| To the tippy top...
This has been a year of encouragement and challenge for me - My wife and three kids are currently living in the basement of my wife’s sister so we can pay down debt (humbling to say the least) which in all reality, is like taking a breath of even fresher air than the month before as we march towards our financial goals. My wife recently had a spinal fusion to correct a thing called spondylolisthesis that she has been dealing with in some way for her entire life (she actually grew an entire inch after the surgeon pulled her spinal column back into alignment!) and she is on her way to leading a fairly normal life again. My three kids continue to completely blow my mind in how they grow and learn and love and I have actually made the decision to take a part time job so I can pursue my videography and photography business in earnest. I hope you enjoy the photo’s here, please view with large photos and open critique is always welcome.
Having finished the Ten Mile and Mosquito peaks, I wanted to move into something more scenic. Only being able to get out for day trips, it needed to be a little closer with single digit round trip mileage. I looked through the Sawatch list and decided that I wanted something interesting and new and non-standard and La Plata’s Southwest Ridge definitely fit the bill.
The day started early and a little crisp at 4:00am. We trundled up the highway, made a quick stop at a little doughnut shop in Idaho Springs (by the way, the owner said that if you get there before he opens you can just tap on the glass and he’ll sell you lightning fresh donuts), and made it to Leadville at just around 6:00. Getting down to 390 was no problem but I gotta say that in my little Mazda Protégé 5, that washboard for ten miles was potentially the worst driving experience of my life. We shook hard enough for the CD’s to stop playing all together and a button on my radio actually shook off!
At the graveyard, I pulled over and all six of us piled onto my brother’s Jeep Wrangler, myself and Thomas hanging on the back bumper, and we tackled the last few miles in 4-wheel drive.
Virginia and West Virginia I believe
Thomas - His first 14er ever - clings to the Jeep for the ride up
We signed the register at the trailhead and plunged into the forest. The clouds were thick and every so often would split and separate to let the sun through and this made for some great views, soft lighting, and cool weather all day.
Eric and Kayla crossing a stream via crumbly log bridge
Heather heading up the narrow valley
Not more than a quarter mile into the hike and we get views like this? I accept!
Heather and Hannah (twins) showing off the 'strength'
Just through the trees ahead to see...
Eventually, we turned towards Sayers Benchmark and the trail spilled us into an amazing valley full of lush willows and grass and beyond, jagged teeth of rock scraping the bottoms of the clouds, threatening to tear them open like the bottom of a ship hitting a reef. It was literally beautiful and my soul and spirit were elated into an almost constant state of thanksgiving to God for being completely amazing to me and my whole life.
After following the trail through the maze of shrubbery and delicately choosing a way around large mossy and muddy pools, we came to the foot of the slope that would take us to the saddle.
Through the willows. This is the trail... right?
Hannah shows off the balance
The rest of the gang negotiating the oh so dry trail
At this point, and after studying the topo carefully, I decided that it may make more sense to leave the trail and head more northeast and up the gully. It was also at this point that Kayla took a bad step and turned her ankle a bit. Eric and her decided to try and stick to the trail but urged us to go on and if they needed to they would head back to the jeep. I promised them that we would return strictly via the trail in case we needed to help them out.
A quick break and directly above, the path we took
Seriously, could the views get better?
The climb was arduous but stable and eventually we topped out on the saddle. Looking back at where the trail actually comes up we easily saved twenty or thirty minutes and got a great off trail mini-adventure while at it.
Gotta make it... gonna make it!
Just taking a break...er... taking in the views!
From our vantage point looking forward we could see where the tundra ended and the seemingly endless pile of stones started. I would estimate the next pitch was around 800 to 1000 feet of elevation gain at least 40 degrees.
Heather and 'Death Hill'... ugh
The approach to 'Death Hill'
I decided to call this place ‘Death Hill’ and instead of giving everyone boring shots of our suffering up it I will instead insert an image of the scene beyond it… enjoy…
At the top (yes, it did end) we were greeted with a gentler and easier version of the previous forty minutes of climbing.
Just beyond 'Death Hill', we thought that was the top too...
Because of our vantage we just kept climbing up, not realizing that the last little bump actually didn’t need to be climbed and instead traversed to the final summit pitch. A little disheartening but after a few words of encouragement and one last blast of energy, we made it to the tippy top.
Coming over the last bump. The clouds in hot pursuit
Way to go Thomas! Fourteener number 1
Unreal… beautiful... vast… breathtaking… words ALWAYS seem to fail a proper description and feeling I experience on a summit. I feel the Lord’s pleasure when I’m there, like He’s saying,
'Look at the cool cool stuff I made for you to explore! Remember all the other places in your life I have made in the same way for you to explore too.'
The view to the north.
I am truly at peace here and for a moment, life just seems ‘right’. My wife's condition, my lame server job, my quiet sorrow of the loss of my mother to depression, my living situation, my amazing kids, my amazing amazing beautiful wife, all of it in God's hands, not surprised by any of it but telling me that He's got me and that it is all somehow - 'right'.
After an entire 18 inch ham and Swiss with lettuce, black olive, tomato, salt, pepper, oregano, and oil (Mr. Goodcents folks, 80th and Wadsworth oh my…) I decided that I wanted to touch East La Plata too but after reviewing the actual work required to get there (want to try Ellingwood someday for sure), we decided that it would take just a bit too long so instead, we said our goodbye’s to the summit and the five other people we saw all day and headed back down.
Heather and Hannah have consistently taken a nap on every trip we've taken... wish I could do that.
Thomas ponders the meaning of it all
As usual, the way down is less exciting than the way up but never the less, it passes but always with a different flavor - early afternoon lighting, less clouds, less energy, less talking, more thinking. Still, you can’t regret it, especially when you only get out once a month to do this.
The bottom of 'Death Hill' hopefully it gives a little perspective
Sayers Benchmark... maybe someday.
Back through the valley.
Back at the Jeep we learned that Eric and Kayla made it about half way up to the saddle when Eric decided he should hurt himself too and ate it hard on the trail. He had his knee wrapped and limped around but they were still in great spirits. We climbed back into the Jeep, rambled back down to my car, split back up, vibrated our brains out on the washboard and ate in Leadville.
Thanks for reading, thanks for looking at the pics and if you decide to do so, thanks for your comments regarding the photography. This is a dream of mine and I have really been pushing it in this area so I can become a better photographer.
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