Tag Archives: Colorado 14er

Quandary Peak, 2017

Yesterday provided me with the first opportunity to climb a 14er in the winter.  This was to be my attempt at number 14 out of 53 of these precious gems of mountains.  A winter climb adds a whole level of difficulty and preparation that has to be experienced to appreciate.  Joining me was my friend Manijeh, a fit outdoors aficionado up to the challenge.

In the summer, Quandary Peak (14,265′) is a short, steep Class 1 hike.  The East Ridge route is a 7-mile route with 3,450′ ascent.  However, in the winter, the element of snow provides a good, hard day in the mountains.  There is also some avalanche danger to be aware of.

We arrived at the trailhead around 7:00 am with the temperature hovering around 15 F.  Almost right out of the parking lot, we donned snowshoes and began the winding ascent through the evergreen trees on a well-defined path.  After about one mile the trail emerged from the trees, with the summit now appearing, and briefly leveled out before beginning a steeper ascent on to the top of the East Ridge.  As the sun climbed up above the ridge line to the east, the wind began to markedly pick up.

The trail leveled off again on to the top of an ever-narrowing spine.  On our left, there was a cornice with a very steep, dangerous drop-off.  The snow was so windblown and hard packed, we could have easily worn crampons, instead of our bulkier snowshoes.  This trail is touted as a good winter 14er climb; hence, we encountered several other backcountry skiers and hikers.

At last, the trail began a much steeper, 30 degree climb west towards the summit.  I’d say there was a good 1,500′ of ascent packed into the last mile — ouch!  Manijeh did a terrific job with a steady pace up the mountain, and even though the wind was intensifying and the wind chill biting, she never uttered a complaint.

Finally, after a false summit, we crested out and the summit post appeared.  By now, the wind was an unabated 40 mph gale.  Snow tornadoes were spiraling around us.  We were only able to stay a brief while inspecting the landscape, a breathtakingly, beautiful contrast of white on black, peaks jutting into the sky as far as the eye could see.  I managed to take a few pictures on my iPhone before my hand instantly became numb from the cold.

The trip back to the car was much quicker, at least by one hour.  Altogether, it was a good, full 7-hour day.  If you are looking for a true, winter adventure, then I would highly recommend Quandary Peak.  You would be well served to make sure you check the weather and avalanche conditions before trying this.  If all is well, you will have a truly memorable experience — I wish you the best of luck 🙂


Mount Lincoln, 2016

I was able to sneak in one last 14er climb before the snow starts falling.  Hieu Nguyen and I threw this trip together at the last minute.  We targeted Mount Lincoln, at 14,286′, located several miles northwest of Alma.

We decided to go at this from the East Slopes route.  Altogether, it is about a 6-mile roundtrip with 2,650′ of elevation gain.  I’d put this at a 2 or 3 out of a scale of 10.  It is essentially a steep walk up an old mining road with a touch of Class 2 near the summit.

The road getting to the trailhead was a rocky mess and required some care to not tear the undercarriage of my Jeep to shreds.  We arrived around 7:30 am and it was sunny and in the low 30s.  Right away, the route started to climb a bowl between Mount Bross and Mount Lincoln, heading straight to the west.  The wind began to blow and gust as we made easy work of the first mile or so.

The route then wheeled up and around a pronounced cliff and finally the summit came into view.  We could see patches of snow here and there and the wind began to pick up even more.  Fortunately, I had some winter gloves and was able to stave off the chill as long as we kept moving.

The last mile was a sharp ascent up to the tower-like summit.  The last several hundred yards, Hieu and I were postholing through stretches of snow in our trail runners and the wind was now at a full industrial roar (40, 50 mph?).  When we got to the summit, the wind chill was cold enough that we could only mill around for a minute or so before we decided to descend.

The walk back out was relatively easy.  Again, the key here is to just stick to the old mining road.  We were back at the car by 11:00 am and never saw another hiker all morning 🙂  I suspect that it is time for me to get my snowshoes and winter mountaineering gear ready!  13 down and 40 to go …

(One thing that I have decided to let go of is obeying the so-called “3,000′ rule” in my quest to climb all the 14ers.  I’ll still stick to doing separate climbs for each 14er throughout my quest but it is not practical nor very much fun to impose some arbitrary minimum elevation gain on each of these climbs.  For example, to have met the rule for Mount Lincoln this morning, we would have had to have parked back down on a county road, where it was illegal to do so, to get the extra couple hundred feet of elevation gain.  And for what?  To experience the “joy” of walking an extra 1/2 a mile on the county road to get to the trailhead?)


Mount Bross, 2016

Autumn is in full-swing, if not winding down.  Over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to grab one more 14er before the snow would start to fall up in the mountains in earnest.  Joining me on this trip were three international student/friends: Hieu Nguyen (Vietnam), Xiaoen Ding (China), and Amandeep Vashisht (India).  For the latter two, this would be their first 14er.

We drove over to Fairplay the night before.  Along the way, the aspen stands up on Kenosha Pass were bright yellow, the color intensified by the play of the sunset.  The next morning was chilly, about 25 F, as we made the drive up the bumpy forest road to the Mount Bross trailhead, situated several miles northwest of Alma.  We decided to climb Mount Bross via its east slope from the Mineral Park Mine.  Climbing any 14er is hard but, with the exception of Mount Bierstadt, I would say this was as gentle an introduction to the sport as one could hope.  Altogether, the route is about 9.5 miles of a Class 1 hike on an old mining road almost the whole way to the top.  The elevation gain is about 3,000′, if not a bit less.  Let’s give this a 2 out of 10 on a scale of difficulty for you mountaineers out there keeping score.

The weather was sunny and warmed to the mid-40s.  We took our time as the mining road snaked and switchbacked up the east slope past several old, abandoned mining claims.  The landscape was barren, rocky, and vast.  For their first 14er, Amandeep and Xiaoen did a great job keeping a steady pace at the high altitude 🙂

Once near the top, the trail made a dogleg to the south and it was smooth sailing for several hundred meters up to the summit.  From the summit, one can easily see two other 14ers, Mount Democrat and Mount Lincoln (and its satellite peak Mount Cameron) in the Mosquito Range.  We ate a snack, took some pictures, and enjoyed the magnificence of the Colorado landscape before starting our descent.

Few other people, great friends and conversation, and a nippy October day all combined to make this one fine Sunday …


Mount of the Holy Cross, 2016

Labor Day weekend offered the opportunity for me to tackle Mount of the Holy Cross, located near Minturn.  Joining me for this trip was my friend Hieu Nguyen, who was attempting his first 14er.

Let me give you the specs on this climb for those that are interested.  It is about a 12-mile roundtrip with a stout 5,500′ of ascent.  Most of the route is Class 2 with some Class 3 on the final summit push.  On my “14er difficulty scale”, I would give this a 6.

We set off from the trailhead around 6:00 am.  Elk archery season had opened up and hunters were getting ready to enter the field for the day.  The weather was overcast and rain squalls came and went over the course of the next 1.5 miles, a reasonable 1,000′ climb up Halfmoon Pass.  Sunrise was gorgeous and contrasted vividly with the intermittent rain.  Over the next mile, the trail dropped abruptly down to East Creek and continued its march to the west.  We were offered amazing “Wow!” views of the mountain.  It is this drop that makes this hike a moderate challenge, i.e., what lies ahead is over 3,500′ of ascent compressed in the remaining 2.5 miles to the summit.

The trail went straight up the northern ridge of the mountain, through the deciduous forest, before cresting the ridge.  Here, we made a hard left turn and started up the ridge, quickly exiting the trees and hiking across a grass plain.  By now, the weather had cleared a bit and the sunny was poking out.  Zigzagging up the switch backs, we encountered more and more rocks and talus as the ascent became steeper.  Our pace was slow, but steady.

The make-it or break-it point of the hike is the final push.  After working around a massive bowl to gain an access point to the summit, you are faced with a steep 600′ climb over a boulder field, with patches of snow, to reach the goal.  By now, Hieu was fighting through some painful cramps but with the summit so close and in sight, he made the decision to dig deep and push through it.  I was real proud of him for not quitting.  At the top, we snapped some pictures and refueled with food and water.  The wind was howling and the temperature was in the 30s.  I was keeping a weary eye on some clouds building to the south; we did not stay up there for long.

On the way down, we took our time so as not to get lost.  My guidebook had warned this happens on ocassion among climbers so I was armed with my satellite tracker and had my Gaia GPS tracking our every move.  Little bits of mountain rain hit us from time to time.  Unfortunately, what goes down, must come up, at least in mountaineering parlance 🙂  Specifically, we had the 1,000′ climb back up Halfmoon Pass waiting for us.  In fairness, it is spread out over 1.5 miles but it comes at a point in the hike where you want the day to be done.  There is no other way out on this standard route.  Surprisingly, we both felt, whether due to adrenaline or the desire to get more food and water back at the car, that this final stress test was not so bad.  Then, it was smooth sailing all the way down to the car.

By the way, autumn is coming.  I have noticed some aspen already changing to yellow, in addition to the snowfall up in the summits.  In a few more weeks, autumn will be upon us.  Congratulations to Hieu on his first 14er!



I feel like I managed to dodge a small bullet today.  I was successful in bagging my 10th ’14er’, Mount Democrat at 14,148′, but it didn’t come easy.  While this mountain is probably a 2 on a difficulty scale of 1-to-10, the weather conditions were the wildcard.

The morning started out uneventful.  I had to park a couple of miles shy of the Kite Lake trailhead in order to obey the 3,000′ rule.  It had been spitting drops of rain on-and-off before the sunrise.  As I walked up the gentle ascent of the road, I’d say the temperature was in the mid-40s.  There were many cars at the trailhead by the time I arrived.

After Kite Lake is when the real work begins in this climb.  You have about 2,200′ of elevation gain compressed in the space of 2 miles.  The trail heads straight north across a few creeks and a large meadow.  I was quite surprised to see Mount Democrat and the surrounding mountains in the Mosquito Range dusted with snow — this is August!  The clearly defined trail then starts to ascend quickly, switching back and forth up to the saddle.

Once at the saddle, the temperature had dropped markedly.  I could see storm clouds building to the south.  Taking a sharp left turn, I began the heading up the east slope of the mountain.  The trail was not as defined and consisted of hard-packed snow and glare ice.  If I had brought along my Kahtoola Microspikes, then this would have presented no challenge whatsoever.  However, in my La Sportiva trail runner shoes, the footing was tenuous, if not treacherous.  I tried, when possible, to walk on the talus alongside the trail.  Had the trail been any more exposed, I would not have gone on.

Finally, I crested the ridgeline and could see the final push to the summit, about 1/4 mile in the distance.  By now, the wind had picked up and it was starting to lightly snow in earnest.  I made it up to the summit, snapped a few pictures, choked down a granola bar chased with a 5-Hour Energy Shot, and got the hell out of there.

Coming down was balancing act of being careful not to take a fall on the snow and ice versus my desire to beat the inclement weather.  I lost elevation quickly and breathed a sigh of relief when I made it out onto the saddle.  From here, it was smooth sailing down to Kite Lake.  Yet, the snow turned to rain … a steady, freezing rain.  I stopped to put on my Patagonia shell and I put a shell over my pack.  Looking back up at the summit of Mount Democrat, it was completely shrouded in clouds.  Other hikers, discouraged and turned back by the weather, were milling about at the trailhead.  The last 2 miles to my Jeep were done essentially at a trot through the cold rain.

As I write this, it is sunny  and 84 in Fort Collins.  Hard to believe the extreme difference.  The moral of the story is that these are the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  They obey no strict guidelines for weather and seasons and do not always tolerate lack of preparation.  Mount Democrat kindly gave me a summit today and I humbly accepted.


La Plata Peak, 2016

Standing at 14,336′, La Plata Peak is a 30-minute drive southwest of Leadville.  This climb was more challenging than my previous two climbs; I’d give this 10-mile hike a 5-to-6 on a scale of difficulty.

I was joined this time by my friend Jennifer (and her dog!).  Finding the large trailhead parking lot right off the main road was no problem.  We hit the trail at 6:00 am.  Dawn was just spilling over the horizon as we crossed the Arkansas River and made quick work of the flat, first mile (caution: be careful to look for the trail signage to the left just after crossing the river and walking up the dirt road a few hundred yards).  It was chilly but evolving into a beautiful, summer day.

The challenging thing about this climb is you are faced with over 4,100 elevation gain in the space of the remaining 4-miles to the summit.  After the first mile, we climbed a steep set of stairs and switchbacks, exiting La Plata Gulch, before cresting out on top of the so-called Northwest Ridge.  This open ridgeline points to the south/southeast for about a mile.  You then begin the true work — a steeper, Class 2 grind through talus up to the not-quite-visible summit.  The trail braids and meanders in many places here so just be patient and find your best route up.  Once to the top, ignore the false summit to the right, look to the left, and head that way.  You will soon see breastworks marking the true summit.

Jennifer and I munched on a snack briefly, took pictures, and headed back down. Care must be taken on descending, not just across the talus field, but on the trail as well since there are steep stretches scoured bare and it is easy to take a “sit-down”.  We did the entire hike comfortably in under 6 hours (Jennifer is a runner and in very good shape).

If you are looking for a 14er that is a more difficult challenge, located in some gorgeous, yet accessible, country, and with a tolerable amount of people, then I suggest you give La Plata Peak a go.  Be sure to stop in lovely Leadville for some good coffee from the fine folks at City on a Hill Coffee 🙂


Mount Antero and a Friend

Back around 2010, when I taught at West Virginia University, I was introduced to a young man, Mike Levy, at a party that one of my graduate students was throwing.  At the time, both of us were big into long-distance trail running and so, unsurprisingly, we hit it off.  We also shared similar personality traits and views on the world and therefore easily formed a friendship.  Well, fast forwarding to 2014, Mike had gone on to UC Davis to further pursue his graduate studies and I moved to Fort Collins to take my position at Colorado State University.  We have stayed in touch since that time.  Recently, I received an email from Mike stating that he was going to be in my area and wanted to know if I would like to climb a 14er with him.  After lobbing several email back and forth, we decided on Mount Antero (14, 269′), which resides about 100 miles southwest of Denver.

On Saturday, I drove down to Buena Vista and met up with Mike, who drove in separately.  We enjoyed a long conversation and dinner and then headed back to the hotel to crash.  Early the next morning, we headed down to the trailhead as the sun came up.

Part of the “fun” of climbing Mount Antero is a grueling, slow 4-wheel drive ascent of the Baldwin Gulch Road to get to the trailhead.  It was 3 miles where we both clenched our teeth and winced, as my Jeep Cherokee slowed crawled across rocks and ruts, bottoming out a couple of times for good measure!

We hit the trail around 7 am and made quick work of the first 3 miles leading to the top of the ridgeline.  In truth, this is not a great wilderness experience.  Mount Antero has an extensive history of mining and, in that context, you are hiking up an old mining/jeep road.  Then, you hang a left on another old road until it dead-ends in about 1.5 miles.  It is at this point that things become relatively more difficult, with a steep 0.5 mile ascent up a field of talus to the summit.  Altogether, from the car to the summit, it is over 5 miles and roughly 3,500′ of elevation gain.  On a scale of difficulty for 14ers, I would give it a 2-to-3 out of 10.  Mike and I comfortably got to the summit in less than 3 hours.

After a lunch on the summit gazing out over the beautiful landscape below, we started back to the car.  A mountain storm was building to the south.  On the way down, we were passed by other hikers headed towards the summit hoping to beat the storm.  We were also passed several times by a variety of dirt bikes, 4-wheelers, and jeeps.  This was my 8th 14er and I was glad to get this one done.

The best part of the trip was getting to reconnect with Mike.  In my opinion, there  are not many better feelings in the world than to talk with someone at a deeper level of awareness and know that you are understood.  It is hard to find this authentic connection.  Another great thing I discovered about Mike on this trip and really appreciate is his admirable ability to stay in peace.  Thank you for showing me that side of you, Mike …

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Culebra Peak, 2016

Tucked away down in the southeastern part of Colorado stands Culebra Peak at 14,047 feet.  Of the 53 mountains in Colorado officially recognized as “14ers”, Culebra Peak is the only one of them on private land (the Cielo Vista Ranch).  It requires you to book a reservation and pay an access fee.  Also, there is no trail up to the summit.  Accordingly, I brought along a compass, map, and a satellite tracker.

Staying at the San Luis Inn the night before in the town of San Luis, I had an easy 20-minute drive to the ranch where I was met at the gate at 6:00 am by the ranch manager.  After a small exchange of dialogue about the ranch, the mountain, the rules, and places to pay attention to so I didn’t get lost, we headed up to the ranch headquarters where I signed in.  The drive to the so-called “4-way” trailhead itself was a steep, rutted 3.5-mile climb on a dirt road where a typical automobile would struggle to make it.

I left the car and began walking at 6:30.  The first mile was an easy stroll up a dirt road.  I then crossed a creek, ascended a small rise and began chugging to the  east through a meadow with patches of rocks here and there.  The ascent became steeper and steeper until I crested the main ridgeline of a large bowl.  Here, one has to take a sharp turn to the south, descend a saddle, and then climb up a field of boulders and talus towards a prominent false summit.  I’d say this portion of the climb qualifies as Class 2 scrambling.  This, coupled with the route finding, makes me give the Culebra Peak climb a moderate rating — possibly a 3, no more than a 4, out of 10 in terms of difficulty.  Once at the false summit, it was an easy walk across a grassy alpine meadow up to the summit.

The weather was cool, slightly windy, and sunny.  The views from the summit were amazing in any direction.  After a snack, I headed back down, carefully backtracking my way to my car.  Altogether, I’d say I hiked 7 miles with an elevation gain of just over 3,100 feet.  It took me a leisurely 4.5 hours, including stops along the way.  To be honest, given the logistics of getting a permit and the rumors that the ranch is currently for sale, I am glad to get this climb in the books.  7 down, 46 to go 🙂


Mt Evans, CO

This morning, Casey Quinn and I climbed the 14er Mt Evans taking an unusual off-trail route.  We parked over at Guanella Pass and bushwhacked through a couple of miles of swamp and willow.  This led us to a climb of a steep, long gully that deposited us up on the ridge line.  In the mountains of Colorado, the weather is changing now; up top, it was windy and there was about 0.5″ snow.  We picked our way along the West Ridge of Mt Evans up to the summit.  On the way back down, the snow and the sleet intensified.  All told, a stout 10-mile climb that was made all the more memorable with good conversation, volatile weather, and the adventure of going cross country!  6 down, 48 to go.