The Colorado Trail: Segments 26-28…The END!!!

We started our hike around 3pm today, a little later than normal, but most of the group had to drive from Denver to Durango and then up Bolam Pass Road to the start of Segment 26.  Bolam Pass Road required a high clearance vehicle and those of us who sat on the right-hand side of the SUV “leaned left” as the drop off on the right was a little disconcerting those who fear ledges. Continue reading “The Colorado Trail: Segments 26-28…The END!!!”

The Colorado Trail: Segments 18-20

Day 1: Segment 18 Mile 0-12.4

I think we may have backpacked the easiest segment of the Colorado Trail yet (segment 18). We finished over 12 miles in about five hours and with the exception of one steep climb, it was mostly a stroll with many stops for pictures, snacks and adjustments.

Our trip began Thursday night with a road trip from Denver to Saguache where got a hotel room with three double beds for $120…not bad. The room was peppered with signs. My favorite was, “Hold toilet handle down until all material passes through. Then lift handle up. Thank you.” Continue reading “The Colorado Trail: Segments 18-20”

Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail

Day 1 – Segment 11 (Miles 0-2.1)

Tonight I started my first solo backpacking trip. I did a practice run with some of my new stuff and the help of David the prior weekend at Conundrum Hot Springs. I felt good about everything except for the possibility of getting lost and hanging my food bag in a tree and away from bears.

The trail is well marked in these sections, and it is also well traveled, so getting lost likely wouldn’t have been an issue, but it always feels better to know there are backups in place. David gave me a short lesson on his GPS, and I had the Colorado Trail app on my phone with a battery that required regular charging. I decided to purchase an Ursack to protect my food, so I was good to go, as I had already arranged a shuttle to the trailhead.


Aspen and Conundrum Hot Springs

For David’s birthday weekend, we visited Aspen and backpacked to Conundrum Hot Springs. I left earlier than he did so I could wander the streets of the quaint mountain town. I took the longer scenic drive from Denver which took me over Independence Pass. I made my first stop here. I parked the car in the lot at the pass and followed a trail to the edge to view the lovely surrounding mountains. The cool breeze sent me back to the car relatively quickly where I continued on to Aspen.

I stopped at a sandwich shop, Grateful Deli, for lunch. I thought I might be able to find something for a reasonable price. The meal deal which included a turkey sandwich, chips and a drink was $13…Ha! That sounds about right for Aspen. The shops were nice as well, Van Cleef and Arpel, Ralph Lauren, Rag and Bone among other fancy retailers.

David and I got a great hotel for the night. Hotel Durant was a few blocks from downtown and the ski mountain…easy walking distance to both. The room was spacious with a nice view. We were able to squeeze into the bar after a short wait for a nice dinner at Wild Fig. From there we tried out the brewery before turning in for the evening.


Conundrum Hot Springs is a popular destination. The hike in from the parking lot is about 8.5 miles. We slept in until 7:30 and grabbed a quick free breakfast at the hotel before we made our way toward the trailhead. We knew with our late start, the parking would likely be a challenge. Of course the small lot was full, so we dumped our packs by the start and then drove a mile back to the main road where we parked on the shoulder.

So our day started by adding a mile to our hike. At least it was without a backpack. The next 8.5 miles led us mostly uphill over a rocky path. We passed through beautiful aspen groves, intermittent forests, and fields of wildflowers beneath a sunny sky. Fortunately, there was a light breeze that kept us cool in the unseasonably warm weather.

The wildflowers were nice though the dry, warm weather seemed to take a toll on them just as the biting flies took a toll on us. I’m not sure why I felt like this hike was so hard. It was my first time to carry a full backpack for the season, and it was steep in places, but it didn’t seem like I should have been struggling so much.

I will say I didn’t find walking across a boulder field or balancing on a log in the beaver pond to be too exciting. The variety on the trail, however, did provide nice changes of scenery which was quite enjoyable. About half a mile from the hot springs, we set up camp around several others. This area is so popular privacy is tough to come by and campfires aren’t allowed.

We hiked the rest of the way carrying a small day pack which included our swim suits, towel, sunscreen, off and the like. There were two hot springs, one larger than the other. Ten or so people sat in one that was a touch warmer than the smaller one which fit 4-6 people comfortably. Both springs were very muddy.


David could have sat there all day. I, on the other hand, tried to sit there for a whole hour. Once I had shriveled up, I was ready to go. Actually, probably before that, but it was his birthday! We hiked back down to camp to cook dinner and have a nap. He mentioned he might head back up there in the morning. The morning came around 2am for him. He hiked up in the dark and sat in the pool with a few others who didn’t bring a tent so they just slept in the springs! He stayed until the sun came up and then some!

Once 7am rolled around, I figured I should check to see if he was alive. I hiked up to the springs and probably ruined his fun when I reminded him we had to cook breakfast, pack up, hike down, and drive four hours home. Though I think he enjoyed a night under the stars.

The hike down wasn’t too bad though with all our ailments between the two of us, we realized our backpacking days might be replaced with easier activities in the next five years. Upon reaching the parking lot, we wished we didn’t have to walk the extra mile to our car. Fortunately, a couple of guys picked us up.

After treating ourselves to a deserving lunch at the White House Tavern, we took a slight detour to Glenwood Springs before heading back to Denver. I wanted to see the historic Colorado Hotel where my mom used to stay as a kid. It is neat. I will have to stay there one day. Of course, the metering at the Eisenhower tunnel was in force, so the drive home took a while, but it was a nice getaway to the mountains. Aspen is a beautiful place! ETB


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Our Last Day in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

At 3:30 am, the stars twinkled overhead. We dressed in pants and long sleeves and packed our jackets, hats, gloves, and snacks up to Torres del Paine under of the guidance of our headlamps along with a trail of lights from other campers. The ranger suggested we arrive by 4:45am to see the sunrise. I think we got there sooner.

Once again, we climbed up the rocky hillside for a perfect view only we weren’t sure exactly where the sun would rise. We broke a sweat as we ascended and piled on extra layers of clothes. It’s amazing how warm both our sleeping bag and the sun is, as the darkness in Patagonia is cold! I put on all my clothes and had to dance around occasionally to keep my feet and hands from going numb.

The thin wisps of clouds behind the torres turned pink around 5 am. I think we may have waited an additional 1.5 hours to see the sun light up all the torres on the diagonal. It was breath taking to watch the grey granite torres turn more and more orange with every minute as the color moved down the rocks. As we waited we saw an avalanche. The morning couldn’t have been any better! It was spectacular to end 2015 and begin 2016 at the Torres del Paine…and with perfect weather to boot!

Photos every 15 minutes starting at 5am. Watch the light change!:

IMG_7977 sunrise 1

IMG_8034 sunrise 5

Other photos from New Year’s morning:

With our legs on the tired side, we strolled down to camp, heated some water for oatmeal and coffee, and packed up our gear. I read it took 3.5 to 4 hours to get down to the hotel for the shuttle ride. We had tickets for the 2:30 Bus Gomez who really has their act together. We had to get the 2 pm shuttle from the hotel to Laguna Amarga for 2,800 pesos and wanted enough time to eat lunch by the hotel that is $500/night and requires a two night minimum stay. As such, we hiked down at a slow pace around 8:45am. I think it only took us 2.5 hours so we chilled out with some other campers while we waited for our transportation. One girl quipped, “This is going to be a stinky bus ride.” No doubt!

The shuttles ran at 9, 2, 4, 7:30, according to the chalk board at the ranch style hotel, but one came early around 1, so we hopped on and paid our fare. Sadly, we both fell asleep on the slow, 20 minute bus ride to the administration office where we waited in the shade of a shelter with several others for our 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. We learned to dress according to the weather for the bus rides as A/C and heat were lacking. In shorts and T-shirts, we were hot!

From the bus station, we meandered through the quiet town as most everything was closed for New Year’s Day to Kau Lodge. This time at least we got twin beds that weren’t bunk beds. With nothing clean to wear, the shower became our washer and later in the evening we celebrated New Year’s dinner at Afrigonia which received spectacular reviews on Trip Advisor. I suppose we should have stuck with the regular menu as the king crab special was expensive, over cooked, and somewhat flavorless, especially with out warm butter. Having said that, with as much crab as I have shelled and eaten in my lifetime, I’ve never had a giant king crab placed in front of me. It was a fun experience, and David liked the curried shrimp and scallops he ordered. Not being a curry fan, I skipped that.

The coffee shop at our hotel has happy hour and makes tangerine sours. Apparently happy hour wasn’t over even though it was 9pm, so we ended the night with a sour and dessert. I think I passed out before 10, but who knows. We were up before 6 getting breakfast and a taxi to the bus station for the 7:15 am Bus Fernandez to Punta Arenas. This may have been the nicest bus with assigned seats, a bathroom, and temperature controlled.

We enjoyed our last view of the countryside…wind blown trees, lamb, guanacos, bus stops in the middle of nowhere, flowers that looked like blue bonnets, estancias and more. Three hours later we arrived at the airport, very early for our flight, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The airport was small, but nice with two restaurants and three shops or so. The cash machine was out of order, so glad we didn’t need any money! We were trying to get rid of the rest of ours, and I have to say the restaurant upstairs was really good! I got a chicken sandwich that had about two avocados of guacamole…not the thin spread that barely covers the bread that restaurants in the States serve! We had an awesome trip, though I’m looking forward to home. ETB

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Valle del Francés in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

We arose early today. It’s not hard to do given it’s light at 5am. The moon lit the sky over the towers briefly before the clouds blew in. We packed up our camp and sat for the traditional South American camping breakfast. Toast, cheese, ham, oats, yogurt and surprisingly eggs that didn’t look like grits (yesterday was the first time we were served eggs for breakfast, but their texture was strange).

We turned in our lunch tickets for a to go box and stuffed it in our pack before we headed toward Campamento Italiano and the Valle del Francés. The wind gusted violently this morning. I was thankful to be following somewhat flat terrain through tall grass and low bushes by the lake so I could keep my balance. Soon we entered a stand of dead trees. It is amazing how well leafless trees block the wind. We turned from cold to hot as the morning sun gleamed on the white trunks. Eventually the dead trees turned to live ones, and we were in and out of stunted forest.

The path was muddy from the many waterfalls that spilled down the walls to our left into the lake on our right. Many of the boardwalks and bridges were in complete disrepair and may have been the only run down thing we’ve seen at the park thus far. Some of them looked rather dangerous. I was careful to walk on the boards with supports beams, and looked for ones that might pop up from being loose. Sometimes I just followed along the side in the mud.

After we made it around the lake and up and over the ridge, we walked through the prettiest forest yet with large trees and soon arrived at a rickety, suspension bridge over an aqua river with a fantastic view of Francés Glacier. This bridge led us to Campamento Italiano which is free and operated by the park. We filled out a form and provided our reservation tickets to the ranger before we seeked a campsite. We didn’t look long because we wanted to climb up to Británico whose trailhead begins at the camp. We found a flat spot not too far from all the amenities (a kitchen and bathrooms which were 80 yards away). Had we scouted at all, we could have found a quieter spot along the river.

We set up our tent quickly, packed up our day packs and followed the trail up the Valle del Francés. Signs pointed us in the direction of Británico. Our walk took us through the campground in the woods and then along a scree path. The gentle sloping path turned steep as we exited the forest to the rocks where we enjoyed a nice view of Francés while eating part of our lunch. We were still at the bottom of the trail, and I was feeling antsy as I wanted to reach the top during the nice weather given it is so unpredictable. Though during our short stop, we did spot another ice calving.

The path, peppered with location signs, crossed countless waterfalls. At times when the trail leveled out, it turned into a small stream. We trounced through the water, climbed over boulders, and wandered through more forest until we stopped again at Francés lookout. Several people had stopped here for lunch as it provided a close up view of the glacier. We didn’t stay long, but kept going toward Británico lookout. We passed through an open space with dead trees, more forest, and more rocky steep areas before we finally reached our resting point surrounded by granite towers and walls a few hours later. What a magnificent panoramic view!

Lucky for us, while slightly breezy, the usually windy lookout point was rather pleasant. We hung out with a handful of hikers for a few hours as we watched the clouds shift. Each set of peaks and walls, once wrapped in clouds soon protruded into blue sky. We sure have been fortunate with the weather! Come late afternoon, we ran out of snacks so we meandered slowly back to camp. Hearing several thunderous booms in the warming day, we decided to make one more stop at the glacier and wait to see ice calve. On the way up, we saw a few poofs of snow. At our final stop, we basically saw a waterfall of ice tumble down the rocks. With that, we finished our descent. After a ten mile day, we chopped up cheese and sausage and complemented it with dried fruit and walnuts for dinner. We were asleep by 9:15! The only disappointment is neither our pictures nor my description can do this place justice. It is so beautiful! ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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Engaged on Segment 8 of the Colorado Trail! Also Backpacked Segments 9 and 10…

David and I set out to hike segments 8-10 of the Colorado Trail (the “CT”) from Copper to Leadville over five days which averaged just under eleven miles a day after including our side hike to the fish hatchery. On the sixth day, we tackled Mount Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado. It was an eventful trip! Continue reading “Engaged on Segment 8 of the Colorado Trail! Also Backpacked Segments 9 and 10…”

Backpacking Through the Lost Creek Wilderness

We arrived at the Goose Creek Trailhead around 11:30 after a long winding drive along a well maintained dirt road. We were surprised to find so many cars in the parking lot as upon calling the ranger station it sounded like some of the trail conditions would be challenging with high creeks, mud, and snow. We took that sign as a glimmer of hope we could make it across the ridge between Bison Peak and McCurdy Mountain, both above 12,000 feet.

After chatting with a few fellow backpackers, we set out on Goose Creek Trail, and immediately found a group of six backpackers that had just finished the loop along Brookside-McCurdy Trail and Hankins Pass Trail. The young college-aged group said they used snowshoes for about half-a-day, but thought most of the snow would be gone by now as they passed through the area a few days ago. They also said they were able to cross the creek on a submerged log with a line tied across the creek. Things sounded somewhat promising given Colorado’s crazy spring weather.

With our late start, we planned to hike around 5-7 miles. The trail took us along side the raging creek that looked more like a river of brown rapids that in places left its banks and watered down the trail. We walked through the shade of conifers before we began climbing the granite path. Soon we reached a volunteer group who was attempting to improve the water damaged trail as large rock outcroppings and snow-capped mountains came into view.

We took our first break a few miles into the trail, as my fellow flat-landers weren’t quite used to the altitude at roughly 8,000 feet. I certainly had an unfair advantage. In intermittent showers that stayed around just long enough for us pull out our rain gear only to strip it off minutes later, we followed the undulating trail to a junction, where we could detour to see historic buildings and mining equipment. The girls weren’t interested in “old stuff” and I doubt if I was at that time, so they chilled out at this four-mile stop while David and I went for a short exploration after leaving our packs with Heather and Jaz.

The buildings, constructed for employee housing in the early 1900’s by The Antero and Lost Park Reservoir Company when the company attempted to build a reservoir by damming Lost Creek were just a short distance from the trail junction. A quarter mile down the path was some rusted machinery. Of course, upon leaving our packs, storms threatened again with dark clouds rolling in, thunder, and a few rain drops falling, thus our visit to the historic sites were quick.

We continued, this time following the steep path up and down over a few ridges before we finally settled on a campground located between the trail and the creek. Our dehydrated camping meals couldn’t come fast enough after setting up our tents. David, the master chef, boiled our water for our nourishing meals.

With nightfall, the air cooled and the stars shined magnificently in the sky. The big dipper twinkled right above us. I feared I would freeze, and I can’t think of a time I haven’t while camping, but David brought a two person bag that goes down to ten degrees. Admittedly, I sweat all night long, but I am not complaining because as soon as I sat outside the next morning eating my oatmeal, I was already cold.


With frozen toes and fingers, we set out on our next days hike around 8 am. We started with trouncing through some muddy terrain. Soon we crossed the creek and began climbing. It didn’t take long to strip out of our “winter” clothes. The trail led us through open views, neat rock formations, a couple gorgeous aspen groves and past some sparse wildflowers. Each hiker and camper we met this morning had turned back from the creek crossing. Some had found the submerged log and thin line, but felt it was too difficult to pass. Others never found this spot. And others had heard one guy fell in while trying to cross…hmmm.

We met a couple who had hiked the loop numerous times, and they said they had never seen the creek so high. They tested the log and decided it wasn’t worth the consequences should something go awry. In their description, we learned of some nice campgrounds, so we forged forward, temporarily claimed a campsite as we left our packs with the girls, and went to scout the crossing. Just as we arrived, we met a couple that made it across the eight-inch wide log that was slightly submerged in water. They claimed the log moved slightly, but it was passable. We felt encouraged, and with it only being around one pm, we decided to plow ahead so we could tackled the next five uphill miles faced us on the way to McCurdy Park.


As he held onto the line, David stood on the log first. It bent and sunk significantly under the weight of he and his pack while his arms moved back and forth with the flimsy line. Though he made it across and back. The way he made it was enough of a sight for me to chicken out and say “no way”! Grabbing hold of the line required us to lean upstream. If we fell forward, we could have easily gotten trapped against the log in the water which was at least five feet deep. If we leaned back, chances were we would land on a submerged boulder. Finally, the log really wasn’t connected to the other side. It was being pushed up against the willows by the force of the water. Fortunately, the girls sided with me, so I didn’t have to be the spoiler. We each stood on the log without our packs, and didn’t feel safe, so we opted out and returned to a shaded camp for an early day.

We had only hiked six miles today, so we chose to hike out twelve miles tomorrow and spend a few days at our cabin in Estabrook. We didn’t feel too disappointed as we probably could have brought a little more food too. While we had enough for every meal plus snacks, Jaz and I have high metabolisms, and I think we would have wanted larger portions by the end of five days on the trail.

Since we were packing out the same way we came in, the girls wanted to do a “solo”. They were packed up and ready to go by 6 am. After we cooked oatmeal for breakfast, the girls headed out. We made plans to meet up at our old campground six miles down the trail. The girls got an hour head-start before we got the camp cleaned up and enjoyed some Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee (better than Via and regular brew)!

The girls took their time, and we moved quickly in order play a little catch up. At our morning lunch spot, we gave them some food, a lighter and compass just in case they got lost, though it seemed unlikely. Since they didn’t have much of a head-start, David and I strolled along the trail taking photos, restroom breaks, and filtering a bit more water. Other hikers had seen the girls along the way, so all was going as planned until the trail that the volunteer group was working on was closed and re-routed. When we arrived at the car, the girls weren’t there!

We had discussed the Hankins Pass/Goose Creek Trail junction located at the end of the trail and thought perhaps the girls continued. It was 1:30. I told David to go down the Hankins Pass Trail for 1 hour and then turn around to be back by 3:30, as without a pack on, he would have caught them. In the meantime, I waited at the trail junction in case we somehow missed them. At around 2pm, the couple that crossed the log yesterday finished their hike. They hadn’t seen the girls, but about fifteen minutes later the girls, hot and sweaty, showed up. What a relief! The trail closing confused them as the trail they were on didn’t seem familiar so they turned around to find us, but somehow ended up on a different fork, and we missed each other. After some mis-direction from some guys down by the creek, they eventually found their way safely after crossing a log twice.

DSCN6551 log

I told the girls to wait at the trail junction, which they happily did, while I went to get David. I felt like he would feel much better the sooner he knew his girls were OK. The Hankins Pass Trail with several creek crossings was significantly different than Goose Creek Trail. He kept going to try to find another hiker on the trail just to confirm no one had seen them as the trail was so different they would have known they had gone too far. After an hour, as we discussed he turned around, I caught up to him and we were back to the trailhead to meet the girls before 3:30 pm. Needless to say, the final hour put a slight damper on our three day camping trip.

But we made up for it at Estabrook. Upon arrival Jennifer and John had a “kitchen sink” salad ready for us. Fresh vegetables hit the spot after multiple days of dehydrated food. The salad included two cheeses, broccoli, avocado, two types of tomatoes, apples, dried cranberries, seeds and more. I think we all had two or three servings!

The next day, we took the classic Estabrook hike to the Bear’s Cave and the hanging bridge. Craig Creek was out of its banks and soaking the trail in a few locations, but we made it to some of my favorite spots in the whole world. After lunch in town and quick stop at the Knotty Pine for some clean T-shirts, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon playing Settlers of Catan. When the evening arrived, it was time to celebrate Heather’s 16th birthday. Car keys, a watch, and tickets to the Violent Femmes and Barenaked Ladies playing at Red Rocks the following night complemented amazing s’mores and charades for a fun celebration. We bought jumbo marshmallows and Jaz had the BRILLIANT idea to stick the chocolate in the marshmAllow and then roast it. YUM!! Jaz even roasted marshmallows on the woodstove after breakfast the next day!

We capped off Heather’s birthday at Red Rocks the following day. One of her favorite bands is Violent Femmes, and one of my favorite bands is Barenaked Ladies. And of course, watching live music at Red Rocks is epic. Even the bands get excited about playing at the venue. We had a fun five days before hanging out in Denver for the rest of the week. 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, 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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photographic note card, log cabin
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