Windom Peak, 2019

  • Date: August 6, 2019
  • Partner: Mike Todt partway
  • Height: 14,082 feet
  • Range: San Juan
  • Route: West Ridge (Difficult Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 5.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet (Chicago Basin to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 32 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 21
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: Not applicable.

The constellation of the three different 14ers in the Chicago Basin of the Weminuche Wilderness comprise a unique challenge because of their remoteness.  Fortunately, the San Juan Mountains are arguably the most beautiful part of Colorado.

In order to access this area, my friend Mike Todt and I elected to take the Durango & Silverton steam locomotive railroad train to access the area.  From Durango, it is about a 2.5-hour trip north paralleling the Animus River to the drop-off alongside the tracks.  Then, one has roughly a six-mile hike up the Needle Creek Trail, with 3,000′ of ascent, to the Chicago Basin.  Essentially, this whole process will take most of an entire day.  Mike and I were able to do this in a relatively easy fashion and find a nice campsite that would serve as our basecamp for the next couple of days.

The weather was pleasantly warm and sunny our first morning heading out towards Windom Peak from the basecamp.  Right away, there was a steep climb out of the basin on good trail up to Twin Lakes.  It felt good not to be carrying our full backpacks like the previous day.  From here, we could plainly see all three 14ers.  Because of the previous tough winter, broad snowfields were still present all around the bowl.  After taking a few pictures of the area and the resident mountain goats, we continued heading east and then did a right turn up a steep snowfield to access the West Ridge of Windom Peak.  At this point, it was all Class 1 climbing.

Once on top of the ridge, things became a bit more serious.  The trail became steeper and entered into a semi-serious boulder field.  I somehow got off course and veered too far to my left.  The reason I knew this was because what was supposed to be a “difficult Class 2” route was clearly turning into something far more of the Class 3 territory.  Mike decided to turn around and I continued towards the summit.  After about 45-minutes of scrambling and boulder hopping, I was able to find the trail and carefully make my way to the summit.  Word of caution to whoever is reading this: watch for the cairns and when in doubt, stay to your right 🙂

This is a fun and very beautiful climb, but do not take it lightly.  Bring a helmet and GPS capability with a downloaded GPX track.  This felt like a solid 5 on a 1-to-10 scale of 14er difficulty.

I did not stay at the summit for too long and came down the correct way this time.  Mike was waiting for me where we had topped out on the ridge and together we had a pleasant journey back down to our tents.  By then, it was approaching early afternoon and the monsoon rains were getting ready to make their guest appearance.

 

Yellowstone, 2019

I finally had the chance to do a backpacking trip that I have wanted to do for a long, long time.  This was a 75-mile long trip across the wildest part of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and joining me for the adventure was my friend Aman.  Regrettably, I am behind posting to this blog, so I will keep the prose brief and let the pictures below do all the talking.

Day 1,  Sunday, July 21: Aman and I arrived at the south entrance of YNP to pick up our backcountry permit at the ranger’s station. We drove a considerable distance to the northeast corner of Yellowstone Lake to the Nine Mile Trailhead and dropped off the car.  It was already late into the morning when we donned our backpacks and set off on the Thorofare Trail heading south alongside the lake.  The weather was hot, sunny, and dry.  The good news was that the terrain was flat so the two of us were able to reel off easy miles, save for the occasional creeks and downfalls to cross.  On towards late afternoon, the mosquitos became almost unbearable … the worst concentration of them I have seen outside of Alaska.  We camped just beyond the south end of the lake and were actually visited by a friendly park ranger as the sun was going down.

Day 2,  Monday, July 22:  The weather was a carbon copy of the day before, and so were the mosquitos 😂  The Thorofare Trail continued to head south through the vastness of the Two Ocean Plateau, which has the distinction (literally) of being the most geographically remote location of the Lower 48.  This was a lush, flat valley with mountains to the west and east and was very beautiful.  Once again, Aman and I were able to make quick work of the easy miles throughout the day.  What was so remarkable was that we still had yet to see another backpacker.  Towards the end of the day, as we neared our targeted campsite , we had to ford the Thorofare River, an unsettling, yet fairly easy, crossing.  The picture you see up top in the banner is the picture taken from our campsite that night.  Not a bad view, ‘eh?!

Day 3, Tuesday, July 23:  Things became much more serious in terms of the hiking.  We had to switch over to the South Boundary Trail and had to cover 20 + miles over much more aggressive terrain in order to keep to our schedule.  Now the fun was transitioning into work.  First, we had to cross the Yellowstone River.  This crossing was legitimately dangerous because the current was swift, the water up to our waists, and the river bottom filled with unstable cobblestone.  One slip here in such a remote part of the world could have had very unpleasant consequences.  We carefully made it though and breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Next, the trail climbed steeply into the mountains stacked up to the west.  Grizzly bear hair, poop, and tracks were frequently observed, so we made sure we did lots of clapping and yelling to make our presence known (I also had a bear bell attached to my hiking pole).  The trail kept climbing all through the day, as the weather began to take a turn for the worse.  We passed alpine lakes and through mountain valleys sprinkled with beautiful wildflowers.  Towards evening, Aman and I were tired and it began to rain.  Quickly, we set up our tent (our mosquito-free refuge!), ate dinner, pumped water, hung our food in our bear bag, and went straight to sleep.

Day 4, Wednesday, July 24: Since we had to cover a lot of miles today, we set off on our backpack relatively early.  I think both Aman and I agreed that this day was the most spectacular in terms of the scenery.  Shortly after embarking, we reached the apex of the trail and had a world-class, breathtaking view of the Grand Tetons.  After taking some pictures, we continued on.  The trail began a gradual all-day descent for many miles and we began to see a few other parties of hikers and backpackers.  By now, we were stopping a little bit more for water and food because it had been a long, tough 4 days of backpacking.  The trail started to parallel the Snake River all the way to the south entrance of the park.  Here, we had one last major river crossing late in the afternoon before we could say we were done.  Luckily, once out on the main road, we were able to hitch a ride with a lovely, retired couple the whole way back to our car.

If you like truly wild adventures with a sprinkle of some unknowns, then this is the trip for you.  Be aware that it does require some careful, advance planning.  However, the payoff is a trip of a lifetime.  Enjoy and let me know how you liked it.

 

Mount Oxford, 2019

  • Date: July 5, 2019
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,153 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: Via Pine Creek (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 19.5 + miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet + (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 31 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 22
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: From Leadville, drive 22 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 388 road.  On this twisting road, drive about 0.75 mile on a washboard dirt road to a fork.  The trailhead is a couple hundred yards up the branch of the road that goes to the right.  A 2WD car can carefully make this.  At the trailhead, be aware that you will be briefly crossing private property and they ask for a donation — $1/person, $2/pet.

This is one of the more interesting routes I have done for Colorado 14ers.  The standard route for Mount Oxford is to do it at the same time you climb Mount Belford.  However, because I am climbing each of the fifty-three 14ers separately, I am not allowed to “saddle jump”.  I had climbed Mount Belford a few weeks prior and had no interest in retracing the same route in order to do Mount Oxford.  Therefore, after studying a map, I decided to try an off-trail bushwhack coming in from the east.

I arrived at the entrance to Pine Creek late in the day on July 4th.  It was sunny and hot.  The first 4.5 miles parallel the south side of Pine Creek and the walking, is pretty, flat, and easy.  I ran into a small party camping for the night, but other than that, there were no other people. That’s the nice thing about using a non-standard route on a 14er — less people.  From here, you access the Colorado Trail, which veers due north on a beautiful layout, and steeply climbs about 1,500′ out of the Pine Creek valley.  After roughly a mile, you crest out on top of a ridge.         

It was getting dark and the temperature was starting to drop.  I cut off the Colorado Trail and headed due west.  Following the route on my Garmin Instinct GPS, I meandered through a series of rolling parks and ascended to a vast ridgeline at about 12,000′.  The wind was picking up and I unfortunately tore a hole in my tent in my haste to get it up.  I was unmercifully battered by the wind all night and might have been lucky to get two hours of sleep (even with some tissue paper shoved in my ears).  Finally, I was finished with tossing and turning, and decided at around 4:30 a.m. to get ready and head for the summit.

If you decide to try this route, the key to remember is to stay to the right on the ascent.  I think it is sheer habit for mountaineers to always ascend, but in this case, I would climb up a rise for several hundred feet, only to discover I could have gone around it if I had stayed to the right (the north).  The route headed over to Waverly Mountain along a series of alpine parks and these undulating rises.  There were little fields of snow here and there, but I was able to avoid all of them.  Once on the top of Waverly Mountain, I encountered a fairly long stretch of talus (1/2 a mile), that I had to carefully pick my way through.  It slowed down my progress considerably.  Finally, I gained the main ridge and hit the summit at around 7:00 a.m.  The weather was still sunny and had warmed considerably.  There was not a soul around, even looking over across the saddle towards Mount Belford.  I snapped some pictures, snacked for a few minutes, and then headed back to my campsite to pick up my gear I had left behind.  

On the way down, I was able to see how much time and effort I would have saved if I had stayed to the right on the ascent.  I was able to quickly retrace my steps back to retrieve my gear and then headed back down to find the Colorado Trail.  I ran into a few other people on the Colorado Trail and some that were hiking and running along Pine Creek, but it was still minimal traffic given it was a long holiday weekend.  The weather was now much warmer as I made it back to my car around lunchtime.

This is a long climb relative to other 14ers I have done.  While not terribly technical, the distance and the ascent will let you know it’s there, especially considering a big chunk of the route (7.5 miles total) is not on trail.  Therefore, I am going to give it a 4 out of 10, 5 out of 10 if the weather is bad, in terms of 14er difficulty.  It’s certainly possible to do this as a one-day adventure, but consider doing it over two days to maximize the fun and comfort.  Enjoy and be safe whenever you do something off of the standard routes.    

 

Mount Belford, 2019

  • Date: June 15, 2019
  • Partner: Matt Odierna
  • Height: 14,197 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: Northwest Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 8.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 30 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 23
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: From Leadville, drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road.  On the 390 road, drive 7.5 miles on a washboard dirt road to a sign for the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Turn left and drive down into the large parking area.  A 2WD car can easily make this.

My mountain climbing partner Matt Odierna invoked our usual “lean and quick” strategy for the first time this year.  We arrived at the trailhead on early Friday evening, gathered our gear, and quickly set off in pleasantly cool weather.  Since the first part of this trail is identical to Missouri Mountain, I will refer you to my 2018 post detailing that climb. 

About less than one mile in, we passed a huge debris field from a serious avalanche.  Right afterward, we encountered snow heading up to the valley.  We had to pick and choose our spots where we crossed the patches of snow.  For the most part, it was firm, but we occasionally broke through.  Once into the valley, we were able to veer to the east and stay out of the snow for most part.  We made quick work of the first two miles, heading up the valley, and positioned ourselves where the route started to gain the Northwest Ridge, just under 12,000′.

Night came quickly and the temperature dropped.  This was the first time I had used my new Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent and so it took me awhile to get it up.  The wind blew for a couple of hours and once it subsided, then I was able to get some sleep.

At 5 AM, I was excited and awake 🙂  The nice thing about climbing with Matt is that he doesn’t like to waste time, either.  We were setting off by 5:30 and immediately started ascending a steep ridge line, as the sun was coming up.  The weather was again pleasantly cool, maybe in the 40s.  It wasn’t until about halfway up the spine that we encountered our first snow field.  Matt was out ahead of me and I decided to stop and put on my microspikes on my Altra Lone Peak 4s.  Microspikes are amazing.  They are much lighter than crampons and give you real Velcro-like purchase on the snow.  I used them to cross two steep snow fields on this climb.  Since I did not have an ice axe, and just one hiking pole, I was unwilling to take the risk of a fall-and-slide.

After about 1.5 miles of steep, defined, and tolerable Class 2 climbing, the trail leveled off to a bench.  By that time, Matt was out of sight and I had to orient myself.  The trail proceed directly to the east past a prominent light-colored knob and it was a relatively short, easy stroll up to the summit block where Matt was waiting.  The time was roughly 7:15 AM.  On the summit on this beautiful morning, we could several other 14ers in the distance.  Notably, across a saddle about one mile in distance, we could see Mount Oxford.  We chugged a couple of Red Bulls and then flew back down the ridge line to our campsites.  Surprisingly, we ran across more climbers than anticipated coming up.  I guess this is a sure sign that summer is almost here.  By the time we gathered up all our gear at the campsites and got back to the trailhead, it was bit past 10:00 AM.  

As you can see, this is not a long, tough climb.  I’d give it a 3 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  It is a beautiful climb and, in the summer, would be ideally suited for someone wanting a little more challenge than the 14ers in the Class 1 category.

 

Mount Yale, 2019

  • Date: May 13, 2019
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,196 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: East Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 10.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 29 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 24
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: From Buena Vista, drive west about 9 miles on 306 to reach the Avalanche trailhead on the right.  This is a trivially easy 14er to get to; any car can make it as long as there is no serious snow.

I had originally sought to climb this with my mountain climbing partner Matt Odierna on May 5 but had a rough go of it, bonked about a mile before the summit, and decided to turn back.  Fortunately, he was able to complete the climb, but I had to rest up for a few days and recalibrate my strategy.

Eight days later, I returned to finish what I started and with a 3:00 AM wake-up call, I gave myself more time to accomplish the task at hand.  The Colorado mountains had received a substantial dump of snow in the interim, but the avalanche danger finally dropped down to a safe level.

I set off from the trailhead before the sun was coming up.  This trail continuously trends upward in an unrelenting fashion.  The first mile was bare and dry before yielding to snow.  At this point, I switched over to snowshoes and began a steady ascent on hard snow through a wooded mountain valley.  This went on for a couple of miles.  By now, the sun was up, and I could tell it was going to be an unseasonably warm, bluebird day.

At the head of the valley, the East Ridge trail makes a dogleg to the west and begins to ascend the East Ridge itself.  Once I gained the top of the ridge, I  jettisoned the snowshoes, switched over to my crampons, and took out my ice axe.  From this point forward, the climbing becomes more serious, and even dangerous in several spots.

Staying on top of the ridge, I passed through or circumnavigated several small rock piles.  At about 12,500′, the spot where I turned around roughly a week prior, there was a steep 45-degree slope that rose several hundred feet.  I dug a small test pit and determined the conditions were ripe for avalanche so I swung up as high as I could on the ridgeline to avoid crossing the slope at its midpoint (in fact, I saw several substantial point releases on slopes to the north).  By now, I was truly doing work.  The temperature has risen and the snow was soft.  With every step, I was punching through, and the snow was clumping on my crampons.  One large patch of rocks in particular required some Class 3 scrambling.

Eventually, I arrived at a satellite peak; on the topo map this is listed as ~ 13,420′.  The only way to continue the climb was to go around it to the south through a swath of rocks.  Wearing 12-point crampons, I gently made my way through these and was extra careful not to trip and fall.

Once through this “obstacle field”, there was yet another steep rise to the summit.  Here again, I made way as high up on the ridge as I could.  I was very glad I had my ice axe, especially as I made my way near the cornices.  One slip here and a person could risk a long fall.  Huffing and puffing, I gained the summit at 1:00 PM and was considerably tired.

To mentally prepare myself for getting down off the mountain (that annoying, little detail!), I rested for a few minutes and drank a Red Bull.  I was extra careful to take my time, and be hypervigilant.  When you are mountain climbing by yourself, one poor choice can be disastrous.  It was with great relief that I reached the spot where I had left my snowshoes behind in the morning because I knew the toughest part of the route was behind me.

Descending back into the mountain valley, the snow was now so soft that I was postholing even with my snowshoes on.  This went on continuously for the better part of two hours.  Finally, I arrived back to the part of the trail that was free of snow and was able to hike out quickly the rest of the way.  I arrived at my car some 11.5 hours after I had left it.  My first 14er of 2019 was in the books 🙂

In my opinion, this is a strenuous, non-risk-free winter mountain climb and I would take it seriously.  If you are going up Hood or Rainier, then this would be an excellent shakedown climb you could do a couple weeks prior to your trip.  Given the snow conditions, I felt like I was mentally and physically tested.  Therefore, I am going to give it a 9 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  Of course, this rating would go down if you did this as a summer climb, but Mount Yale would still let you know you put forth some effort before you stepped foot on its summit.  I’d love to hear some comments if anyone else has climbed Mount Yale in the winter.

 

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.