I recently tackled my fourth fourteener of the summer, or should I say the first of the fall, upon summitting Mount Princeton with my friend Cat and Tanya. We selected Mount Princeton to celebrate Tanya’s final summit in the Sawatch range.HAPPY HIKING!
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.HAPPY HIKING!
We had such a fun weekend! We drove down to Cañon City beneath ominous clouds. Fortunately for us, we missed almost all the rain. Based on TripAdvisor and the menu, we picked 8 Mile Bar & Grill for dinner. Little did we know, the restaurant is located nearly across the street from the turn off to the Royal Gorge. Colorful flags flew around the perimeter…it screamed tourist trap in our minds. Surprisingly, we were all happy with our food! We wanted a little more “town” atmosphere, so we stopped off at the Royal Gorge Brewing Company before calling it the night.
Due to weather (both wind and heat), hot air balloons have to launch at sunrise. The launch at the Cañon City Balloon Festival was scheduled for 6am. Sixteen balloon teams were expected to make an appearance. We arrived at 5:45am so we could set up our chairs to watch. None of the balloon teams were preparing to launch. Only one balloon was stretched out on the lawn. Everyone else kept their balloons in their trailers. Apparently there was a weather hold as the wind was too strong. While the wind usually increases as the day goes on, the forecast called for it to die down.
After an hour delay or so, balloon teams started blowing up their balloons. I learned from the Albuqurque Balloon Festival a few years ago that ballooners don’t mind spectators getting close, so David and I walked up close to a team from Lewisville, Texas so I could snap some photos. Much to my surprise, the balloon pilot turned to David and asked, “Will you help us? Put down your coffee.” This was David’s dream come true! With a wide grin, he jumped in and held on to the unruly balloon. He helped keep it still in the wind while the crew blew propane in the balloon.
Eventually, we helped turn the basket and rig upright. The balloon was ready to launch, however, all teams decided it wasn’t safe, so we only got to see the balloons get blown up. Normally, I would have considered not seeing the hot air balloons launch a bust, but we ended up getting to spend a ton of time with the balloon team and learn so much about ballooning. Our balloon pilot even got interviewed by the news while we were holding the balloon down, so I supposed we were on the news!
The Sky Gypsies, the team we talked to, have ballooned all over the world. Generally, balloon flights last about an hour though can last a little over two. The distance traveled depends on the weather, the size of the balloon, and the amount of propane being carried. Just the balloon portion of a rig’s starting cost is $18,000 used. The entire rig used starts at $32,000. Not a cheap sport! The pilots are subject to FAA regulations too. It was very interesting.
After a few hours at the balloon festival, we moved on to the Royal Gorge. We got so lucky. We arrived at the Cañon City Royal Gorge Park around 9:45am. Since the rides didn’t open until 10am, we got tickets into the park for a reduced entrance fee. We wandered across the bridge, snapped photos, and watched the train and rafters go by on the river below.
Upon reaching the other side, we went directly to the Skycoaster, one of those swings sometimes found at amusement parks. We filled out the waivers, put on our suits and took turns on the ride. The girls went first. We could have gone outside and taken their pictures, but the employees said we’d have to take off our suits, retrieve our belongings, go outside, and then come back. Without a line, we should have done this. What a joke. We stood right outside anyway in our suits, but didn’t have our cameras since we weren’t allowed to have anything in our pockets. It was a great way for them to get an extra $35 in addition to the discounted price of $25/person for the ride since there were four of us!
Check out the video:
The girls had a ball. We were up next. Nervous, we climbed up the stairs and positioned ourselves to be clipped in. The higher we were pulled up to the tall post, the more anxious we got. I was happy that the staff told us to lock arms and not let go for the first pass. David was in charge of the ripcord. He had to pull it on the count of three. To his credit, he did! The initial drop was breathtaking. Passing through the middle was fun. Ending up high on the other side for a moment felt like we weren’t attached to anything…that was scary. Since we were quite different in weight, we got to spin a lot more than the girls. With each swing, it was more fun and less scary, so we could let go. David wasn’t too keen on doing that.
Check out the video:
After the swing, we moved on to the zipline that ran across the gorge. Here, we found out there was a combo ticket. The staff at the swing didn’t tell us this, so the guys at the zipline were nice enough to only charge us for two tickets. We just didn’t get to take home four souvenir tickets which we didn’t need. The zipline was fun because we got to look down into the gorge. It wasn’t as much of an adrenaline rush as the swing though. Having said that, any zipline I have ever done didn’t seem like a big adrenaline rush to me. This zipline was a little different. We sat in a flexible seat as opposed to wearing a climbing harness.
Check out the videos:
Both rides were worth it. Kids under 18 needed an adult to go and everyone had to weigh over 100 pounds. We fit the criteria. The park was so different from the last time I visited about thirty years ago. There wasn’t a zipline or a sky coaster. I didn’t think there was an aerial tram back in the eighties either, but according to wikipedia there was. Much of the park was redone after a wildfire destroyed many buildings and lines across the gorge. The bridge, however, wasn’t badly damaged. The suspension bridge, originally constructed in 1929 for $250,000, stands 1,053 feet above the gorge. Up until 2003, the bridge was the highest suspension bridge in the world. It has since been surpassed by many bridges in China.
After a surprisingly good lunch at the restaurant in the park, we drove to Buena Vista to check out the paddle fest. We watched kayakers do flips in the rapids for points. It was pretty amazing! I think we finished all of this by 3pm. At such time, we followed the dirt road named Colorado through tunnels to find a campsite. Most of the campsites by the river were taken, but we found a quiet road that turned into a meadow and enjoyed a secluded campsite with several deer and a rabbit hole. When we woke up, someone had camped ten feet away from us despite having countless choices on the road. Funny how that works!
It didn’t matter. We packed up and headed to the river for a day of rafting Brown’s Canyon. We shuttled the cars between Fisherman’s Bridge and Stone Bridge for our “put in” and “take out”. These are public access points, though it seemed like commercial outfits used them most. If we were to put in again, we would maybe go to Ruby Mountain Campground. Regardless, we set ourselves up for 13 river miles of class II and class III rapids. The river level at 1,000 cfs was perfect for our 14 foot boat. Any lower, we may have been dragging bottom. Any higher, we might have needed a few more people in the boat to paddle!
David set his raft up as an oar rig as opposed to a paddle boat. I didn’t really understand the difference until we started paddling. Fortunately we started out on smoother water and class II rapids, as with an oar rig, he goes backwards more often than forward. Heather and I hadn’t experienced this in our paddle raft adventures, so it took us a while to adjust. The first 5.5 miles or so of our jaunt was quite simple. We decided we’d pull off for a light lunch. Fortunately, we did. We clued in that the next six miles would be full of bigger water when we watched kayakers go scout the rapids.
From the map we reviewed prior to setting out, we knew there would be about six rapids in a row. We hit all the rapids smoothly except one which was a bit of a mess, but we made it out unscathed. The narrowest, hardest rapid, we navigated like champs with the exception of Heather get thrown from the bow to the middle of the raft when we hit the big hole. Once the rapids died down, Jaz took the helm! Toward the end of our run, we started looking for our take out. The stone bridge that crossed the river was a good clue since we were taking out at “Stone Bridge”. About ten minutes before we were taking out, we were enjoying a relaxed float when we hit a small bump, and Heather fell in. It was smooth shallow water, so she was safe but very cold!
We got off the river by 2pm after a 4 hour float in mostly sunny weather. The dark clouds and wind came soon after we loaded up! It was a perfect weekend of activities with Monday being a rest and study day for school finals. ETB
Check out the photographic note cards and key chains at my shop. Each card has a travel story associated with it. 20% of proceeds are donated to charity.