so far. I got excited when the sun rose because that meant the temperature could only get warmer from here, right? Well, it didn’t . The sun stayed behind the haze and never warmed up the air, and as soon as I summited the wind began picking up and it started getting cold. This is something really hard to explain unless you’ve got it, but let me just say Raynaud’s stinks. With each step I took the temperature seemed to drop as I headed toward North Massive. It wasn’t so much the temperature, but the wind. It was icy and probably hovering at a steady 25mph, which isn’t that bad, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t have the proper jacket and my gloves weren’t winter gloves. I have Raynaud’s, so it’s important I prevent getting cold because once I do I cannot warm up (it’s a circulation thing). I’m sure most people would have been ok, but as I reached Massive Green I had lost feeling in my fingers. I pulled off one glove and my fingers were white down to the second knuckle. Great. I’d hoped the wind would die down, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen, so I made the executive decision to turn back and head towards Massive before losing my fingers to frostbite. It hurt to turn back. I was seriously mad at myself! I wasn’t tired at all, and I wasn’t even that cold, yet my fingers were in the early stages of frostbite (it happens much faster for people with Raynaud’s) so I had to go back. I couldn’t move them and the only way to get blood back into them to start circulation again was to go where the wind wasn’t. I didn’t regain feeling until just before treeline. Lesson learned: pack extra jacket/gloves no matter what.
I re-summited Massive and headed down the ridge, this time seeing two goats on my way. I love seeing Mountain Goats!
About halfway down the slope I saw something I’ve never seen before: a white marmot! Well, it was more of a very light tan color, but still pretty cool. I didn’t know marmots came in this color? I saw a bunch of brown marmots as well.
Across the trail from me there was evidence of avalanche
Back into the forest I came across more proof nature is amazing
I made it back to my truck at 8:30am, making this an 11.5 mile hike completed in just over 5 hours. That gave me plenty of time to drive to Woodland Park, set up my computer at a local Starbucks to write my trip report, and pick up my daughter at 2pm. I’d definitely do this one again, not only to get in those other sub summits but because it was a nice and peaceful way to spend the morning. It didn’t really feel like a 14er. I could just hike and think and not think too much about the hike…
I’ve been preparing for this weekend since February when the summer camp catalog came out. I knew I wanted to plan this trip for the days when my youngest daughter was at summer camp, so when she chose her camp I made my reservations with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for the days she’d be gone.
It didn’t matter what the weather was, that was the time I had available to go. My son was going on a solo road trip to Arizona (well, he brought the cat) and my oldest would be at Drums Along the Rockies, so I had 1 free weekend to backpack this summer.
Well, then the fires happened and not only did they shut down the railroad, they closed the entire San Juan National Forest. This was unfortunate for numerous reasons, and also because it looked like my trip wasn’t going to happen. Then they re-opened the forest (woot!) but not the railroad. This was getting frustrating! I kept calling the railroad station to see if they were going to be running the train, and every time I called I got a different answer.
So I made two plans: One for if the train was running, and another for if it was not. This was my one weekend to visit the Chicago Basin and attempt its 14ers this summer and I didn’t want to waste it. Going through Purgatory didn’t sound fun but if it was my only option I was prepared to hike into Chicago Basin that way. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but I had a strict time limit because I had to work Monday morning.
I checked and re-checked and checked the weather forecast again. It did not look promising. 70% chance of thunderstorms in the morning, afternoon, and evenings for the entire weekend. These conditions were less than ideal but at least I could prepare for them. I became a weather expert (it seems this isn’t monsoon season yet, but pre-monsoon season that mirrors the actual monsoon season… yeah, basically it’s going to rain buckets with lightning and thunder added in for fun, and it won’t be predictable).
I packed, unpacked, reduced, and packed again. I decided to cut weight by eliminating the need to cook my food (I make a mean beef jerky and dehydrate fruit to bring with me that doesn’t need to be cooked) and added warm layers. Extra socks, pullovers, hats, and gloves.
The day before my trip the train was scheduled to run again, but they weren’t giving out backcountry permits until late August. However, they would honor my tickets since I’d bought them so long ago. Woohoo! I was good to go!
Thursday afternoon I closely watched the weather out the windshield of my truck as I drove the 6.5 hours to Durango. If the weather tomorrow was like today I was golden: heavy cloud cover with no rain. Before checking into the motel I stopped by the train station to pick up my ticket. There was only one other backcountry permit in the queue besides mine, which told me not many of us would be packing in with the train.
Next I checked into the motel. I made small talk with the man at the front desk wearing the Zia Marching Festival shirt (my kids went two years ago for band so small talk was easy) and was assigned a room and a parking space. I stopped by Wendy’s for a quick dinner and brought it back to my room.
This was the smallest motel room I’ve ever stayed in, mainly because I’m a hotel snob. I travel a lot for work, and I need the hotel to have a gym so I can work out every morning. Most hotels with gyms are just… nicer in general. I didn’t think that was necessary for tonight’s stay, so I just chose the cheapest place I could find. I had an assigned parking space my truck didn’t fit into and a room just big enough to walk around the bed. I was a little concerned my truck would get broken into overnight. Well, all I really needed was a place to sleep, so this would do just fine. Check out the view from my room…
I poured myself a glass of wine and brought my backpack in from the truck. After dumping all the contents on the bed I went through my gear one last time. I’ve been backpacking many times, but tonight I seriously felt like Cheryl Strayed. I dipped a fry into my frosty and considered: I’d done a good job packing. There was nothing I thought I didn’t need and I had extra space in my pack. Everything was in a Ziplock bag and I had extra large trash bags if needed. I was good to go! But it felt weird only packing for myself. I haven’t been solo backpacking in a long time: I’m usually in charge of a group of scouts, so I have to over pack things like emergency supplies, food, etc. I could get used to this!
I took a last minute shower (I’d brought my Disney shampoo for good luck: if you’ve ever stayed at one of their resorts you know what I’m talking about), and charged my cell phone and camera. I made a list of goals for this weekend (stay warm/safe/make good choices, learn something, make the most of the time I had, hike at night if necessary, and if the weather’s bad sleep until it’s good). I did some texting and problem solving and answered some very important last minute emails that came in about a potential magazine interview on Monday and made it an early night so I could get started early in the morning.
I had a couple of people who had considered hiking in with me but had canceled due to weather. I was actually relieved they weren’t able to make it! I would have been a terrible hiking buddy in this weather because I’m too goal oriented and I don’t need much sleep. Hiking solo gave me time to hike as fast as I needed, set up camp (or not) and hike/eat/etc. whenever it worked for me. If someone else had been with me I’d have felt responsible for their comfort/ etc. and I’m pretty sure I’d have either made them mad or I wouldn’t have summited (making me mad).
The night had been sweltering. There was an air conditioner that I had to turn off because all it did was make noise. Well, you get what you pay for. I had to take another shower in the morning because it had been so hot overnight. I dressed for success in my new hiking pants that are supposed to repel insects and are two inches too short because I had to get them in the kids section. (Note to athletic/outdoor clothing manufacturers: not every “woman” is large. I’d like some hiking pants that fit a 5’4” 105lb woman please… I’ve been looking for years and resorting to wearing yoga pants under your size 2’s or shopping in the kids section isn’t working for me!)
I did one last sweep of texts and put my phone on airplane mode. The weekend had officially begun.
Check out at the motel wasn’t until 8am but I had a train to catch. The front doors were locked so I dropped off my room key in the slot and headed to the train station. It was a beautiful morning! And that sunrise! It almost physically hurt not to be hiking now when the weather was good.
I was the first one of the day in the parking lot at the train station. I parked in long term parking with 3 other vehicles from yesterday and mentally calculated how many people should be in the basin.
McDonalds was close so that was breakfast. I haven’t eaten this much fast food in quite a while. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been to a McDonald’s since I was in High School. Thoughts from the McDonald’s lobby: it smells like cigarette smoke in here, there are two types of people here: those in their pajamas and those in their motorcycle gear. The parking lot filled up fast.
My Daily Daisy text pinged my phone and I took it as a good sign:
I went back to my truck to get my gear and walked to the train station.
Of course I got there early, so I walked the platform and talked to the volunteers and employees. They were all thrilled to be working again, as they’d all been out of a job for the past 6 weeks. Some teared up as they talked answered questions.
With the help of brakeman Chris I loaded my gear into a boxcar with the two other backpackers and thought to myself how it was already hot outside and I stunk. Those two guys in the picture below on the right stayed behind and watched the wheels on the train to make sure there weren’t any sparks. Several employees shook hands with the engineer and told him to “stay safe out there”.
The train left right on schedule. There were homemade signs and posters all over the fences thanking firefighters and welcoming the train back. Several houses had “Welcome Back Train” signs, and tons of people stood by and cheered the train on as it left, or came out to see the train as it passed by their front yards. The citizens were visibly emotional to see the train in action again, wiping away tears sand clapping. You could tell the closure of the train had impacted the community greatly.
Check this guy out! We saw him every few miles or so, cheering us on. I’m not sure if he was an enthusiastic Durango citizen or paid to do so by the train station, but he would cheer us on, get in his vehicle and drive ahead of the train, change is outfit, and get out and cheer us on again. Everyone on the train loved him. We passed him at least 8 times.
I sat next to a brave mother and father of 6 well behaved boys under 10 years old. One of the train employees talked with me about stopping in Needleton and asked me if I knew how to jump off of a moving train. The boys eyes got wide when I said “Absolutely, I just tuck and roll, right?”
It was a long 2.5 hours to the Needleton stop. I passed the time by going over my trail notes again and again. I arrived at the Needleton flagstop at 11:40am.
I waved goodbye to the train, said a quick greeting to the other two hikers, and started the 6 mile hike to the Chicago Basin. This hike has excellent signage. I signed in at the trail register at about .8 of a mile up the trail where it intersects with the Purgatory Trail.
I passed several groups of hikers hiking out as I was hiking up. They gave me some advice that ended up being very useful: Hang everything up when you leave with your bear bag. Leave nothing in your tent or on the ground. The goats and marmots will eat through your tent to get to your stuff. Also, don’t pee anywhere near your campsite: the goats like pee and will follow you to get it. I found this last part weird since usually urine (especially male urine) usually keeps predators away, but I guess goats aren’t predators and like the salt. In any event, their advice was correct.
The trail was heavily shaded and followed a creek, but that didn’t stop it from being hot out! I don’t usually hike in the middle of the day: It’s tiring! Most of the hike in follows a creek. At the halfway point I crossed a bridge, knowing I had 3 miles left of the hike and seriously hoping it would rain soon.
There were tons of strawberries covering the ground, as well as downed trees. When I saw this small waterfall I stopped and dipped my head in the water (swallowing some in the process, so if I get Giardia I’ll know why). This cooled me off and felt amazing! I soaked my bandana and continued on. From here it was 1 mile left to the basin.
I arrived at 2:40am and was greeted by tons of bold and very adorable goats! Here’s proof:
The goats were everywhere, and seemed to like my company. I carefully placed a beer in the creek to cool off, set up camp, hung my bear bag, re-hung my bear bag because the first place I hung it was covered in sap, and looked up at the weather. It didn’t look too promising, so I went back to the creek to retrieve my beer and went back to camp to eat something. I’d been saving the beer for tomorrow but I was really hot and needed to cool off. I sat down to eat and it immediately began to hail!
This lasted for about 45 minutes and cooled everything off in the basin. It was a good time for me to eat, rest, and get my bearings. There were a lot of people camping in the basin, many more than I’d anticipated considering they couldn’t take the train. They must have all hiked in from Purgatory. Oh, and the inside of my tent was getting wet. Lovely. It stopped raining at 5:15pm and just before it completely stopped I decided I wasn’t going to waste any time. I hung up everything I wasn’t taking with me, gathered my gear and headed towards the trail.
The Twin Lakes Trail gets you to the intersection for all 4 14ers, so I decided to hike up to Twin Lakes and make my decision then which 14er I’d attempt tonight once I got there. I passed several goats along the way.
Since it had just rained/hailed the creek crossings were high. I had to get creative to cross them. The trail came to a junction where I turned left and followed it up the hill, through some rocky areas and some well maintained stairs up a slope and through some waterfalls.
At the top of the slope was Twin Lakes. I could go either left towards Mt Eolus and North Eolus, or right towards Sunlight or Windom.
I’d been doing a lot of thinking on the trek up to Twin Lakes about which 14er I should attempt. I really wanted to get both Eolus and N Eolus done tonight, but as I was watching the weather it looked best near Sunlight Peak. It was a difficult choice, but I chose Sunlight, purely due to weather. I mean, doesn’t it look inviting?
Here’s the route I took:
As you can see, the route is very well cairned. I followed the 6 foot tall cairns toward the gully, and then up the gully to a notch. This gully was a good gully! It had some loose terrain, but was mostly made up of rocks about the size of a tire. I was keeping an eye on the weather, but as you can see, it looks great!
From here I followed the route left. This part was actually quite easy and didn’t require much route finding, just some scrambling over class 3 terrain.
Here’s a great view from a hole in the ridge. I decided not to take this route but to turn left and head to the final summit pitch.
From here there were a couple of class 3 moves, and then a class 4 move up and around to the summit. I made it to the summit and decided to drop my gear and climb the last bit to the “true summit”. It was a scramble on some grippy rock to the top of a few boulders placed a few feet apart in all the critical areas. That had been too easy!
I made it up to the top of the highest boulder and took a look around. Wow! I needed a picture of this! Drat! My camera was back down with my stuff. No worries, I’d just climb back down and get it. I slid feet first down the rock and jumped onto more solid ground. I got a few pictures of the summit marker and surrounding peaks
And took a summit selfie to prove I’d summited.
I took a quick video of the summit, and came to the realization a storm was approaching very quickly. I hadn’t been able to see it from the way I’d climbed in, but it was obvious now I needed to get back to treeline as soon as possible.
Please watch the video below with the sound on. Note it starts at 7:58pm, and then it jumps to 8:30pm.
In 10 minutes time I made it to the top of the gully and it started sprinkling. Wow, that was fast. No worries, I’d just put on my poncho and keep heading down. I made it about a quarter of the way down the gully when the sky broke loose: it started pounding rain, and then hail, and then the thunder and lightning started. There was nowhere to hide: No caves or rocks to hide in or under. I was completely exposed and I couldn’t hike up or down to find shelter, as there wasn’t any. I didn’t want to be a moving target so I found two large rock slabs that didn’t provide any shelter to back up and huddle against. I still had my helmet on, but water was cascading down the rocks straight onto my head, and I was being pelted from the front by the storm. The second half of this video takes place after the worst of the storm is over, but you can still get a sense for the atmosphere.
Just for reference, this is where I was during the storm.
I sat there for over an hour and a half, listening to the thunder crackle all around me and waiting for the lightning to stop. There was no lightning tingle or electric current in the air as I’ve heard from other people who’ve been caught out in storms. Luckily most of the lightning stayed in the clouds, but every so often I’d see a bolt strike Windom. I couldn’t get off that mountain fast enough, but I needed to be safe at the same time, so I waited it out. When I finally felt the lightning was far enough away I got out my flashlight and hiked back to the Chicago Basin soaking wet.
Well, as far as picking a peak to hike tonight I had picked the right one. Windom was a nightmare with all that lightning, and I realized the next day I wouldn’t have been able to summit the other two peaks: I’d have had to come back and hike at least one if not both of them again the next day.
I made it back to my campsite sometime before midnight, and the entire basin was already asleep (besides the goats I said hi to as I passed them on the trail). I was hungry, so I brought down my bear bag and rummaged around for something to eat. Peanut Butter sounded good, but where was my spoon? In the dark it was difficult to find anything, and I was trying to be respectful and quiet for the other campers. Well, I couldn’t find a spoon, but I did have some dehydrated bananas that I could use as a spoon. So there I squatted next to my bear bag, trying not to sit on the ground because it was wet, flashlight on the soil, with a tub of peanut butter in one hand, and the other scooping it out with a banana slice. When I was done I licked my fingers and put everything away.
Now to deal with my sleeping arrangements. I’d put my sleeping bag in the tree with my bear bag before leaving to keep it away from the critters, not anticipating the rain, and now I had a soaked sleeping bag (or so I thought). Luckily I’d brought two tarps. One I’d put under my tent earlier today when setting up, the other I got out now and as quietly as I could folded into a square and placed it inside my wet tent, forming a barrier between the wet floor and myself. I opened my sleeping bag and was delighted to find the fleece blanket I’d rolled around the sleeping bag had absorbed 95% of the rain water, and the sleeping bag itself was mainly dry. I hung the fleece outside and settled down for bed.
Saturday morning came early. After almost 4 hours of sleep I was up at 3:45am and out by 4:15, ready to tackle another peak. I re-hung all my gear by my bear bag and set out in the dark, hiking under the stars and some wispy clouds. The clouds didn’t look too threatening. Everything was still wet from the storm.
I followed the same route I had yesterday up to Twin Lakes. My legs were still sore and I was actually thirsty. I hiked slow and steady past Twin Lakes and towards Mt. Elous. Here the sun began to rise and I got a good look at the route before me.
I hiked towards the edge of a basin and then up a ramp and over some rock slabs
Here’s where the hiking got fun! It became a climb from here on out. I climbed up this optional (class 4?) wall to reach the saddle / ridge
And looked at the catwalk to my left. This was going to be fun!
There was a lot of exposure here but the route wasn’t too narrow. I followed the catwalk to the final pitch up the East Face, which required a lot of route finding and class 3 moves. Let’s just say aim up: There are tons of cairns and they all parallel each other, but the basic route goes up.
Woohoo! Summit Selfie
Now it was time to head back and tackle North Elous. Here’s a look back at the Catwalk and North Elous’ Ridge
The ridge was actually very easy to navigate. It had grippy rock and was a sticky but simple scramble towards the top. Once again, I was glad I’d chosen today to hike this instead of yesterday. Oh, and I was a bit sore so I was hiking slow.
I took a quick summit selfie
And looked back at the way I’d come. Pretty cool! The catwalk looks like a beast, and so does the way back down.
Ok, 3 down, 1 to go. I was closely watching the weather today as I hiked back to Twin Lakes. I made it to the lakes at about 9am and was concerned with the amount of clouds I saw in the sky. I figured I had a 50/50 chance of needing to bail on Windom, but like I said before, I was sore and didn’t want to hike down to Chicago Basin just to hike back up to do Windom again later today: That elevation gain was brutal! I decided to try it, as I could always turn back if needed. I’d just take it slow and keep watching the weather.
At Twin Lakes I met Boy Scout Troop 393 from Phoenix, a fun group of guys to talk with. They were filtering water, and told me about the time a couple of years ago when they hiked Windom. A few of them were Eagle Scouts and Life Scouts.
I continued on towards Windom. The trail follows much of the same route as Sunlight through the basin, but then angles right up a gully (there is a trail to the right near the ridge but it’s currently washed out).
There were several routes, but I took the gully up and aimed towards the ridge, to what I found was a false summit. Drat! I thought I was making great time and I’d been so excited I was going to climb this mountain before the weather set in, but when I hit the notch I realized I still had another 45 minutes or so to go. I steeled myself against the let down and kept climbing, more intent now than ever on finishing this trek.
The final push from the notch follows the left (not the right as the GPS told me to go) and contains some class 3 moves, even though it’s rated 2D. It was very well cairned, and quite a bit of fun!
It took me longer that I’d have liked to summit, but when I did I felt fabulous!
Check out that view of Sunlight!
OK, now it’s time to head back down. The weather was holding, but I didn’t want to cut it close. I turned around and the Boy Scouts called to me from the saddle. They wanted to know if they could summit before the rain hit. Now, that’s a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure how fast they hike, and sure, they could probably make it up, but they weren’t going to make it down before the rain hit. I told them as much and passed them on their way down. They’d already hiked this one a few years ago, so they knew the route. I wished them luck and continued on.
Just before making it to Twin Lakes I met up with the rest of their troop (not all were prepared enough to climb Windom today). We had a nice chat before I excused myself to head back down to camp. I practically skipped back down as the weather held. Sure, I hadn’t brushed my hair in 2 days, I was getting hungry and I was tired, but I’d just summited the 4 14ers I’d come to summit! This mission was a total success!
To top it all off, today I did everything right. All my clothes and sleeping bag were dry, as it hadn’t yet rained. I took a trip down to the stream to filter some water and stumbled upon two moose! A male and a female who didn’t much care I was there
I went back to my tent, ate about ¼ a package of Ramen and some dried fruit, and then cleaned myself up before the rain started. My feet were sore and I stunk, but I was happy as I sat all dry in my tent. I thought about tackling Jupiter tonight/tomorrow. Should I? I kept going back and forth with it in my mind. I took a quick 2 hour nap and was woken by my neighbors. Unfortunately they were boisterous and the man’s voice carried. It continued to rain so I decided against Jupiter for now. I lay down, and the next thing I knew I woke up at 1am, needing to use the bathroom. Well, that had been quite a nap! I guess I’d caught up from the night before. The only problem was it was too early to hike. I didn’t want to summit in the dark, so I decided to just lie in bed and wait an hour or two. The next thing I knew it was 5am, and now it was too late to summit and still make it back. Or was it?
I jumped out of bed, gathered some food, and went to look for the Jupiter trail. As I was hiking I really gave the outing some thought, and while I felt I could summit in time I was worried it would put me hiking back down to the train during the wet weather time of day, and I didn’t much want to do that. So I made a nice 3 mile loop out of the hike instead. I came across an abandoned mine I’d wanted to explore but the ice kept me from it
I stopped for a bit to filter some water, and then continued the trail as it followed a ridge. Here I meet a ton more goats all playing on the scree slope. Two baby goats looked like they were trying to push each other off. The rest just seemed to be rock climbing.
I leisurely walked back to camp, and when I arrived at 7am I was surprised to find the Basin was totally cleared out! Everyone had packed up and left. Wow! So I packed up my things, said goodbye to the goats, searched for and picked up pieces of trash, and left at 7:45am to head back down to the train.
I was in no rush today, which is not normal for me. I’m always in a hurry. I actually stopped, took breaks, and enjoyed the waterfalls and streams. It was so nice not to be in a hurry! I stopped to have a snack by a waterfall, and once I’d made it down to the Needleton/Purgatory Junction I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the stream as I heard the 11:30am train go by. I washed my hands and re-did my hair. There were tons of flies here, and I tried not to take offense they seemed enamored with me.
I put my shoes back on, passed 4 hikers who’d been let off the train and watched the clouds roll in as I made it to the flagstop. Hey, guess what? I just realized I hadn’t seen a single mosquito this entire trip! I thought the Chicago Basin was notorious for mosquitoes? Hmmm… I must have been lucky!
I made it to the flagstop at 12:30pm, which meant I had 3 hours to wait for the train. That’s quite a bit of time to do nothing, but almost immediately it began to rain. I crossed the tracks and found an old shelter on the other side. It didn’t look too safe, but it did look like it would keep me dry. I’d just have to be careful not to sit down/step on any nails.
For the next 2 hours I watched the rain from inside the shelter. It looked much worse on the trail, and I congratulated myself for not going for Jupiter today: I’d have been stuck in that hailstorm hiking right now if I had.
At about 2:30 the rain stopped, so I went back out by the tracks. A little before 3pm the 2:30 train went by, and out of nowhere 3 high school aged boys ran across the bridge to wave at the train. It seems they’re staying at a cabin on the river (they’d come in by train this morning) and their only entertainment was waving at the train, so they were coming out every time one passed.
My train came closer to 4pm. The two other hikers who’d come in on the train with me were there to take the train back (they’d gotten caught in the hailstorm hiking back down). After getting a $5 beer I had some great conversations with the other people sitting next to me. I tried to relax before my 6 hour drive home, but everyone was chatty. I was ok with that. In fact, I was just fine. I’d accomplished what I’d come to accomplish, meaning I didn’t have to hike in through Purgatory next week to finish hiking the Chicago Basin 14ers. But… I’d still like to come back at a later date, maybe with others next time. I would also still like to come back and do Jupiter someday, but I’m thinking of making it a day hike from Purgatory…
The plan: Eat an entire pizza by myself and fall into a pizza induced coma for 4 hours before waking up and driving to the trailhead.
All was going well at 6pm as I jumped into bed after eating an entire pizza (plus 2 pieces of garlic bread, washed down by a glass of wine and 3mg of melatonin). I fell asleep almost immediately as my body began happily processing all the calories I’d just ingested.
At 6:30pm I was woken up by my son playing his accordion in the kitchen. He was multitasking, making himself dinner and practicing his scales. Ugh. I tried to wait him out and get back to sleep but it was no use. His playing was obviously going to last a while. I tried calling his name a few times (loudly) in between sets but he had the stove fan on and couldn’t hear me.
I did not want to get out of bed to ask him to stop. Lately I’ve had vertigo, a complication from Raynaud’s, not enough sleep, and dehydration. For those of you who don’t know what vertigo is, it’s an intense spinning of the room that makes you nauseous. It feels like I’ve had way too much to drink and then try to lay down suddenly: the room spins dangerously like I’m on a spinning carnival ride, and it’s awful. It only affects me as I’m lying down or getting up, and it only lasts 5 excruciating seconds or so, but it sucks and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. So I lay there for 10 minutes trying in vain to get my son’s attention and finally gave up. I steeled myself for the room to spin, got out of bed, held onto the side of the bed for a second as the room spun and waited for the spinning to stop. When it did I walked into the kitchen.
My son looked up with a ladle in one hand and the other pressing scales on his accordion. He was immediately gave me a sideways smile. He obviously hadn’t known I’d been trying to sleep (he thought he was the only one home) and promised to keep it down while he cooked. I thanked him, went back to my bed, steeled myself for a second round of nausea, lay down, and the next thing I knew my alarm was waking me up at 10:30pm to head to the trailhead.
The drive to the trailhead was uneventful. I didn’t see any deer, which was weird, but I did see a porcupine crossing the road on the 82. Despite triple checking my directions I once again went to the wrong trailhead (this Maroon-Snowmass/ Maroon Snowmass / Maroon Trailhead / Maroon Creek thing really stinks) but noticed my mistake early on and backtracked to the correct trailhead. I paid the $10 fee at the Rangers Station (pay the fee people!) and parked at the trailhead. There were two other cars in the parking lot when I arrived. I jumped out and hit the trail at 3:15am (15 minutes behind schedule due to re-routing… I had time to make up).
While I hadn’t seen any deer on the drive in, as I was passing Maroon Lake I saw about a dozen deer all along the trail. They stopped to look at me and then quickly bounded away. My directions said to hike 1.75 miles to reach a trail junction, and then another .75 miles to another trail junction. I found the first junction just fine, but it seemed like I was hiking a lot further trying to find the second one. I had my GPS, and it wasn’t 100% syncing up, but I’d talked to a couple last week who said the GPS files in the Maroon Bells area had consistently been 50-150 feet off for them, so I didn’t think anything was wrong. Until I saw headlamps hiking up the other side of the hill, about 150 feet across from me. Ugh. I looked at my topo map and I was indeed off course; by about a mile in distance and 500 feet in elevation gain. Double ugh.
So I backtracked, found what was considered the junction (which I’d missed in the dark), crossed the stream in the dark, and headed up the hill.
I’m a pretty quick hiker, so even though I’d started out over a mile behind the headlamp group I caught up to them halfway up the hill, just before the talus field. Yes, they were hiking North Maroon too, just taking a breather before continuing on. I had serious time to make up now, so I didn’t stop to chat long and was on my way. I’m not a fan of talus, but the trail here was well maintained.
I made it across the talus, under the cliff bands, and over a glacier area, and up about 200’ of steep terrain through some trees before the sun began to rise.
I took a break here to watch the sunrise because this type of beauty is what hiking is all about.
From here I could see both Crater Lake and Maroon Lake. For the rest of the hike I used them as indicators of which direction I should head (especially on my way down). They should always be in the same position as you’re hiking this mountain.
Now was the time to apply sunscreen and start drinking water. I almost never drink water when I go hiking. I always bring 2 liters, but rarely take more than a sip because I just don’t get thirsty. But this vertigo thing had me re-arranging my priorities. If drinking more water would make it go away I’d drink more water: I carried the water, I was going to drink it. So every time I remembered I had water I took a sip.
After the sun rose the gullies began. There are two types of gullies in my opinion: good gullies and bad gullies. The bad gullies tend to be anything labeled “2D”.
These were good gullies. They weren’t too steep, required climbing (not shuffling through scree) and were well cairned. If you couldn’t see a cairn you weren’t on the trail (I know, because I replaced many of them so this would be the case). There was a 1st gully and a 2nd gully and both had the same terrain. The only problem was sometimes the cairn would be behind and above you, not directly on the trail (this made sense though, since climbing was involved).
I took another few sips of water.
The second gully was very similar to the first, with grassy slopes and steep, loose rock. When I’d reached the top of the gully I was on a class 3 ledge. This meant a lot of scrambling, following the ridgeline toward the summit.
I took another few sips of water.
There is a rock band here that required class 4 climbing to navigate, but offers a class 3 variation by going around the band. Here’s a picture of the class 3 climbing
DO NOT TAKE THE CLASS 3 ROUTE in the next few weeks: It has a lot of runoff water on the route and is steeper (more exposure) than the class 4 chimney, making the class 4 chimney a safer option. It was also more fun! The only downside to the chimney was my height. I could tell where I was supposed to step, but my legs weren’t long enough to reach. So I used my back a lot and balance where necessary to push myself up the chimney. Luckily it wasn’t too long and didn’t have too much exposure, so if I fell I wasn’t going to fall too far. Here’s a look at the Chimney:
The last bit of climbing was all class 3 over ledges up towards the summit, with a few solid rock gullies thrown in for fun.
I took another few sips of water.
I summited at 7:30am. I took a bunch of summit photos, drank more water, and reapplied sunscreen. I was happy with my progress, and kind of excited I could name most of the surrounding peaks.
I took a summit photo
The way down was much easier than the way up, as I followed the route I’d nicely re-cairned. It was almost too easy! In the beginning I just followed the ledge…
I met 2 other pairs of hikers, made small talk, and wished them well. The weather was very, very nice: not a cloud in the sky!
I took another few sips of water.
I made it to the bottom of the gullies and was almost to the talus field when I met my first goat of the day. We took a quick selfie and then passed each other in silence. He wasn’t too interested in me.
I tiptoed across this huge expanse of talus (and lots of spider webs) down the trail.
It was well maintained and easy to follow in the light. As I was crossing the creek I had a decision to make: it was still before 10am, and the weather looked nice. Should I attempt Pyramid Peak as well?
The downside was I’d have to hike all the way back down to 10,000’ in elevation and re-gain over 4000’ to summit. That made for a very long day, but it was good training for the Chicago Basin. On the positive side the weather looked good (50% chance of rain but not thunderstorms), it was still early, and if I summited today I could save 9 hours in driving time and that $10 entrance fee needed for another hike. One trip report I’d read said the record time for hiking up Pyramid was 1 hour, and many considered it a quick jaunt. It was settled. I was attempting it. I took a few sips of water and reapplied sunscreen, albeit haphazardly (I’m not a fan of sunscreen, but on this nice day it was necessary since a jacket was overkill).
I got out my GPS and looked at the connecting route. After consulting with my directions, which said the turnoff was just before crater lake, I decided to just cut around crater lake and hook up with the connecting trail.
This ended up being a lot more complicated than it sounds, and while I did eventually connect up with the correct trail it was after a lot of hiking through dense forest up and down hills and through dried up lakebeds… all off trail. I was glad I was wearing pants. I was also very tired when I made it to the connecting trail. I wasn’t’ sure I’d saved any time, and I was pretty sure I’d increased my elevation gain in the process. I took some more sips of water. I took the route in blue
In any event, I made it to the Pyramid Trail and began the hike up the path that led to the amphitheater. This trail was well maintained, if covered in a lot of talus. I was basically climbing up stairs the entire way, but well constructed stairs.
When I made it to the amphitheater the trail ended and the serious talus began. Luckily there were a few very large cairns indicating the exit of the trail.
But it looked like this was where the trail ended. My research said to hike through the center of the amphitheater towards Pyramid’s North Face and then turn left to hike up a gully. My GPS had me sticking towards the middle/left. So that’s what I did. I hiked straight through the middle of the area, which was a very bad idea (but probably not so bad in winter with snow). The rock here was loose. I mean, very loose. Have you ever hiked up a 100 foot mountain of corn? Probably not, but I have, and that’s exactly what it felt like: loose, unstable, and with every step up you sink in up to your shin and fall back 2 feet. It’s grueling, not very productive, and even scary at times. I kept drinking water. Here’s the path I took…
When I made it to the top of one hill there was another one in it’s place, and then another one, and when that was over the larger talus began. I just kept aiming towards the gully, trudging on. I made it to some rather large boulders and saw a couple hiking down. We chatted about the route ahead. They told me the rest of the route was cairned and very similar to North Maroon Peak. I told them I was glad it was cairned up ahead and that at this point I was exhausted and never wanted to see Pyramid again. They looked at me quizzically and hiked on (more on this later). I took another sip of water.
OK, I’d made it to the gully. This is the 2D gully that gives all gullies a bad name. It’s 1000’ of intense elevation gain, loose rock, and no, it was not well cairned. Here’s the route:
This took me forever to climb. I was cursing the entire way, getting more and more exhausted with each step. I never wanted to see this mountain again. Never. This sucked. In a big way. This was torture! How could people enjoy this??? I thought all these things also mentally knowing I was tired to begin with: it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if this was the only mountain I was climbing today. But I’d already done about 7000’ of elevation at this point, and I was tired.
And it was hot. I took another sip of water as the sun went behind a cloud. Well, that was positive. Wait, a cloud? Ugh! Clouds were rolling in. Hmmmm. I studied them for a minute. They didn’t look ominous, but I’d need to keep an eye on them.
With about 150’ of elevation gain before reaching the saddle I encountered two men hiking down. They seemed upset. Worried about the weather, I asked them how long it would take to summit after reaching the saddle and they said at least two hours. I couldn’t believe that, as 2 hours seemed excessive. Then I asked if they’d summited and they replied: “No. There are too many cairns that lead to nowhere but up, and each of them ends in a class 4 move. We decided to turn back”.
Well, it was a class 4 hike, what did they expect? I was a little put off with the 2 hours to the summit from the saddle, but I’d come this far, so I was going to keep at it: I really didn’t want to come back to hike through all that talus and scree another time if I could help it.
I was almost to the top of the gully when I slipped and put my hands forward to catch myself, lading on a rock and breaking my phone screen in the process. Ugh! Have I mentioned I never want to see Pyramid again? I’ve had a cell phone since 1996 and never once cracked a screen. I’d just about had it with this mountain…
I reached the saddle and began seeing goats. They were usually in pairs of two, a few were mother/baby pairs, and covering the ridge from here on out. They liked lounging on patches of snow and cold rock ledges, which made sense considering they were covered in dense fur. They amused me. I took pictures and more sips of water.
I kept watching the weather and it wasn’t getting any worse, so I continued on. This part of the hike was indeed similar to North Maroon, but included a lot of sustained class 4 climbing. I followed my GPS route up to the top, which was not well cairned. There were steep ridges, narrow ledges, and class 4 obstacles to navigate. I was in heaven!
Check out the leap of faith! I’d heard about this but it wasn’t in my instructions, so I was thrilled when I came across it. It’s about 4 feet wide and requires you to jump over the gap or fall about 20 feet down. Luckily I was jumping down (not up) and it felt doable, so I took a video of the process. (Side note: on the way back down it was a different experience as I was jumping up in elevation and not down and I didn’t feel I could make it. As soon as that thought came into my head I steeled myself and jumped: I had no time for those kind of thoughts. Oh, and I made it just fine).
I felt pretty good about myself after this, took another sip of water, and continued on. I encountered a lot more class 4 climbing that wanted me to be a few inches taller to make it easy, and pretty soon I was at the summit! It felt wonderful! I was so proud of myself! That was the most sustained class 4 climbing I’ve ever done… and it was FUN!!!
And there was a summit marker! Woot!
I summited at 2pm and took a summit selfie to prove I’d made it.
And a video of the surrounding mountains.
And reapplied my sunscreen and took another sip of water… oops! I was out of water! How could that happen? I never run out of water! Never! This wasn’t good. Hmmmm. Well, I rarely get thirsty when I hike, I’d just have to remember that and start down right away. I’d considered hiking Maroon Peak as well today but didn’t feel comfortable attempting it without any water. I had 5 pieces of butterscotch candy in my emergency kit, and while this wasn’t an emergency, sucking on candy would help keep my mouth moist, so I unwrapped a piece and began my descent.
This time I saw a very well cairned route following the ridge down. It also looked well traveled and was pointing in the correct direction, so I decided to take this route down instead of my GPS route. This ended up being a fabulous idea!!! It contained sustained class 4 moves but was easy to navigate due to all the cairns.
The weather was still holding out, and in fact it was looking better. Any chance of rain had dissipated. As I was climbing down those class 4 moves there were many times I wished my legs were just a little longer. These moves had to be easier with another 6 inches of height. I knew where I was supposed to step, my legs just weren’t long enough to make it there without getting creative. Many times I just slid the extra few inches to reach a ledge and went on faith (after looking several times to make sure the hold was solid). Just before reaching the saddle at the top of the gully I spied some goats lounging on ice and came to a quick solution to my water problem.
No, I didn’t want to drink goat water, but ice and snow this high is good to drink if you can find some that’s clean. I walked over to where the goats were (they quickly stood up and walked away) and found a flat rock. I dug in the snow with the rock about a foot deep until I found “clean” snow, and then used this snow to fill my water bladder. A bladder full of snow really only equates to about ¼ of a bladder full of water, so I had to do this several times on the hike down, but my water problem was solved! And what great tasting (and cold!) water it was! Seriously. It was fantastic.
It was a hot day. When I made it to the saddle I thought to myself I really didn’t want to slide down this gully tippy-toed. So I put on my microspikes and side stepped the entire way down. For those of you who don’t use microspikes on these types of gullies you’re missing out: it makes the descent so much easier!!! A goat seemed amused with me.
The only downside to this process was I was descending pretty quickly (but stably) and my feet began to get hot. They started to burn and I had to slow down and take it easy.
OK, back to the amphitheater.
I hadn’t been looking forward to this at all! I took off my microspikes and hopped from rock to rock across the talus. This time when I got to the big boulders I spied a cairn! What?!?! This route wasn’t supposed to be cairned??? So I followed it to the left, and guess what? There is actually a cairned route that’s pretty simple to follow on this side of the basin! I should have followed this when I entered the amphitheater, but hadn’t know it was there. Ugh! Well, I was following it now. I couldn’t help but think how much less pain I’d be in right now if I’d known about this path earlier…
I followed the cairned route near the snow line and sipped my water. It really was a hot day! Then I got another idea: I walked up to the snow, made a large snowball with some clean snow, popped another butterscotch candy into my mouth, and started eating the ice. Woot! Butterscotch snow cone! It was cold, delicious, and amazing. I jaunted out of that amphitheater a happy hiker!
I met a few more goats as I was exiting the amphitheater. They called to each other before they could see each other. I don’t know if they were welcoming each other to a party or warning each other about me…
I took a picture to inform others there’s an easier way across this talus trouble than I’d taken!!! This was most likely why the couple I’d seen in the amphitheater couldn’t understand my disdain for all that talus: there was an easier way!
The rest of the hike down was very slow going. My feet were burning at this point. My feet have never burned on a hike before, but now they were burning, throbbing, and pulsing. They hurt, and I was hiking slow. I’m not gonna lie, it sucked. And it lasted forever! I don’t think I’ve ever hiked this slow before in my life, but I couldn’t physically hike faster without causing myself more pain. So I just kept on hiking, and hiking, and hiking at a steady pace.
Here’s the cutoff I missed for the Pyramid Trail because I was bushwacking…
I met a lot of day hikers hiking up to crater lake as I was hiking out. They all seemed chipper and fresh. I smiled even though I didn’t feel like it, answered their “how much farther” questions and aimed toward the lake. This trail actually has some pretty good signs in the daylight…
I made it to the lake at 6pm and immediately pulled off my hiking boots and put my feet in the water: I’m pretty sure I heard the water sizzle. The water was cold and it felt amazing on my burning feet!
I couldn’t help but look around at everyone else enjoying the lake. They looked like their parents were all lawyers and they were visiting Aspen for the summer sporting their Nordstrom best (think sweater vests and white, flowing dresses. Oh, and hats.). I felt a little out of place with my hair a mess and dirt all over my clothes. Honestly though, they were enjoying the beauty as much as I was. We all took selfies to prove it!
I’d made it down to the lake at 6pm. I covered 19 miles in 15 hours with 8700’ of elevation gain. And I was tired! But I was proud of myself, and you know what? I’d absolutely do Pyramid Peak again, but only if it was a one summit kind of day. The class 4 scrambling totally made all the other stuff worth it!
When I made it home my kids remarked how I was sunburned in weird areas.
Me: “Well, I really hate reapplying sunscreen, so I get a bit lazy, especially in places I can’t reach.”
The decision to hike Crestone Needle today didn’t come until late yesterday. I’d had this day on the calendar for this particular hike for over a month, but the fires in the area had me hesitant. I did a lot of online research and was 80% sure the road to the trailhead I needed to take was open. That was a chance I was willing to take. What I wasn’t thrilled with was the possibility of inhaling smoke for the entire hike. The weather looked good, and in the end I chose to take the hike because it’s my last 14er I need to complete the Crestones and I was afraid if I waited too long the fire would expand and I’d miss my opportunity to hike.
I woke up at 12:15am and drove to the trailhead. All roads were open from Colorado Springs South, but there were more deer on the roads than I’ve ever seen. I’m assuming they were displaced because of the fires. Most deer I see when driving at night are female, but these were mainly male deer in the velvet. I was just glad I was the only one on the road so I could drive cautiously and stop when needed.
I turned South on Colorado 69 and saw a flashing sign indicating the highway was closed ahead and only open to residents. I crossed my fingers and drove on. I was able to make it to the turnoff (Colfax) before the road closed. The drive in past the 2WD trailhead was worse than I remember it being back in April (but not worse than last year at this time). The drainpipe was a bit steep.
When I arrived at the trailhead at 3am the parking lot was almost full, which I’d expected even though it was a Wednesday morning. After all, it was the 4th of July! There was a lot of activity in the parking lot as people were getting ready for their respective hikes. I hate leapfrogging people, so to get a head start I jumped out of my truck and hit the trail, grabbing a bagel to eat on the way. There was no smell of fire in the air and I hadn’t been able to see flames the entire drive.
At 3:15am I signed the trail register and was on my way. BTW, the trail log book is in serious need of repair/updating. The pages are mostly loose, and there’s no clear order to signing it. I found a blank page and signed in, but if there was an emergency (say, a fire) and they needed to know who was hiking in the area it would take them a very long time to figure it out.
This is my third time this year hiking in through the South Colony Lakes trailhead. I have to say, it’s much easier and faster without snow to navigate through! It’s amazing how easy the trail was to follow without snow, and how difficult it is to navigate when snow is present. The hike in didn’t take me long at all. I was way ahead of schedule. Last time I was here the creek was frozen over and there was snow up to the footbridge. Today there was no snow to be seen.
I made it to the South Colony Lakes and saw many tents lit up as people were preparing for their hikes today. It looked like there were dozens of people camping by the lake. I made it up Broken Hand Pass around 5:30am and looked behind me at the trail of lights from hikers taking the pass as well.
The only other time I’ve hiked Broken Hand Pass it was filled with snow and there was no clear path to follow, so I crossed the slope wearing snowshoes. Today the path was clearly visible, yet harder to hike without traction. I kind of missed the snow here! As I looked around me at the slope I realized back in April I must have been hiking on over 10 feet of snow! What a difference the snow made!
The trail up and through Broken Hand Pass is very well cairned. I now know why those cairns are so big! They looked small (or were non-existent) under the snow.
Last time I did this hike I forgot to put on my helmet until it was too late and I was in a position where it was too dangerous for me to take my helmet out of my pack to put it on, so this time I put it on before it was needed. Here are the first class 3 moves up the pass.
I made it to the saddle just as the sun was coming up, and when I looked over to my left I saw a skull that wasn’t there last time, placed on a large stick. Of course I went over to investigate. As the sun rose I made friends with Skully and got a few selfies with my new pal. He seemed to be keeping sentinel over the area.
I was way ahead of schedule at this point, but decided to keep hiking so I wouldn’t get cold. I followed the ridge and went to the heavily traveled trail to the right, and realized it cliffed out, so I turned left and encountered more class 3 moves.
The trail was well marked, although sometimes it split into two parallel trails. They both followed the South side of the mountain and ended in the same place. Here’s a look back at the trails and Broken Hand pass.
After hiking the slope the trail abruptly stops. I knew this was going to happen, but was surprised at how abruptly it did just… stop. I mean, it just ended at a rock.
I looked up and down and then got out my directions. I needed to hike down about 75 feet, then over to the east gully. Here’s a picture of the route before me.
This is where the fun began! Climbing the gullies is a lot of fun! There was exposure, sure, but plenty of hand and foot holds available. I once again praised myself for joining a rock climbing gym and going weekly. This was child’s play! While this class 3 scrambling should have been challenging, for me it was really just fun.
The route wasn’t heavily cairned, but there were enough cairns in just the right areas so you knew you were on the right path (which I prefer to multiple cairned paths). For me the crux of the climb came at the dihedral, where you switch from the east to the west gully. The dihedral was obvious to find but difficult to cross. It’s much larger in width and depth than this picture suggests, and my task was to climb on top of it, locate a cairn, and cross the rib. There was a trickle of water running down its base, just enough to make climbing up slippery with wet soles.
I’m not a large lady, and while I’m pretty flexible, here my 5’4” height was a hindrance and flexibility wasn’t much help. There were hand and foot holds all over this mountain, except in the dihedral. The rock here was smooth and there weren’t many places to grip. The width was just far enough apart where I couldn’t stretch across (although I’m assuming it wouldn’t be much difficulty for someone over 5’10” to navigate). So I was stuck: I couldn’t climb up the dihedral to cross over, and I couldn’t climb across the gap either. I searched and located the cairn on the rib above me and to the left. I knew that’s where I needed to be, but getting there seemed impossible! (The cairn is in the red circle)
I took a deep breath. This had to be traversable. There had to be a way across, I just wasn’t seeing it yet. I went back to where the dihedral was narrowest and tried again. There were a few stretch moves, but I was able to successfully climb up the wall and back over to the left where the cairn was located. Woot! I’d made it!!!
This is where the real climbing began! I climbed up the ridge and aimed for a notch. Here’s a picture from my way back down when I passed three male climbers heading up (who’d had trouble with the dihedral too, so it wasn’t just me!).
The exposure here was real! One of the other hikers told me this part almost made him lose his breakfast. Personally, I loved it! Yes, the exposure was extreme, but there wasn’t much danger from loose rock and there were plenty of hand and foot holds, so as long as you didn’t slip and fall you were fine.
I couldn’t help but thinking how awful this route would be with snow, and once again praised myself for not trying this peak after completing Crestone Peak last April and the waterfalls that were present then. It wouldn’t have ended well.
There were several large gullies to climb, all with the same secure rock and lots of holds.
At 7:20am I summited! I had a great view of Crestone Peak
As you’ll notice from the video, there isn’t evidence of a fire anywhere
For the first time while hiking a 14er I was able to see the Sand Dunes in the distance
I took a summit selfie to prove I’d summited
And while it was still early I headed back down because I was only half way through with this hike. It was too early to celebrate yet.
Remember all those steep gullies I’d climbed up? Well, now it was time to climb back down them. They were pretty steep, so I turned and faced the wall and began climbing down, once again grateful for all the holds.
Thankfully the dihedral was much easier to navigate heading down than up. I just pressed my stomach on the wall and slid off and down into the open space below, using friction for balance, knowing I didn’t have far to fall if I did.
I have to pause for a second here to talk about down climbing. I may not know a lot about rock climbing, but I do know I have better balance when I’m facing the wall on the way down. I passed a hiker who was heading down these gullies feet first. He was continually off balance and honestly scaring me.
So I engaged him in conversation: “Have you tried turning and facing the wall when you down climb? You’ll thank yourself for it!”
I got no response, so I figured he must not have heard me. We parted but caught up to each other once again in another gully, where he was once again tip toeing down and sliding feet first.
I tried again: “Do you rock climb?”
Me: “Oh, well if you turn and face the wall you’ll find your center of gravity isn’t off and the gully will be easier to navigate”
Once again, no response and he continued doing what he was doing. All I could think was “He’s going to fall and I’m the only one anywhere near him. He’s going to slip and tumble headfirst down one of these gullies and I’m going to have to rescue him because I’m the only other person out here”. I’d already warned him twice and he hadn’t listened. I decided to just sit and take a break for a while and let him get far enough ahead of me where we wouldn’t pass each other again. This way I wouldn’t have to watch him scare me half to death. I’d just keep an ear out for him falling. (Luckily he never did)
I made it back to Broken Hand Pass at 8:40am. The sun still hadn’t made it over the ridge
I waved to Skully and got a picture of him with the Crestone Needle in the background
Ahead of me were Humboldt and Broken Hand Pass. I was completely ready for the class 3 moves back down and got to it.
About 1/3 of the way down I heard a very loud and deep chirp, looked up, and saw a rather large marmot ahead of me skid to a stop on top of a pile of rocks. The rocks then went tumbling down the pass, making quite a racket and causing a rockslide. Wow! That marmot was a jerk! He’d just put about 4 people in danger of getting brained by rocks the size of my fist. I called down to the hikers below me, made sure they were ok, and blamed it (rightly so) on the marmot. See people? Wear your helmet, even if you’re the only person on that mountain!
I passed quite a few hikers on the way out. South Colony Lakes is a trailhead for multiple 14ers, as well as a great place to backpack and fish. Most people I passed who’d been there for a few days had no idea there was a fire or that the roads were closed.
As I hiked the last few miles out I marveled at what an awesome day it was. The weather was gorgeous, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom, the trail was in full summer conditions, and I’d made a quick and successful summit of what’s considered the 6th most difficult 14er in Colorado. So why wasn’t I jump up and down happy? Well, I kind of was. I took a few celebratory photos once I was back near the lakes.
But I wasn’t euphoric as I had been for many other hikes. No fist-bump, high five kind of feeling. This hike had been too easy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy hike, but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated and been looking forward to. Yes, there was exposure. Yes, there was climbing involved. Yes, it was a long hike with elevation gain, but it wasn’t as technical as I’d anticipated and everything I did was well within my abilities. There wasn’t even any snow to navigate!!! I wasn’t tired at all and even considered hiking up Humboldt to make the day a little more aggressive. Maybe I wasn’t tired because I wasn’t carrying all the stuff I’ve needed lately (crampons, ice axe, snowshoes, extra jacket, etc)?
I know the conditions were awful when I hiked Crestone Peak last April, but that seemed much more difficult than today’s climb of the Crestone Needle, and this was supposed to be harder. I didn’t feel challenged. Hmmmm… So I came to the conclusion these hikes are indeed tough, I’m just advancing in my skills. What scares me is I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy being tested and learning new skills. That’s something I’ll seriously need to spend some time considering.
I made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 13 mile hike/climb in 8 hours. This also means I was home by 1:30pm, in plenty of time to wake up my kids (yes, they’re teenagers, with nothing scheduled for today they were still sleeping when I got home) and grill some steaks for the 4th of July!
I’ve been longing to tackle Capitol Peak for quite a while now. I told myself as soon as a favorable conditions report came out I’d hike Capitol on the first day I was available that had a good weather window. That day was today. The forecast called for low winds, clear skies, and 60 degrees on the summit. I couldn’t ask for a better day!
After taking the kids to Elitch’s water park all day I took a 2 hour nap and headed out to the trailhead at 8pm, stopping by Walmart first to buy new batteries for my flashlight. My flashlight wasn’t out of batteries, but I haven’t replaced the batteries in it in over a year and I planned on hiking for hours tonight in the dark: I didn’t want my flashlight failing on me.
For the first time in a very long time I made it to the trailhead without a hitch. My directions all synced up and I arrived at 1am to a parking lot filled with cars. The Capitol Creek trailhead is a rough 2WD / easy 4WD trailhead. I put it in 4WD because I could on the way in, and on the way out used 4WD because of the elevation loss. Beware: there are cows on this road.
I parked next to a ranger’s vehicle and didn’t fill out a camping permit. I wondered to myself if I was supposed to (it was 1am and I was going to be parked there all day, so it would look like I was camping), but in the end didn’t because I wasn’t setting up a tent and didn’t plan to stay overnight. There wasn’t a trail register.
I started just a bit before 1:30am (I stayed in the truck to eat breakfast and replace the batteries in my flashlight) and hiked in the dark for about 4 hours. My flashlight failed, but not because of the batteries. I had to hit it against a tree a few times to get it to go on again. It might be time for a new flashlight. It’s funny how I wasn’t thinking of bears this time at all: I knew if I saw an animal it was most likely going to be a cow, and I used to raise cows, so I’m not scared of seeing them in the dark. I was kind of expecting them. There was also a full moon which made night hiking phenomenal! If you want an easy segway into night hiking I’d recommend hiking when there’s a full moon. The (many) stream crossings were made easier with the reflection of the moon on the water.
I appreciate good signage! I took the Ditch Trail and loved all the great signs.
The signs were useful because there were a lot of offshoot cattle trails. Cattle trails tend to parallel each other, and sometimes weave around each other, making route finding challenging in the dark. Here’s a photo of the junction just before the large stream crossing and meet up with Capitol Creek trail.
I came upon an unexpected gate in the dark. It was there to keep cattle out, and difficult to open and close and lock with one hand (the other was holding my flashlight. I’m not fond of headlamps because they don’t allow you to scan ahead of you effectively in the dark).
From here it was about 3 more miles to the lake. I followed the stream for most of the route, hiking up a hill and into a small basin. In the basin I passed several tents lit with flashlights, as it was now 4am and people were just getting up to start their hike up Capitol. There were also a few flashlights already visible on the trail ahead of me. It looked like there were a lot of people intent on summiting Capitol Peak today. Since it’s the Sunday before the 4th of July this was actually anticipated. In the end I saw 7 people today hiking Capitol.
I was able to hike the switchbacks up to the saddle without too much difficulty, as the trail was well maintained. In fact, I wasn’t even tired yet and didn’t need to pause for breath on the 900’ of elevation gain on the way up. The sun was just beginning to rise as I passed the saddle. There are several fires in the area, but none were visible on my hike today, and no smell of smoke in the air. The sunrise however clearly showed evidence of fire activity.
I stashed my trekking pole and looked at my map. At this point I was supposed to traverse south across the slope, but there were several gullies filled with just enough snow to make the crossing dangerous without crampons. I tried to down-climb one section and realized my legs weren’t long enough to make the stride needed to safely down climb and sighed inwardly. I had crampons, but didn’t want to put them on, so instead I found a route lower on the slope to traverse, being careful to stay as high on the ridge as I could because my directions said not to traverse too low. There were at least 3 different cairned routes here to get across the ridge, which I’m assuming are there due to different snow lines. Here’s a picture looking back at the ridge. The route I was supposed to take went through each of those sections of snow, which were only problematic around the gullies.
This is where the talus and loose rock began. I followed a cairned trail to the right and looked up at K2 and a lot of avoidable snow and some not so avoidable snow. I didn’t really want to keep away from the snow, so I put on my crampons and aimed for K2.
At the top of the basin crampons were no longer necessary. I still had some trekking and rock hopping to do to get to K2. There were cairns, but most were toppled over. I just pointed towards K2 and aimed up.
Once I reached K2 I looked for the route to hike around it, thinking I’d just summit it on my way back, but the class 3 route was covered in snow that wasn’t easily traversable.
OK, so up and over K2 it was! There were several Class 4 moves required to gain this unranked 13,664’ summit, as well as to cross over it to get back down to the trail.
Here’s the view from the top, looking at the trail back
While K2 is a class 4 on the way up from the basin, it’s a sheer drop from the other side! (So be sure to descend to the west) Here’s a look at that cliff face as well as the start of the trail of the ridge to Capitol.
Here’s a look at the ridge before me leading to Capitol Peak.
The first big obstacle of this ridge is the Knife Edge. The Knife Edge is considered to be the crux of the route. About 150 feet long, but with a drop of over 1000’ to cliffs below, the exposure here is dramatic. The ridgeline of the knife edge is indeed sharp, making straddling and sitting on it extremely uncomfortable and not practical.
Many people use rope to cross this section (belaying partners across). There are several ways to negotiate Capitol’s Knife Edge solo: the monkey crawl, butt scoot, side to side foothold shuffle, and (dare I say it) the tightrope traverse (not recommended), just to name a few.
I’ve been working on my upper body strength lately, bouldering at a rock climbing gym once a week and practicing my pushups (I’m now up to 100 pushups a day). I chose to cross the Knife Edge by straddling the (mostly) stable rock, hugging the sides with my knees. I then leaned forward and used my arm strength to lift myself up, bending my elbows, lifting my arms, and placing my hands one in front of the other to press myself forward. This meant I always had at least 3 (but usually 4) points of contact on the ridge at all times. Every 5 feet or so I’d stop to give my arms a rest, but not for too long because it was an extremely uncomfortable edge on which to sit.
I know it looks like a lot of exposure, and it is, but for me it wasn’t scary. I just focused on putting one hand in front of the other and didn’t look down (too often). It only takes about 5 minutes to cross, and when you do you have the whole rest of the ridge still to traverse!
The rest of the route stays to the left of the ridge. Wow. This was going to be intense! I was just glad the route was free from snow. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that even though I’d passed the crux of the route this ridge is not an obstacle to be taken lightly: It’s full of unstable rock that can give way at any moment. That combined with a lot of exposure makes for a mission that required 100% of my attention. Many people have died hiking this ridge; 5 last year alone. I cannot die. Not now anyway. I realize no one wants to die when they set out hiking a 14er, but I cannot die. I have three teenagers at home I’m the sole caretaker and provider for. If I died there’d be left without their only parent, and I can’t let that happen. I have to be prepared and stay focused at all times so I can return safely home to them. I don’t take this responsibility lightly.
Knowing how people have run into trouble on this mountain helped me prepare. I felt I knew what to look out for and how to stay as safe as possible on this ridge. I know the rock is infamously unstable, even when it appears to be solid. So I took extra care with every handhold and foothold, making sure I was completely stable before making my next move. This meant I was scrambling slowly, but at least I was being safe. And that exposure!!! I knew if I slipped and fell I wasn’t stopping for a long time. Just as with the Knife Edge, I stayed focused on the task before me, only taking my eyes off what I was doing to make sure I was on route, after making sure I was secure.
The ridge seemed to go on and on and on, but it wasn’t really that long. There was a relatively solid grey gully just before the final push to the summit.
At 11:30am I was there! I’d summited Capitol Peak! I looked back at the route I’d taken from the saddle.
Here’s a view of Capitol Lake from Capitol Peak
I was surprised to see how little snow there was left on Snowmass: last month the mass had been full of snow!
I was ecstatic! Capitol Peak is arguably the most difficult 14er to climb, and I’d just climbed it. Solo. I was on top of the world, but I was also realistic: I still had to climb back down. I don’t consider a summit successful until I’m back on class 2 terrain, and for me that meant getting back to the saddle before I could really celebrate. So I got a summit photo and prepared to head back down.
I looked at the route below me
It was full of very unstable rock and loose boulders. Some sat precariously on top of another rock or lose dirt, while others were part of a larger boulder, ready to cleave off and tumble down the mountain when touched. I’d heard numerous rock slides today, and didn’t really want to be a part of one. In many ways down climbing is more difficult than climbing up because you’re off balance and begin with less stable footing and facing the pitch, but it’s made even harder when climbing alone because no one’s there to help tell you where to place your hands and feet, something more obvious when climbing up. Much of this route requires you to turn and face the rock before descending. As I did so I reminded myself once again to take it slow and test out every hand and foot hold before putting my trust in its support. Several rocks did indeed give way or slip out from underneath me, but I was never put in a position where I fell. I did smack my knees and shins few times though.
I made it back to the Knife Edge ready to tackle it once more. This time there was another group crossing when I got there, so I took their picture and text it to them. This really is a very cool accomplishment, made even cooler with picture proof. The people behind me took a picture of me crossing.
The rock is indeed stable, but there were two slabs near the middle that were wobbly. I probably could have dislodged them if I tried (I didn’t). They will almost certainly flake off in the next year or two on their own.
After crossing the Knife Edge I thought about how Capitol Peak is considered the most difficult 14er by many, and for good reason. Personally I think Little Bear in winter was more difficult (and one I never want to do again) but that could have been because of the conditions. The Knife Edge of Capitol wasn’t scary for me at all. I didn’t experience heightened adrenaline or fears. I just looked ahead and crossed the same way as I’d done earlier in the day. Apparently exposure is only an issue for me if steep snow and ice is involved.
I navigated up and over K2 (again, so does that mean I get to count it twice?) and back down the basin. This time I put on my crampons and hiked straight down the snow. There was definitely some glissading to be had here. I kept on my crampons for the entire basin, even though they were only needed half the time. I just didn’t want to take the time to keep putting them on and taking them off. It made for an interesting (and noisy) time hopping from boulder to boulder, made totally worth it cruising through the snow.
I made it back to the gully I didn’t feel comfortable crossing this morning and watched someone else climb up the side. I took off my crampons and found footholds I was unable to see in the dark this morning. The only downside was my shoes were wet from the snow, and it’s no fun climbing with wet soles!
At the saddle I picked up my trekking pole and started my way back down to Capitol Lake. Here’s a view of the trek up the saddle
About halfway down I came across a Ptarmigan and her chicks. They were adorable! The hen seemed a bit overwhelmed.
The wildflowers here were fantastic!
Now I felt as if I’d truly safely summited Capitol Peak… and… I had a new favorite 14er! Capitol was everything I looked for in a 14er: a good trek in (although I could have used with a mile or two less on this one), gear required, scrambling, a real crux (Knife Edge), class 3/4 terrain, awesome views, just enough snow in the right places to make it interesting, and not too many people. There are some hikes I never want to take again. This is not one of them. I had to get a selfie with my new pal
It was now mid afternoon and the weather was fantastic. There were wildflowers all around, bees and butterflies flitting about, and a light breeze in the air. This was hiking!!!
In the daylight I had a better view of the trail
And stream crossings
The hike out seemed to take forever, but that was probably because it was warm out and my backpack was heavy. I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this an 18.3 mile hike/climb completed in 13 hours.
The drive home took much longer than the drive in because the 285 was closed for the Weston pass Fire and lots of people were evacuating.
Also, it’s a holiday weekend and there were TONS of motor homes, RV’s, and vehicles hauling toys on the road. We didn’t go above 35mph for over a 70 mile stretch, despite it being a 65mph zone. Such misuse of time makes me go insane!!! Drivers who are driving that slow need to pull over to let faster drivers pass. Think of it as a law or something. I need to time my drives better so I’m driving home later in the day!
It’s 7:30pm on Saturday night, and I go downstairs to find all 3 of my teenagers hanging out in my youngest daughter’s room. My son is sitting in a chair in the middle of the room serenading everyone, trying to figure out how to play a Bruno Mars song on his accordion. My oldest has her laptop in her lap, and my youngest has her headphones on (but takes them off when I enter the room).
The kids ask me why I’m not driving to the trailhead? Didn’t I have a long drive and hike ahead of me tomorrow?
Me: Well, you see yesterday I saw a really big bear when I was coming home from hiking. A really big bear. I didn’t realize we had bears that size in Colorado! I’m stalling because I don’t really want to hike solo in the dark for longer than I have to with bears on my mind.
My son: I thought you talked to us yesterday about not letting other people’s fears dictate your hikes?
Me: Yes, but currently, this is my fear.
My youngest: That’s fair.
My oldest: But you’re not hiking the same mountain, right?
Me: You’re right! Hey, I’m not even hiking in the same mountain range. Thanks! I’m out!
My oldest knows how I think, and knew just what to say to get me moving. I’ve hiked for miles and miles in the dark solo dozens of times, but for some reason seeing that really large black (cinnamon colored) bear yesterday kind of freaked me out. Sure, it was running away from me, but it wasn’t the smallish black bear I’m used to seeing. I encountered it during the day, but it’s not something I’d like to repeat at night. I know I’ll get over it after a time or two of hiking at night again; the experience was just still fresh in my memory and didn’t sit well.
So I drove the 6.5 hours to the Kilpacker trailhead. Quick note: the driving directions given on the dot com are correct, but I misinterpreted them. The instructions said to drive to Lizard Head pass and continue south. So when I got to Lizard Head Pass sign I turned south into the lot, thinking this was the pass, and looked for a route south. This wasn’t the pass, and I circled the parking lot twice looking for it. It was dark and the road was a half loop, leading to other trailheads and me to believe I was missing the turn off. I figured I must have missed something? Nope, there was no turn at Lizard Head Pass: just continue driving when you see it and don’t go into the parking lot (unless you need to use the restroom, because they have one there and not at the trailhead).
The 2WD dirt road in was a bit narrow in places, but easy to navigate. I put my truck in 4WD because I could, but it wasn’t necessary.
I signed the trail register at the well marked trailhead and started my hike a little before 4am. In the dark. Here’s proof:
The first 5 miles of this hike are really easy. Very little elevation gain (in fact, you lose more than you gain it seems, which stunk on the way out) and no real challenges. That is, if you put aside the fact when you hike in the dark your sense of hearing intensifies and every shadow becomes a mountain lion/bear/rabid squirrel coming at you at full speed. About 2 miles in I heard a large pine tree fall 20 feet in front of me on the trail, which was a first for me (but it’s gotta happen a lot, right?).
I came upon the stream crossing and it was more difficult than anticipated. You see, when I came upon it in the dark I saw a broken log in the water, with no way to cross. I walked up and down the banks a few times until I noticed an in-tact tree that was easy to cross. It’s one of the fun challenges of hiking at night! (I had a GPS but it wasn’t helpful in this situation, as it showed the crossing far from both logs, in a place where there were no logs).
So, how did I deal with my bear thoughts? I diverted my mind to a speech I’m writing for a presentation I’m giving next week at a conference on sensor technology, tapped each and every log and large rock I passed with my trekking pole to make noise, and said “Hey Bear!” more than I have in years. It worked, because I didn’t see any animals (which was also kind of a downer because I actually like seeing animals when I hike).
The route was very well maintained until I reached the basin.
I reached the basin just as the sun was coming up. This was a very large basin filled with a lot of talus.
From here the route wasn’t difficult to follow, but everything looked the same, making cairn finding a fun game.
I never did see the cutoff for El Diente because I wasn’t looking for it. I was focused on route finding for Mt Wilson, but here it is (I found it on my way back down).
I left my trekking pole near a large rock, fully expecting a marmot or pika to destroy it (it’s time I got a new one anyway).
I chose to do Mt Wilson first because it’s further and there was a chance it would have snow. I wanted to get the snow part of the hike done in the morning before the snow softened. The jury was still out on the traverse. After hiking through miles of talus I came to a drainage area with larger rocks. I could see a snow free line to where I needed to go so I didn’t put on my crampons and spent the next hour and a half carefully hopping from rock to rock up the drainage.
Once I made it to just below the gullies below the summit it was much safer for me to put my crampons on, so I did, and left them on until I was about 150 feet away from the summit (when rock climbing became necessary).
Here’s the route I took (I’m using the photo from 14ers.com because mine don’t have this great of a perspective).
After making it to the notch rock climbing was necessary. Yes, it is important here to look back at the way you came. You’ll be surprised at how different it looks from this perspective!!!
There was one class 3 move
And the rest was a fun uphill scramble with the added bonus of the sun blinding me as it was just rising over the ridge
Wow! What a beautiful day for a summit!
I took a summit selfie, a summit video, and was back on my way.
This time I put on my crampons for the gully and kept them on as I was descending most of the basin, straight down the snow. Wow! What a difference from hoping rock to rock! This was so much easier! I wished I’d have done this on the way up: I’d have saved quite a bit of time.
Now it was time to head over to El Diente. I’d made the decision I wanted elevation gain today, and the best way to do that was to descend Mt Wilson and climb El Diente instead of doing the traverse. Also, I didn’t have a map or instructions for the traverse with me and this seemed like a safer option, even though the traverse was snow free.
The pink “v” is what you’re supposed to do if you hike each peak separately, but I found an established cairned route and took the blue line.
I still looked for and traversed the rib, but I took a route from the west instead of the east.
I climbed the gray gully and hiked just below the organ pipes
After gaining the ridge I actually moved from the south side and traversed the north side of El Diente. The north side had some snow directly on the route, but it was easily navigable. Here’s a picture looking back at the north side part of the trail and also of the traverse.
Here was the crux of the climb for me: I rounded the corner and since there was snow on the direct route from this point on I made a few class 4 moves to gain the summit. (It’s a steeper climb and those rocks are larger than this picture makes them look).
I couldn’t tell where the exact summit was. My GPS kept switching between points, and some were obviously not the summit (it was doing this for the north and south side of the mountain too, which was frustrating). There was no summit marker so I just stood on multiple high points on the ridge, just to be sure I hit the ‘actual’ summit. The high points were quite narrow so this picture is closer than I’d have liked.
Take a look at that ridge heading back to Mt Wilson!
I was much more confident on the way back down El Diente. Both of the climbs I did today were completely within my abilities. They were fun, and while there was exposure I wasn’t scared at all (not even much of an adrenaline rush). These routes seemed very similar to the Mt Sneffles ridge route. The only downside? The talus! OMG, that stuff didn’t quit! Talus stinks to hike in because all of the rocks are of irregular size, none of them are stable or large enough to securely put your foot down, and they cause you to slide when hiking downhill. It’s hard on the knees and impossible to hike down fast without slipping.
The only good thing about talus? It’s gorgeous to look at! I found several pieces that looked like they contained fossils of plant material. I left them there for the next hiker to find.
On the way back down I was able to see flowers that weren’t visible in the dark. Absolutely stunning! Pictures don’t do them justice!
I turned around before exiting the basin to get a good look at the waterfall
Here’s more of that talus route down…
I was able to retrieve my trekking pole with only minor bite marks. Due to the bite size I’m assuming a pika was involved, and was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t destroyed. I’ve heard stories of the rodents ruining gear, but they only seemed to have a nibble this time. Apparently they didn’t like the taste of the cork handle.
This hike made for a long and beautiful day, as I made it back to my truck at 4pm (and home at 10:30pm, so door to door it was a 27 hour day). I actually stopped at treeline to let some hikers pass (two young men trying to run down the talus to catch up with/pass me, and falling several times doing so… I figured I’d just let them pass since I wasn’t in a hurry today). To make sure they were well ahead of me so we wouldn’t play leap frog I waited for about half an hour in the meadow, enjoying the view. Talus might be tough to hike in, but it sure makes a beautiful mountain!
I’d purposely scheduled Culebra as a hike on a Sunday because I knew I’d 100% be able to do the hike availability wise, but as the date of my reservation neared I realized it wasn’t the best time for me to hike this mountain. I looked at the weather reports, and while the weather was fine for Culebra all weekend there were a few other summits I want to hit this weekend that would require more commitment and time than Culebra, and I needed to be back home on Friday for a 4pm board meeting, meaning I wouldn’t be able to hike at all on Friday because all other summits required more time. I felt I could hike Culebra and Red Mountain A and be back for my meeting by 4pm, but I did not feel I could do so with the other hikes I wanted to complete this weekend.
So I did something I NEVER do. I emailed Carlos at Cielo Vista Ranch and pleaded to change my time from Sunday to Friday. To put this mission into perspective, to me, asking to change a time I’ve reserved 3 months in advance is beyond rude, and I honestly didn’t expect him to let me do so. But he did, and I was ecstatic! This freed up my Sunday to hike a more challenging 14er(s)! Woot! Happy dance! Also, Carlos is amazing. Thank you Carlos!!!
On Wednesday of this week I went to the Colorado Springs 14er happy hour and mentioned to someone who’d done Culebra last week I was planning on hiking Culebra Friday mainly so I could hike and be back by 4pm. He blatantly told me there was no way I could do it and be back by 4pm (and I hadn’t event mentioned Red Mountain A….).
I talked with him about the hike: It wasn’t technical, was it? There wasn’t any rock climbing involved or anything, right? Nothing unexpected about this hike? I reasoned with him, letting him know I’m a strong hiker and stated some of my other summit times. This would be my 44th 14er. He wasn’t impressed. I began to doubt myself. Could I really complete this hike in enough time to make it back for my meeting? Well, I’d already committed, so I was going for it anyway. But now I wasn’t so sure…
I don’t sleep well at trailheads, so I woke up at 1:30am, got ready, and drove to the trailhead (taking special care to use the directions from 14ers.com and not google, as per previous advice). I left plenty of time for mistakes (I’m prone to making mistakes when searching for trailheads, despite extensive research) but I made it to the gate without a hitch at 5am. There were 3 gates all right next to each other (I wasn’t sure which one was “the gate”) and about 10 cars waiting to be let in. Most people had slept in their vehicles overnight and were now waking up and brushing their teeth. Hmmmm…. I wasn’t sure where ‘the line’ was so I just picked a free spot and parked.
I had an hour to kill, but I was prepared. I went over the route a few times, and when I felt I’d exhausted that avenue I prepped my gear so I could just hop out and go when the time came. And then I got out my knitting. I knit hats for School in the Woods (a school that focuses on naturalist outdoor education for 4th graders and takes place completely outside, so each student gets a knit hat because it’s cold going to school in the winter outside. I make the hats, but wear some of them on 14rers before donating them because the kids think it’s cool).
I was prepared to knit until the gates opened, but bless the man, Carlos arrived 15 minutes early to open the gate. He’s my new hero!!!
I drove the 2 miles to headquarters and was greeted by 2 of his sons. Carlos is a very charming individual, and his sons are as well. It seems today was their first day on the job: they were starting new check in and check out procedures, and it was more efficient for Carlos to let everyone in the gates and for his sons to check them in. When we were all ready to go we were told check out was to be different as well: when we were done hiking we needed to check out at the office and there’d be a code for the gate key. Please let yourself out and replace the lock and key.
From headquarters it’s 4.6 miles to the top of the 4WD trailhead. The road isn’t really that rough, but the elevation gain is pretty steep. A 4WD vehicle is needed for the grade alone.
I was anxious to get going. This was going to be the latest start I’ve ever (intentionally) had on a 14er, and it was killing me not to be out there hiking already. Time was ticking.
When I made it to the trailhead I was totally ready to go. I jumped out of my truck, fixed one of the rocks another vehicle had kicked up while parking that looked like it could puncture a tire, grabbed my gear and headed out on the trail. It was 6:32am.
I wanted (needed) to get started first. To most this will seem like an overreaction, but I really want to summit all 58 14ers solo (as solo as they can realistically get) and I feel more confident doing this if I’m first on the trail. That way I make my own trail and don’t follow someone else’s. It’s “too easy” when someone is ahead of me. Usually I do this by starting super early, but with this hike we all kind of start at the same time because we’re queued to do so.
I crossed the stream and went right, and them immediately realized I needed to go left and turned around. Whoops! Ok, now I’m on my way.
I looked toward the ridge and saw a large animal. It was either a goat or an elk, and I’m going with elk due to the body type. When I reached the ridge there was no sign of animal life (except for scat. Lots of elk scat on this hill).
This hike has no established trail. In fact, they don’t want there to be a trail. It felt very similar to hiking Matterhorn Peak: just aim for the summit and keep hiking.
I’m going to side track here for a bit and step on my soapbox. I teach Leave No Trace etiquette, and one thing that really bugs me is hiking etiquette. As far as I’m concerned, the best way to make the least impact on the environment is to hike in a straight line and create a trail for others to follow, and then to stay on that trail and properly maintain that trail. Use one animals have made, because they follow it too. But most Leave No Trace trainers will tell you to spread out to reduce impact. The problem is THIS DOESN’T HAVE THE INTENDED CONSEQUENCE!!! Instead of having low impact, everything is destroyed, especially in alpine environments. All flowers are destroyed, tundra that takes thousands of years to grow is trampled on en masse, and tons of new routes are formed because no one wants to form ‘one route’. I absolutely hate hiking off trail because it destroys the environment: It destroys all of it, instead of just damaging one single area.
However, it expressly states in the contract I signed with Cielo Vista Ranch that I’m not to use an established trail, and to create a new path if I see a trail “to limit impact”, so I did so, even though it killed me to do so. All I could think about as I did my best to hop from rock to rock to avoid crushing plant life was how I was destroying precious alpine tundra by trampling all over it. Oh, and I saw dozens of minor trails the entire hike because there wasn’t one ‘established’ trail. How is this low impact?!?!?! OK, I’m done now. I seriously love Cielo Vista Ranch. Stepping off.
The route wasn’t difficult at all. I just aimed for a peak, made it, followed a ridge, aimed for another peak, followed it to another ridge, etc. I couldn’t help but think what a bugger this hike would have been in bad weather with low visibility, but on a bluebird day it was phenomenal.
I love this cairn! It’s the only one on the hike and quite a cairn!
I looked ahead and thought I saw someone standing on the summit wearing a backpack, but how could that be? I was the first one up here? And then I hiked closer and realized it was kind of a cairn. Kind of…
I knew I summited in good time but didn’t look at the time because I wasn’t going to pressure myself. I took a summit selfie
And a video from the summit.
As per usual I didn’t stay long, even though it was a nice day. I looked at the route before me that led to Red Mountain A (or as I like to call it, Red Mountain, Eh?), and went for it. A GPX file was not needed for this route on a clear day (but you should have one just I case the weather turns). It was easy to navigate. I just had to follow the ridge down to the saddle and then back up to the summit.
Despite every intention I’m sure, the route up Red Mountain had a well established path that zig-zagged up some red colored scree. This was the best scree I’ve ever hiked on!!! Have you ever heard of good scree? Nope? Well, this was good scree (you’ll have to hike it to understand).
I summited at 8:58am and thought to myself: See? This is totally doable! You’re right on time (maybe even a little early).
And summit video
And back down. I made it all the way down Red Mountain and past the saddle to Culebra when I saw a fit father and son duo hiking towards Red Mountain. They stopped to say hi. I learned Culebra had been the dad’s 54th 14er (his finisher) and congratulated him! High five!
Father: “We’re quick hikers. We’re rarely passed, but never smoked. You smoked us!”
He was referring to how we started at the same time but at this point I was about an hour and a half ahead of them in the hike. I took this as a real compliment. I’m not gonna lie, it was quite an ego boost. We talked for a bit about training and goals, and then we went off in our separate directions to finish our hikes.
Culebra in summer conditions on a bluebird day is not a difficult hike. No 14er is easy, but I was feeling pretty good about myself. I hadn’t needed to stop to catch my breath at all, I wasn’t tired or sore or experiencing any of the usual physical effects that usually occur with hiking a 14er. I hadn’t had a sip of water and never broke open my food stash. This was almost too easy, and I felt a bit guilty for not continuing on to hike a few more 13ers on such a perfect day. But my schedule didn’t allow for it, so I hiked back.
When I reached Culebra for the second time I met a few hikers at summit debating whether or not to continue towards Red Mountain. My advice: go for it! It’s seriously not that challenging, and you’ll kick yourself for not summiting later if you choose to hike the centennials. They asked me to carry them down. I declined and hiked back on my own. Oh, and I saw this marker, which I think is more of a property/survey marker instead of a summit marker? Any insight from someone more knowledgeable? It was at the peak…
As I was hiking down I ruminated over today’s experience, as well as my previous experiences hiking 14ers and the reactions of my friends and family, mostly negative. I realized I was second guessing myself because of the fears of others, not because of my abilities or fears. I’m not scared of hiking any 14er (I hold a healthy dose of reality to the dangers, but I’m not scared). I know my abilities. I know how fast I can hike, what conditions I feel comfortable (or not) hiking, and ditto for climbing. I know I can do this, so why did I keep second guessing myself when someone says I can’t do something, like when that 14er Happy Hour guy said I couldn’t summit in a certain amount of time when I knew I could? Or last week when my mom said it was too windy so I shouldn’t even try? Why did that make me second guess myself?
I came to the conclusion I can do this: I know I have the skills and abilities, and I’m not going to live my life based on other people’s fears and limitations. Hear me out. I second guess myself because other people are afraid or can’t do something, not because I’m afraid or I can’t do something. I tend to overanalyze and internalize other people’s fears, and that’s going to stop now. I know my abilities. I trust my abilities. I have the training, I have the knowledge, and I have the skills: I just need to trust myself. I know I can do this, and I will. Stop telling me I can’t. Or go on and keep telling me, I won’t listen.
Now I was hiking with a purpose!
There’s no trail, but you can see the trailhead at the end of the dirt road (center)
I made it back to my truck at 11am, making the 8.4 mile, triple summit (come on, I did Culebra twice!!! It counts as 3…) trek in 4.5 hours. I realize that isn’t record breaking, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was just what I’d expected of myself.
On the drive back to headquarters, just after I crossed the meadow on the 4WD road I saw a very husky cinnamon colored bear run/lumber/gallop across my path and away into the hills (why do bears always run away from me as fast as they can?!?!?). I tried to take a picture, but I didn’t get my camera out in time (I was driving) and when I stopped where it had entered the trees it was long gone. Oh well. Weird, a bear out in the afternoon….
I signed out and left two cases of S’mores Girl Scout Cookies as a thank you to the team for allowing me to change my reservation date without a fuss (be nice to those who help you!!!!) and was on my way.
I stopped at gate and entered the access code, only to realize I was using the wrong key box (whoops, there were two, and I missed the ‘obvious’ one). I located the correct one and quickly exited, closed the gate, and drove home.
Oh, and that board meeting? I made it home in plenty of time to shower, change, do a conditions report for 14ers.com and made it to my meeting with 40 minutes to spare. Boom! Take that naysayer!!!