the summit of Mt. Sherman

Happy Hiking: Mt. Sherman

I had a bit of a scare on Missouri Mountain a week ago, so I decided to “get back on the horse” and hike Mt. Sherman.  Mt. Sherman is an easier 14er than Missouri Mountain.  The hike is shorter, only 5.25 miles, and there is less exposure, so it was a good one for me to try.

Having said that, it would be my first solo 14er.  While I hike alone regularly, I was a little nervous to go alone this time as many more things can go wrong at 14,000 feet.  At the same time, there is usually someone around, so help isn’t too far away.  As a result, I talked myself into climbing Mt. Sherman on a beautiful Monday morning.

HAPPY HIKING!

Happy Hiking: Missouri Mountain

Until I hiked Missouri Mountain this week, I hadn’t hiked a 14er for four years after having an extreme, two-day debilitating headache on the last double I completed, Shavano and Tabeguache.  Now, with the hole in my heart closed and oxygen circulating through my blood correctly, I thought I’d give it another try.

My friend Tanya always summits a few each summer, so we agreed to tackle Mt. Princeton, part of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range.  Mt. Princeton is located about 2.5 hours southwest of Denver near Buena Vista, Colorado.

As a result of the distance and general best practices of being off the summit by noon, we camped the prior evening to get an early start. 

We left Denver in the late afternoon with the intent to find dispersed camping, though we did not have a set location in mind.  We first drove to the lower parking for Mt. Princeton and briefly ventured up the four-wheel drive road.  Judging by the pace we were going, we were hardly going to cover the 3.5 miles by nightfall.

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Salida, Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak

The girls went camping with their mom this weekend, so David and I took a quick jaunt down to Salida, about 2.5 to 3 hours southwest of Denver. Saturday we piddled around the town and followed Spiral Drive for a view of the city. Sunday we climbed two 14ers, Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak.

We learned the hard way to never try to tackle two 14ers, 11.25 miles, and 5,600 feet of elevation gain on three hours of sleep while not feeling up to par. We didn’t go out the prior evening. In fact, I think we were in bed by 9pm, so we could get up by 4:30am, make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead and start hiking by 6am. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fall asleep! Our best laid plans got us started at 6:30am just before sunrise.

The first mile of our hike which starts on the Colorado Trail through an aspen grove and soon turns left to begin the steep climb was simply lovely. We watched the sunrise creating a pink glow in distance while the aspens’ yellow leaves shimmered in the brightening sky. The climb took us over a rocky and root covered path until we reached the second mile.

The second mile, though the flattest and easiest with a few trailside campsites, was quite ugly. The pine forest has suffered much devastation from the beetle. Many fallen trees lined both sides of the path and even provided us a few obstacles to cross. With the record high temperatures of September and little rain of late, the creek was dry. Amazingly, there were still a few wildflowers clinging to life which may have been the only pretty part of the second mile with the exception of intermittent views of the golden valley below.

With every 14er, soon we ascended above treeline and entered the tundra. The treeless area offered spectacular views beneath the deep blue sky. While the views were nice, we contended with a strong headwind as we climbed toward a flat area before we had to boulder up to the peak of Mt. Shavano. Fellow hikers commented on the wind’s brutality.

Only three miles into the trail, I was already feeling weak and hungry, and we had eight miles to go. Now with a strong crosswind, we followed the trail to the right across a saddle. As I stepped, I lightly stubbed my toe on a rock. I reached my foot slightly farther than normal to the right to catch my balance and the wind blew clear off the trail! I landed very ungracefully in a patch of rocks. Pain shot through my bruised knee. My hip likely survived as it was protected by my shattered cell phone. David came to my aid and suggested that maybe we should turn around. That was probably an excellent suggestion, and I probably should have agreed, but those who know me know that is not part of my MO.

I told him that I was not going to quit, so he walked slightly ahead to my left while holding my left arm to block the wind. Upon reaching the boulder field, we found intermittent relief from the wind and opted to stop and eat in the cover of some rocks before we even reached the first peak! After refueling, I felt much better and we summited Mt. Shavano (14,229′) around noon. The panoramic views were stunning.

With it being October, there wasn’t any danger of inclement, summer thunderstorms, so we had plenty of time to maneuver across the boulder field, up and down 500 feet to Tabeguache Peak. Since I tend to get altitude sickness or a severe migraine (I haven’t figured out which since a headache and nausea are symptoms of both), I certainly wanted to knock out both peaks at once versus coming back to climb Tabeguache Peak on its own.

The one mile to Tabeguache Peak (14,155′) took us about an hour. The path came and went as climbed along the rocks. We hardly spent any time on Tabeguache Peak. We only signed the log and congratulated a few fellow hikers who had also made it to the small summit before we turned around. It felt easier on the return to Mt. Shavano, but by this time my headache was really kicking in, and we had a solid four plus miles to go.

Once we got below treeline, I just started crying. My head was pounding, and I was extremely tired and nauseated. I felt like I needed to eat for some energy, but I could hardly get a handful of nuts down. My Gatorade wasn’t much help either. I was burning up. I torched my lips as I failed to smear sunblock on them, and it was certainly too windy to wear a visor. All I wanted to do was lay down and rest. In the meantime, David’s knee locked up so while he was trying to help me, he was peg-legging down the mountain for the last mile and a half. We were so slow! It took us almost 12 hours to hike 11.25 miles.

While we had headlamps, fortunately we made it back to the aspen grove just before dark as the sun set. I’d like to say we stopped and admired the beauty, but a few quickly snapped photos is all I could muster as I was desperate to sit down. I’ve never been so excited to reach the car! These two peaks mark my 11th and 12th 14er since I started climbing them two years ago. While I don’t want to scare anyone since they were only Class 2, at the time it felt like the hardest thing I have ever done…harder than my marathon or triathlon. Personally, I believe it was simply the circumstance of starting the task on an empty tank, and that they probably weren’t that much harder than the other ten I have completed. I never felt in danger, but I sure felt exhausted and learned my lesson to ditch hiking a 14er unless I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. As that is what my body needs! Despite the beating, I think we both feel accomplished and happy we finished. ETB

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The Rockies: Four Fourteeners…One Day!

To bag four peaks in a day, our weekend started on Friday at 4pm when we were supposed to leave the church for Kite Lake Campground. While the scout troop was organized, the adults weren’t incredibly punctual resulting in a departure around 5. Eventually, we made it to the Subway in Conifer and joined the rest of the mountain traffic as 285 narrowed to two lanes after our short dinner. The delays, however, provided the most beautiful sunset after we passed through Grant, over Kenosha pass, and down into the green valley of farmland situated just perfectly beneath the super moon, dramatic clouds, and pink sky. I was pleasantly surprised by my point and shoot pictures while caravanning 65 mph down the highway!

Soon we reached Fairplay, where we turned right on Highway 9 toward Alma. Upon reaching the middle of Alma, we turned left onto a rugged, dirt road and traveled a very rough 6 miles in the dark to Kite Lake. It was so rough, that my Fitbit which requires five fast taps on its face to switch to sleep mode, managed to change its mode on its own from the vibration of my steering wheel. It was nearly 9pm by the time we prepared to set up camp. All the scouts, the scout leader, and other adult chaperones popped up their tents beneath a sky full of stars and bright moon. I was the only one opting to sleep in the car which was currently toasty warm from the heater. Had I been willing to get chilled above the treeline at 12,000 feet, I probably would have fiddled with my camera to see if I could shoot the big dipper shining over Mt. Democrat. It was magnificent. Unfortunately, I know very little about night photography and knew it would take me an hour to figure it out, in which time I would be frozen. Instead, I took advantage of the campground pit toilets and settled in for a good night sleep in the car.

I’m not sure a good night sleep in the car can be used in the same sentence, especially when I nabbed the last spot in the parking lot directly in front of the trail head information board. Climbers began their treks at 4am. The bright light of the moon nor the headlights of each car that drove to the end of the lot throughout the night and then turned around didn’t help matters either, though it was all that I expected. I wonder what it would be like to climb a 14er on full night’s sleep?

We planned to tackle the four peaks beginning at 6am. I was so toasty warm in my sleeping bag, I almost didn’t want to venture outside, but I was bright-eyed by then and ready to go. While I was wandering around from the campsite, to the toilets, to my car, a young lady asked if I could change her $20 so she could pay for parking. I couldn’t change a $20, but I just gave her $5 as if it weren’t for her, I would have had no idea I needed to pay $3 to park. A large sign stood to the left of the parking lot, but in the dark, it was indiscernible, especially with cars parked on the road in front of the sign. What a lucky way to start my day…much better than returning from four fourteeners to find my car towed or ticketed. That would have stunk. It turns out, our group was less than punctual, so I had time to find Tanya and tell her about the parking and camping fee as well. Toes frozen, the group finally started toward the trail a few minutes before 7am.

The trail travels through a grassy basin of alpine flowers, across a creek, and past Kite Lake before it begins ascending over rocks. The path rises at the rate of approximately 1,000 feet per mile as it passes by remnants of mineshafts, shacks, and rusty equipment leftover from the silver and gold mining days of the 1860s. I was unaware these fourteeners had been extensively mined, as I hadn’t visited http://www.14ers.com, so these historic sites were a pleasant surprise. All I really knew about this hike was from an article in 5280 magazine I read approximately a year ago and a few tidbits from a friend who had made the climb last weekend.

To sum up the information, I knew I could bag four peaks in a day, the official roundtrip mileage was 7.25 miles though my girlfriend suggested it was more like nine and that the descent from Bross was steep. Given the route was listed in 5280 magazine, I assumed the climb ranked on the easy side (if there is such a thing as an easy 14er) as well. For the most part, the information I had was correct, though the mine shafts weren’t our only surprises for the day.

Back to our climb. We began as a group of around 18 and planned to hike at our own pace, but to regroup at each peak, and to always descend in pairs should we wish not continue climbing each of the four mountains. Based on this plan, I intentionally slowed my pace, as I did not want to freeze at the summit. It also gave me a chance to see if a slower pace would reduce my chance of getting a headache (not so). The slow pace did give met a good look at several pikas that scampered across the massive rock field. It’s the most I’ve ever seen. By the time we reached the first saddle between Mt. Democrat (to the left) and Mt. Cameron to the right, the group was so spread out that the first set of climbers were already feeling cold when I arrived and about half the group was still behind me. As such, we reassessed. As much as it would have been nice to have the whole troop together on the summit, it was important to keep everyone warm and moving, so we carried on up the face of Mt. Democrat.

As I climbed over the large rocks, I compared this trail to my recent ascent on Mt. Elbert. I thought to myself, “There are a lot more rocks, but at least the trail ascends gradually over switchbacks.” I thought too soon as I was met with a section so steep, the climbers coming down looked like they were having a harder time than I was going up. I sure wish the new shoes I ordered made it to REI before the promised Saturday delivery. I could have used some tread. The steepness leveled off as I passed by some snow and the remnants of another mining cabin before finally reaching the summit. I really hope the miners left the Mosquito Range with TONS of silver! I can’t imagine wanting to climb any fourteener more than once with anything more than a pack. Working in this landscape had to be tough.

With only a light breeze and the bright sun shining above, we enjoyed a lovely stay on top of Mt. Democrat, 14,148′, as we snacked on our bars, trail mix, beef jerky, fruit, sandwiches and more. The views varied from the summit. We could see the other 14ers we wanted to tackle, the surrounding mountain ranges and what was once the world’s largest molybdenum mine in Climax, Colorado. Molybdenum has the sixth highest melting point of any element and is therefore used in superalloys. I never expected to see such a place from the summit of a fourteener. Around 9am, it was time to continue on as we had rested for a while. I hadn’t even finished descending to the saddle from Mt. Democrat before my Fitbit buzzed at me to let me know I had hiked 10,000 steps which is usually the equivalent of 4.5 miles. I must have weaved significantly on my way up given the roundtrip mileage from Kite Lake to the summit of Mt. Democrat and back is said to be 4 miles.

At the saddle, those who needed a little relief took a bathroom break. I must admit, this is not an easy feat given there is absolutely no tree cover. From here, we hiked approximately a mile along the ridge to Mt. Cameron. Technically, Mt. Cameron doesn’t count as a fourteener because its summit doesn’t rise 300 feet above the saddle. Whoever made that rule clearly doesn’t suffer from headaches or altitude sickness. Anytime I’m over 14,000 feet, I’m counting it, and Mt. Cameron’s rounded mound clocks in at 14,238′. Frankly, I don’t know how any of these mountains count individually as I thought there was a requirement to gain 3,000 feet of elevation which seems rather hard to do when beginning at 12,000 unless you ascend and descend to all the saddles. Regardless, the others count in the rankings, which is fine by me!

The climb to Mt. Cameron’s summit was much easier than the climb to Mt. Democrat. The smooth trail gradually climbed through interesting rock terrain peppered with green leafed, white flowers. Though the two mountains were right next to each other, the landscape was entirely different from the color and size of the rock to the shape of the summit to the plant life. I was quite fascinated by the variety and couldn’t help but stop to enjoy some of the fantastic views as well. To my right, in an offset diamond shape, I could see how Kite Lake earned its name, and to my left I could see wto lakes that both looked like hearts! Last in the group of teenagers, a few scout leaders, and Tanya, I took a long time to land at the summit of Cameron which was basically like standing in a wind tunnel. The fast hiking kids patiently waited as long as they could and they just started toward Mt. Lincoln as I topped Mt. Cameron. Tanya snapped my picture to prove I made it, and she continued on with me after my brief stop.

I actually prefer not to stop for very long anyway as my headache seems to worsen and I stiffen up, so trekking across the desolate landscape to Mt. Lincoln was perfect. If the dark clouds hadn’t begun peppering us with pellet snow, I would have said I felt like I was in rocky, sand dunes of the desert, but it wasn’t quite warm enough for the middle of a summer day. It was fascinating again to see the difference in terrain. The rock had turned from almost black on Mt. Democrat, to chaulky on Mt. Cameron, to reddish brown on the way to Mt. Lincoln, named for the president. The “expansive desert” turned to a narrow ridge that led to Mt. Lincoln’s pointy peak of grey rocks. Lincoln’s peak was small, though may have been my favorite, despite the view of mining roads below. I just loved the rocky outcrop, though admittedly there was about one foot of the trail that I could not look down without a wave of nausea overtaking me. It also didn’t help that ice began accumulating on the rocks, and I watched one guy fall down in front of me and heard another slip behind me.

IMG_5633 path to lincoln

Amazingly, as soon as we reached the summit, however, the snow pellets stopped stinging our face and the sun came out. This was a welcome relief as we settled down for another quick snack which included Pringles, Goldfish and all the other aforementioned goodies. I was also quite mind boggled by the sight of two mountain bikers at the top of Mt. Lincoln…REALLY?!? They had ridden up the mining road and then carried their bikes the rest of the way. A pack was enough to carry on my back. So the forecast had called for significant lightning somewhere in Colorado after 2pm. We were at the summit of Mt. Lincoln, 14,286′, around 11am with three down and one to go plus the descent. Armed with this information, already being pelted with snow and knowing I’m a slow downhiller, I kept glancing over my right shoulder. Dark clouds and showers blanketed the distant ranges. “Let’s mosey,” I suggested after I tugged on my windbreaker, and we turned back toward Mt. Cameron and then veered to the left to follow the trail to Mt. Bross, 14,172′, and named for a miner.

The trail followed flatly across the side of the mountain as it offered more amazing scenery including an incredible view of Mt. Democrat. About a half mile from the summit, the trail split. The trail to the left expanded to a road which led to the summit, while the trail to the right circled around Mt. Bross’ peak to the descent. According to the posted signs, the Mt. Bross summit was closed to climbers as it is private property. I had recently seen on news coverage, however, that the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative had worked out an agreement with the owners to allow climbers access to the summit. I don’t know which information was correct, but it didn’t seem to stop dune buggy type vehicles from driving up the road. It was a shock to see power vehicles on a fourteener as well. This hike was certainly not short of surprises. I have to admit, the road was an easy walk to a wind-laden, flat summit on which we spent about one dull minute. While it was an anti-climatic final peak, the descent back to Kite Lake’s grassy meadow and lovely waterfall was far from boring.

The trail drops 1,500 feet over seven tenths of a mile of extremely loose rock. At times, the descent was so steep, I ditched my hiking poles and sat on my bottom to slide down. So much for my new hiking pants that now have a tear in the rear pocket! I guess I should be thankful I wore pants, as I used to always wear shorts. In one spot, I also has a small panic attack, but this was because I’m not too fond of ledges, I knew the tread on my shoes was worn out, and I felt like I’d slide right off the mountain if I mis-stepped. My friend had mentioned the descent was steep. She wasn’t kidding. For my own edification, upon return home I visited the 14ers website to see the rating and description of the combined trail. The combination ranked a class 2 and the descent didn’t earn much of a warning. In addition, these are some of the easiest fourteeners. I’m not sure I’m cut out to complete all 54, but I hope to get a few more under my belt over time. I’ve crossed ten off the list since I climbed my first fourteener last July. This hike ranks near the top of my list. I’m thankful I got to join Tanya and her son’s scout troop. It was nice of the fast hikers to accept me as the straggler of the four peakers as the other half set out to conquer the first peak and then go fishing. What a great day! ETB

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The Rockies: Two 14,000′ Summits…One Day…Grays Peak and Torreys Peak

August 10, 2013

Justin, Kristin, and I decided to tackle Grays Peak and Torreys Peak today.  The two fourteeners are about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Denver in the Front Range near Bakerville.  Due to the close proximity to Denver, and the fact they rank as some of the easiest fourteeners to climb in Colorado, they are popular peaks to climb.  We left the city by 6:30am with hopes to reach the parking lot beneath the peaks just before 8am.  The last 3 miles of the drive, however, are up are a very rough road.  A few of the drivers in front of us were rather challenged, despite their high clearance vehicle.  We made it quite a ways up the road before we found several cars parked along the side.  As I mentioned, they are popular peaks, and the parking lot was full.  We were forced to add some extra mileage to the 8.25 miles it takes to summit both peaks.

After walking up the road for a half mile or so, we passed through the packed parking lot and crossed a large bridge that spanned Stevens Gulch to follow the trail toward Grays Peak.  The trail was well defined, almost as wide a road, and led us through a green valley surrounded by peaks on both sides.  Bushes and wildflowers immediately lined the trail, a rare tree stood by the creek to the left, and remnants of old mines could be seen in the base of the mountains.

The trail slowly rose with steps of rocks made for giants.  I felt sorry for anyone shorter than me with short legs.  It was an effort at times to step over those boulders, and we were only at 11,300 feet!

As the trail climbed, and we walked beneath the cloudless sky, we quickly shed our layers.  I was just in my T-shirt and shorts, though it wasn’t long after I removed my windbreaker that we rounded the bend, and we found ourselves walking directly into the wind.  At least the sun was out!

At around 12,000 feet, we could hear the chirps of the pikas.  Judging from the sounds, they were everywhere, hiding out in the boulder fields, but they are very hard to spot.  After stopping for a second to take in the view of both peaks, we saw a few scampering about.

Here, the path started gaining altitude as it switched back and forth across the mountain.  We also seemed to switch places with hikers frequently as we stopped and started taking a slow pace up the slope, including adding back our layer as the wind was relentless.  As usual, with the summit in sight, I tend to speed up my pace, though I never go as fast as I want.  My mind focuses on getting there and my legs move like they are dragging lead weights, but they aren’t particularly tired.  It never ceases to amaze me how the lack of oxygen affects the body.  I consciously watch my legs hardly moving while I long to reach the summit so I can sit down and eat my sandwich…my stomach will be thanking me!

Reaching the peak of Grays, gaining 3,000 feet over 3.5 miles, was definitely the easiest of the three fourteeners I have climbed so far.  It didn’t require any bouldering, though I did tire of the rocky trail.  It was rare to walk on the trail without having to lift a foot over a protruding piece of something hard or taking care for loose scree.

We reached the summit just in time for a large cloud to block the sun.  The cloud, coupled with the wind, made the top of this 14,270′ peak freezing!!  We took the token pictures, with and without the sign we found on the summit, and then hunkered down in a man-made shelter of some rocks to get relief from the wind and eat our lunch. I added two more layers, a ski sweater and paddle jacket along with a wool hat, and within about 10 minutes I was shaking.  It was time to hike again!

Frozen, we began our descent down the rocky ridge toward Torreys.  Normally I use my hiking poles to descend, but I had forgotten my gloves, and my hands were so cold that I had them tucked inside my sleeves and under my armpits to thaw them out!  It took the 575 foot descent to the saddle to get out of the wind to finally warm up.

Now we just had to tackle the climb up.  It looked daunting.  The incline to the summit of Torreys looked steeper than that of Grays and the switchbacks looked much shorter…hmmm!  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad, though for a moment when I spotted a bird gliding in the sky, I thought it would be nice to be a bird right now.  I think we were all happy that the switchbacks, while more straight up, were shorter.  We felt like we got there faster.  We summitted Torreys Peak, 14,267 feet, just before noon!  Just as with Grays, with took a few photos and took in the beautiful 360 degree views of surrounding peaks, valleys, and alpine lakes.  Amazingly, the climb to Torreys Peak and the summit was wind free.

I’m glad we decided to summit the second peak.  This was my first time to climb two fourteeners in one day.  The combined route was ranked a class 2. Climbing purists would not count the second peak as we didn’t ascend 3,000 feet to Torreys, only to Grays. But I’m counting it, as I don’t think I will be going back, especially if I have to self inflict a migraine for each fourteener I climb.  I may as well get two fourteeners for the price of one headache!

I was pleasantly surprised by this climb.  I had been told these two peaks were ugly for Colorado fourteeners, perhaps because the trail starts above the treeline.  I thought the hike was quite pretty.  Maybe the trail was pretty due to all the rain we’ve been getting that seemed to still be trickling down the path.  The slopes were green. The wildflowers (some I’d never seen) were still out in August.  In addition, I felt almost like I was in a volcanic crater surrounded by beauty.

Another fascinating part to our hike was the fact one cloud seemed to hover over us for about fifteen minutes on our trek down, and it dropped a mix of snow and sleet on us.  The mix was very light and short-lived and the temperature was hardly cold.  In fact, I had stripped back down to just my T-shirt and windbreaker and ultimately to my T-shirt at the end of the hike, but I’ve never been snowed on in August.

While the ascent, including our walk on the road and lunch took us about four hours, our descent took us a little over 2 hours, partly because I had to stop and take some pictures of some wildflowers.  Overall, it was another great day in the mountains and maybe my last two fourteeners of the summer.  I’ll have to wait until next year…until then, back to regular hikes, which provide other amazing beauty!