| Huron Peak: Even the easy ones can teach you a thing or two
An impromptu trip to Colorado in early August gave me the opportunity to see family and meet a friend in Buena Vista, where we decided to make a day trip out of one of the peaks in the area. I had a vehicle with clearance, so we eventually narrowed down to Huron Peak, mostly because of the anticipated views that have made this mountain a favorite among hikers.
I could probably give you a blow by blow of the route, the scenery and all the other good stuff that comes with Huron. Each mountain I've hiked and climbed has come with its own unique experience, some good, some painful. Huron would prove to be a teacher.
The peak is considered one of the easier 14ers, and in truth, it is. It's class 2 hiking, and the Class 2 portion is pretty much restricted toward the end of the route. If you have 4WD, the route is also one of the shorter ones, at just 6.75 miles round trip. Walk in the park, right?
Well, it is. For some people.
Colorado is filled with some of the fittest people I've ever seen. I saw one person gear up, put his headphones on and run up the Missouri Gulch trail. Another person, a 50-something woman, talked about running some mountain passes. She was training for the Leadville 100. With plans to do the bike and run events. Others I saw on Huron's trail were running down the mountain, and one couple started at 10 a.m. and made the summit at noon.
I consider myself a reasonably fit person. I hit the gym six times a week. I like food, though, and I'm a flatlander. I live at 800 feet and could probably stand to drop about 15 pounds. My hiking partner, Johnny Hunter, is also quite fit. He's an avid runner, biker and swimmer. But he lives at 1,000 feet. We were in awe of the other athletes on the trail.
The lush greenery low on the trail. Spring and summer has been good to Colorado's forests this year. At this point, the trail is pretty mellow.
We started late, but started pretty well. The initial part of a 14er hike is always a little tough on me until I find some sort of rhythm. The morning was pleasantly cool, and the forest was lush. I think lots of people could have spent the day low on the trail and enjoyed what the woods had to offer.
Breaking through treeline, we see the Three Apostles, one of the most dramatic formations in the Sawatch.
For me, however, I need to get to treeline. Breaking through to alpine meadows above treeline is the sort of encourager that gets me geared up to push for the summit. We got there after some slow hiking, and we were immediately greeted by the breathtaking scene of the Three Apostles, probably the most beautiful mountain scene in all the Sawatch.
The switchbacks start getting steeper here. The view into the basin is awesome.
I have to confess that the Huron ascent was also, in part, a way for me to check out the area for a possible backpacking trip with a shot of one of the Apostles. North Apostle and Ice Mountain look very interesting to me.
From the summit, a look north toward Browns Peak, a 13er. With better conditioning, we could have/should have bagged it.
Huron was crowded that day. It was a huge contrast to last year's trip up Matterhorn. Last September, me and Johnny had Matterhorn all to ourselves. On this summer Saturday, there were dozens of people scattered up and down the trail. And nearly all of them seemed to be faster than me. As our ascent progressed, people who started well after us, were passing by. This can be kind of discouraging. I'd also note that it seems hiking these mountains has become even more popular.
A look down into the basin from the summit. That looks like a great place to camp for a try at the Apostles.
One guy we met, some uber-fit dude in his early 20s, breezed on by with a full pack. With snowshoes strapped to the sides. He seemed way over-geared for Huron on a Saturday, but as it turns out he'd been on the trail for 15 straight days and had bagged 10 summits in that time. He said something about training for a climb of Denali. That's just a couple levels of fitness beyond me, a level I just can't comprehend right now.
North Apostle, Ice Mountain and West Apostle. The Refrigerator Couloir on Ice still looks climbable.
There was a guy who passed me and Johnny who we later caught up with toward the top. He was from Houston and was with his son. The man's son had already summited, and the three of us scrambled up to the top. It was cool and breezy, but the weather was holding out. I had on a light jacket and a hat. But I was shivering a little, and my stomach wasn't quite right. I'd eaten a little on the way up, and then snarfed half of what I had at the summit. But I knew to warm up I needed to get going and move down the hill.
A narrower portion of the ridge leading up to Huron's summit.
Our descent was slow. I'm a notoriously slow downhill climber and hiker, but I was noticing the Johnny was wearing down as well. This was uncharacteristic of him. Despite being a flatlander, this guy is a mountain goat who normally bounds down the hill with little effort. Something was up.
On the way down, I snapped this shot of a storm forming over Huron's summit.
Plenty of people were still going up as we headed down, but few of them reached the trailhead after us. That's how slow we were. I figured my heftiness might have something to do with it, but that didn't explain Johnny's sluggishness. When we finally got back to the trailhead and started driving back to BV, Johnny had a massive headache, an upset stomach and cold chills.
We drank what we normally did, which may not have been quite enough. But as we talked about it, we did some math on calories burned vs. calories taken in. We estimated that between what we ate for breakfast that morning and what we consumed on the trail, we took in somewhere around 1000-1300 calories. We burned probably at least 3000. Our muscles likely got taxed past the point of what they were accustomed to, and it's likely we burned through what energy we had long before we hit the summit. In the past, I've packed trail mix, fresh fruit and a gatorade in addition to a filled water bladder. Sometimes I'd even pack a pbj. But not this time. Just water, dry cereal and some peanuts. Johnny's supply was similar, though he did pack a couple of protein bars.
In any case, the combination of less-then-optimal fitness and spare rations might have done us in a little. Not that we were in any kind of real trouble. Far from it. But I think the self-induced suffering took away from what ordinarily would have been a pretty decent day. It was still enjoyable and well worth the time and effort. But next time I won't pack so lazily. I'll be better provisioned.
On the photos: They're not the best quality, as they were taken with an iPhone. But the phone was much more packable!
On the route: I'd be remiss without a little description. Take County Road 390 (14 mi. north of Buena Vista) and go west 11 miles. This is the same road you take to get to the Missouri Gulch trailhead. At the 2WD trailhead, veer right and go another 2 miles. There are lots of campsites all down this road, right up until you get to the 4WD trailhead. A stream follows the road, so that gives you an excellent water source.
The trail starts as modestly steep switchbacks all the way to treeline. It is in excellent shape and easy to follow. Above treeline, it flattens out into a broad, high meadow. Great views of the Apostles are here, and there is a small pond. This is easy walking until you hit the switchbacks going up the shoulder of the mountain. It's steeper here and doesn't let up until the summit. Again, the trail is excellent here. Hats off to CFI.
As you ascend, the trail pretty much gives way to boulder hopping/hiking and remains about the same level of steepness. The summit is quite small but unexposed. It's also spectacular.
And one extra note: I did get away with one other 14er sin. I survived the ascent wearing a cotton bandana. And yeah, on the next ascent, the bandana stays. Here's to living dangerously.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):