Humboldt Peak, 2018

  • Date: October 6, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,064 feet
  • Range: Sangre de Cristo
  • Route: West Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 11.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,200 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 28 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 25
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: The road to the South Colony Lakes trailhead is a 2.5 miles goat path strewn with boulders, ditches, and pipes.  My buddy Matt had to get out of the car several times to line out a path for my Jeep Cherokee.  A few times, I bottomed out.  You’d be taking a big risk if you took a 2WD on here.

With fall in the air, my climbing partner Matt and I decided to tempt fate and sneak in one last “summer” 14er trip and try to beat the snow in the high country.  At this point of the season, the options become a little bit more limited, so we choose the southern Colorado 14er known as Humboldt Peak.

We left Denver at 5:00 AM for the 3-hour drive down past Westcliffe.  The skies were overcast and there was a low cloud ceiling … frankly, a little bit dreary.  Once we got to the national forest, it was a slow, slow slog of a drive up to the trailhead and it wasn’t until 9:00 AM that we set off on the trail.

The first 2.5 miles of the trail was actually an easy, ascending, closed forest road.  By the time we finished this section, the clouds had lifted and the sun was now shining.  The temperature was crisp and somewhere in the 40s.  At South Colony Lakes, the closed road now officially became a trail and headed north into a wooded valley.  Crestone Needle came into full view and the trail ran along the lakes for a little while before reaching the west ridge of the mountain.

Once at the ridge, there was a lengthy climb up onto the saddle on a section of nicely constructed trail.  On top of the saddle, we saw we had about another 1.5 miles (?) to go to ascend the west summit ridge.  Unfortunately, the wind was now seriously picking up.

The trail was not well defined and it seemed like we were doing more route finding and Class 3 stuff than what we had believed going into the climb.  If you are reading this and decide to try this climb, stay to the right, not the left, as you ascend the ridge.

After about 30 minutes, Matt and I managed to get separated in the boulders.  I came across two other climbers hunkered down in the rocks to get out of the wind.  When I asked them if they had seen Matt, they pointed for me to veer to the right.  I veered to the right and crested out on a false summit.  Now the wind was a steady 30 mph gale and, with the wind chill, the temperature was in the teens.  I saw no sign of Matt so I continued across a brief, flat plateau, down-climbed to get around some rock pillars, and then scrambled up onto a small rise to a breastwork marking the summit.

By now, I was shivering and cold and sat down behind the rock wall.  I took a few pictures and Matt came up in a few minutes to join me — he had been sucked into some nasty terrain on the northern side of the west ridge.  I pulled out the last remaining outer garment I had, my Patagonia Micro Puff, and put it on.  There was no big summit celebration; we knew we had to keep moving to stay warm.

On the way out, we blundered onto a much nicer defined trail on the spine of the west ridge.  Clearly, this was the “official route”.  Hence, we were down to the saddle relatively quickly compared to the ascent.  From here, it was a matter of a simple descent off the saddle, walking back down the trail to the road, and a leisurely hike back to the car.  Now being out of the wind and warmer, it was a very nice way to wrap things up.

In the words of Matt, Humboldt Peak put up a bit of a fight this day 🙂  I’ll give it a 5 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty with the understanding that this was more a function of the big winds and cold temperature.  Not surprisingly, we did not see big crowds here due to the location of this mountain range and the time of year.  The Sangre de Cristo mountain range has become my favorite mountain climbing spot in Colorado so far.

 

Halfway There; Missouri Mountain, 2018

  • Date: September 30, 2018
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,067 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: Northwest Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 10.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 27 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 26
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: The Missouri Gulch trailhead is simple to drive to; any car can make it.  This is a popular area so expect company.

It is hard to believe, but I am now finally over halfway there to my goal of climbing all 53 of the Colorado 14ers as separate climbs.  I’ve been doing this now since I first arrived to Colorado in 2014 and I have thoroughly and gratefully enjoyed the journey …

I arrived at the trailhead around 4:30 PM the day before.  It was a beautiful, cool autumn day and there were few cars in the parking lot.  Just past the parking lot, the trail crossed a creek and then it immediately went up, up, up, via a series of switchbacks.  Along the way, I passed and said hello to several hikers coming out

After about 1.5 miles, the trail emerged from the treeline and entered into a large, majestic valley with a creek in the center and some yellowing, small shrubs.  It was quite reminiscent of some of the valleys I had seen in my time up in Alaska.  Flattening out some, the hiking was easy and I pushed ahead another 1.5 miles.

The sun was beginning to dip below the mountains and the wind was starting to pick up.  The trail came to the base of the northwest ridge and gradually began to ascend it.  With daylight running out, I climbed up to about 13,000′ and just off the trail, I found a large boulder adjacent to a flat area where I could lay out my sleeping quilt.  It was now 7:00 PM, darkness was coming, and the wind was intensifying.  There was not a soul around.

Cowboy camping (i.e., no tent) is not for everyone.  I like to do it because it saves me the weight of having to carry a tent.  The downside is that because I am a light sleeper, I usually toss and turn all night under my quilt.  This night was going to be no exception.  It was in the 30s but the wind chill was taking this evening down into the 20s.  Fortunately, I was treated to a brilliant spectacle of an almost full moon and tons of stars.

Around 4:30 AM, I decided to get up, eat a light snack, and get an early start for the summit.  From where I was, the trail went up a steep field of talus, and then hooked around to the southwest to sidehill the ridge for about 1,000′ of ascent.  In the dark and being alone, I had to be especially careful about inspecting my footing and checking my route with my headlamp.  After about 0.5 miles, the trail crested the top of the ridge.  Now the wind was really blowing and I was legitimately chilled.

The trail stayed along the top of summit ridge heading due south towards the summit, which was about another 0.5 mile away.  The walking was pretty easy and there was just enough light coming up over the eastern horizon that I could shut off my headlamp.

Just before the summit, there were some rock towers and boulders blocking the route for a couple hundred yards.  Gingerly, recalling my fall at Maroon Peak a couple of weeks before and still nursing a badly sprained pinky, I side-skirted these to the west. To me, this area is a little bit dangerous and exposed.  It’s scoured, steep, and sandy — if you took a fall, there could be consequences.  That said, I really took my time and finally gained the summit at 6:30 AM, just in time to watch a gorgeous autumn sunrise 🙂  It’s the first time I have been able to watch a sunrise on a 14er summit.

I really liked Missouri Mountain.  I’ll give it a 4 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  The only drawback is that it is a popular mountain.  Indeed, on the way out I saw several other climbers coming in.  However, this is more than compensated for by the big, sweeping, Alaska-type views throughout the hike and climb.  I suspect that snow will be coming soon in the high country and that it will be time to trade my hiking shoes for snowshoes.

 

Maroon Peak, 2018

  • Date: September 16, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,156 feet
  • Range: Elk
  • Route: South Ridge (Class 3)
  • Overall Distance: 12.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 26 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 27
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This is a very popular destination spot in the fall in Colorado for tourists and photographers.  Hence, the logistics can be a little tricky and you should do some research online and plan ahead to avoid surprises.  Just outside of Aspen, we arrived at the ranger station after 5 PM and, after showing a NPS pass, were allowed to drive up the main paved road to the Maroon Lake trailhead.  Parking for overnight hikers is only allowed at 48 designated spots.  You will also have to fill out a backcountry tag at the check-in box at the trailhead

This post piggybacks off the previous post for Pyramid Peak.  After having climbed that mountain in the morning, we continued hiking south on the Crater Lake and West Maroon Creek trails up to (the very dry) Crater Lake.  It was getting a touch hot and we fortunately found a creek with some water to fill our bottles.  We continued onward and after about another mile, we stopped to rest and make a decision about what we were going to do.  Being that there was some daylight left, we decided to try to move as far up Maroon Peak as we could to set ourselves up for an easier summit the next morning.

There was nothing much fun about dragging myself up some 2,800′ up the east slope of Maroon Peak.  It was steep, scoured, and I was tired from having already done Pyramid Peak that morning.  I was so glad Matt was along because, in addition to being such a strong hiker, there is a psychological strength in numbers.  We kept looking for a “flat spot” to lay our sleeping bags out, but there literally wasn’t any.

Up and up and up we climbed until we were at the South Ridge, at 13,250′.  The sun was going down.  By now, I was legitimately wiped … little appetite, shivering, and wanting nothing more than to lay down.  Matt kicked out a semi-flat spot between the rocks for his sleeping bag.  My spot was flat but was on top of the summit ridge between a notch completely exposed to the wind.  Matt graciously built me a small breastwork with stones to cut the wind a bit.  After a quick dinner, I put on a wool hat, gloves, my Patagonia Micro Puff, got into my sleeping bag and died 🙂

Eventually, the Big Dipper sank to the horizon in the west and the sun started coming up in the east.  Neither of us had terrific sleep, but we were excited at the opportunity to bag the iconic Maroon Peak summit.

I am not sure why this route is characterized as Class 3.  In my opinion, it was as tough, if not tougher in stretches, than Pyramid Peak.  If you try to climb this mountain, I would go into this with a Class 4 mindset.  The distance from where we slept to the summit was probably only about half a mile as the crow flies; the route curls back around the west side of the summit ridge.  However, it was quite steep in spots, with a mixture of ledges, crumbling rock and scree, and ill-defined trail.  Early on, we had to climb up through a chimney and some notches.  We then continued to traverse across the flank through complex terrain.

Eventually, we came to the infamous, and dangerous, “two gullies”.  Matt and I elected to go up the first gully, a steep chute of loose scree and dirt, cut across on a ledge halfway up, and then continue upward in the second gully.  From here, it was more exposed ledges and route finding in steep, complex terrain.  If you try this climb, the information at 14ers.com will prove to be very valuable.

Finally, we broke out onto the ridge crest and walked up easier terrain to the summit.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of what we saw up there.  The Maroon Bells, especially in autumn, probably are the most photographed peaks in all of North America.  Yet pictures, especially from the valley floor, simply don’t do the views justice.  In every sense of the word, the views are breathtaking and sitting on the summit of Maroon Peak in quiet contemplation will be a memory I will reflect on fondly throughout my life.

There is one grim reminder, though, of the dangers of mountain climbing.  After we descended to our high camp to retrieve our sleeping bags and other gear, we started back down the east slope.  Halfway down, I lost my footing on some steep sand and took a fall.  I take full responsibility for this because the simple fact of the matter is I was not mentally focused.   I knew the instant it happened to go into a tuck position as I started rolling and bouncing down the mountain after clearing a rock ledge.  After about 25 yards, I was able to dig my heels into some bushes and dirt and arrest the fall, a few yards away from going over a second, and much worse, rock ledge.  I came into a sitting position and was very lucky — only a dislocated pinky, some bloody scrapes, and bruises.  My helmet, now compromised, had done its job; had I not been wearing it, my head would have been split open like a tomato.  What did I learn form this?  Stay 100% focused!  The climb is not over until you have arrived back safely to the trailhead.

I am going to give Maroon Peak a 9 out of 10 in terms of 14er difficulty.  Do not be deceived by the Class 3 rating.  Take this climb seriously and budget appropriate time and resources.  If you have them, bring along Kahtoola microspikes for the grinding ascent/descent on the east slope.  Good luck and be safe …

 

Pyramid Peak, 2018

  • Date: September 15, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,018 feet
  • Range: Elk
  • Route: Northeast Ridge (Class 4)
  • Overall Distance: 8.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 25 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 28
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This is a very popular destination spot in the fall in Colorado for tourists and photographers.  Hence, the logistics can be a little tricky and you should do some research online and plan ahead to avoid surprises.  Just outside of Aspen, we arrived at the ranger station after 5 PM and, after showing a NPS pass, were allowed to drive up the main paved road to the Maroon Lake trailhead.  Parking for overnight hikers is only allowed at 48 designated spots.  You will also have to fill out a backcountry tag at the check-in box at the trailhead

Pyramid Peak is a serious climb routinely ranked high among the most difficult Colorado 14ers.  This is not a walk-up; it is a true mountain climb that requires focus, route finding, comfort with exposure, and the appropriate equipment.  With this introduction being said, my mountaineering buddy Matt Odierna and I left the trailhead at around 6 PM.  We walked roughly one mile beyond Maroon Lake on a rocky, gently inclining trail until we came to the trail that turned off towards Pyramid Peak.

It was getting late and the weather was nice enough that I just throw out my sleeping bag on the ground, instead of setting up my tent.  Shooting stars came in periodically over the Maroon Bells as I drifted off to catch a few hours of sleep.

Matt and I hit the trail around 5 AM.  The weather was perfect for climbing.  The first mile of the trail was well-defined and climbed steadily up towards the entrance of a large valley.  From here, the trail stopped, and it was a sea of loose talus that stretched back towards the mountain, probably for half a mile.  Hiking poles were almost more of a nuisance rather than a help.  Also, when you are hiking in the dark with a headlamp, distance perception is not what it should be.  Watch your footing …

As the sun was coming up, we eventually made our way into what is known as “the amphitheater”, a large glacial, scoured bowl.  Across the amphitheater we went, hopping from rock-to-rock.  Once across, we had to ascend a very steep, scoured 1,000′ slope to gain the northeast ridge of the mountain.  It was slow going and I seriously wished I had brought along my Kahtoola microspikes.  By the time we crested the ridge, we had already ascended 2,800′ in a distance of about 2.5 miles.  The final approach to the conical summit of Pyramid Peak was now in full view to our right.

The rest of the climb is where things got much more serious.  The remainder of the route was a mixture of Class 3 scrambling and Class 4 moves, stretching for another half a mile and gaining another 1,000′.  We had to work together to pay close attention to cairns and the downloaded track on Matt’s GPS watch.  In several places, we had to cross narrow, highly exposed ledges or jump across gaps in the rocks.  We were careful to test footholds and handholds before bearing our weight on them.

Finally, we hit the summit, about 3 hours after setting off from camp.  It was a glorious, warm autumn day and we had epic views of the iconic Maroon Bells, with the yellowing leaves of quaking aspen scattered through the surrounding valleys.  After resting and grabbing some snacks, we started our descent.  Pyramid Peak is renowned for its resident herd of wild mountain goats and we had the good fortune of seeing several of them on our descent.

I think this post speaks for itself in terms of giving Pyramid Peak a rating.  I’d give it a 8.5 or 9 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  This assumes good weather and dry rock.  While maybe being a touch easier than I initially thought, I would definitely say Pyramid Peak was a good challenge and easily ranks, to date, as one of the harder 14ers I have done.

 

Huron Peak, 2018

  • Date: August 12, 2018
  • Partner: Amandeep Vashisht
  • Height: 14,003 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: Northwest Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 6.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 24 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 29
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: While not a terrible mountain road, the road to the Clear Creek/South Winfield trailhead definitely requires a 4WD vehicle.  From the Winfield turnoff to the trailhead is a distance of about 2 miles.  Within the first 0.5 mile, there are several areas with big dips and rocks that could potentially damage the undercarriage of a 2WD vehicle.

Joining me on this hike, was my friend Amandeep Vashisht from Baltimore, MD.  We had climbed a couple of 14ers together before so I knew she would be prepared in all phases and the conversation would be excellent 🙂  It was about 7:00 am when we set off from the trailhead.  Anytime you climb a 14er in Colorado on a summer Sunday, you can expect company and today was no exception.  There were groups of people here and there attempting the climb on this gorgeous morning.

The first mile of the hike wound its way through a coniferous forest with the trail being mostly open and having plenty of switchbacks.  At around 12,000′, the trail broke out into a large, beautiful, green meadow that ran flat for about 0.5 mile.  In autumn, I could imagine being in this meadow would be close to spectacular.  It would also be an ideal place to camp to stage a predawn climb for the next morning.

Across the meadow, the trail began to gradually ascend the summit ridge along a steep, grassy incline, turning towards the south.  So far, so good.  The crux of the climb is the final 500′ of ascent at the upper portion of the ridge.  There are some patches of boulders and the trail has a few areas that are worn smooth and slippery from use.  However, all in all, this climb is straightforward if you are in shape.

When we arrived at the summit, there were several other parties milling about.  We could see the Three Apostles clear as a bell to the south.  There were great views of sweeping valleys and lakes.  After soaking up some sun and snacks, we headed back down, carefully taking our time in the steeper sections of the trail for the first 30 minutes.

It is never easy stepping off the plane after arriving from sea level to climb a 14er, but Aman was in really good shape after doing several shakedown hikes in the Boulder area the previous several days.  We literally ran (yes, RAN) the last two miles of trail back to the car 🙂  All told, this climb will take a half-day.

Huron Peak is not a particularly formidable 14er.  In fact, I would say it likely more Class 1.5 than Class 2.  I’d give it a 2 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty and would have no reservation about taking someone here for their first 14er, especially if you wanted something with a little bit more zing than the standard routes on Mt Evans or Mt Bierstadt.

 

Mount Shavano, 2018

  • Date: August 5, 2018
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,229 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: East Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 9.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 23 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 30
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This was an easy drive right to the Shavano/Tabeguache trailhead.  A 2WD can make it with some minor bumps the last few miles of the road.

At this point in the season, we know the drill.  I like to arrive for the climb the night before and hike in a few miles to get to the base of the mountain.  This gives me fresh legs, a head start, and less of a climb early the next morning.  So, I arrived to the trailhead at around 6 PM and headed off down the trail.  Almost immediately, it began to rain so I paused and donned my rain jacket.  The first mile of the trail was a gradual ascent over periodic stretches of rocks; no problem.  Eventually, the trail flattened out a little bit and I came to a creek crossing at ~ 10,800′.  There were several tents here with a big fire going so I continued to move up the trail.

Just as the trail hit a talus field and made a sharp turn to the right to begin a major ascent to gain access to a ridge, I bushwhacked into the woods to the left about a 100 yards and found a nice, comfortable flat stretch of ground for my camp.  While this spot is plainly visible on a good top map, here are the coordinates in case anyone reading this wants to find this on their own: 38.60929 Deg N, -106.21631 Deg E, elevation ~ 11,200′.

The rain intensified and I quickly got the tent set up and dove under my quilt.  After listening to a podcast and munching some dinner, I eventually fell asleep to a show of  thunder and lightning.

When I woke up around 5:30 AM, the inclement weather had temporarily ceased.  I quickly had a snack, packed up my day gear, and got back on the trail.  The trail climbed up onto a ridge and then finally broke out of the stunted trees into a vast valley that houses the Angel of Shavano snow field in the winter.  The target across the valley was obvious; a distinct saddle that sat at ~ 13,300′.

Now, once I crested the saddle, the final approach to the summit was obvious.  I saw several climbers ahead of me and something else — dark clouds beginning to boil up over the horizon over the summit.  I picked up my pace in order to catch up with the other climbers.  The final pitch to the summit is the crux of the climb; braided, indistinct trail that goes into a small section of boulders.  All told, the distance from the saddle to the summit was not far; perhaps not even a mile.

When I was less than 100 yards from the summit, in the thick of the boulders, I was now hiking with two other climbers.  Another guy up ahead of us yelled out  “Lightning!”  Instinctively, like a hawk flying over a prairie dog colony, the two other climbers and I dropped down onto our knees.  Sitting there for a minute, the three of us contemplated whether we should continue.  The storm that was welling up was almost on top of us and we didn’t have much time to dally in our decision making.  I am not proud to say this, but summit fever got the best of me and I pushed hard up to the summit.  It was just too close to resist its siren calls!  The wind had picked up, dark storm clouds were all around in the distance in any direction one looked, and a few lighting bolts could be seen zinging out of the clouds.  I quickly snapped a few pictures in no more than a minute’s time and then literally started to trot/run off the summit.  Pelting hail was now falling, stinging my face under my hood.  I came across another climber who asked about the weather conditions up top and, after listening to my risk assessment, without much hesitation at all, and apparently being much smarter, he turned around to head back down with me.  We made it down to the saddle in nothing flat.

The other climber’s name was Aaron (sp?), a very nice man from Evergreen, CO who was a financial advisor and planner.  We had a great conversation the whole way back to the trailhead, pausing to pick up my camp along the way.  This is the great thing about this sport — you really can meet some nice people when you are out on the trail.

So what are my overall impressions of the Mount Shavano climb?  I would say the Class 2 designation is appropriate.  I’d give this around a 3 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  In fact, for those that want something a little bit more challenging than some of the “easier” Class 1-designated 14ers around Denver, then this might be the ticket.  The trail is relatively gentle, relatively easy to find, but still a respectable 4,600′ of ascent over 9 miles of length to let you know that you truly accomplished something.  Also, since this mountain is more off the beaten path, you won’t find the heavy foot traffic as you do on some of the other 14ers.  Happy climbing!

 

Tabeguache Peak, 2018

  • Date: July 27-28, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,155 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: West Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 8.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 22 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 31
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: The last 3.5 miles of the road heading to the Jennings Creek Trailhead are definitely 4WD territory.  If you try to do this in a 2WD car, there are several stretches with big rocks that will likely tear up the underside of your vehicle.

Since I am attempting to do all the 14ers as separate climbs under the Colorado Rule, I decided not to try to bag Tabeguache Peak using the standard route going up and over Mt. Shavano.  Instead, I decided to go after it using the West Ridge route.  Boy, am I glad I did.  It turns out this might be one of my favorite 14er climbs so far … it is that much fun.

Driving down to the trailhead on Friday evening, there were intermittent mountain showers here and there.  I arrived at the “trailhead” around 6 pm.  Be forewarned that it’s easy to miss this so make sure you have a good GPX file or UTM coordinates loaded on your phone or GPS.

This trail is not maintained so expect to have to pay attention and to climb over some deadfall.  The first mile is a gradual ascent through an aspen grove until the trail breaks out of the trees and tops out near a small pond, or tarn.  Here, I made a left at a cairn and started an ascent up Jennings Creek, which lies in a big, expansive valley.  Talus and boulder fields were on either side of the creek, and the valley floor had occasional patches of dense willow.  If you try this route, it is not necessary to get into the rocks.  Stay low and patiently look for the trail as it winds its way up the valley in and out of the willows.

Eventually, the willows petered out and I made my way up to a grassy bench near 12,000′, having hiked two miles.  Here, I pitched my tent, nibbled on some dinner watching the sun go down, listened to some podcasts on my phone, and waited for my climbing partner Matt to arrive later on.  Around 10:00 pm, I saw his headlamp coming up the trail.  The weather had cooled down considerably.  After he pitched his tent, we were treated to an awesome full moon display for awhile before calling it an evening.

The next morning at dawn, we began the climb out of the valley, heading towards a prominent saddle on a ridge.  Once on the ridge, you have probably a mile ridge walk east towards an obvious point (Point 13,936′).  This portion of the climb gains approximately 1,400 plus feet of elevation, so it is steep.  The trail fades and reappears multiple times over loose, crumbly rock but the goal is to go up and over the point.  The sun was now clearing the horizon and the views were spectacular; a classic Colorado ridge walk.  With Matt leading the way, we arrived at the point.

From here, we could finally see the summit of Tabeguache Peak half a mile away.   The remainder of this west ridge route turned into Class 2 scrambling.  There is a false summit along the way, but do not attempt to go up and over this.  Down climb to your right and go around it on obvious trail.  Once you have cleared the false summit, you’ll see the actual summit a couple hundred yards away.

During our climb to the summit, we saw no other climbers.  On our way back to the trailhead, we did pass about a dozen other climbers, much less of a crowd than I have seen on a 14er on a Saturday in Colorado.  I was glad we had made the decision to camp the night before and do a dawn summit attempt because by the time we arrived back at my car, dark clouds had started to build around the mountain.  In terms of overall difficulty, I’d give this route no higher than a 3.  However, I would say that in terms of overall beauty, and the overall experience, this route would be right near the top of the 14ers I have done so far.  Enjoy the pictures below 🙂

 

Mount Columbia, 2018

  • Date: July 20-21, 2018
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,073 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: West Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 11.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,250 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 21 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 32
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This trailhead is a relatively easy find from the town of Buena Vista.  The road has a couple of rough spots but the trailhead is accessible with a 2WD vehicle.

I had the opportunity to do this climb with a really nice, young man (Matt Odierna) I recently met.  Matt suggested we set ourselves up for success by backpacking to the base of the mountain the night before.  It turned out to be a great suggestion.  We arrived at the trailhead late in the evening with maybe an hour of sunlight to spare.  The weather was overcast and threatened a sprinkle of rain which never materialized.

The first section of this trail was a relatively gentle 1,500 ascent spread out across 4 miles into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.  Matt and I made quick work of it and just before we broke out of the tree line, we found many suitable areas to set up our tents.  After setting up camp, we ate dinner and grabbed some sleep in a beautiful Rocky Mountain evening.

Dawn came and we hit the trail shortly before 6:00 AM.  Right away, the West Slopes route gets after business and the ascent begins immediately.  The trail begins a steep climb of 2,000′ for the next mile across a large expanse of scree and bare ground.  To be honest, I had read many horror stories about this part of the route, and while it wasn’t pleasant, I did not find it as bad as advertised.  The trail braids back-and-forth in many eroded parts and there were at least some switchbacks, if only half-hearted attempts.  Off to our right, we could see a new trail being constructed by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and it looked like they had been making good progress.  Matt, who had completed his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail last fall, was in great shape, and with him leading the way, we steadily climbed up the slope, where the trail topped out on the summit ridge at about 13,500′.  From here, we turned left and headed north along the spine.  The sun had now arisen and the views of the Colorado mountains were, of course, amazing.

The trail gently led us across a grassy alpine meadow to a few rocky projections for about 1/3rd of a mile and then we could see the final pitch to the summit.  There was a bit of boulder hopping here and there but it was an easy push to the top.  Once on top, sitting there eating our snacks, we could see a valley to the west filled with fog, and the traverse to the north all the way to Mount Harvard, another 14er.  There was a soft, cool breeze and soaking up some sun felt good.

Reversing direction, we retraced our steps, carefully made our way back down the western slope, and arrived back at camp.  After I packed up my tent and gear, we set off back to the cars and arrived around 11 AM.  By then, the lot was full of cars from other day hikers and anglers.

All told, I would say the Class 2 designation for this route is appropriate, given the climb up the western slope.  I would give this climb a 2.5-to-3 in terms of 14er difficulty.  There is nothing technical about it; it is brute force all the way 🙂

 

Mount Massive, 2018

  • Date: July 14, 2018
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,421 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: Southwest Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 8.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,950 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 20 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 33
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: I had read up on the road conditions prior to coming over here and felt they were a bit overstated.  Any good SUV (and certainly a 4WD) can make it to the trailhead.  The last mile has a few dicey spots but nothing major.  If you come during the weekend, you might not find a parking spot.

Wow.  All I can say was that this route was beautiful.  The spring wildflowers are out in all their splendor right now.  Anywhere you look along the trail there are amazing views.

I woke up late and almost decided not to go.  However, the weather report looked clear and dry all day so I went for it.  It was 9:00 am at least before I arrived at the trailhead.  The first mile was an easy stroll through a forest before it broke out into a clearing where I could see the Southwest Slope in the distance.  Once I crossed the clearing and made a turn to the right, then things became much more serious.  The trail began to climb rapidly through a boulder field.  Fortunately, most of this was stable rock.

To me, I felt the most difficult part of this hike was between 11,500′-to-13,500′.  After the boulder field, one bumps and grinds through a broad expanse of grass going up, up, and up.  Eventually, the goal is to gain a ridgeline.  Once on top of the ridge, things flatten out a bit.  I was wearing my Hoka trail running shoes and developed hotspots on my heels, so I had to make a pitstop to slap some Leukotape on top of them.  Problem solved!

Eventually, the trail reached the summit ridge and hung a hard left to head north.  Here is where the East Slopes trail intersected mine and I saw other climbers coming up.  There was a large false summit I had to work around before I finally saw the actual summit about a 0.25 mile away.  I had to hop from boulder to boulder in a few places, but it was smooth sailing to the top.  The views from the summit are an A+; you can see Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake clear as a bell.

All told, I really liked this hike, if for no other reason than the stunning landscapes.  I would give it around a 4 in terms of 14er difficulty.  Are there any negatives?  This mountain is the 2nd highest peak in Colorado at 14,421′.  If you don’t handle altitude well, then be forewarned.  Also, what with a mostly high alpine environment, I would imagine it would be a frightening experience to be up here in an afternoon lightning storm — keep your eye on the sky.  This was a bluebird day, so I saw hikers and climbers all along the way.  This is not a place to go for summer weekend solitude.  That being said, I had the pleasure of meeting a nice, young couple from the Denver area, Ty and Sam, and we walked out together the last ~ 30 minutes 🙂

 

Ellingwood Point, 2018

  • Date: July 4, 2018
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,042 feet
  • Range: Sangre de Cristo
  • Route: North Ridge via South Zapata Creek (Class 3)
  • Overall Distance: 11.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,500 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 19 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 34
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: The dirt road to the South Zapata trailhead is 3.5 miles from CO-150.  Any 2WD car can make it if they take it slow over the rocks and ruts.  There is plenty of parking at the trailhead.

This trip marked my first 14er of 2018.  I had originally meant to backpack several miles up the trail the evening before in order to get a head start the next day.  Alas, on the drive down to Alamosa from Denver, I had to take substantial detours to avoid the 11,000 acre Weston Pass fire.  It was already sunset by the time I pulled into Alamosa, so I decided to car camp instead.

There is a no-frills campground run by the BLM right at the trailhead (Zapata Falls Campground) that is perfectly located to do this hike.  I watched some thunderstorms rolling in off in the distance for a few minutes, quickly pitched my tent, and then settled in for a few hours of sleep.

I hit the trail at dawn, as the Great Sand Dunes were reflecting the first rays of the morning sun.  Pay attention when you are walking out of the trailhead not to take the side trail to Zapata Falls.  Otherwise, it is a brisk 4-mile hike up to South Zapata Lake (3,400 ascent).  The trail is clearly marked and I felt good as the temperature was cool.

When I got to the lake, I decided to head up the C2 couloir to get on top of the headwall.  This is steep Class 3 pitch with no trail.  It was filled with loose talus and scree on top of hard-packed sand.  For every two steps forward, I took one step back.  As this was my first 14er of the season, I was not in the tip-top shape I wanted to be in, so I crawled up to the top of the headwall and was a bit tired.  If you attempt this route, be sure to make a note of where you are so that you don’t inadvertently head down the much more dangerous Crossfire couloir on the way back.

From here, the route to the summit was plainly visible.  However, again no trail was evident.  I headed along the spine of the headwall to the east and picked my way as best as I could through tons of small rocks.  As the headwall rose, it bended to the south.  The sun was up in full force now and I stopped frequently to get water and rest.  When I got to a large prominent outcrop of rock, I tried skirting it to the right and it became dangerously steep.  STAY TO THE LEFT!  I backtracked several hundred yards, and got on top of the spine.  Even though there was massive exposure to the left (a 2,000′ + drop-off), I ignored it since the going was much easier.  Pulling myself up with a few good handholds here and there, I was able to get onto the summit.

From the top, I could see three other 14ers in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.  There were several active fires I could see billowing smoke to the southeast and from time-to-time an airplane or helicopter would approach them presumably to drop water.  With the exception of a bighorn sheep, the entire time I had been hiking, I had not had any company until now —  a young couple from the university in Alamosa who had come up a different route.

Coming down entailed backtracking, slowly picking my way through the endless rocks.  Even then, a few times I lost my footing coming down the C2 couloir and took a hard fall.  Had I not had my hiking poles, it would have been miserable.  I was really relieved to make my way back to South Zapata Lake and get back on defined trail.  By now, I had been frequently drinking water to the point where I had to carefully ration out what I had left for the remainder of the hike.  When I got to the car, I guzzled a very warm bottle of water I had tossed in the backseat 🙂

There are a few spots of ascent heading back to the trailhead, so all told, I would put the total ascent on this hike at 6,000 feet.  The Class 3 designation is appropriate.  If you are in great shape and move along, you could probably do this trip in 6 hours.  If you are in reasonable shape and take a few stops for picture and snacks, then it will take you around 9 hours.  I would not recommend this climb to someone who is not in shape nor as a first 14er.  If I had to give it a 14er difficulty rating, I would say somewhere around a 6.5, maybe a 7, would be appropriate.

If you like solitude, adventure, remote country with big mountains, and camping options, then you should try this route.