Tag Archives: Colorado 14er

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.

 

Mount Princeton, 2017

  • Date: August 14, 2017
  • Partner: Xiaoen Ding, Thao Tran, Hieu Nguyen, Ngoc Nguyen
  • Height: 14,197 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: East Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 6.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
  • 14ers climbed: 18 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 35
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: It is an easy drive to the 2WD trailhead out of Nathrop.  From here, things get quite a bit more serious.  First of all, stay to the right as you depart from the 2WD parking lot as it is easy to miss the road continuing up the mountain.  Then, you have a 3-mile slow slog up a steep, rutted single track road to get to the radio towers.  My Jeep Cherokee made it with careful driving and using 4WD.  There are several places to park at the radio towers if you get an early start to beat the crowd.

This hike is a deceptively long hike time-wise, even though it is not a long hike distance-wise.   From the radio towers, you’ll have about 1.5 miles going steadily uphill on a winding forest road.  A trail abruptly cuts off to your right and ascends a grassy hill.  After roughly 0.5 mile, the trail enters into a perpetual talus field.  From here, you have under 1.5 miles to reach the summit.  As it gently ascends up to meet the headwall, the trail can be hard to follow in spots.  The old trail cuts to the right and veers straight towards the summit.  The new trail has been rerouted to cut to the left and switchback up to the headwall.  Once on the headwall, things get more challenging.  The trail meanders along the spine of the headwall and becomes less defined.  You’ll be on the steepest part of the hike and picking your way through a mixture of solid Class 2 boulders and talus.  Stay on the spine all the way to the summit.

As with any 14er in Colorado, you want to keep an eye on the weather and your footing while on Mount Princeton.  People can and do die on this mountain (including one death this year).  A sobering plaque just below the summit memorializes a young woman who died at the spot after being struck by lightning.  Keep moving slowly and consistently up the mountain and then get off.  Save the resting and celebration for after you are safely down.

And now the best news for last … joining me on this hike were my international student friends from Vietnam, Thao Tran and Ngoc Nguyen (their first 14ers).  Congratulations to them on a job well done!  Also joining me was Xiaoen Ding from China (her second 14er).  Way to hang tough, Xiaoen!  Last but not least, joining me was faithful climbing partner Hieu Nguyen from Vietnam (his sixth 14er).  Hieu is becoming quite the seasoned mountaineer.

I should add that I ran into two former students from a Statistics graduate course I taught two years ago (Sam Hagopian and Jodie Daglish).  One of them had since moved to California.  Complete 1-in-1,000,000 random event!  We had a good laugh about this and enjoyed quickly catching up.  Life is full of good surprises like this 🙂

 

Mount Lindsey, 2017

  • Date: July 8-9, 2017
  • Partner: Amandeep Vashisht
  • Height: 14,042 feet
  • Range: Sangre de Cristo
  • Route: North Face going up (Class 2+); Northwest Ridge going down (Class 3)
  • Overall Distance: 8.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
  • 14ers climbed: 17 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 36
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This is a fairly long drive from the main road out of Gardner.  A 2WD car could make it to the lower parking area by the landslide with few problems.  It is another 2 miles to the upper parking lot and unless you know what you are doing, I would recommend 4WD due to big rocks and ditches.     

Aman and I arrived at the trailhead around 5 pm to a light rain.  We each put on our backpacks and set off down the trail.  The first mile of the trail was flat and followed alongside the Huerfano River.  There were a few streams running across the trail that had we had to cross before the trail crossed the river itself.  Here, we had no choice but to take off our shoes and socks and ford the very cold waters of the river.

The trail took a slight turn toward the east and began to climb in earnest through the forest.  Over the next mile, the trail climbed a mountain valley gaining almost 1,500′ of elevation — ouch!  Finally, after a couple of hours, the trail broke out of the trees around 12,000′ and flattened out on a ridgeline overlooking spectacular views on either side.  It was on this ridgeline, that we decided to set up camp in the fading light and get some sleep.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped and we were treated to a nice sunset.

At 5 am the next morning, we arose, ate a light breakfast, and set forth from camp.  The trail dropped into an alpine basin, which we crossed, and rose a bit higher into another basin, which we also crossed, before meeting the headwall.  Switchbacking up onto the headwall, we crested at 13,000′ between the Iron Nipple and Mount Lindsey.  This is where things got serious!

The main spine of the Northwest Ridge came down to the headwall and we veered to the left to begin our ascent of the gully on the North Face.  It looked intimidatingly steep but we slowly picked our way up a mess of sand and scree, taking two steps forward and one step back …  Around 13,700′, we decided to cut to our right in an effort to get on top of the Northwest Ridge and onto firmer ground.  Once there, it was another several hundred feet across talus to a false summit and then an easy stroll of 1/4 mile on top to the summit.  By now, the weather was sunny, around 50 degrees F, with no wind.  In short, it was perfect.  We were treated to wonderful views of Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point to the west.

Now, on the way down, we decided to take the Northwest Ridge instead of the North Face.  At first, even though it was a more difficult Class 3 route, it was quicker and more secure than slogging through the scree-filled gully we had ascended.  But our route became steeper and steeper until it “cliffed off” at the crux wall.  All of a sudden, we realized we either had to backtrack up towards the summit and go another route or downclimb the crux wall.  Whether it was because we were tired and lazy or because we were stubborn, we chose the later.  There was a large, vertical crack in the center of the wall that required some brief Class 4 rock climbing that we carefully navigated.  Once safely off the crux wall, we continued our steep descent and angled down the scoured east side of the ridge before popping back out onto the headwall.  To be honest, I believe we saved no time on this route compared to if we had simply stuck with the North Face.

From here, it was a simple matter of heading back down to our camp and repacking the tent, sleeping bags, etc.  Happy with our successful summit attempt, we took our time backpacking out to the Jeep.

This was a more difficult 14er climb than I had done in awhile.  I wouldn’t recommend this to someone as their first 14er.  I’d give it a solid 5 or 6 on a scale of difficulty and effort.  In my opinion, Aman did a wonderful job, never complaining, always keeping a smile on her face, and slowly, but unrelentingly, pushing forward.

As an interesting footnote to the trip, no sooner did we start driving home on I-25, then a massive hailstorm hit, pelting us with pea-to-marblesized hail.  There was easily over an inch of the stuff on the road and several cars, including mine, had driven off-road to the sanctuary of a lonely, big cottonwood tree to wait out the storm …

 

 

San Luis Peak, 2017

I had whirlwind trip the past few days.  My climbing partner Hieu Nguyen and I took a trip down to southwestern Colorado to the San Juan Mountains to climb San Juan Peak (14,022′).  Of all the 14ers I have done so far, I am most happy to get this one done because it is so remote; even the trailhead is remote.  San Luis Peak sits by itself just off of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in some of the most wild, beautiful country in the lower 48 states.  Necessitating a 14 mile-hike with 3,600′ elevation gain, a climber is well-served to either backpack into the area and split the climb up across two days or camp at the trailhead, get an early start, and try to do the climb in one long day.

Hieu and I arrived at the trailhead at roughly 4:30 pm, donned our backpacks and set off.  The first couple miles were a flat, easy stroll along a 4wd road, which paralleled a stream down in a valley.  The trail then made a big ascent up out of the valley to meet the CDT where San Luis Peak come into full view.  It was beautiful!

We chugged along with our full backpacks across Bondholder Meadow to the east  encountering streams, wildflowers, and occasional patches of snow.  After going up and over a ridge, we entered into another vast, expansive alpine meadow and decided we would set up our camp here for the night.  A fitting reward for the end of the day was about as fine a sunset as one could see.  The temperature dropped with the fading light and we quickly ate our camp dinner and settled into our sleeping bags to try to catch a few hours of sleep.

At 5 am, we arose, quickly ate a light breakfast, and headed off for the mountain summit. We accessed the headwall spine just as the sun was rising.  A wind started to pick up and my hands were cold.  The remainder of the hike was a gradual walk-up ascent over scree and talus, occasionally passing big cairns to mark the trail.  All told from camp, it took us a bit over an hour to get to the summit.  The sky was blue with a few clouds and we paused for a few minutes to take in the 360 views of the wilderness below us.

The remainder of the morning was spent heading  back down to the camp, repacking our backpacks, and then slowly hiking back out to the trailhead.  We were able to get back to the jeep by noon.

If you are looking for a true outdoors adventure in what I can honestly say is one of the prettiest parts of the US I have ever been in, then give San Luis Peak a try.  This was my 16th Colorado 14er so far.  If I am lucky, I still have 37 more to go, but I just know San Luis Peak, and this trip, will retain a special connection with me.