Darlene and I were spending the weekend in Breckenridge, and while we usually go climbing, did not want to give up the opportunity of being well-positioned to get after a spectacular day of hiking in the high country. We knew we wanted something relatively ambitious and fun at elevation, so this loop was a no-brainer!
Knowing how crowded it could get, we got a relatively early start, leaving Breck at 5:15 and starting off from the trailhead at 6:00 am. The parking lot was absolutely packed with vans from Nebraska and other cars, and we quickly noticed a HUGE line of people in front of us and other groups gathering behind us. The weather was shockingly clear and calm; with the sun just hitting the peak of Democrat, it was cool enough in the shade to warrant an extra layer.
We made it quicker than expected to the saddle and into the sun.
On the saddle, with hikers on the trail to Democrat behind
We started chatting with some of the many, many hikers on the mountain that day. Turns out there was a 110-member party on the mountain that day from a wellness group based in Nebraska. While it was easy to get impatient with the crowd, everyone was incredibly nice and exuded a palpable and genuine sense of excitement and happiness to be on the mountain.
We left one of our packs at the saddle and headed up Democrat. Trekking poles are more of a liability here as the trail is more a path through a boulder/talus field. I'd leave these at the saddle next time. Things got really clogged here as dozens of hikers were trying to get past each other. Slowly but surely we made it up; as expected, the views were incredible!
Wanting to get ahead of the crowds, and understanding that there were three more summits to go, we quickly got off and back to the saddle. At this point, it's 7:45 AM, so about 1:45 TH to summit, and we were moving at a comfortable pace.
The crowds dwindled as we started along the ridgeline over to Cameron/Lincoln. The views were incredible and the trail significantly better, at a moderate grade that was simply a joy! The trail continued to be excellent all the way to Cameron. We arrived at around 9:00, around three hours after leaving the TH
Cameron, with Lincoln behind. Later, we would cut back right below this point to head to Bross
Darlene on Cameron, in front of another spectacular view
We scrambled down a loose slope, stashed a pack, and continued on to Lincoln. The trail got a little more narrow and a bit scrambly at sections, but for the most part it was very straightforward. Before we knew it, we were on the day's 3rd summit!
At this point it's 9:30 and we're already noticing significant cloud formation, so we quickly make our way back off Lincoln and bear left to begin the long trail over to Bross.
Darlene on the trail back from Lincoln summit
Looking out on our way back from Lincoln. Summit of Cameron visible on right with people on it, trail to Bross breaks off left
The trail over to Bross
The trail to Bross is simply delightful; the trail opens up so you walk next to each other, the views are incredible on either side, the grade is very laid back, and the crowds really thin out.
We had originally planned to divert before the summit given the access issues; however, we saw a short procession of people summiting, along with a bunch of people on ATVs motoring up the trail.
People and ATVs summiting Bross
ATVs on summit of Bross
We started heading down the last part of the loop at around 10:30 AM, 4.5 hours after leaving the TH. This was a surprisingly challenging descent down loose scree/talus/boulders. While slipping on scree is annoying, I grew more concerned about the larger pieces dislodging, and would warn future parties to exercise caution here.
Darlene on the sketchy descent trail
The trail abruptly improved towards the bottom with some very impressive trail engineering; hats off to those working on this section of trail, quite an amazing job.
We got back down at around noon, as menacing thunderheads were looming over the Democrat/Lincoln. There were still a disconcerting number of people both on the summit of Democrat and on the ridge to Lincoln, along with a few parties just starting the loop despite the late hour.
Some closing thoughts; I was surprised at how mellow this loop compared to my other experiences on 14ers. Darlene and I are definitely not seasoned peak baggers, and we worried the loop was a little ambitious when we were making plans - particularly the whole 4 peaks in a day part. The high elevation of the parking lot and moderate grades make this is a much more manageable day than we expected. Of course, you are still in the high country and due caution is always required; we were especially shocked at how many people were still on the summit or just beginning their trip at noon when weather was coming in fast and getting worse by the minute.
Clouds gathering on the ride back
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