| Tour de Colorado
This trip report is a little late, and involves more than just 14ers, but hopefully it will be worth the read.
On August 4-13, my wife Kellie, our two children Emma and Ethan, and my father-in-law Tom spent 9 days touring Colorado. Along the way, we had to make some last-second changes in our itinerary, but all in all, it worked out wonderfully.
We began the week in Estes Park, and spent our days touring Rocky Mountain National Park – although to say we just saw the tip of the iceberg would be an understatement. We wanted to do some easy hikes, as our daughter Emma (age 5) has never hiked in Colorado, and we weren’t sure how our son Ethan (age 1) would react to the altitude. I figured it would be a nice little tune-up before hitting a couple 14ers later in the week.
Our first morning, we planned on hiking to Alberta Falls, but were told the parking lots at both Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake were full. We decided to drive on down anyway, and lo and behold, we managed to find a spot in the Glacier Gorge parking lot. We didn’t end up going to Alberta Falls, though – we decided to branch right and hike on up to Bear Lake, then follow the loop trail around it. While crowded, it was still a gorgeous area and we loved soaking in the views of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak (which are on the to-do list for Kellie and I next summer).
Emma hiking in RMNP
I think Ethan enjoyed himself
The next day, we met some friends of ours (Scott & Pilar), who were also vacationing in Estes Park with their two daughters, to do another hike in RMNP. Since we didn’t go to Alberta Falls the day before, we decided to hit it up, but from the Bear Lake trailhead instead of Glacier Gorge. The views from Alberta Falls are magnificent, and while it was also crowded, all Scott and I had to do was hike back behind the top of the Falls, and it was suddenly peaceful, quiet, and absolutely gorgeous.
Father/daughter bonding time
Heading up top Alberta Falls
We also drove up Trail Ridge Road (a must for tourists, right?), but didn’t make it all the way around. Probably because we couldn’t help but stop at all the scenic overlooks. None of us had ever been to RMNP before, and we were simply trying to soak it all in. Emma was especially enamored with Longs Peak, and kept asking about climbing it. I will take her one day, but this trip would definitely not be it!
Longs Peak from Trail Ridge Road
On Thursday, after visiting the Stanley Hotel (I’m a HUGE Stephen King fan), we headed southwest to Breckenridge. I knew Kellie would love the town, which she’d never been to before, and I wanted revenge on the only 14er that has thwarted my summit attempt – Quandary Peak. Not a difficult mountain, but I started way too late last year and had to turn around just a couple hundred yards from the summit due to a nasty thunderstorm.
Our friend Scott also drove down from Estes Park to join me. This would be his first 14er, and I think he may have gotten hooked. We started at about 6:15 a.m. Friday, and there were only 4-5 cars parked there before us. There was a very thin, but constant, cloud cover – and it was cold. At least for August, anyway. I think it was 35 degrees when we started out. As the sun rose, however, the clouds faded away.
Scott, with some sunlight poking through
The goal for the day
Scott taking a breather
Sunlight! DeCaLiBron in the background
As far as beta goes, there’s not a whole lot for me to say. It’s a straightforward hike, and we made the summit at about 9:15 a.m. Some people coming down on our way up mentioned the mountain goats up top, but we had to head down just a bit on the west side of the summit to actually see them. There were four total, including one baby.
Mountain goats (with one hiding)
Steep and loose on this side
I was so happy to return a year after turning around, and finally get my summit - #10 for me. Finally in double digits! Meanwhile, Scott was having a great time, and said if it weren’t for the inevitable storms later, he could sit up there for hours. I agreed. We relaxed, ate pizza, and just enjoyed the beautiful weather. I think we stayed up there for roughly 45 minutes, then headed back down. All in all, it was a great day, and I was so happy to spend it taking a good friend up his first 14er.
14er #10 for me
Our original plans had us leaving Breckenridge on Saturday afternoon and drive to Ouray. The climax of my week was to climb the SW ridge of Mt. Sneffels the following morning, while Kellie and the kids relaxed at the hot springs pool. It would be my first class 3 climb. I had contacted Jeff (SurfNTurf) and Bill (wildlobo71) about it way back at the beginning of the year, and they were kind enough to agree to join me. As the year went on, both Jenny (SilverLynx) and Noel (Cookiehiker) were added to our climbing party.
But after seeing pictures of snow on Sneffels a couple days prior, and getting a message from Bill showing an almost sure chance of snow, rain, and who knows what else for Sunday, I got worried. I did not want to be doing this route in bad weather. Bill and Noel weren’t keen on driving all the way out there either. Our group was dwindling, not to mention there was a possibility for flooding in Ouray, and my family probably wouldn’t even get to go to the hot springs pool.
At about 10 p.m. on Friday night, I decided to call off the trip to Ouray. Our hotel was kind enough to let us cancel our reservation, but that left one problem – where would we go the following day? Hoping to still sneak a 14er in, I suggested Buena Vista. Kellie and I stayed up late, trying to find a place that had a room available for the next two days. After countless attempts and no vacancies, Kellie finally found us a cabin. That part was settled. Now I just had to figure out what Sawatch peak to climb.
My first choice was La Plata, but I saw there were many other choices that would be a lot closer. Mt. Princeton and Mt. Yale were the obvious choices, and since I figured I’d be going solo, and only had a 2WD vehicle, was leaning toward Yale.
However, Saturday evening, after arriving in Buena Vista, I got a message from Bill. He and Jenny were willing to drive out Sunday morning and hike Princeton if I was interested – and he had a 4WD, so we could go to the upper trailhead. That was an immediate yes for me. Noel confirmed a little later that she would join us as well. My first thought, of course, was “COOKIES!!”
Emma posing with Princeton
We met at the lower parking lot at 6:45 a.m., and were ready to head up the road when a couple from Munich, Germany asked if they could hitch a ride. With only room for 5 people, I volunteered to ride in the back of Bill’s Jeep with all the backpacks. The ride up was…interesting. The German couple was a blast to talk to, and I’ll never forget the moment when Bill had to turn the Jeep around, its nose pointing out at the Arkansas River valley spread out far below us, and the German woman grabbing both front seats and screaming, “STOP!!!!” I’m not sure Bill was amused, but the rest of us thought it was hilarious.
Bill, Noel, Jenny, and myself before our hike
Taking a break
Bill showing Noel his guns. Or his tan line. Not sure which.
Then came the hike itself. All I can say about Princeton is…rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks, rocks, rocks, never ending rocks. Parts were large talus fields, other parts were loose scree, but no matter where we went, the sea of rocks were there to greet us. I don’t remember what time we reached the summit, but we made good time, and spent quite a bit of time up there, taking pictures, chatting, and eating cookies. Noel passed out cookies to all the folks on the summit, much to their delight. I had pizza again – figured if I was on one of the collegiate peaks, might as well eat like a college student.
And a close-up
Well that's reassuring...
Our awesome group on Mt. Princeton
Some dark clouds were rolling in, but Bill said we were still okay. We made our way down, and after a short discussion, agreed to follow the ridge over to Tigger, and unranked 13er. Once off the initial steep descent from Princeton, the hike over to Tigger was pretty easy. The descent off the backside of Tigger (or technically the frontside, I suppose) was another matter entirely. Steep and loose, it was more of a challenge than I think any of us expected. With no real trail to follow, we all slipped, slid and carefully maneuvered our way down. At one point, Noel had a few choice words I can’t repeat here for a boulder she fell into. We could see Bill’s Jeep, taunting us below, but it took more time than I thought it would to reach it.
On Tigger's summit
The steep descent off Tigger
Finally, we popped out onto the 4WD road above where Bill had parked, and enjoyed the leisurely stroll back to his Jeep. As we got close, we saw the German couple nearing the end of the standard trail. “Wow, that was great timing,” I said, only to find out they’d been sitting there for 30 minutes, watching our apparently humorous Tigger descent. “That was…interesting,” the man said, chuckling.
Happy to be off Tigger, we broke into dance...
For the drive back down, I was rewarded with riding shotgun, while Jenny took my spot in the back of the Jeep. A light rain began falling right after we loaded up, and was coming down hard by the time we reached the lower parking lot.
My preferred seat in Bill's jeep
A couple thoughts on this climb: First, my sincere thanks to Bill, Jenny, and Noel for joining me. With over 200 14er summits between them, I thought it was pretty cool of them to all repeat a 14er to join me. They were all awesome hiking partners. Second, I imagine for all of them, the talus and scree was tedious and annoying. But for someone such as myself, who has been limited to mostly walk-ups thus far (my peak list is a who’s who of the easiest 14ers in Colorado), the challenges presented were actually fun in a way. For the first time, I felt like I really needed to pay attention to where I stepped, which direction I chose to go (this was mainly on the descent of Tigger, but still…). It was a fun, rewarding day with some great people. What more could I ask for?
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