La Plata Peak in Winter – 14,336

RT Length: 10.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4620’

Detailed La Plata in Winter Report  

I’ve already done a detailed trip report on this route, so I’m just adding pictures and some notes/a story for today’s hike.  Funny thing:  It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I’ve done this hike. The end of January seems to be a good week for La Plata in winter.

I was really, really tired on the drive in, so when I got to the trailhead I decided to take a 20 minute nap before starting.  I was also hoping someone else would arrive so we wouldn’t be the ones doing all the trenching:  no dice.  We started out at 6:30am, and were the only ones in the parking area, so we had no hopes of anyone trenching before us. 

I put on my snowshoes at the truck, knowing I’d eventually need them and not wanting to take off my gloves to put them on.  It was -2 degrees when we started hiking.  I kept the snowshoes on for the entire hike.  We started out following road 391 to the trailhead.  This was a well packed down road, but not in the beginning.  It looked like someone had tried to drive the snow packed road.  They made it across the bridge, then obviously backed up.  Funny:  that was probably the hardest part of the road.

Here’s the trailhead.  Note, there’s private property all around:  stick to the trail

The trail was trenched!  Woot!  We followed the trail a short ways, and check this out:  An old cabin!  This is my 5th time on this trail and I’d never see the cabin before.  On our way back we spent some time trying to figure out how old it was by looking at the boards, logs, chinking, etc. 

On we went, following the trench as it wound through the trees and across the log bridge/through the willows. From here, it’s all uphill. 

We were following the summer route, and I kept looking for a trench indicating the winter route, but we never came across one.  It’s my goal this year not to let a good trench go to waste, so we decided to follow the summer route to the basin and see if we’d be able to summit this way.  We hiked on some seriously steep slopes below treeline, where a slip off the trenched trail would send you sliding quite a ways into the drainage below.  The trench ended as soon as we made it to the basin, so we decided to make our own trench up the ridge to the headwall.  Here you can see our basic route

Also, I don’t recommend this route in winter:  there’s avy danger.  Today however we didn’t see enough snow to be worried.  I’d wanted to teach SkydiverHiker how to use his ice axe, and there didn’t seem to be enough snow/ice to make it relevant on the way up.  Here’s our route up the headwall.

I should also note it was really, really cold in the morning before the sun reached us.  Several times we considered turning back, but in the end we knew the sun was just over the ridge:  all we needed to do was make it up the headwall and we’d be fine.  This part was slow going and slippery.

Once we made it to the ridge and I felt the sun warm my face I was ecstatic!  Also, I screamed.  Raynaud’s attacks are no fun, and now that the sun was warming my fingers and toes the blood rush felt like I was picking up a hot pan I couldn’t let go of.   Not fun.  Luckily SkydiverHiker is used to this and let me scream as loud as I needed without judgement.

It’s a really long ridge hike to the summit of La Plata Peak.  My route says about 2.3 miles of ridge work.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike in due to my frozen fingers, so all of these pictures are from the hike out.  Here’s a look at the ridge today

We trudged up this ridge, but it was such a nice day we didn’t mind much. 

I kept looking back to see if anyone was poaching our trench, but never saw anyone.  Such a shame!  There were some small cornices forming on the ridge. Nothing too dramatic, but we stayed away from them.

At one point we stopped to get a shadowselfie and a picture of Sayres Benchmark

We summited in bluebird conditions:  no wind, no clouds, just a nice, sunny day. There were some small cornices at the top.

Here’s a summit photo and video of the summit

NE La Plata

We actually stayed for a but at the summit because the weather was so nice.  The views were amazing, and demanded to be appreciated.  I should have put on sunscreen, but didn’t.  I have much better pictures of the route down because:  warmth.  Check out that ridge!  Here’s the overall route.

And some step by step to the headwall

Here’s looking down the headwall

I decided to go first to blaze a trail.  Here’s looking back up at SkydiverHiker, waiting patiently

I spent a long time gingerly making a nice trail for SkydiverHiker to scree surf down

SkydiverHiker decided to glissade down instead (smh).  This was his first real time, as I’ve had him practice before, but never where the run out was so long.  He learned first hand about hitting rocks, keeping his feet up, and how long it takes to stop once you place your ice axe. He may have rolled a few times (on purpose, of course).

The snow was getting dangerously soft:  we were booking it out of there, but I got a final shot of our paths down (lots of rollerballs).

We made it back to the trench and started our hike out

This part was pleasant, but my feet were thawing out, so every once in a while I’d get a sharp pain in my toes (note:  two days later, I’m still having pain.  Raynaud’s sucks).  We saw our first people of the day; snowshoers who were just following the trench as long as it went.  We let them know they had another 20 yards or so to go, and continued on our way.

We took some pictures of Lake Creek as we crossed

And made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this a 10.93 mile hike with 4620’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 45 minutes.

Some final thoughts:  It was a shame we were the only ones on the summit today, as it was a beautiful day. Also, if possible, take the standard winter rout that goes up the ridge sooner:  our route had more avy danger than is recommended. 

Uncompahgre in Winter – 14,309

RT Length: 16.42 miles

Elevation Gain: 5068’

This was a last-minute decision.  I left the house at 10:30pm and made it to the trailhead by 4am, after a rather tricky/slick/whiteout conditions drive over Monarch Pass (note to self:  check the weather along the route, not just for the peak you’re climbing).  I also had a gas station mishap in Gunnison (long story) so my truck smelled like gasoline when I parked.  I was pleasantly surprised to find CR 20 nicely plowed from Lake City.  There was 1 other vehicle at the trailhead, and only room for 2.

The other vehicle looked outfitted for sleeping, and there were window coverings on the windows, so I wasn’t sure if there was someone sleeping inside.  I tried to be quiet as I hit the trail at 4:30am.  This is the lower trailhead, so I followed the 4WD dirt road (now packed with snow) for 4 miles to the upper trailhead.

There was some ice on the trail, but it was mostly an easy road to follow

And here’s a look at the stream crossings.  There were snow bridges over the water, and you could hear water flowing under the snow.

I was still hiking in the dark when I saw a flashlight behaving erratically up ahead.  As I got closer, I realized it was a skier.  My flashlight was acting funky, so I couldn’t see him clearly, which was good, because he told me he was changing his pants (putting on warmer ones).  His name was Paul and he sounded like he was in his 20s.  He said he’d “see me up there” and I continued on. 

From this point it was clear he’d been trenching with his skis, but even so, I didn’t need to put on snowshoes until I made it to treeline.  I continued hiking along the road

I made it to the upper trailhead and the bathroom (I didn’t check to see if it was open, but it looked like there were game trails leading up to the door)

This is where the trail got ‘iffy’.  There was no longer a trench, but if I strayed from the old trench I’d sink up to my waist in snow.  I put on my snowshoes and only postholed every 30 steps or so.   Here’s the upper trailhead

From the upper trailhead the trail heads northwest to treeline and then through willows.

Once at the willows I had to gain this small ridge.  This was easier to do in the morning than in the afternoon (pics of my glissade route later).  Here’s my path

Just as I made it up this ridge the sun began to rise.  I had a great view of the sunrise over Uncompahgre

And looking back

There was no trench here, nor any sign of a previous one, so I got to make my own.  Here’s my basic path

And step by step.  Lots of trenching, but pretty straightforward.  Your goal is to gain the ridge.

You’re aiming for this sign on the ridge.  There are a lot of these signs in the area, all saying to be careful of vegetation, so make sure you aim for the one obviously on the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I turned right and followed a faint trail northwest.  The snow on the switchbacks was a bit sketchy.

I gained the ridge again and traversed a short distance along the backside, looking for a short gully to climb

I took off my snowshoes at the gully and climbed up, carrying them (bad idea)

At the top of the gully I found cairns and a trail that wound back to the east side of the mountain to the summit, so I stashed my snowshoes and kept going.

I walked back and forth all along the summit to make sure I hit the actual summit. The summit is towards the middle… the pictures were better towards the west though.  Also, usually when there’s a lot of snow I can see herds of animals, or at least their tracks in the basins below or on the ridges.  No tracks today, so they’re all probably below treeline now.

It was a long drive back home, so I turned and retraced my steps

I made my way back to the gully and found my stashed snowshoes.  I seriously wished I’d stashed them below the gully, but because I wasn’t sure of the conditions above I’d brought them with me.  I carried them gingerly in my left hand as I headed down

At the bottom of the gully I put my snowshoes back on and kept them on for the remainder of the hike.  I turned left and followed my tracks back to the ridge.

Once in the ridge I had some switchbacks to go down before following the ridge proper.  It had only been about an hour or so, but the tracks I’d made on my way in were already gone, so I got to make new ones.

Once down the switchbacks most of my tracks were still there, so I followed them back down the basin.  Side note:  From here I could see the skiers tracks, and the skier still in the basin below.  He’d chosen a different route to gain the ridge, and seemed to be stopping for lunch.  Since he was on skis I expected him to pass me on the way down.

This is where I ran into a little bit of trouble… The skier had gone over my tracks on his way in, and in doing so made them slippery as the sun warmed.  They’d turned into ice, and my snowshoes couldn’t grab onto my tracks.  The snow was too soft to make new tracks.  I tried to retrace my steps down, lost footing on the ice, and glissaded into the willows. The slipping wasn’t calculated, but the glissading was:  Once I’d started I quickly assessed the risks and just decided to keep going.

Here’s a look back on that short glissade

And now, to hike out.  The trench was still in place, so it was relatively easy.  Here are some pics.

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 16.42 mile hike with 5069’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.  I never did see the skier.  Here’s a topo map of my route

Also, on the way out there’s ice climbing!!!

Culebra Peak in Winter – 14,047

RT Length: 14.87 miles

Elevation Gain: 5337’

When someone asks you to climb Culebra Peak with them in winter, you say yes!  I really needed to get out hiking with friends, and when Bill asked me to hike Mt Princeton with him, of course I said yes!  But then, plans changed and he decided to hike Culebra instead.  The weather didn’t look too bad (only 20% chance of snow), so when he asked if I wanted to go along I said yes:  I mean, securing reservations is difficult in winter as you need a group, and he was putting together a group.

In any event, I made it to the trailhead an hour early.  They open the gates at 6, and close them at 6:15am, and I didn’t want to miss that window.  Everyone else got there early as well.  There were 5 of us hiking today (3 girls, 2 guys), and 4 vehicles:  3 4Runners, and my Tundra.  Toyotas seem to be popular among self-professed mountaineers. 

Here’s a picture of the gate:

Promptly at 6am the gates opened, we were checked in, and we drove to the Ranch office.  There was space for about 5 vehicles to park.  We all got out of our vehicles, were given instructions on how to let ourselves out of the gate, and shown where the trail started.  I was glad we all had 4WD vehicles, because while the dirt road in was clear of ice, the parking area wasn’t plowed. 

We gathered our gear and were off around 6:15am. The trail starts to the east of the parking area.  In fact, most of this hike heads east.

Here’s an overview of the entire hike, from the road in

We followed the 4WD jeep road for 5 miles, gaining 2600’ of elevation.  What was nice was they’d groomed the road until 4 way with snowmobiles, and after that there was a solid trench to treeline.

This part of the hike was very pleasant, as I talked with the guys (the girls weren’t as fast as we were at this point).  We had a great pace, and I learned about other hikes they’d done and some of their goals.  At one point I gave everyone a sticker, which got rave reviews.  They understood the color schemes and even gave me ideas for other stickers in the future.  I asked them to let me know how they hold up. 

Once at treeline we were a group again.  We donned our snowshoes and headed southeast up the side of the mountain.  We had to trench here, but a lot of the area had solid snow.  Here’s the path we took to the ridge

Once on the ridge everyone else took off their snowshoes, but I decided to keep mine on (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get them on again once I took them off).  The weather started coming in, and it looked like that 20% chance of snow was going to materialize.

I was on my own from this point on, or, at least I thought I was, as I could no longer see anyone else and I was now in the lead.  I made it to the ridge, as evidenced by this large cairn.

At the cairn I turned right and followed the ridge until it ended, which felt like forever!  It’s a totally different hike when you have no visibility.  But there was a bonus to the lack of visibility:  it took a while for the bighorn sheep to notice me.  When they did, they were off, running down the mountainside

I continued to follow the ridge as it lost some elevation (a hundred feet or so) and then started climbing again.

There were several small ‘false summits’ on this hike, but they were probably mostly due to the lack of visibility.

As I neared the summit I looked back and noticed three of the other hikers closely behind me.  They’d taken off their snowshoes back on the ridge, and my snowshoes were slowing me down.  Let me tell you, snowshoes on rock is not a good combination.  We all ended up summiting around the same time, and took a group selfie.  I couldn’t help but be jealous of everyone else:  They didn’t need balaclavas and they were all taking off their gloves.  I on the other hand, was trying to keep from crying because my fingers were hurting so bad.  Also:  we were all wearing the same gear/gloves so I blame my Raynaud’s (funny how mountaineers tend to find out what works and everyone uses the same stuff). 

It was here I learned we’d lost one of our members on the ridge (he turned back early), and that everyone else was heading towards Red Mountain.  I wished them good luck, as I’ve already summited Red Mountain and wanted to get down to where the sun was shining.  We all had a group hug/high-five session, I turned and headed back the way I’d come, with little bits of sunlight peeking through the clouds when the wind made an opening.

Here’s that dip I was talking about earlier.  The cairn is circled in red

Once at the cairn I turned left and headed back down the ridge, which was tons of fun with little visibility!

I was glad when I made it down to around 12K and was now below the clouds.  Here’s a view of the hike out

This was great because I could just follow our tracks back.  Once below the clouds the weather was actually quite nice. I could see Little Bear, Blanca, and Lindsey on the hike out.   Also, the hike out seemed to take forever!  It was only 5 miles, but it kept going, and going, and going.  Wow!  Had I really hiked in all this way this morning?

I made it back to the Ranch Office, signed out, and drove to the gate. It was super muddy at the gate, and since I now have a topper on my truck, I couldn’t just toss my gear in the back.  Oh well!  I put my boots on top of my snowshoes and was on my way.

I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 14.87 mile hike with 5337’ of elevation gain in under 8 hours.

The Culebra Peak summit sticker can be bought here

Mt Yale in Winter – 14,196

RT Length:  9.58 miles

Elevation Gain: 4315’

The drive in was icy in spots, with about 3 inches of fresh snow on the road.  I could tell a vehicle had made it to the trailhead at least an hour earlier, because there was snow over the tracks and it hadn’t been snowing on my drive.  There were two other vehicles in the lot, which looked to be boondockers.  I backed my truck in and got out my gear.  The lot is huge, and since the road is closed for winter just past the trailhead there is a lot of room for vehicles carrying snowmobiles.  When I got back later in the day there were no less than 40 large vehicles with trailers for hauling snowmobiles in the parking lot and lining the road.

I was on the trail a little late today, around 6am.  I knew it was supposed to be cold and I didn’t want to start too early:  the sun is my friend when it’s cold out!  The trail starts at the north end of the parking area.  There are trail signs here.

It’s winter, but since it hasn’t snowed heavily for a few days there was a trench in place, making this a class 1 trail all the way to treeline. 

I followed the trail for 1.5 miles to a junction, then turned right, following the trail northeast towards Mt Yale.  

After the junction the elevation gain picked up and the trail became icy in areas

At treeline the elevation gain became more intense.  I kept heading northeast, rounding this hill

And coming to a larger hill to navigate.  Here I passed two male hikers in their early 20s.  I’m not sure when they started this morning, but they looked to be in good spirits and more than happy for me to start making tracks.  Here’s how I navigated this obstacle

I wasn’t yet into the upper basin however.  Here’s an overview of the rest of the route

And here’s step by step to the ridge.  The snow was actually a few feet deep in areas, and I postholed a bit.  No ice axe or snowshoes were necessary. I wore microspikes for the entire hike.

The weather was very nice today, but cold.  Temperatures ranged from -3 degrees to 13 degrees, before windchill.  I kept pumping my fingers back and forth to keep them warm, stopping every few feet to clap them together briskly. Strangely, my toes didn’t seem to get that cold.  Luckily for me, this is my 4th summit of Mt Yale, so I didn’t need a map:  I knew where I was going and just kept heading towards the saddle. Once on the saddle I turned right and followed the icy ridge southeast towards the summit. Here’s the overall route

It was frigid, and icy, and windy, and cold!  You can tell how cold by looking at the boulders

Here’s a look at the summit of Mt Yale

I summited Mt Yale at 11:05am.  I was upset to find the camera I’d placed in-between my jackets to stay warm had once again frozen, so I had to use my cell phone for pictures. 

It was very, very cold, so I didn’t stay long.  I turned and headed back down the ridge

A shadowselfie just for fun!

Here’s the route down from the saddle

After making it back to the saddle I turned left and followed my tracks back down

About halfway back to treeline I passed the two young hikers again.  They looked exhausted, but in good spirits.  It was their first winter 14er, and I wished them luck.  They were more than glad to be following my tracks. Here are my tracks back down to treeline.

Once back at treeline I followed the trench back to the trailhead.  This part was fun; due to the light snow that fell overnight the wind was causing the snow on the branches to lift into the air and swirl to the ground.  It was like it was snowing on a bluebird day.

I made it back to the trailhead at 12pm, making this a 9.58 mile hike with 4315’ of elevation gain in 6 hours.  There were TONS of snowmobilers in the parking lot:  more than I’ve ever seen at a trailhead before.  They were loud, and I was glad I was done with my hike. No wonder I hadn’t seen any animals today! 

Here’s a topo map of my route:

I usually wear sandals while driving home so my feet can dry out.  Today, after putting on my sandals, I accidentally stepped in snow with my left foot and it instantly triggered an attack.  My toes turned blue and stiffened.  As I’m writing this it’s been almost 24 hours, and I still don’t have feeling in the two smallest toes on my left foot. Luckily however, they are now a normal color. 

The Mt Yale Summit Sticker can be bought here

2021 Hiking Related Goals – and Quandary Peak

  • Hike on 60 days this calendar year
  • Hike/walk/run/treadmill 2021 miles
  • Make it to 100 14ers (I’m currently at 94)
  • Hike/walk/run/treadmill elevation gain of 1 million feet
  • Summit a combined total of 10 winter 13/14ers
  • Finish the Bicentennials
  • Summit 3 new state highpoints outside of Colorado
  • Summit 3 new El Paso County Highpoints
  • Hike another section of the Colorado Trail
  • Keep my average above 10+ miles and 4000’+ of elevation gain per hike

Quandary Peak – 14,265

RT Length: 7.22 miles

Elevation Gain: 3444’

Just to get 2021 off to a good start, I set my alarm for early and made a reservation to hike the Manitou Springs Incline on New Years Day.  Unfortunately, my alarm didn’t go off and I ended up missing my start time. I was super bummed, but I didn’t let it get me down:  I still had enough time to get a hike in.  I figured I’d just do Quandary Peak instead.  This is the 4th time I’ve hiked Quandary, and I’ve written several trip reports on the peak, so I’ll just post some pictures with highlights:

The road and trail was well packed down

This time I decided not to stop at all, and guess what?  I had my fastest summit of Quandary Peak!  There were tons of dogs on the trail today, and I even saw a group of skiers with guides.  Here’s the summit

It was very, very cold today.  It didn’t get above 18 degrees (that’s what the temperature was when I got back to my truck).  There was a slight layer of frost on everything

Looking west

Heading back down I came across some BASE jumpers who were intending to jump from the summit.  I didn’t think it was windy enough today.  In fact, it was a perfect, bluebird day to go hiking!

I saw Mountain Goats on the way down, but they were kind of far away

Here’s a topo map of the route.  I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this a 4 hour hike:  7.22 miles with 3444’ of elevation gain

The Quandary Peak Summit Sticker can be found here

Humboldt Peak in Winter

RT Length:  14.02 miles

Elevation Gain: 5562’

This was my third time hiking Humboldt, but my first time in calendar winter.  The last time I was here there was a terrible wind that was causing the snow to become clouds, and I couldn’t see the summit when I arrived (or my own 2 feet). This time I was here for better pictures of the route, and to count it as an official snowflake.  I arrived at the South Colony Lakes lower trailhead and was the only one in the lot when I parked my truck.  I put on my gear, using only microspikes as my footwear, and was on the trail at 4:30am.  As usual in winter, the snow started just past the 2WD parking area.  I always find it amusing to see how far the tire tracks try to go up the road.  This time, they didn’t go far.

The snow on the road started right away, but there was a good trench. I followed the road for 2.3 miles to the junction with Rainbow Trail.  It was still dark out, and as I rounded the last corner of the trail where I could still ‘see’ the trailhead I noticed there was another car parked there.  It seems there would be hikers about a mile behind me today.  Also, my flashlight started flickering.  Time to change the batteries!

At Rainbow Trail the trench spiked, one side going towards Marble Mountain, the other towards Humboldt Peak’s East Ridge.  There weren’t any tracks headed further down the road to South Colony Lakes.  I turned right and followed Rainbow Trail for .5 miles. 

I quickly came to a bridge, then took the trail to the top of a slope

At the top of the slope I was thrilled to see there was a trench in place leading up the ridge.  Last time I did this hike I’d had to trench it myself, and it had taken quite a bit of work.  Today, I was going to poach someone else’s trench!  Woot!

And what a trench it was!  I followed it as it for 2 miles as it ascended the east side of the ridge, all the way to treeline.  Here’s an overview of the route up to Humboldt Peak

If you keep heading west and stick to the rib/ridge, it will take you to treeline.  I could hear the wind above the trees, and got a bit anxious for the above treeline part of the hike.

As I hit treeline the sun started to rise.   I took a few minutes to enjoy the view.  (side note: there were a lot of rabbit tracks here)

The trench ended near treeline.  I could see where it was supposed to go, so I kind of re-trenched it as best I could wearing just spikes.  

Here’s the general overview of my route up the ridge

The wind had been intense all morning, but once I was above treeline it became difficult at times to even stay upright.  So much for the forecased 11-17mph winds!  I’d started early to avoid the most intense winds that were supposed to start around 11am, but it seems they started a little early.  I had to hunker down at times and turn away from the wind, which turned the snowflakes into glass, and was side-stepping as I hiked just to stay in a straight line.  I tried to take pictures, but unfortunately, wind is invisible.  I kept my gloves on and was glad I’d put on my balaclava at the trailhead.  Here are some pictures of the ridge. 

Here I noticed some bighorn sheep in the distance.  They also noticed me and trotted off.

At the top of the ridge was another ridge, so this had been a false summit.  Here’s the actual summit of Humboldt Peak.  It’s a straightforward ridge hike to the summit, nothing above class 2.

Here are some pictures of the ridge.  There was some snow, but it was all firm enough not to need traction

On this part of the ridge the wind really picked up.  I had to hide behind rock structures to get out of the brunt of it, and the noise it made as it came up and over the rocks was creepy.  The balls of my feet were frozen at this point (due to Raynaud’s) and it felt like I was walking with large rocks in my shoes (I wasn’t, it was just the ball of my foot that had frozen).  Several times I hunkered down to maintain my balance, but it was still a straightforward ridge hike.

I knew I’d made it to the summit when I found the wind breaks.  I never saw a summit marker, but I don’t think there’s one here?

I’ve summited Humboldt Peak twice before, so I knew I was at the summit at the first wind break, but I walked further west for better pictures.

I summited Humboldt Peak at 9:45am

Humboldt Peak: 

The views of the Crestones/Sange de Cristo range were beautiful!

Time to head back down the ridge

The wind was still fierce, and I was worried I was getting a nasty windburn in all the areas my balaclava didn’t cover.  The wind speeds weren’t supposed to be this high, so I’d left my goggles at my truck.  Note to self:  next time, bring the goggles. On my way back down the ridge I saw the Bighorn Sheep again.  They quickly turned when they saw me and headed over the mountainside.  There was a big drop on the other side, and I was surprised I couldn’t see them again when I passed. 

This was a simple ridge stroll, or, it would have been, without the wind

Here’s looking at my route back down the ridge to treeline

Here I met some hikers heading up.  The wind had died down considerably by this point, so I figured they had the better weather of the day (I found out later it picked back up again, and they said their summit was just as windy as mine).  My feet started to de-thaw, and I had a minor Raynaud’s attack:  think insane pins and needles as the blood started flowing again.  It lasted about 30 minutes, and to combat it I just kept hiking.  On a positive note, I could feel my toes! Finding my tracks back to the trail was a bit of a challenge, but I came across them eventually.

Then I followed the trench back to Rainbow Trail.  I should have put on snowshoes here, as I postholed ever 30 feet or so, but I really didn’t want to stop.  I was just glad I’d started early enough in the day not to need snowshoes (spikes worked just fine).  Anyone heading back down later than me would need snowshoes. 

Once back at the trail I followed it a half mile to South Colony Lakes Road

Once on the road I hiked the 2.3 miles back to the trailhead, noticing a lot of dog tracks along the way. As I neared the trailhead I saw a couple walking with two beautiful dogs.  It seems they were out on a day hike, and I thought this was a great idea, as it was a beautiful day below treeline.

Here’s a look at the trailhead on my way back. Easily 2WD accessible.

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this a 14.02 mile hike with 5563’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. 

Unfortunately, when I made it back to my truck I could hear the conversation the couple with the dogs were having. The man kept cussing at his female companion, and the dogs, over simple things like an overturned water bowl.  To me there’s no need for vulgar words, and he was using multiple ones in each sentence he uttered.  I felt the urge to say something, but no one else in his party seemed to mind his behavior, so I kept it to myself.  I’m not sure why women allow themselves to be treated that way?

The Humboldt Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

Mt Elbert – 14,433 in winter


RT Length: 13.25 miles

Elevation Gain: 4934’

Partner: Steffen

We pulled up to the South Mt Elbert trailhead at 5am and were ready to go soon after. There were about 5 vehicles already in the lot, and we were now worried we’d started too late and eager to get started


On our last (failed) attempt of Mt Elbert in winter we took the trail, but this time we hiked in microspikes along the 4WD road/Colorado Trail for 1.75 miles to the upper trailhead. I would recommend hiking the road instead of the trail.


The road was passable for about a mile in 4WD vehicle, and then it became solely a hiking trail. I was glad I’d parked at the lower trailhead.



At the upper trailhead we turned right, crossed the bridge, and continued along the Colorado Trail for another quarter mile


This trail is really well marked, and the trench was nice and solid


After a quarter mile we came to the Colorado Trail/South Mt Elbert Trail junction and continued on the South Mt Elbert Trail


This well maintained trail took us to treeline



Here there was a lot more snow so we decided it was time to put on our snowshoes. The sun was also rising and we could put away the flashlight.  Here’s looking back at Mt Elbert Forebay and Twin lakes


From treeline here’s the route up Mt Elbert.


Not long after making it to treeline we passed a hiker and wondered where everyone else was who’d been parked at the trailhead? There were at least 5 other vehicles there, and we only saw this one hiker along the ridge.  Seemed curious.


The wind picked up as we hiked up the ridge. The forecast said 15-20mph winds, but we felt they were much higher here


Snowshoes were useful until about halfway up the ridge, and then they weren’t really needed. I kept mine on because the wind had picked up and I didn’t want to take off my gloves to take off my snowshoes.  Steffen offered to help, but I was worried I’d need to put them back on again and honestly didn’t mind hiking wearing them, so I kept them on.


This was a simple ridge hike. I don’t do well with breaks (my feet lose function so I can’t stop) and since there weren’t any obstacles I hiked ahead of Steffen at a slow and steady pace while he took breaks as needed.  I kept looking behind me to make sure he was still on track.  I was excited to see the sign on top, indicating the summit was near.


At the saddle I decided to slow down and wait for Steffen so we could summit together. The only problem?  It was super windy.  So windy the wind kept knocking me down.  So I decided to crouch down behind this rock and take in the Massive view while I waited for Steffen to catch up. Luckily he wasn’t too far behind



When he made it to the small saddle we turned and headed towards the summit together


It was a blue skies kind of day, but extremely windy on top. I’m proud of Steffen:  this is his second 14er, and second in winter.   It was weird having someone else there to take my picture:  I had to crouch down because I kept getting blown over.



We didn’t stay long on the summit due to the wind. Steffen teaches skydiving, and was pretty sure the winds were closer to 50+mph than 20mph.  It was nice having someone else there to verify the wind speed and let me know I wasn’t crazy for thinking it was higher than forecasted.  The winds lessened as we hiked down the ridge.  Here’s the way we took back




Along with the wind came some pretty cool clouds. I took off my snowshoes for most of the ridge descent.


About halfway down the ridge we began seeing other hikers. Tons of other hikers.  They were like ants, marching their way up the mountain, and must have been sleeping in their vehicles when we made it to the trailhead.


Once we made it back to the snow we both put our snowshoes back on: we were postholing and it soon became evident the return route would be miserable without them.  We were glad we’d started when we did:  in a couple of hours this would be posthole city.




The route back was just as easy to follow as the route in, but with the added bonus of sunlight we had some pretty amazing views of the aspens




We made it back to the trailhead at 1:50pm, making this a 13.25 mile hike with 4934’ of elevation gain in 9 hours 40 minutes.


Quandary Peak 14,265 (winter)


This is the third time I’ve summited Quandary, and the second in winter, so I won’t give a full report. A full winter report can be found here.

Here are a few highlights from the day:

  • RT Length: 7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3435’
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Partner: Steffen

We arrived at the trailhead at 5am to a few other vehicles in the lot. This is pretty normal for Quandary Peak.  One of the vehicles had their dome light on, with no one in the car.  We tried to open the door to turn off the light but it was locked.  Hopefully their vehicle would start when they got back.

We carried our snowshoes the entire way but didn’t need them. Microspikes were very, very helpful.  The trail was well packed down from the trailhead all the way to treeline, but sugary and deep off trail.





We hiked at a steady pace, taking breaks as needed. This was Steffen’s first 14er (and a winter one at that!) so I didn’t want to push him too far.  He did great!  Here’s the path to the summit from treeline



Right about now the sun was beginning to rise. It stayed behind the clouds for most of the day but made for a nice sunrise photo



This is a simple ridge to summit hike. I was surprised at how little wind we encountered today!



Here’s the final push to the summit. This is where we came across the owner of the vehicle who’d left their lights on.  He was a bit sheepish when he realized what he’d done, and picked up his pace on the way down.  We offered to jump his vehicle when we made it down if it wouldn’t start for him.  I started picking up the pace a bit here as well, hopping as I went and hiking backwards to make talking easier and to keep me going when things slowed down.



Summit Views: I love the little American Flag at the top (and wonder how it stayed with all that wind?)





Summit Photo:



Time to head back down the ridge



We saw mountain goats on our way down, but had a hard time getting a good photo. Mountain goats are frequently seen here.  In fact, I’ve seen them every time I’ve hiked this peak.



We had a good view in the daylight of the recent avalanche area. The slope is only 31 degrees for a very short while, yet it slid yesterday.  Luckily it wasn’t near the trail, but skiers/snowboarders would want to be careful not to ski this area during high avy days



The snow off the trail was really soft so Steffen decided to make a snow angel.



We made it back down to the trailhead and the guy who’d left his lights on was no longer there, so I guess his battery worked. All in all a great day above treeline!  Congratulations Steffen on your first 14er!

The Quandary Peak Summit Sticker can be found here

Democrat – 14,148, Cameron – 14,238, Lincoln – 14,286, Bross – 14,172, South Bross – 14,020


RT Length: 16 miles

Elevation Gain: 4987’

OK, I know this looks like an excuse to say I’ve hit my goal of summiting 5 winter 14ers for the year by just doing them all at once, but I’m only counting this as 1 winter 14er hike (putting me at 3 for this season… 2 more to go!).

Luckily the Kite Lake Trailhead is only 2 hours from my house so I made it there by 4:30am. Well, almost there. From turning west on Buckskin I was able to drive 2.5 miles on a bare dirt road and got my hopes up I’d be able to drive to the winter closure. No such luck. Almost immediately at 2.5 miles I ran into snow and stopped. Quite suddenly in fact.


It looked like someone had attempted to drive further and decided to back up, so I parked my truck and took a look. I was fairly certain I’d be able to drive my truck through what I could immediately see, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive back out after the sun warmed up the snow later in the day. I decided to play it safe and stay parked near the Paris Mill site. This ended up being a fantastic idea.

I put on my snowshoes and other gear and was on the trail by 4:45am. The dirt road in ranged from bare dirt to covered in 3-4 feet of snow. Yes, tt had been a good idea to park where I had. The jury was still out on whether or not wearing my snowshoes had been a good idea (necessary in some places, and not in a lot). I could tell no one had been on this particular trail for a few days (probably since the weekend).


The first mile and a half to the gate went by quickly


It was still dark, and here the wind picked up. It felt like I was in a wind tunnel, and the drifts on the road got deeper. I wasn’t able to see the road most of the way but I knew where Kite Lake was so I just headed in that general direction. It was still dark when I made it to Kite Lake.


From here there was no visible trail: everything was covered in snow and the wind had swept any trace of tracks away long ago. I stayed to the right and came upon a sign. Woot! Last time I was here it was summer, but I remembered there were signs indicating where the trail was. I snowshoed over to the sign hoping to see it read “trail”. Nope, it just said “no camping”. Well, at least this meant I was on some sort of trail and not on the lake. I pointed my flashlight in the general direction I was supposed to go and saw another sign. Maybe this one would say ‘trail’? Nope, ‘no camping’ again. Then I saw another sign (this one ended up saying ‘trail’).   You can probably guess what I did from here: I just went from sign to sign until I was out of the basin (by the collapsed mine). Unfortunately most of the signs I encountered said ‘Trail Closed for Restoration’, but this was encouraging because I knew I was going in the correct general direction (and I wasn’t worried I was damaging the trail because I was on top of several feet of snow). Some of the time the signs actually said ‘trail’. Here’s the route I took:


Remember however, it was still dark, so here’s what I was looking at as I was hiking


I made it past the mine and the route started getting very steep. Yes, snowshoes had been a good idea. I got really excited when I ran across a cairn (I haven’t seen one of those in ages!)


Here’s looking back at the slope from my way down later in the day


Now all I had to do was hike up the slope to the Democrat/Cameron Saddle


Luckily from here most of the mountain was windblown. I only ran into one or two tricky spots covered in snow. Here’s the view from above the saddle looking left at the hike up Mt Democrat. I just stuck to the ridge.


Yes, there’s a false summit on this one. Here’s the last bit of the trek to the summit



There was more snow than anticipated on this summit


Here’s my summit photo

15 Democrat

I turned and looked back at the ridge and the route up Cameron


Here’s the route I took


From the saddle it looks steeper. The actual trail goes left and right, but I was able to just stay on the ridge (and snow)



For the final push to the summit you can clearly see the trail to the left outlined in snow.


When I gained this ridge it was like I was transported to the moon: The snow was gone and there were small rocks everywhere


I took a quick summit photo

22 Cameron

And looked over towards Lincoln


I was debating taking off my snowshoes for the rest of the hike. It looked like everything on this side of the mountain was pretty much windswept, so I took them off, walked about 20 yards, and looked down to this:


I should have kept the snowshoes on just for this last little bit, but I found a way around the stuff causing me to posthole. The path up Lincoln is obvious. About halfway up to the summit I ended up putting on my snowshoes again because the snow was deeper than it looked from Cameron.


This one had a bit of a false summit as well


Summiting Lincoln was much easier than I remembered it from last time: Maybe it was the snow? Or maybe it was because the wind this time was nonexistent. In any event, I summited

27 Lincoln

There were two summit markers on this peak


So far my day had been pretty easy. I looked across at the route past Cameron and over to Bross, debating if I needed my snowshoes or not. There was only one area that gave me pause


I made it to the Lincoln/Cameron saddle, rook off my snowshoes, and hiked south. When I got to the slab of snow I put on my snowshoes and carefully began crossing the snow. This is much steeper than it looks, but with crampons on my snowshoes I felt secure



Here’s a look at the rest of the route up Bross


I didn’t think I’d be needing my snowshoes anymore so I took them off once again. I’m not a fan of taking them off and putting them back on again, but I’m even less of a fan of holding them (they’re too big to fit into my pack, and don’t fit nicely on the sides either). Also, it felt really warm. I’m not sure if it actually was warm outside or if it was due to the lack of wind, but I was actually starting to sweat. My hands were almost too warm in my gloves. I could get used to this!

It was a very quiet day. I hadn’t seen anyone else and the wind was silent, so imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner and saw this


Hm. Someone else must be up here today. I wonder why I hadn’t heard them drive up? No matter, now I as on the lookout for people. Until I got closer and realized the vehicle had been abandoned. It looked like someone had tried to fix a flat and gave up.


What was even more curious was they left the windows open and keys in the ignition.


I’m not sure how long the truck has been here, but with the roads the way they are it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I turned around to look at the way I’d come and decided I didn’t want to traverse that snow slab later in the day: on my way back I was just going to trudge straight up the hill to the summit of Cameron.


Since this is a mining area there are multiple roads to the summit of Bross. I just kept aiming towards the top and followed one after the other.


This felt like an easy summit


Here’s a look back at the route from the summit of Bross


The summit of Bross was very similar to the summit of Cameron: barren except for rocks. It was also very large and flat


The last time I’d taken this hike I hadn’t known there was a “South Bross” and today I intended to make my way over there. There isn’t much of a trail, but the route’s obvious


I was losing elevation, and it wasn’t lost on me I’d need to regain about 150 feet in elevation on my way back (just for Bross, with more for Cameron) but the short .6 of a mile trek was worth it.

42 South Bross

Here’s a look back on the entire route


I turned around and headed back to Bross. From the summit of Bross I pondered my options. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to make this a loop and head down the west side of Bross or re-summit Cameron and head back the way I’d come. The only reason hiking down Bross sounded like an ok choice was because it was shorter. However, I’ve experienced that screet before and it wasn’t something I ever wanted to experience again, either hiking up or down. Cameron had its drawbacks too: it meant an extra 300 feet of elevation gain in a short distance, and it added a couple of miles onto the trip. However, it also meant I’d get photos of the way I’d come. That was it, I was re-summiting Cameron, and not by way of the Cameron-Lincoln saddle. I was just hiking straight up the slope.


Yes, there was some snow, and it was steep, but very navigable


Here’s a look back at Bross and South Bross


Once I made it to the summit of Cameron (again) I had a great view of Democrat


Here’s a look at the route back. You can see Kite Lake is completely covered in ice and snow. Once again, the sections of snow below the Democrat/Cameron saddle were steep.


Here’s the route from Kite Lake


The 3 miles back to my truck from Kite Lake took a while, but I wasn’t bothered: I had all the time I needed today, and it was such a lovely day I didn’t mind the hike. Another plus was the lack of people. It was obvious I’d been the only one on this trail today. In the light of the afternoon sun I was once again glad I’d decided not to drive my truck any further on this road: it would have gotten stuck. In fact, just as I could see my parked truck I heard a noise and saw a truck smaller than mine come plowing down the road. I tried to wave my arms at them to indicate they shouldn’t drive further but it was no use. They continued on and got stuck.


They weren’t too happy about the situation either, and rudely refused my help when offered as if it were my fault they’d gotten stuck. I made it back to my truck at about 3 pm, making this a 16 mile hike in just over 10 hours.


Just for fun, here’s my Relive of the hike:

My First Winter 14er – Pikes Peak 14,115, Devils Playground 13,070, Little Pikes Peak 13,363

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I know this trip report won’t sound like a big deal to most serious 14er hikers, but I have Raynaud’s, which means my body completely shuts down in the cold.  My fingers and toes turn white, they lose function, and I can’t walk, talk or use my hands or feet.  No, foot/hand warmers don’t work.  Neither does layering.  The fact I was able to complete a winter 14er, even an easy one in an easy year, was a huge accomplishment for me.  Here’s the trip report:

Devil’s Playground – 13,070

Little Pikes Peak 13,363

Pikes Peak 14,115

Elevation Gain 4300’

RT 14 miles, 7.5 hours

Starting from Crags Campground

Brought microspikes but didn’t use them (I probably should have though).  They will be useful in the next few days.

I’ve been trying to do this hike for months, but the weather forecast is always terrible in the winter at the top of Pikes Peak (today said 55mph wind gusts and -10* wind chill).  However, last weekend I used a new jacket my mom got me, and while I was hiking I was actually hot and had to take it off, so I figured even though the weather was terrible it was a great chance to see what this jacket could do!

Also, I’d just picked up a pair of men’s work gloves (fleece) at Walmart for $6 that indicated they worked even in the worst of weather.  I was seriously skeptical but willing to try anything:  my fingers are always the first to lose function, and I can never get them warmed up again until I go back down in altitude (kind of like altitude sickness for my extremities).

My goal was to hike to Devil’s Playground, and possibly hike up Little Pikes Peak.  I was thinking I’d check a couple of 13ers off my list (I know they aren’t ranked, etc.)  I had no intention of hiking Pikes Peak today.  I’ve hiked it 12 times (from Barr Trail) and had no need to do it again.  I just wanted to see what this jacket and pair of gloves could do.

I used the Crags Trailhead.  The gates were open but the 3 mile dirt road was covered in a layer of packed down snow.


I arrived at 6:45am and was the only one in the parking lot.  The bathrooms were locked (presumably for winter) so I got my gear together and started at 7am. It was 21*.


The trail was very well marked (I love that!).  It was also easy to follow, even with the snow.  It looked like someone had tried to cross country ski in the area.  I’m pretty sure it didn’t end well.


I took trail #664A for what seemed like forever before making it to treeline.  I mean forever!  The entire trail was covered in about 3-6 inches of packed snow (more in the drifts) and while I could hear the wind the trees blocked it from reaching me.  It was slow going because the snow was a bit slippery and I had to watch each foot placement in the rocky areas.  I had microspikes but didn’t use them because I didn’t think they’d make me any faster/more secure.


Here’s a photo of the trail as soon as you get above treeline: It’s straight up a mild, well maintained, snow covered drainage/gulley.  This is where the temperature dropped and the wind picked up.  It didn’t stop until I reached this point again on my way back down.


I continued hiking around some large rock formations and then areas of heavy snow.


The snow was beautiful, and had a sound.  I’d say it sounded like glitter, but since that’s not possible I’ll instead say it sounded like very small chards of glass bouncing off the floor.  But to me it had the sound of glitter.


I wasn’t cold yet, but I wasn’t at a high elevation either.  I was at 11,500 feet.  Eventually I got to the Pikes Peak Highway.  I crossed the road and this is where the wind really picked up.  I could see it blowing from the west, up and over the ridge.


It was phenomenal to watch!  I could see the wind as it ascended the basin, and follow it as it blew up and over the ridge.  I knew when to brace myself for impact, which was important because it knocked me over a few times.

A scarf was necessary. The only place I was cold was where my skin was exposed (woot!  High five for the jacket and gloves!).  I had to tuck my scarf into my jacket because the wind kept causing it to unravel.  Wind was probably 25mph here.


Devil’s Playground was dry of snow except for when the wind blew… It was about 15* here (without wind).


The trail following the Pikes Peak Highway was easy to follow because of the snow drifts.  I either avoided them or sank into them and trudged on.  I was miserable due to the wind, but I was doing this!!!  Still not cold!


The highway was completely devoid of snow, and curiously there was someone with a plow going up and down the road.  They stopped twice to watch me, presumably because I was CRAZY to be out hiking in this WIND.  I figured they weren’t taking any chances with icy roads either in all this wind.  This also told me they were opening up the summit house today.  Woot!

The pictures just don’t do this wind justice.  It was intense and insane (and mostly invisible).

Here’s where the wind became intense for the first time.  Gusts were about 55mph and sustained.  I’d stand there for 30 seconds waiting for the ice intensity to pass.  The wind made it cold, but not so cold I needed to stop.

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Here’s a view of Pikes Peak (center) and Little Pikes Peak (right).  Little Pikes Peak was the reason I was taking this hike.  There’s no path to the summit, so I’d have to just find a route and follow it.  Here’s where I made my first mistake.


I was coming from the North, and could only see one side of the mountain.  I picked a route that looked hikeable and followed it.  I stopped to breathe for a bit and take in my surroundings and realized I’d almost hiked to a place I couldn’t hike down from!  The snow was heavy, and I’d have to say if there’s any avalanche danger (yes, I know it’s small) it’d be here.  This snow was loose and I was in a precarious position, jumping from rock to rock:   If I missed one I’d be sliding for quite a ways!  I quickly hiked back the way I’d come and decided to scout out a better route up.


I found a much drier route to the south and made it to the summit of Little Pikes Peak after falling through and hitting just a few small boulders hidden in the snow (no big deal, I kind of expected this to happen).  Here’s a summit selfie of me trying to smile (my lips were frozen).  Moral of this story… summit Little Pikes Peak from the South!  That side had snow, but no where near as much as the north side (I know, common sense…)


I sat on the summit and looked at Pikes Peak.  It was much closer than I’d assumed.  It couldn’t be much more than a mile or a mile and a half away.  I was intrigued.  For some reason I really wanted to summit from this route.  I’ve summited 35 peaks solo, but Pikes was my first summit and I did it with a group and on another route.  I kind of wanted to be able to say I’d summited this peak solo as well.  And I’d never done a winter 14er (several winter 13ers, but no 14er in winter).  The only problem was I could tell the toughest weather was ahead of me.  I knew the temperature would drop as I ascended, and that wind blowing snow looked insane!  I was already cold (but not as cold as I’d anticipated).  I hate regrets, so I decided to go for it:  I could always turn back if it got too difficult, right?


I stashed my trekking pole and began the final push to the summit.  I was right, this was the most difficult part of the hike:  The temperature dropped and the wind picked up.  Here’s what it looks like just as the wind and snow hits you at -10* and 55mph…


Unfortunately, the wind didn’t come in gusts:  it just kept coming.  I’d brace myself, look for a cairn, note its position, put my head down and trudge towards it with the wind blasting me from the front.  It was miserable and slow going but I had a plan.  And while I should have been a popsicle in this weather I wasn’t!  This was doable!


The cairns were extremely helpful since the route was covered in snow.  I knew others must have hiked this trail in the past few days, but as I looked back at my tracks they were quickly covered by snow blown by wind just seconds after I’d passed.  This meant I had to watch every step forward because I was kind of ‘breaking trail’ and didn’t know the best route.  The rocks were slippery and again there were times I’d misjudge and my shin would get bruised from falling through snow and hitting rock.  I thought about but didn’t use my microspikes yet again.


The wind didn’t stop, but as I gained the final pitch the ice and snow was taken out of the mix.  This was a nice surprise!  I summited at 11am.  I still couldn’t feel my lips but was able to force an awkward smile for a summit selfie!


The summit was disappointingly dry for winter, but I’m pretty sure that’s normal for a summit (due to wind).  Almost no one was there (3 cars in the parking lot?) so I walked across the parking lot and into the summit house.  I briefly thought to myself it was cheating to go inside and get warm, but my water had frozen on the hike and I wanted a drink from the water fountain.  The pipes had frozen in the summit house as well so I bought a Gatorade and immediately started feeling overheated.  This was not good.  It was way too hot in there and I was getting a headache.  I had to get back down that mountain.  I remarked to the cashier how I was shocked they were open today. Her reply told me she’s obviously had other plans besides work today and was surprised as well.

I met a group of three guys from Texas who’d driven to the top.  They were impressed to hear I’d hiked up in this weather, and confused when I told them I was heading back down: “That’s the only way to get back to my truck”…

I bundled back up and headed outside.  My path back down looked amazing.


The wind was constant during the hike back down, but the jacket and gloves had done their job:  I still had full function of my fingers!  Success!

The hike back down seemed much longer than the hike up.  I kept thinking to myself it was crazy I’d hiked all this way straight up!  I like elevation gain and tend to forget how much uphill I do on the way up until I’m on the way back down…

I marveled at the south side of Pikes Peak, and totally understand why they want to make this area into a ski area:  It would totally work (if we forget about destroying tundra and wildlife).


Just before making it back to the trailhead I noticed prints that looked like bear tracks.  They were obviously not fresh, but I was pretty sure that’s what I was seeing and they’d been created within the past few weeks or so.  Hmmm… it seems someone woke up early and hopefully went back to bed.  This doesn’t surprise me, due to our unseasonably warm winter and the fact I was hiking near a campground.


The last 3 miles of the hike I was roasting.  I wanted to take off my jacket but was too stubborn to stop, so instead I took off my hat, gloves, and scarf while I was hiking and just carried the items.  I was curiously pleased I was so warm in 30* weather I was taking off accessories.  I made it back down at 2:30pm, making this a 7.5 hour hike.  Slow for me, but I blame the wind…

All in all today’s adventure was a total success!  The weather was brutal but having the right gear made all the difference.  I wasn’t nearly as miserable as I’d anticipated I’d be.  I learned a lot about my abilities, did a reality check on things I already knew but ‘forgot’, and can now say I’ve hiked a winter 14er!  Woot!

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here