| 14er-Grand Slam-Finisher and Last of the Elks
On July 24th, 2013 I was blessed to finish the 58 14teeners of Colorado as I reached the summit of North Maroon Peak with Jim Chapman, to mark my 58th fourteen thousand foot summit. Some call it the 14teeners Grand Slam when you complete all of Colorado’s 14ers. It took me 10 years to become a “14er Finisher” and a lot of determination along the way. I started mountaineering in 2004 when living in the Dallas, TX area. It was certainly a challenge in those early years to get the climbing opportunities that I needed to validate my bid to be a “14er Finisher" and my list grew very slowly.
Since this is my 14er finisher report I have a few comments before I relate the grand experience on both Maroon and North Maroon peaks:
Many people are drawn to the ocean or sea for solitude and relaxation, for me I have always been drawn to the mountains, like many of you. The reason for this feeling are those very short moments you have on the summit or when you are on the side of a mountain cliff overlooking a green valley thousands of feet below. It is surreal when you get the occasional mountain goat to climb with you on the cliffs. It has also given me a sense of purpose, and joy. An invigorating thirst for life as the Almighty’s power is clearly seen all around you and felt in the high altitude winds.
With mountaineering, if you do not learn, if you do not educate yourself, continue to change for the better your techniques as the mountains get harder, invest in better equipment, and work on your physical conditioning, you will fail in your quest and many perish each year as ONE result of poor planning and judgment. We are reminded of this fact too often, with sobering reminders of friends and family that have been lost. That is the part that is hard to swallow, but we are still drawn to those high peaks because it is in our blood I guess.
There is one main question that people always ask a Colorado mountain climber, Right? Why do you climb the 14teeners? There are a few answers. Sure, if you have to ask you just don't understand! But, If I had to sum it up in a few words. I would say, “It is one of the manliest, toughest, and painful, sports I can do and love. It sharpens my senses and makes me feel alive. Above all, mountaineering makes me feel close to God and enjoy this gift of life I have been given.”
With those few introductory words of hopefully wisdom: On to the good stuff....
We camped Sunday July 21st past the bent tree and on the other side of Maroon Creek in the large Pines. It was actually the only area left that was an established camp site and didn't have any "DO NOT CAMP" signs. So we were very happy we didn't have to backtrack to Crater lake.
We set out for Maroon peak at 5am sharp and as you know, it is immediately an up hill slog. Wow, so much for that good morning Jet-boil coffee.
The EAST slope, what can I say about it. Well, I didn't like it at all. Reminders of Columbia and Challenger come to my mind, the higher you go the worse it seemed to get. Just remember, when in doubt stay right. As you might notice on my Garmin trial map attached, we got off the trail a little on the slope ascent. On the way back down the slope, you can see the trail clear as day all the way to the stream. Lesson learned, even on #57. When Bill Middlebrook says in his trail guide, "Conquering the East slope is a major achievement," I am in total agreement.
Once I nailed the East slope, I got my second wind on the ridge, and although it seems the South Ridge route goes on and on, every time you think this is it, around the next cliff band. Well, just one more, and then a false summit or two. But, enjoyed the climbing and it was much better than the loose East slope. The rock felt solid to me with careful foot placement. Climbing up the Chimney for example, which was the second little gully on the right, was a cake walk. It did take me just under 2 hours from the start of the Ridge to the summit, but I have to admit, I was savoring the moment and enjoying the climb with a lot of picture taking. It turned out that I was the first one on the summit that day at 9:35 am. There were at least 6 climbers on top of North Maroon Monday the 22nd, so I was the one in the Yellow Grivel helmet whooping it up with a little celebration. Route finding both ways on the Peak was not that hard, but I did have the 14ers.com trail loaded in my Garmin Oregon and I checked from time to time to make sure I was on the right trail. I have loved that piece of gear for the last several years and it has certainly saved a lot of off trail time for me. I absolutely recommend it.
Back at camp we decided to pack-up the and hiked out to Maroon lake Monday afternoon and had a night and morning of recharge time in Snowmass Village. A hot shower and schezwan beef at that Chinese place across from the Wildwood Hotel is great. Celebratory beers for Maroon Peak summit was also on the agenda.
Tuesday the 23rd, hiked in from Maroon Lake and at the trail junction right above Crater Lake we took off to the right towards Buckskin Pass. Now, I will tell you, as I continued to climb that hill that was suppose to be just .75 miles, I was not in a happy mood with my full pack, just knowing I had hiked past here yesterday. But, I bit my lip and was very glad to find the small open field above the lower stream that had a suitable flat established camp spot. Wow, what a special place. Across the valley is Pyramid and right in front for all to see was the goal: North Maroon! We gazed at it for hours that evening, talking to fellow climbers on their way back from the summit, pumping water for a few climbers at the stream as they came down the trail. Was great to share stories and prep for our 4 am departure the morning of the 24th. As always, I can't get a restful sleep the night before a climb, it just never works. The intrusive 2 am wake up call, by the porcupine, chattering his mating call or whatever you call it, didn't help either. I was ready to run at him through the bushes at one point. O'well, we stuck to the plan and crossed the stream at 4 am.
What a pleasant surprise the NEW CFI trail is folks. Wow! It is night and day better then the Monday slog on Maroon's East ridge: this was one of the nicest approaches or THE nicest approach on any Class-4 14er of all. Hands down, CFI did a stellar job on the trail all the way to the boulder field. Then you just let your route finding kick-in and look for those cairns in the dark. They are there. We hiked with a young billy goat for a ways and then took a rest in those trees as you move over to the front side of North Maroon Peak and the Northeast ridge at about 11,500 or 11,700. We watched the sun come up and felt we were basically a good hour ahead of schedule. Around 12,600 at the second gully (Major one) we had a lot of goat activity, but were well ahead of the older Billy, a mother goat with one younger and one older kid. We stayed out front the rest of the day, which was great, because they did kick some large boulders down that 2nd gully. So stay aware when you climb it. The goats are lurking...
After the BIG gully, for me, I knew the summit was in the bag. The clouds were very high and thin, but had been there on and off all day, so the weather was holding just fine. Then we got to those big boulders just 300 ft. below the summit, and took a short rest. This is the precipice with a long drop. Watch yourself. It sure was an awesome view. When I got to the Chimney, I will be honest, I couldn't figure the first move out and kept leaning back to far. I didn't want help from Jim, my climbing partner, since it was my finisher. So we opted for the Class 3 route around to the right. I liked it and felt comfortable on the solid rock. We reached the summit at 9 am and I had completed the 58 Colorado 14ers. Yes sir, I was on a high. My friend Jim Chapman also made it to the top and was there with me for a short celebration. It was indeed a great moment. For those of you who have done it, you can certainly relate. All those sleepless nights, swollen knees, bruised shins, blisters and sprained ankles were certainly worth this 10-year journey.
I wouldn't have been able to make it if it weren't for Bill Middlebrook and this great 14ers.com website with the wealth of information and trip report sharing. Yes, you still have to get out there and take it, but without the guides, trail reports, and maps, it would not have been as reachable for me I am sure. So thank you very much Bill, it was an awesome ride that you helped enable.
The last advice I will give is: Try not to rush the 14ers, they are always out there and will always be there. Share them with your family and friends. Yes, I have climbed Mt. Bierstadt 7 times, not just for fun, but because I did it each time as a 14er warm-up, to make sure I still had "IT." Did it in different seasons, different routes most of the time with family and friends, in a white-out snow storm once, over the Sawtooth, etc. But, my favorite memory of Bierstadt was in 2007 when my daughter, 10-years old at the time, topped out on the summit and we shared her first summit together. How wonderful was that, and something I hope she will never forget. I won't stop climbing of course, because you are always making fantastic memories out there with the people and in an environment you love.
Be safe out there and take the time to do it right. Thanks for sharing a few memories and thoughts from me....
Link to Garmin Maroon Peak Climb: July 22, 2013 and North Maroon Peak Climb July 24, 2013
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):