Mt Oso – 13,689

RT Length:  33.61 miles

Elevation Gain: 9833’

This trip changed so many times before it even began.  I have an actual job, with responsibilities, meetings, etc.  I drove down to Durango Wednesday night, slept in the cab of my truck at a Walmart (the topper is still on order), got “the knock” at 10:30pm, moved, then woke up and worked/had meetings in my truck the next day. Then I drove to Hunchback Pass through Silverton (my favorite way to get to Hunchback pass).  It started raining as soon as I hit the dirt road, and didn’t stop.  There was a 60% chance of rain today, but I was still hoping to find a window and hike either 5 or 10 miles to a camping spot (depending on when it got dark, weather, etc.). 

The road over Stony Pass was sketchy in the rain.  Miles did great, but there were a few times I was worried the mud was too deep to get through.  I was a bit worried about the river crossings too, but Miles once again had no trouble.  

I’ve been to this area 3 or 4 times, and know the perfect place to park:  It’s a pullout at 11230’, just before you hit the trees (again), and before getting to Beartown.  My truck can make it further, but from past experience I know it’s going to get Colorado pinstripes from the willows and I have the opportunity to scrape the frame a couple of times as well. I love my truck, so I parked here, about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, in a flat spot with a campfire ring at 11235’.

I parked and waited for the rain to stop.  The rain turned to graupel, then rain again, then hail.  I could see the clouds coming over Hunchback Pass, and they weren’t getting any prettier.  Wave after wave of new sets of clouds kept cycling in.  After waiting for a few hours, I decided to just get some sleep.  I know many of you would start out in the rain, but with my Raynaud’s I can’t risk it:  If I get wet/cold that’s it for me, as I cannot warm up.  I woke up every hour to check on the weather. The rain didn’t stop/clouds didn’t clear until 4:30am.  That was a 15 hour rain delay that was seriously messing with my summiting plans.

I put on my rain gear to ward off water on the trail dripping from plants, and was on the trail before 5am. 

Day 1 went like this: 

  • Gained 1275’ over 2.8 miles (to Hunchback Pass)
  • Lost 2350’ over 5 miles (to Rock Creek Junction)
  • Gained 2503’ over 6.4 miles (to pass over Rock Lake)
  • Lost 500’ over .5 miles (From pass across basin)
  • Gained 1150’ over 1 mile (from basin to Oso/Soso saddle/to Oso Summit)
  • Woot! Summit!
  • Lost 1150’ over 1 mile (back to basin)
  • Gained 500’ over .5 miles (back to saddle)
  • Made it back to Rock Lake (losing about 600’ more)

Ok, so, let’s start from the beginning:  From my parking space at 11235’, it was an easy hike to the trailhead, passing through Beartown. There were two other 4WD vehicles parked here, a 4Runner and a Tacoma like mine, unmodified, so you know it’s doable (choose wisely). 

Once at the trailhead (813) I followed the Vallecito Trail up to Hunchback Pass

And then I headed south through the basin, following the trail down for 5 miles as it lost 2350’ in elevation

There were willows here, and I was glad to have on my rain pants.  There were a few stream crossings, all easily crossable.

I saw evidence of someone’s fire getting out of control: looks like they lost their pack in the process.   I wonder how they put it out?  In case you’re wondering, yes, the ground was cold and the fire was out (I’m sure the 15 hours of rain last night had helped).

After hiking for a total of 7.8 miles (from where I parked) I made it to the Rock Creek Junction, and followed that trail southeast for another 5 miles up to Rock Lake. This trail was also class 1, and easy to follow.

Just before making it to Rock Lake I passed through a basin

In this basin was a bull moose.  I didn’t worry too much about him, because he was hundreds of yards away from me, on the opposite side of the basin.  I continued on the trail, but once he noticed me, he raced towards me and stopped a few yards away. He charged me (it was a bluff). I knew not to make eye contact with him, which was what he wanted. I could actually feel him willing me to look at him.  I kept my head straight and walked the trail with a purpose, ignoring him.  He continued snorting and pawing at the ground and shifting his head from side to side. Then he paralleled me for about 50 yards, walking about 5 yards to the west of me. When he was done, he trotted away and took in a view of the mountains.

As he trotted away I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on the trail, exiting the basin and making my way to Rock Lake.

I arrived at the lake at 11am and decided to set up my campsite for the night.  I didn’t see anyone else here.

It was still early in the day, so after a quick snack I left my heavier gear and just brought the essentials:  I planned to summit Mt Oso today. To do that, I skirted Rock Lake to the east and ascended the rocks

As I made it to the rocky area, I came across a cairned trail, and followed that trail southwest.  Note, I took the solid line up, the dotted line down. The dotted line was easier, but both ‘went’.  You can’t tell from below, but there’s a grassy area by the dotted line that helped me avoid the willows (pictures on my way down).

Here’s the cairned route, with the ‘exit cairns’ circled in red

Here’s where I left the trail.  If you continue following the cairns, you’ll go down to Half Moon Lake. I was headed towards Mt Oso, so I left the cairns and continued heading up (west).

Time for more elevation loss, and gain.  I was headed for the Mt Soso/Mt Oso saddle. This required me to lose 500’ through this basin, and then ascend the gully.

The basin was easy to cross. There were small streams and some willows to navigate, but the route was obvious (and choose your own adventure:  just keep heading towards the gully/saddle). The gully was a mix of large, loose boulders, smaller loose rocks, and scree. 

Once at the top of the gully/saddle, it was once again time to lose elevation.  Being here also gave me a great view of Mt Irving.  I descended the gully to the northwest, staying on the scree at the base of the rock outcroppings, rounding them, and losing 175’ in elevation.

Stay low here.  You’re going to want to stay high, but you’re aiming for a green rock band to cross.  It’s lower than you’d like it to be (around 12600’)

There’s a little bit of scrambling to get over the rock band. I was able to keep it as easy class 3 by taking this route

Once across the green rock outcropping, it was time to gain the ridge.  I turned and headed north.  The rocks here were large and loose, with some scree mixed in.

I went low just before ascending the ridge, following a scree/game trail

And then followed the ridge to the summit

Summit of Mt Oso

Mt Oso: 

There was a large, military grade summit register, with a moving dedication inside, as well as some ceramic bowls (I’m sure that’s not what they actually are, ad that they have a purpose?).

I looked over at Irving and North Irving.  I did the math in my head, and there was no way I had time to loose the 1500’ of elevation, then regain 1300’ to summit Irving, plus hike back with all those ups and downs to Rock Lake before sunset.  It’s important I’m in my sleeping bag before the sun goes down, which limits my hiking time. Oh well, just one peak for this trip.

So, I turned and headed back towards the Oso/Soso saddle

Back at the saddle I retraced my steps down the gully, back across the basin, and up to the next ridge, finding a grassy bank to ascend

The route looks much different heading back, so be sure to study it on the way in.  Stay just below this cliff band

And now to head back down to the trail

You know you’re back on trail when you see cairns

Back down to Rock Lake. Here’s an overall view of the route I took down, and check it out:  another camper!  I walked by his tent, and apologized for doing so, but told him he was camped in the only area without willows…

There are lots of cairns here to guide you back down.

I made it back to my campsite as the wind started picking up.  I was glad I’d made the decision to head back.  I jotted down some notes, and looked at my tracker:  I’d done 18 miles today, with almost 7500’ of elevation. I sat in my tent for a while, glad I’d decided to bring a tent, listening to the wind howl outside.  I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to frost inside my tent. Lovely.  I quicky broke camp and headed back down into the basin.  Everything was covered in a thinl layer of frost.

Oh, did I mention the trails were mucky? It was from all of that rain yesterday.  The entire way in, and out, I was walking on water/mud/avoiding puddles, glad I was wearing new hiking boots that were still waterproof. 

On my way out of the basin I decided not to take any chances, and wore my helmet. Towards the end of the basin I spotted the moose again. This time he had a friend, and didn’t seem to care I was there. I’ve seen over 20 moose in Colorado while hiking, and this was the first aggressive one I’ve come across. It’s interesting today he had no interest in me, while yesterday he was overly intrigued/agitated I was there.

I followed the Rock Creek Trail back down to the Vallecito Trail

Then took the Vallecito Trail back up to Hunchback Pass

And then back to the trailhead, the road, and my truck

When I made it back to my truck, my tracker told me I’d hiked 33.61 miles with 9833’ of elevation gain. 

Now, for the hour and a half drive back to Silverton! Oh, also, side note:  If you’re driving these back roads, make sure you know where you’re going!  It’s easy to get lost back here.  I met a man in a jeep as I was hiking back to my truck who was totally turned around.  He wanted to know how much further down the 4WD road to the ‘real’ road.  I had to tell him he wasn’t going in the right direction (this road is a dead end) and that Silverton was many, many miles away.  An easy way to not get lost out there without cell service is to load your track onto CalTopo, then add a line and trace the roads you wish to take, then use that track your drive. 

Just for fun, here are some pictures of the road out…

Buckskin Benchmark – 13,370 and PT 13039

RT Length:  18 miles

Elevation Gain: 5800’

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I’m NOT a fan of the permit system. Even though I was on their website exactly when permits were released, I wasn’t able to get an overnight permit for Maroon Bells on a date I could go, so I had to get three back-to-back permits instead.  When I pulled up at the gate my paperwork confused the attendant.  He didn’t know what type of a parking pass to give me, but settled on an overnight pass that expired in two days time.  He then asked me to park in the further lot, as the closer lot was intended for day use. 

I balked at this:  I’d wanted a 2 night pass, but because of the reservation system I couldn’t get one.  Instead, I paid 3 times what those who were able to score a longer permit were paying for the same amount of time in the park.  I felt if I was paying that much more, the least they could do was give me a better parking spot.  Also, while annoying, the main reason I don’t like the permit system isn’t because of stuff like this:  it’s because it encourages bad decision making among people who feel they need to hike/continue when dangerous because it’s difficult to get a permit, etc.  One of the reasons I left California in 2006 was because of the permit system, and all the fees associated with said system. I hate seeing it brought to Colorado.

Ok, rant over.  I was on the trail around 5:30pm.  It was my intention to camp around 11,000’ and start early the next morning.  For those of you who haven’t hiked the Maroon Bells area before, the trail is obvious:

I followed the trail west, staying right at the junction for Crater Lake

And continued up the hillside to my camping spot at 11,100’.  I was surprised no one else was camping here, as it’s the perfect spot. 

I’ll spare you the details of the next day’s hike, as I came back to this spot, spent the night, and started from here the next morning.  I’d gotten to bed early after a long day of hiking, and woke up to sunlight.  I looked at my phone and it showed 5:30!  Ack!  I initially thought I’d slept through my alarm, and started rolling up my sleeping bag.  About 30 seconds later I realized I’d only been sleeping about an hour, so I happily went back to bed and slept soundly until 3:30am the next morning. I left my new water filter bag inside my tent and was on my way.

I was on the trail by 3:45am, heading northeast along the well-defined trail through Minnehaha Gulch. I crossed a stream and continued along the trail, not really ‘feeling it’ today.  I was more tired than I should have been, and wasn’t feeling very motivated.

I followed the trail all the way to Buckskin Pass

Once at Buckskin Pass, I turned right and headed north towards Buckskin Benchmark

This was an easy, class 2 hike, mostly on tundra

Towards the top it got a little rocky, but stayed class 2.  I saw several ptarmigans here, and a few crows

Right about now the sun was starting to rise, along with my motivation. 

Here’s the last bit to the summit.  It stays class 2 if you keep left

I summited Buckskin Benchmark at 6am

Buckskin Benchmark: 

The benchmark

The views from up here were amazing!  My spirits lifted, I actually ate a snack, and headed back down to Buckskin Pass. 

On my way down I made some mountain goat friends (those are Snowmass and Capitol peaks in the background)

My next peak was PT 13039

It was a tundra walk back to Buckskin Pass

And a trail hike up to the point circled in red

This is where it got interesting.  I wanted to go straight up and over the face, but it seems as if there have been several slides in the area, and nothing went at class 2.  This was supposed to be a class 2 hike, so I looked for a better way. My advice here is NOT to go directly up one of these gullies (you probably can, but they all looked sketchy/prone to slides).

Instead, dip down to the left.  This area stays class 2. 

Here’s what my route looks like from below

Once I was past this area, I turned right and headed southwest to the ridge (still class 2).

Then I followed the ridge south.  I could clearly see the cairn indicating the top of 13039

At the edge of the ridge is where it got spicy.  It turned form a class 2 hike into a class 4 climb.  I looked around for an alternate route, and realized the only way up to the summit was to climb the 30-40 feet or so up the chimney/gully to the summit block

I was a little disappointed because I’d left my helmet back in my tent.  I debated if I should continue or not, and in the end I figured I did enough class 4 climbing yesterday without incident and was warmed up:  I should be fine today.  Also, I’d recommend wearing a helmet.   I dropped my gear and headed up with just my camera.  Here’s the route I took

I made it about halfway up the chimney, and once again had second thoughts.  I continued on however, because I knew the worst was behind me and either way I’d have to downclimb that area again. Here’s another angle

I summited PT 13039 at 7:45am

PT 13039:

Here’s looking back at Buckskin Benchmark

From the summit you can see where I left my gear. 

I turned and exited the way I came

The initial downclimb was steep and committing.  I turned and faced the rock for this part.

I made it about halfway down and realized I hadn’t taken a picture of myself on the summit, but I wasn’t willing to re-summit again.  I figured I’d just get a photo at the bottom. 

I made my way back down the ridge

And back to Buckskin Pass

From the pass it was an easy, class 1 hike back to my campsite.

Side note:  there are also good camping sites at 11,500’.  Once at my campsite I was disappointed to find my water filter had leaked water all over the bottom of my tent.  I dried it out the best I could, packed up my gear, and headed down.

Also, the wildflowers were on point today

Here are some pictures from the trek out

Once I made it back to the Crater Lake area I started seeing tons of people on the trail.  They travelled in groups, and were spaced about 15 minutes apart (I’m guessing this is due to the bussing times). I met one lady who asked me how fat it was to Crater Lake, and when I told her it was another mile or so she looked like I’d just told her it was another 20 miles.  She was exhausted, and I’m pretty sure she turned around (the round trip hike to Crater Lake is about 4 miles).  There were several groups being led by guides, which leads me to believe guiding companies may be buying up the permits.

I made it back to the parking lot, cleaned up, and headed out.

I had another entire day of hiking yesterday, so my stats are estimates based on CalTopo math:  Today’s hike was 18 miles with 5800’ of elevation gain. 

West Trinity Peak – 13,765, Trinity Peak – 13,816 & East Trinity Peak – 13,745


* I did these peaks with Arrow Peak as a weekend hike.  CalTopo put the entire route at 41 miles, 10511′ of elevation gain, Strava gave me 30.9 miles and 15795′ of elevation gain. Either way, it was a good workout (see photos at end).  Approach directions can be found here.

After hiking Arrow Peak I decided to get a look in the daylight at the approach to the Trinities.  I continued southeast along the same trail I’d hiked in on until I came to the area where I was supposed to begin the ascent up to the Trinities


However, when I got there I noticed there wasn’t a place to set up camp, and the area had a lot of water.  I couldn’t find a good place to cross the water without getting seriously wet.  I did not want to start a hike early in the morning wet and cold.


I thought about the route for a minute, went through some pictures I’d taken earlier in the day from Arrow Peak, and decided to continue along the trail for a bit to see if I could find a better spot to set up camp, and a better entry point. This hike is a loop, so I just continued heading southeast.  The trail became more and more faint as I hiked along


After hiking for a mile and a half I came to the area I intended to spend the night at 11,970’.  There were waterfalls here, a creek, willows, and a few trees.


I set up a bivy under a tree, filtered some water, ate an early dinner, and jotted notes down in my journal.


There was a 20% chance of rain today, and wouldn’t you know it?  It started to rain.  Also, the clouds looked like they were going to attack me.


Luckily the rain stopped and I decided to head over to the creek again.  This creek looked much easier to cross then the marshy area, but in the interest of not needing to change out of my hiking boots and into my sandals tomorrow morning (thus eliminating unnecessary gear) I decided to build a rock bridge over the creek.  I put on my water sandals and got to work.  It was my intention to hike up this side of the mountain and connect with the proper trail once in the basin.  I wasn’t 100% sure the route ‘went’ but it seemed like a better option than ascending from below.  I figured it this didn’t work I’d turn around and start with East Trinity instead, and get wet on my way out.


When I was done making the rock bridge it was still too early to go to sleep.  There wasn’t much to do so I relaxed, enjoyed the view, and broke out the whiskey.  Before the day was out I had about 16oz of whiskey (I knew because I’d placed it in a marked sports bottle.  Also, I have a high tolerance for alcohol and don’t get hangovers so this isn’t out of character for me).  I saw a group of hikers come over the pass and head towards me.  They were doing Vestal tomorrow and were looking for a place to camp for the night.  I told they they’d have better luck near the approach and they were off.  Not long after that I went to bed.  It was still early, but it had been a long day. Whiskey puts me to sleep.

I woke up well before my alarm.  It was still dark out but there was a full moon and I could see the mountains clearly.  I saw shooting stars and thought to myself how lucky I was to be here right now.  I was actually warm (that’s rare for me when I backpack) and I didn’t want to get up.  I also didn’t need to for a while.  I watched clouds come in and started to worry:  there was a 40% chance of rain after noon today and I didn’t want to get stuck in the rain while on the traverse.  I’d heard from other hikers yesterday it took about 8 hours to complete.  I did some math in my head and decided to get up and get going.  The last time the weather had said 40% chance of rain after noon I got caught in a thunderstorm at 9:30am.

I’d prepped most of my gear last night, so this morning all I had to do was roll up my sleeping bag and put away my bivy sack and ground cover.  I filtered some more water and I was off.  (side note:  I’ve had the same water filter since 1998, and wouldn’t you know it, they’ve improved since then?  This week I bought a gravity bag water filter, and it’s AMAZING!  I can fill my entire water bottle in 2 minutes, and since there’s a lot of water in the area I convinced myself to drink as much as possible this weekend. Normally I don’t drink while hiking, but this weekend I filled up my Nalgene 3 times!)

It was just beginning to get light out when I set off at 5am.  I hiked straight up the side of the mountain, and when I reached the top I was thrilled to see my idea had worked:  the route easily connected with the trail (there wasn’t a trail exactly, but the routes lined up and I was now going in the right direction).


There were several headlamps already shining on Wham Ridge.  Looks like they got an even earlier start than I did.  Smart.  I was a little worried about the cloud cover. I could see rain in the distance and the clouds were forming fast.  I told myself I’d keep going until I felt uncomfortable.  I didn’t feel my real point of no return would come until I summited West Trinity and decided to either head back or continue on for the day.

I dipped down a bit into the basin and headed south towards the ridge.  There seemed to be a couple of options to ascent the ridge.  I chose the gully directly in front of me.


The gully started out with large boulders and ended with scree.  I took it slow and kept an eye on the weather.


At the top of the gully I turned left and headed east to the saddle.  This was a very simple trek that followed a faint trail behind the ridge.


The first part of this trek was simple and straightforward as I hiked up the ridge


Then it became more tricky.  There were no cairns here.  I stayed on the south side of the mountain and continued climbing east. I encountered a series of class 4 gullies and took them up.  There were several gullies and they all seemed to ‘go’.  (Side note:  when I got home I pulled up 4 different GPX files of this route and none of them lined up in this area, so it seems there are several ways to climb this part).


The gullies eventually brought me to the ridge, which I followed to the summit


I summited West Trinity Peak at 8am


West Trinity Peak

The weather looked like it would hold so I made the decision to continue towards Trinity Peak (also, I didn’t want to downclimb those gullies!  Definitely do this traverse west to east if you’re not a fan of downclimbing gullies, as the gullies don’t quit and you’d have to downclimb every one of them heading east to west).

I continued southeast towards the West Trinity/Trinity Saddle


Instead of following the ridge, take the gully down.  It’s class 2 and leads you to the saddle.  You won’t be losing any unnecessary elevation.


Interestingly, there were cairns between West Trinity and Trinity Peak.  This is interesting because they would have been useful elsewhere, but were only present for this short section.


Don’t stick to the ridge, but follow the cairns as they skirt the south side of the mountain


The cairns (circled in red) were very helpful here


They led me to a class 4 chimney.  Climbing today seemed extremely easy.  It was really nice to just hike with a flimsy drawstring pack instead of my normal backpack.   The difference in my climbing ability was amazing.  I wasn’t off center and pulling myself up was a breeze.


At the top of the chimney you’ll want to keep heading right towards the ledge, but DON’T DO THIS!!!  I did, and I can tell you that ledge is super scary (but doable if you hug the ridge:  there’s less than a foot of space to walk on and not much room when the boulders bulge out).  However, you’ll need to do it twice because it doesn’t go anywhere and cliffs out.


Instead, go left and you’ll once again find cairns that will lead you north and then east to the summit


I summited Trinity Peak at 9:25am.  It took less than an hour and a half to get from the summit of West Trinity to Trinity.


Trinity Peak

Here’s a look over at East Trinity Peak



I took the gully down to the saddle of Trinity/East Trinity


The entire time I was descending I kept my eye on East Trinity, looking for the best way to ascend.  It looked to me like the best option would be to keep towards the center until the end, where I wanted to summit towards the left to avoid any difficult traverse there may be if I topped out on the right (side note:  there didn’t appear to be any difficulties if I’d chosen to summit to the right instead).  You can’t see it in this picture, but at the very top there are two chimneys to the left.  Take the one on the right (I cliffed out about 10 feet from the summit and had to retreat and find a different route).


At the saddle there was a gully to cross before heading up


Once inside the gully the rock was surprisingly stable, but there were a lot of large rocks that were easy to kick down, so if you’re hiking with a partner be careful not to dislodge rocks.


The only time I had trouble was when I got towards the top.  Like I said before, stick to the left, and then choose the gully to the right.


This was class 4 climbing.


To my left I saw another ‘kissing camel’ formation.  The cool thing about this one is it includes a heart


After taking the wrong route, cliffing out and backtracking, I headed a little more south and found an area I could climb and make it to the ridge


I was thrilled when I topped out and could see the summit an easy hike away!


I summited East Trinity Peak at 10:30am. It had taken me less than an hour to make it to East Trinity from Trinity.


East Trinity Peak

Here’s a look back at Trinity Peak.  I was talking with someone on my hike out who told me she’d attempted the traverse a few years ago, but couldn’t find a way to summit Trinity Peak.  They’d ‘missed the peak’.  If you’re unable to find the access points, or want to keep this part of the hike class 2 (or easy class 3), just make your way to the Trinity/East Trinity saddle and hike back up the gully to summit Trinity Peak (shown below)


Time to head back down.  The ridge down from East Trinity was straightforward.


With a couple of surprisingly steep sections


I made it to the saddle and scree-surfed down the gully to the lake


I skirted the right side of the lake and headed back down to my camping area


Here’s a look back at the route I took down from the East Trinity ridge


I made it to my stashed gear at 11:22am.  The traverse had taken me just under 6.5 hours to complete.  Notes on the traverse:  It’s very committing, there’s a lot of route finding, and I felt in the route I took there were a lot of class 4 moves.  I got a lot of good scrambling practice in, and honestly wish I would have attempted this traverse earlier:  I felt like I leveled up in my class 4 climbing skills, and I was deliriously happy with this hike.  And the weather had held!  Woot!

I filtered some more water, took off my shoes to air out my feet, and ate a couple of sliced mangoes (my first food of the day:  I get nauseous when I eat and hike but figured I needed some calories for the way out).

Time to head out.  I found a stick that made a great trekking pole to replace the one I’d lost yesterday and headed out the same way I headed in, after about a mile of wading through willows and water to find the trail.


Connecting back up with the class 1 trail that would lead me to the beaver ponds, through the avalanche area, straddling the creek and bringing me back to the Animas River. I saw a ton of people on the trail, and talked to every one of them.


Once at the river I crossed the bridge and sat down for a while to rest before tackling the 4 miles and 1700’ of elevation gain back up to Molas Pass.  I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the river, filtered more water, and tried to eat a packet of tuna (I ate half).  There were CT hikers across the river from me.  They shouted and asked if I minded if they bathed.  I’ve been there, and I didn’t care.  They seemed overjoyed at the idea of a bath, and I wasn’t going to deny them that gift.


There were mosquitoes and fleas here so I didn’t stay long.  I packed my gear back up and started switchbacking up the mountain to Molas Pass


I left my newfound trekking pole at the information sign and made it back to my truck at 6pm.  It had taken me about an hour and  45 minutes to hike those 4 miles and 1700’ from the river.  I got different mileages/elevations from Strava and CalTopo for my triup, so I’ll leave those here.



In the end, I was thrilled I’d decided to hike today!  Sometimes it’s really difficult to get started, but once I’m going I’m really enjoying myself, and the sense of accomplishment I get from summiting peaks and challenging myself is amazing.

Also, I’ve done this approach as a day hike (with Vestal) and this time backpacking for Arrow and the Trinities.  For me a day hike is absolutely the way to go:  The extra weight made the trek in and out so much more tiring than it needed to be.  Long days don’t bother me.  Everyone’s different, but I much more enjoyed the hike in and out from Vestal than I did this time.


Pyramid Peak – 14,018


I had some friends ask if I’d hike with them this weekend a peak I’d already summited.  Normally I like to hike solo, but it was fun hiking with others.  Everyone seemed to have a similar pace, which was nice.  What wasn’t so nice was the reservation system to get a permit to hike.  We paid $30 to park in the parking structure and take the bus in because we weren’t able to get a permit. That meant this had to be a multiple day hike.  They only let 15 people on the bus at a time (due to COVID).

I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike because I’ve already done a trip report, so I’ll just post some highlights.

Our campsite, which had about 20 or so other people camping within a few yards


Crater Lake (near the campsite)


The gully, which had an actual TRAIL this time!  Last time I was here there was no  trail and the scree was awful.  What a nice surprise today!


The ridge to the summit after the gully


The “Leap of Faith”


The ledge


Some chimney climbing/scrambling


A rather cheeky goat that followed us all the way to the summit!!!



The summit


The summit marker


Views from the summit



Some goats just before the gully on the way down… also, a baby goat separated from its herd sounds just like a 3rd grader blowing as loud as they can through a recorder.  Seriously.


A look at the amphitheater from the top of the gully


And a topo map of the route


The Pyramid Peak Summit Sticker can be found here

Chicago Basin 14ers


1 Chicago Basin 145

Sunlight Peak 14,059, Mt Eolus 14,083, North Eolus 14,039, Windom Peak 14,082

RT Mileage: 38.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 10,700’

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.

2 Pack at Home

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…

3 Hotel

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.

4 Pack at Hotel

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.

7 Picture2

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”.

8 Picture3

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?

19 Chicago Basin 051

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.

22 2

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.

26 Sunlight Peak 14059

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!

31 Chicago Basin 162

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

33 Mt Eolus 14083



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

35 North Eolus 14039



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!

40 Windom Peak 14082 July 14 2018



Check out that view of Sunlight!

41 IMG_7396

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…

Troop 2393  Backpacking Pikes Peak

I don’t care how old you are, or how great of shape you’re in, Pikes Peak is a difficult hike.  Strenuous.  Probably the most difficult thing you will ever do in your entire life.  It’s 26 grueling miles, 13 of which are uphill, 6 of which are above the treeline, exposed to the elements.  It’s difficult in any condition, but Troop 2393 did it with 30lb packs!

A week before the trek I talked with the girls to let them know what they were getting into.  I told them it was difficult, explained what would happen at each point in the hike, and told them they would want to give up.  In fact, they’d beg me to give up.  They’d curse me as well for making them continue.  Did they want to summit?  If so, I’d do my best to make sure they all summited.  They did.

Since this was their first big hike we started out earlier than usual.  I woke them up at 2am, we had our traditional muffins for breakfast they’d cooked the night before, and we were on the trail at 3:17am.  The girls were really excited!  We wore our headlamps around our necks instead of on our heads, and moths were attracted to us like flames.  We were batting them away until the sun rose.  

I knew this hike was going to be difficult almost immediately.  About half a mile in the girls started complaining this was harder than they’d thought, and one of the girls was having difficulty breathing.  We took many more breaks than I would have liked and for much longer periods to compensate.  It took us 2 hours to go the first 2 miles (it usually takes about 45 minutes).  

After the 3 mile mark everyone was back to “normal” (breathing was fine, etc.) but we still took it very slow.    I was glad we’d started extra early!

We made it to Barr Camp and the girls collapsed by the stream.  They were already exhausted!  I tried to remind them this was difficult, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listening…

It was 3 more miles to the A-frame, and we were in a bit of a hurry to make sure we were able to “claim” it.  Otherwise we’d be sleeping in caves tonight (one of which leaks due to snow).  I told myself I’d adjust the hike depending on the next 3 miles.  There was a big chance we wouldn’t be summiting at all.  Even with all the prep work it was much harder than they’d anticipated.  Around mile 7 I had a girl pretend to faint.  Yes, I’m sure she was pretending and looking for sympathy.  However, she’s relatively new to the troop and didn’t realize that was the wrong game to play with me.  I totally understood she felt she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t joke around with safety.  I let her know how I felt.  She didn’t have any more issues after that.  

Every 30 seconds or so I’d look over my shoulder to see how the girls were doing, and around mile 8 I had a girl actually faint. Right in the middle of the trail! She had been in the back of the line and none of the other girls had heard.  Luckily we’d only gone about 30 feet or so.  I told the girls to sit down, and ran to the one who’d fainted.  Her skin was clammy and she was a bit cold.  After gently tapping and nudging her a few times she woke up very confused.  She didn’t remember falling.  She must have done so gracefully because she wasn’t hurt at all, just confused.  I’d been “pushing” water on the girls, so I knew she was hydrated, so that wasn’t the issue.  Her body was just really tired.  We took a long break until I was sure she was feeling better and we set off at a slower pace.  I like to lead (so I’m the one who runs into that snake or slips on something), but I figured at this point we’d all take turns leading and I’d be in the back so I could watch the girls better.

It was a tough next mile, but the girls made it!!! Look at their excitement upon making it to the A-frame!

Here we took a REALLY long break.  Over an hour.  The girls relaxed, wrote their names on the walls to record their achievement, and consumed a lot of calories.  Some girls refilled their water (filtered it), but everyone relaxed.  We went over the journey so far, and the girls admitted it was harder than they’d anticipated, but (after their break) they all said they wanted to try to summit.  

So we left all the gear we didn’t need in the A-frame, and set out with just the essentials to hike the remaining 3 miles to the peak.  

I knew this was going to be challenging for them, so I tried to think of a game to keep their minds off the difficulty. Most of the girls had never seen a marmot before, so I asked them to count how many they saw.  Some we may have counted twice and I’m sure there were some we missed, but we ended up counting between 40-50 marmots!  They make a really annoying chirping sound…

After the first half mile the complaints began again. I had one girl adamant she no longer wanted to do this.  She’d brought her cell phone, and wanted to call her mom to come get her (as if that were even a possibility at 12,500 feet 11 miles from the car).  I’m 95% sure she was texting her mom at this time, telling her what an awful person I was.  However, I’ve done this hike many times, and I know this behavior is “normal” at this point in the hike, so I encouraged her to continue.  I knew there’d be more nasty comments to come, and I knew while only one (or two) girls would actually say they were tired, wanted to stop, couldn’t breathe, etc., everyone was thinking the same thing.  This is the part of the hike where I get to be the “bad guy” in the nicest way possible, encouraging them to continue.  Some of them said they really didn’t want to continue, but I knew how upset they’d be if they gave up, so I kept cheering them on. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be bragging rights!

Since a lot of the trail was covered in snow and we had to get creative to continue climbing. We looked like we really knew what we were doing, and had several first timers follow us on the hike.  It’s really cool to have things like this happen!

The changing point to the hike came about a mile and a half from the summit.  At this point the “complainers” realized I wasn’t giving in, and this is also where a lot of the trail was covered in snow.  The girls had to be very careful and work together to navigate the trail. I guess for them this is when it became fun!  

Make no mistake, they were still sore and tired, but from here on out they trudged on without my constant encouragement and even seemed to enjoy the experience.

The small streams on the trail were fun to navigate as well.  The girls asked me to take this picture for fun!

Once we made it to the Cirque (just under a mile from the summit) the trail became unnavigable.  No worries:  I did this hike last week.  All we needed to do was head towards the “16 Golden Stairs” sign and then head straight up to the summit. It was difficult, but the girls seemed to have fun!  We had another first timer follow us on this route as well.

The final push to the summit was really hard, but not one of the girls complained even once!  It was as if a switch had been turned on, they all realized how close they were, and they WANTED to summit.  It wasn’t easy:  we had to scramble on the rocks and make our own trail.  

About halfway to the top from where the rock scrambling started someone shouted “Look!  Bighorn Sheep!”  Indeed, there were 3 bighorn sheep traversing the ridge next to us!  They were robust, confident animals.  We watched them until they were out of sight (about 5 minutes). As an added bonus it was a nice break! The girls commented on how they made rock climbing look easy!

After about 20 more minutes of losing our footing, cheering each other on, and mini-rockslides we made it to the summit!

We tried to stay a good distance apart from each other to minimize rock slide injuries, so the girls who made it first waited for everyone to get to the top before all holding hands and crossing the cog tracks together.  This was their idea:  I love these ladies!!!

The girls were all smiles, enthusiastic, and PROUD of themselves!  They were glad they’d continued on, and celebrating their personal and physical victories.

We immediately went inside the summit house and got donuts and fudge. The girls commented how only hikers who’d summited should be allowed such luxuries…  They’d EARNED it!

After a break of about 15 minutes we went outside for pictures.  

Emily truly wanted a picture with me to show she’d hiked Pikes Peak.  Her smile was all the thanks I needed!

You expend a LOT of energy just breathing at 14,000+ feet, so it’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top.  Adding to that it was starting to get cold and the girls wanted dinner.

After the fun of last week getting down the mountain we decided this time to go down the same way we’d gone up.  I explained to the girls how to keep their center of gravity low while navigating, and we began our decent.  

It was slow going the first half mile or so for safety reasons, but after that we practically skipped back to the A-frame, high fiving ourselves the entire way.  The girls were a bit upset we hadn’t “glissaded” so we found a safe place to do so.  On purpose.

Dinner was terrible.  We had Mountain House backpacking meals, and I’m not sure if it was the altitude or how they were prepared, but the consistency was either way too watery or not watery enough.  They tasted OK, so the girls with extra watery meals added their ramen and were fine with that.  Apparently it was an improvement for the ramen!

Samantha and Olivia were in charge of the fire. Check out what an awesome job they did! One match!

I’m REALLY GLAD we were the first ones there because there was serious competition!  At least three other groups were interested in sleeping in the frame that night, but luckily had brought back-up tents as well.  We made several friends at the A-frame, and invited them to join us in our fire.  

Although this was the warmest night I’ve ever spent at the A-frame the girls all said they had trouble sleeping because it was so cold.  We all set our alarms to watch the sunrise, but due to the fires in the area it was difficult to appreciate, so we all went back to bed.

At 7:30am we got up and quickly dressed.  We were running out of food and needed to get back down the mountain.  We ate our cheerios as we descended.  While better than the hike up, the hike down was still a challenge.  It was hot, the girls were tired and very sore.  We had blisters on top of blisters, and needed frequent breaks.

We stopped about 6 times each mile to rest, and every 3 miles we took an extended break and took off our packs.  However, at the 1.5 mile mark the girls got their second wind, asked if we could stop taking breaks, and booked it the rest of the way down. They were exhausted and excited to be done with the hike!  I told them to pose for this picture describing how their bodies were aching at this point…  They have blisters on top of blisters, and I know every muscle in their bodies ache, but they should be proud!!!

Congratulations Ladies!

Pictures of the journey can be found here:

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

Troop 931 Backpacking Pikes Peak


Pikes Peak is an INTENSE hike, made even more so by backpacking. We are all tired and extremely sore, but proud of our accomplishment!

I grow as a person every time we Girl Scouts get together! 

Thank you Girl Scout Troop 931 for teaching me about teamwork, patience, FUN, goals, perseverance, and awesomeness!!! Oh, and for those interested, YES they did help rescue someone on this trip too: a hiker with a broken ankle about a quarter mile from the summit. Troop 931 ROCKS!!!

This wasn’t our first rodeo (we did the same hike last summer and saved some hikers.  You can read that story here: ) so we started before the sunrise to get an early start on the hike.  The weather changes frequently on the mountain, and we knew it would start out cold, get really hot, then back to cold again as we made it past the tree line.  Here are the girls, all ready to go in their “warm” clothes.  We just layer for hikes like these.  Also notice how happy and fresh they look.


Along the way we saw different flowers than last time (since we were hiking two months earlier in the season).  I love seeing columbines growing in nature!


This is a really tough hike.  About 6 miles in there’s a place called Barr Camp where a lot of hikers stay the night.  Our overnight spot was still another 3 miles up the trail.  Here’s Kayla passed out as we took a lunch break.  Poor girl!  This was a much harder hike than she’d anticipated.  She was doing great though!


Notice this sign posted as you leave Barr Camp.  Unfortunately, too many hikers either don’t see this sign, or don’t take it seriously.  


About half a mile past Barr Camp we split into two teams.  Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina were hiking fast, so they went on up ahead and were to meet Kayla and I at the “A-frame”.  Kayla was exhausted by this point, but kept on going.  We all knew it would be easier if we separated, and we wanted to make sure we had a spot to sleep tonight since it’s first come (so getting there first was our best option).

Kayla and I made it to the A-Frame about 2 hours after the other girls.  They had already set up camp and rested by the time we got there.


Kayla immediately unpacked her sleeping bag, and fell asleep.


The other girls had already rested, so by this point they were ready to talk.  I walked around the campsite to get some pictures. 


The A-Frame isn’t very big, and we didn’t want to put our things on the ground because there were a lot of critters around, so we weren’t as “tidy” as we could have been.


Jordan and Tristina got to work sanitizing water and making dinner.  The site has a running creek year long, so this time we decided not to hike with as much water (conserving weight), and we planned to filter water at the top.  The girls boiled the water, then placed the container of water in the stream to cool down before drinking it.  I just have to say, as I was talking this picture I kept thinking to myself what awesome ladies these girls are!  They were totally able to do everything themselves on this trip, and they did so without complaining.  They have skills and they were having fun!


I mentioned earlier we weren’t very tidy in the A-Frame.  However, we are Girl Scouts, so we do leave places cleaner than we find them.  We brought trash bags to haul trash down the mountain (yes, even stuff that wasn’t ours), but we realized there was so much trash we couldn’t bring it all down.  This was odd/not cool because we’d camped in the same spot less than a year before and totally cleared it of all trash.  We decided to make the best of the situation and just burned as much as possible. Since there isn’t any wood to burn at the site (you have to haul it up from down the mountain) this had the added benefit of keeping us warm.


Have I mentioned the view at night from tree line is absolutely amazing!  If winter didn’t exist on the peak I could live there. Enough said. 


The sunrise is equally beautiful. We set our alarm just so we could watch the morning glow.


After a breakfast of Mountain House eggs and bacon (gross by the way, we’re never doing that again), we were off to climb the peak!


About half a mile in we decided we’d split up again.  Kayla was having a lot of difficulty with this hike, and we were at the part where you have to keep going or you’ll never get started again.  This is a very mental hike, and you have to know how to psych yourself up to continue.

Even though it’s July there is still a lot of snow on the peak.  These drifts are much larger in person than they look from Colorado Springs.  They are about the size of a football field, and they are very slippery!  We saw many people fall because they were over confident.  Kayla fell on each one (there were 7 or 8), hard, but she kept going!


The 16 Golden Stairs are anything but.  This is the hardest part of the hike, and it took us about 1.5 hours to do (even though it’s only about ¼ of a mile).  We kept stopping every 2 or 3 feet because Kayla really didn’t want to continue.  However, I wasn’t going to let her give up.  She told me at the beginning of this hike she was doing it for her dad (who passed away the week before), and I wanted to help her reach her goal.

There were a lot of tears and frustrated words said (never towards another person), but Kayla kept going.


I’m very, very, very proud to say she made it!!!  Many (ok, most) grown men cannot complete this hike.  It was hard, it hurt, and she was tired, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other and made it to the top.

She was exhausted when we got there (we both were).  As soon as she crossed the cog tracks she stopped, raised her hands, looked up, and started talking to her dad in heaven.  I couldn’t help it, I started to cry.

All of the work to get to the top was totally worth it!  When she was done she turned to me, gave me a big hug, and said “Thank you Ms. Laura for helping me get to the top.  I’m sorry I yelled at you!”.  I cried some more.

Then we walked the 20 or so feet to the Summit House and Kayla fell asleep for the next 45 minutes.


We met the other girls there, got some donuts, drinks, and fudge, and told about our separate climbs.

Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina told me they had helped rescue a man who had broken his ankle about a quarter mile from the top.  He wasn’t a hiker, so he wasn’t prepared.  He had driven to the peak and was hiking down to take selfies when he tripped (yes, he had a selfie stick).

They tried to give him an ice pack, but it exploded so they did the next best thing:  They used their ace bandage to wrap his ankle, then got a ziplock bag and filled it with ice.

Then the girls helped him up and he hopped on one foot (his good one) to the top with one of his arms around each of the girls shoulders.  He thanked them profusely when they arrived, and promised to get in touch when he made it home.

I woke Kayla up after 45 minutes because her body needed a rest:  You burn just as many calories sitting at 14,000+ feet as you do running at sea level, so she needed to move down the mountain so her body could rest properly.  We also needed to finish our hike:  it was only half over! 

As Alison Levine says: “Getting to the top is optional.  Getting down is mandatory”.

We posed for a few pictures (we were too tired when we got there at first to take any), and were on our way down.


This is where the real teamwork began.  Kayla was very tired from this hike.  We all were.  I run 5-10 miles a day, Jordan is captain of the Ice Hockey team, Tristina runs cross country, and Ruth Ann runs as well, so we were more conditioned for this hike (don’t get me wrong, we were still aching).

Kayla however wasn’t conditioned, and was exhausted.  She wanted to stop and rest every 15 feet or so, and that just wasn’t possible if we wanted to make it down the mountain. 

So the girls helped to keep her motivated.  They held her hand as she navigated tough rocky areas and the slippery slopes of snow.  They let her hold onto their backpacks for support, and held her hand to help keep up her momentum.

They also kept praising her progress and success!


When we got just about to the tree line we started seeing marmots.  3 or 4 were chirping to each other, and some stayed still long enough for us to get pictures!


I love this one:  you can see the Garden of the Gods below!


At tree line Kayla remembered we forgot to take a picture of her celebrating at the peak, so we took one now:


She did it!  Great job Kayla!  She looks filthy but proud of her accomplishments!  She probably lost 5-10 pounds as well from the beginning (did I mention this is an intense 26+ mile hike?  We did a mountain marathon in less than 36 hours) 


Mt San Antonio

Mt San Antonio, 10,064 ft. 3904ft
elevation gain in 5.1 miles


To date, this is by far the most
difficult hike I’ve ever done.  It isn’t
the tallest summit in Southern California, but the exposure and elevation gain
were brutal.  It’s also the most fun I’ve
had on a hike thus far, and I came back with some really cool stories to tell!   The total hike was somewhere around 11 miles,
but as you’ll see, that’s approximate because we got lost…

Mt San Antonio, affectionately referred
to by locals as Mt Baldy, is the most easily seen summit from most of Southern
California.  On the rare instances it’s
covered with snow it’s breathtaking.  I’ve
taken many hikes around the base of this mountain, and was eager to make the


We woke up very early and drove up to
the trailhead, stopping first at Denny’s for an early breakfast.  After signing the trail register we were off
around 6:30am.  


The trail seemed to follow a service
road, and probably a ski run during the winter. 


Check out this awesome yucca! 


We watched the sun rise around the mountain
as we hiked.  It was cool watching the
shadow on the mountainside lower as the day went on. 


Even though it’s July, there were
several patches of snow along the trail. I found this interesting, since I hadn’t
seen snow on Mt San Gorgonio last September, or much on Mt San Jacinto last
year, and this mountain is lower in elevation. 
I didn’t know there could be snow at 9000 feet in July?


As I said before, this hike was
brutal.  The elevation gain of almost
4000 feet in 5 miles was a killer!  I had
to keep stopping to rest, and couldn’t help but think there had to be an easier

However, summiting felt amazing!  Someone had properly placed an American flag
at the summit.


Because it was only a 5 mile hike, we summited
early in the day, and had the rest of the day to “play”.  I took advantage of the rare site of Southern
California snow. 


Check out these Bighorn Sheep!  They were grazing at the summit.  I tried to get closer, but as soon as they
heard me the entire herd bolted to the right. 
I was shocked and amazed to watch them run directly over this cliff and
about 1000 feet straight down, out of site! 
Wow!  Amazing animals!  They didn’t come back the rest of the trip. 


We only saw one other person on the peak
that day.  He was wearing a full backpack,
which seemed odd as he was obviously on a day hike.  As he approached the summit we greeted
him.  He took off his backpack and
unloaded about a dozen cantaloupe sized rocks. 
He smiled sheepishly and said “I’m training for backpacking.  I get these rocks from the wash at the base
of the mountain, and unload them when I reach the summit. I’m going to
seriously confuse some future geologist some day.  Can you imagine what they’ll think when they
find these here?” 

Around 3pm I set up the tent near what
appeared to be a rock wall and decided to take a quick nap before making dinner
and exploring again. 


I was only in the
tent for about half an hour when I awoke to a loud buzzing sound.  I opened the tent flap and quickly realized I
was surrounded by a swarm of bees!  I
dashed outside of the tent and drug it to safety.  Apparently these bees lived in the rock
wall.  They’d been gone for the day doing
their thing and had come back to rest for the night. 


I found a better place to set up
camp.  And check out those views!


The sunset was by far the best one I’ve
seen to date.


We were completing a loop, so the next
morning after breaking down camp we headed west down the Devil’s Backbone,
aptly named.


Somewhere along Miner’s Bowl we lost the
trail, or it disappeared on purpose?  Even
after studying the map several times I’m not exactly sure which, but I could
tell where we were, so we descended the obvious ski slope until we found the
trail again.


All in all, this is my favorite hike so
far.  It was intense, but summiting early
allowed me to really enjoy the mountain. 
I’m so glad this wasn’t just a day hike!

Mt San Gorgonio

Mt San Gorgonio (11,501ft) via Fish Creek, elevation gain 3390ft

For those of you who
don’t often hike mountains, the hiking of 11,501.6 feet (and I say that so
precisely for a reason) may not know what an accomplishment the hiking of Mt.
San Gorgonio is for someone who lives at sea level.  Well, it’s a big deal, and I’m going to gloat
for a bit 🙂

OK, gloating done.  Here’s the story. 

Because California backcountry
trails are so regulated I had to apply for a permit to take this hike months 3 ago.  If you’re caught on a trail without a permit
(or a shovel) you can face a hefty fine. 
I was so excited when it came in the mail!

Friday night we left at
about 10:30pm and drove to the trailhead so we could get a fresh start on the
trail in the morning.  We made it there
at about 12:45am.  It was dark and cold,
and we were the only ones there.  This
tired mama didn’t much care, and fell asleep instantly. 

At about 7am I woke up
to noises outside the car.  Other hikers
had arrived and were ready to go. 
Literally.  They just parked their
cars, put on their hiking gear, and were gone. 
I should stop here to note they were all day hikers, hiking with just a
water bottle.  We had heavier backpacking
gear, intending to spend the night at the summit. 

Well, I woke up, brushed
my hair and teeth, made sure I had the map and keys, and we were on our way by

We immediately hiked
through a meadow, and came upon the namesake of this trailhead:  “Fish Creek”. 
When you look at the creek you wonder about the name… it doesn’t look
like any fish could live in that creek! 
It was really more like a trickle, and from the looks of it, even heavy
rains probably don’t make it much bigger. 
Maybe one time someone caught a minnow or something and thought to name
it Fish Creek.  Or the guy who named it
had the last name of Fish and thought it would be a fun joke. 

Well, Fish Creek was the
last place that had any water on the entire trail.  The trees were all dry, and the ground looked
like it hadn’t rained or snowed for years. 
Dry, dry, dry.

Here’s the first glimpse
of the peak.

It looked so far away,
and I knew it was even further than it looked. 
At the halfway point I noticed the trail was really poorly marked, so I
got out my orange marking tape and marked some of the trees.

Here I noticed someone
had left their water bottle (presumably to use on the way back down), which
seemed like a genius idea!  This is so
much smarter than carrying extra water all the way up.  That is, as long as you don’t run out with
what you have and someone else doesn’t take it first. 

We continued hiking, and
came upon a plane wreck from WWII.

It looked like a nasty
crash.  There were plane parts and debris
scattered all over the mountain.  When
the wind blew, the pieces of metal swaying in the wind made an eerie
sound.  We sat there for a few minutes
and wondered if it fell while trying to climb the mountain, or if it hit the
mountain straight on.

Now began the
switchbacks.  As far as I’m concerned,
switchback is a four letter word. As soon as I thought we were at the last one,
another one came into view.  There were
3.2 miles of switchbacks on this trail! 
UGH!  There has to be a better

As you can see from the
topo map, once we were done with the switchbacks we had to circle the mountain
to summit.  That part really wasn’t too
bad, except we were at the end of the hike, and pretty tired by this
point.  Every time we made it around
another turn we just knew we had to be there, only to see more schist, slate,
and shale.

Finally I saw a sign
that said we were .4mi away.  I wanted to
start running, but couldn’t. It was all uphill and I was out of breath.  I took a bit of a break and noticed there was
a lot of Bighorn Sheep scat on the trail. 
I hoped we’d see some animals too.

This was where we were
passed by an INSANE person.  He was all
by himself, dressed in red, carrying nothing more than a water backpack and two
hiking poles.  He was RUNNING across the
trails.  He looked as if he were cross
country skiing sans snow!  This guy was a
maniac, and he was doing all 9 peaks in one day!  Later, when we talked to a ranger below, we
were told he does this weekly.  He parks
his car at the trailhead and leaves his bike at another.  He hikes, runs, and then bikes back to his
car.  Insane I tell you!  And it’s about 50+ miles to boot!

The view from the summit
was incredible! I could see a complete 360 degree view of all of Southern

I saw freeways, and knew
there must be cars on them, even if I couldn’t see the cars themselves. I found
the summit box with journals to write logs of our hike, and to sign the
register announcing I’d made it to the top. 
There was also a box with an American Flag inside.  I was a bit upset to find it all rolled
up.  I took a few pictures with it,
folded it up properly, and put it back into the box.

I met a lot of nice
people at the summit.  Some who hike all
the time and had tales of the Grand Canyon and the like.  I even talked to 3 older men (in their 60s)
who were currently on their way to Mount Whitney.  Can you believe that?  And we thought our hike was long!  More power to them!  There was a group of students there from Cal
State Fullerton who were there for a geology class, and a bunch of brothers who
were on a family hike with their father. 
Everyone was nice, and the conversations were great!  It was a really enjoyable time. 

Being really tired, we
set up and slept in the tent for about half an hour. Then we went out on the
summit again to look for the elevation market (we hadn’t been able to find it
before).  A couple of guys had actually
found it, and clued us in.  It was pretty
hard to find, only about 2 inches in diameter.

It did say the elevation
of Mt San Gorgonio (as of 1989) was 11501.6 feet.  This is a big deal because maps like to quote
it as being only 11499 feet, and so does the patch you can buy at the ranger
station.  When you hike mountains, and
want to brag, every inch counts. 
Seriously, this is a big deal!  I
talked with a ranger after the hike and he told me the mountain is actually
growing, so it’s probably taller now. (Edited in 2017 to add it’s now measured
at 11,503 ft).

The last hikers left at
about 4pm and from then on new had the whole mountaintop to ourselves!  We cooked dinner and ate on the peak and
walked around surveying the area.  Some
really smart people had set up walls of rocks, kind of like makeshift Indian
ruins, to block out the intense winds so you could set up your tent out of the
wind.  So we could hear, but not feel,
the wind all night.

After dinner we went to
bed early.  Mainly because we were
exhausted, and we could go to bed:  no
kids to take care of J  We had
mummy sleeping bags that kept us pretty warm, even in the 20 degree
temperatures.  There was no dew on the
inside of the tent thanks to our waterproofing it last week.  All in all, a pretty enjoyable night… much
better than the one on Mt. San Jacinto.

I woke up at 8am to
bright sunlight and amazing views.  After
breaking down camp and eating breakfast I looked for some small rocks to bring
back for the kids.  I took in a last view
of all of Southern California, and started back down.  We breezed down the mountain.  It’s so much easier to hike down!  We made it back to the car by 1:30pm.  Amazing!

On the way down we saw a
bunch of day hikers.  Mostly people who
had slept at Dry Lake the night before and were hiking the rest of the way
today.  We talked to about 30 people who
had over-nighted it at Dry Lake, and concluded it must be a pretty full
campground. It was cool to know we were the only ones on the peak, with no one
there to bother us.  I don’t think I
would have wanted to camp with so many other people I didn’t know. Interesting
conversation, I’m sure, but not too peaceful.

We also met up with a
guy who was carrying 40lbs of water.  For
just a day hike.  Nuts!  He had two 20lb jugs of water on his back,
and was debating whether or not he could make the climb. He also said he was
sure he needed that much water.  I told
him to leave host of his water halfway up, and he could claim it if he needed
it on the way down. 

Next we came upon an ill
prepared scout troop.  By this time they
were only about 3 miles from the trailhead, and these boys already looked
exhausted!  They had just begun their
ascent, and it was already past noon. 
The boys were red in the face, lethargic, and more than a bit
grumpy.  It was really hot, and they were
thinking only about half of their troop would make it.  I doubt any of them did. They were only
carrying one water bottle each and they were already worn out.  I hope they made it, but seriously doubt they
did.  I told them maybe the guy with
40lbs of water could help them out?

After that it was an
easy hike to the bottom.  I spotted a doe
with two fawns, and some bear markings on trees (but no bears). We passed Fish
Creek again, and caught a frog.

That last mile was a bit
grueling, but only because we had hiked for so long already.  Estimates vary, but we hiked an entire 25
mile hike!  Woohoo!  We made it!

We hopped into the car,
threw on the air conditioning, and drove to the rangers’ station, where we
bought out traditional souvenir patches, and this time we bought pins to put
onto our backpacks (replicas of the marker on the summit).  I looked in the mirror and noticed I had
quite the sunburn.  I was red all over,
and there were blisters on my nose, despite my use of sunscreen.  Oh well! 
We ate at a really greasy spoon, and then headed home.  We were back home by 4pm, greeted by hugs and
kisses from the kids. 

So, compared to Mt. San
Jacinto, I would have to say this hike was a bit easier.  It was definitely longer, but less aggressive
elevation wise. Except of course for those switchbacks!  Mt. San Gorgonio is about 667 feet higher
than San Jacinto, and considered to be more difficult.  So I’m thinking maybe it was easier because
we knew what to expect?  Or maybe because
we were expecting it to be more difficult and thus planned accordingly. 

I found it was actually
easier to hike with a pack than with the water pack around my waist I carried
last time.  (Last time I was always off balance). 

Just remember:  It’s higher than it looks.  It’s longer than it looks. It’s harder than
it looks.  I had a great time, and
besides a few easy backpacking hikes though San Mateo Canyon, Mt Baldy is
next.  Anyone wanna join me?

Backpacking Mt. San Jacinto


made it!  Check it out… we hiked Mt San
Jacinto:  10,834 feet and back again in 2
days!  Read on for all the exciting



all started Saturday morning when we left for the hike.  We stopped by the rangers’ station to use the
restroom one last time and to find out if there was anything else we needed to
know about the hike.   It was going to be
long, and when we asked the ranger how long it should take to climb to the top
he responded “If you ask me, 7 days”.  He
was being facetious, but towards the end of the hike I realized there was some
validity to his statement. 

hike in California you need a permit.  We
secured ours months ago…


bought a couple of patches that said “I climbed Mt San Jacinto” and we were



parked one car at the Deer Springs trailhead and took the other to the Fuller
Ridge trailhead, which happened to be about 8 miles down a dirt road.  We parked the car, displayed our forest
adventure pass, and donned our hiking gear.


held the water, snacks, and first aid kits. 
Matt and Tim had packs too.  I had
the least to carry out of everyone, which is why I didn’t tire as fast as
everyone else.


and Tim did their exercises while I took some pictures.  I should have warmed up, but I foolishly didn’t
think it was necessary for a hike.  That
would come back to haunt me later.  We
began the hike at a pretty steady pace. 
The elevation began to climb continuously, and after an hour we realized
this was going to be harder than expected.


about 2 hours of steady climbing we reached Castle Rocks, which was an
elevation of 8600 feet, and had a great view of both sides of the
mountain.  At about this time I noticed a
sharp pain in my right thigh (by the Iliopaoas and Pectineus muscles… in other
words, right where your pelvic bone and thigh meet).  It hurt, but I figured if I just kept walking
it would smooth itself out and eventually go away.



continued hiking.  After about 2 more
hours we found a spring with running water! 
The guys rushed down to it and began soaking their head.  The water was ice cold but felt great!  It was a nice, refreshing interlude.  And, since our campsite was supposed to be
near a spring, we figured we must be getting close.  My thigh was really starting to hurt, and I
was beginning to think “walking it out” wasn’t going to work. 



finally hit the “5 mile mark”!  Oh boy,
were we excited!  This junction meant we
were more half way and we might even make it before dark!  Before we’d set out, our plans were to hike
to the campground, set up camp, and then hike to the peak.  Then in the morning we were going to hike
back down, make a side trip to Suicide Rock, and head back.  However, by this time we were revamping our

the 5 mile junction things got a little more difficult.  We began another ascent, this time to the top
of Newton Drury Peak, and every 5 minutes or so we kept thinking “We have got
to be almost there…”.  We passed a lot of
people who were hiking back down.  All of
them had smiles on their faces (while ours were set in determined lines) and
they promised us we were “almost there”. 
It was amazing how they all seemed to be enjoying ourselves, when we
were crawling along, taking breaks every 5 minutes to catch our breath. 

came to despise those overly optimistic people. 
Especially when we didn’t make it in the hour in a half they’d promised
us it’d take.  Why did they have to lie
to us?  Couldn’t they have told the truth
and said it would be another 3 hours of grueling, uphill switch backs that
never seemed to end?  Literally, these
switchbacks were killing us!  They were
probably only 10 feet long and seemed to climb forever!  They just kept going, and going, and going…


struggled up the last mile.  There were
times we seriously didn’t think we were going to make it.  I knew from the beginning this was going to
be a difficult hike, but this was getting ridiculous!  We could hardly breathe, let alone move our
feet.  By this time I was using my hands
to help lift my right leg over each and every uphill step, which was every step
I took.  I could only lift my right leg
about 2 inches off the ground if I didn’t use my hands to help.  It was awful. 
I hurt.  I hurt.  I hurt!!!


I wasn’t the only one!  I could only
imagine how much the guys were hurting, since they were the ones carrying the
packs!  I tried not to complain, but
complain I did.  Luckily for them I wasn’t
complaining as much as I’d wanted to.  I
was screaming and cursing inside but I felt like I had nothing to complain
about, considering I wasn’t wearing a pack. 


last mile was a killer, and once we finally found the campsite we crashed!



were patches of snow around where we were sleeping, so I figured it was going
to be a bit cold. 



hurriedly set up our tents, had a quick canned dinner, and fell asleep while it
was still light out.  It couldn’t have
been later than 5pm.  Gone were our plans
of setting up camp and hiking to the top. 
We just wanted to sleep.  I don’t
think any of us could have made it to the top, no matter how much we’d wanted
to.  I was sore from head to foot, and I
thought (hoped) sleeping would help my thigh 
After lying down in the tent I knew I wouldn’t be getting up for quite a
while.  It hurt just to roll over!



proved difficult.  It was indeed cold,
and I was in pain.  The one thing I didn’t
pack was the painkillers.  I had
EVERYTHING else you could possibly need, but the painkillers I’d forgot.  However, I did get more sleep than I would
have at home with the kids… it was just more painful.  And cold. 
Water droplets formed inside the tent and seemed into the sleeping bags…


the morning (the sun wasn’t up yet) some adventurous Boy Scouts began hiking by
our campsite… multiple times.  These guys
had to be crazy, hiking (LOUDLY) before the sun came up.  I wanted to yell at them to go back to
bed.  However, I got another 1-2 hours of
sleep, only leaving the tent when I had to pee so bad I couldn’t wait any


and Tim had been up for a while already, so I got ready to hike the peak.  I didn’t actually think I was going to make
it due to my thigh.  It wasn’t any
better, and I knew it was only going to get worse.  But I’d bought those patches, and gosh darn
it, I was going to make it!  I wanted to
be able to wear the patch proudly, knowing I did indeed make it to the top. I
wasn’t going to get this close and not finish. 
Matt and Tim decided they weren’t going to hike to the peak (altitude
sickness) so I decided to hike it alone. Nathan didn’t want me doing that, so
he set out with me.

last 1.6 miles was the hardest of the entire hike.  It felt like 5 miles, and I wanted to cry in
pain with every step I took.  I’m sure I
uttered a few explicative’s along the way. 
I don’t know who came up with the idea of switchbacks, but they should
be shot! 



finally made it to a little cabin and looked inside.  It seemed to be a place to crash if you made
it to the top and got stuck in a storm, or if it was too late to hike back to
camp or something.  It was a little cabin
with two sets of bunk beds.  No lock on
the door, and a lot of names on the walls obviously written from others who’d
made it this far. 


was a log book to sign your name, and some Boy Scouts had left a piece of wood
to carve your name into.  I got out my



for the ascent to the top.  There was no
trail to the peak but we could see it 20 yards away so we began climbing.  It was basically an all out, have fun finding
a steady rock to climb on scramble, but we made it!


spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and resting with a view from one of the
highest mountains in Southern California: 10,834 feet!  It was awesome!  Since it was a clear day I could see Big
Bear, my house, the desert, and all of Southern California!



sat down for a minute, and suddenly bees came almost out of nowhere.  There were dozens of them, and that was enough
of a reason to begin the descent. 
Immediately I noticed how much easier it was to hike down than up.  It took about half the time to hike back down
to camp, where we had breakfast and took down the tents.  We all wanted to get back down the mountain.  Soon.


was tired and sore.  We unanimously
decided the Devils Slide trail would have to wait for another time. We realized
why everyone hiking down when we were hiking up had smiles on their faces:  hiking down was easy!  No problem! 
We were still tired, but hiking down was much preferable to hiking
up.  We exited through a different trail
than we’d entered.  The last 2 hours or
so were difficult (due to my thigh), and I just wanted it to be over with.  Everyone was hurting, I had 7 or 8 blisters
(tried not to complain too much).  I
noticed everyone else was having a much more difficult time than I was, so
while I wanted to yell and gripe and complain I tried to keep it low.  I’m sure I was annoying everyone anyway.  


had blisters.  Tim had blisters.  I had blisters.  When we spotted the car I wanted to cry.  I was aching all over.  I had a hard time just getting myself into
the car.  My left side was no problem,
but I could barely lift my right leg without screaming.  We drove back to the second car, raced out
the 8 mile dirt road, and went to a late lunch. 
We were filthy, but apparently they were used to hikers.  At least they let us eat inside…


lunch we drove home and the guys went in the spa.  I am really glad I went.  It was tough, but definitely a conversation
piece.  How many people can say they did
what we did?  It was a real learning
experience for me.  I tested my
endurance, and didn’t give up when I could have.  I made it, and I’m proud of myself.  I plan on taking my Girl Scouts when they get


I would do it again, but at a slower pace. 
19 miles in 2 days on this trail was grueling.  “Strenuous” and “Aggressive” don’t begin to
describe the difficulty of this hike.  It
was wonderful!  I learned a lot about
myself and what I can do.  I can’t wait
to go backpacking again!  Next time I
want to carry a pack and distribute the trip over more days…