| 3 FINISHERS on Wilson Peak!
As I popped up the last section of class 3 rock, just below Wilson Peak's highest point, I noticed more than a few sets of eyes staring at me. With a tone of anxious and excited urgency, Jen blurted, "Let's go – everyone is waiting on you so that you, me and Greg (gdthomas) can be the first to summit." I jokingly asked if the three of us could hold hands to the top, but we decided to just let Greg go up first. After all, he had been waiting for this moment much longer than we had.
As I took those final steps up the talus to Wilson Peak's summit, our 58th and final Colorado 14er, I seemed to develop a case of tunnel vision. It wasn't "altitude blindness" or anything; it was just my emotions obscuring things. Don't worry, I didn't cry like a schoolgirl. But I'll admit, I did get a little choked up, as this climb was the culmination of our five-year-long quest to climb all of Colorado's 14,000-foot-high mountains.
A month or two earlier, I asked Greg if he wanted to climb Wilson Peak with us because it was also his last unclimbed Colorado 14er. Happily, he accepted. And from there, I was happy that many other climbers (Jeffro, Ryan, del_sur, moonnugs and the Griswolds — Mike Sr., Amy, Mike Jr. and Hannah) were able to join us on this special occasion.
Ryan and Greg rode with us from the Front Range; we met up with del_sur and Moonnugs at the Woods Lake trailhead; and we met the Griswolds and Jeffro at camp (Navajo Lake).
The hike to camp, July 19, 2008
Instead of taking the standard Navajo Lake approach, we looked into approaching Wilson Peak from the Bilk Basin side. Unfortunately, we had little beta to go on and recent photos made the area look excessively snowy. A week before our climb, we decided to switch gears and take the Woods Lake approach, just to try something different (we all had done the standard approach before).
Taking the Woods Lake approach has its advantages and disadvantages, when comparing it with the standard trail. Total mileage is very similar (almost five miles each way), but Woods Lake requires an additional four or five hundred feet of gain, each way, which is pretty substantial when you're carrying a heavy pack with your tent and everything. On the positive side, the Woods Lake trailhead is about a half-hour closer to Denver, saving you about an hour of driving, in total. But I digress.
We all met up at the trailhead parking lot at about 2 p.m. After gearing up, we set off into the muggy, buggy, muddy forest.
It was a long hike through the woods. Mosquitoes were a bit of a nuisance, but the heat and humidity was worse. Most of us were sweating profusely. And the trail just kept going up and up …
Eventually we made it out of the trees, where we were surprised to come across some snowfields, which we weren't expecting. Luckily, they weren't bad, and only one of them required some careful stepping.
Just before gaining the ridge some rumbles of thunder encouraged us to hike a little faster (the other negative of this approach is that it crosses a high, lightning-exposed pass).
As we rounded the broad pass, we were afforded great views of El Diente Peak. From this less-seen angle, you can see where it gets its name.
Our large group of 11 managed to tent up in the same general area. Other than a few sprinkles of rain, we had pretty good weather that evening.
Everyone agreed upon a 5 a.m.-sharp start the next morning, and after eating and drinking some hard liquor, everyone hit the hay – er, it was more like we hit the sleeping pads on tufts of grass.
At about 5:15 a.m.-sharp, we all started up the trail after the Griswolds.
As my headlamp lit up the softball-sized talus in front of me, I wondered if that Earth's Best Organic milk I had with my cereal would sit well in my stomach. It kind of tasted like it came straight from the cow's utter, but I knew I needed the protein and calories. On the box, it says it doesn't need any refrigeration (until it's opened), due to it being "ultra-high temperature processed," but it's still hard to believe. Earlier that morning I offered one to del_sur, and after watching him drink some and survive, I proceeded to eat my cereal.
It was pretty chilly that morning, but within minutes of being on the trail, we were peeling layers like strippers. But as we got closer to the Rock of Ages saddle, the wind chilled the air once again and we added layers like prude Catholic girls.
Classic, San Juan views were had in every direction. Man, I love that range. Lizard Head was especially picturesque.
Beyond the Wilson-Gladstone ridge, the climbing became much more exciting. In order to gain Wilson Peak's ridge, we had to traverse across a bunch of class 2 and 3 rock, which was tons of fun, and then ascend across a loose scree slope. Overall, it wasn't that bad, but the weight of a butterfly would be enough to send some of those rocks down into Bilk Basin.
Occasionally, when I looked ahead or behind, I'd just see a rainbow of helmet colors, and it made me think of Skittles.
Once we gained the ridge, the fun ratcheted up even more. And when I saw that section of rock we'd have to down climb and then up climb, excitement pumped through my veins. I thought to myself, this final 14er isn't going to let me off so easy.
But the challenge was met with a smile, as the rock was solid. And it oozed with a surprising fun factor.
Even though I was stuck behind a train of people (our group and another group), I didn't mind, as I was soaking it in and enjoying every step and every hold – just drinking it in and savoring the flavor.
As I pulled myself up the last section of rock, with a short and easy hike to the summit before me, I felt like I had surfaced above a body of water. My mind drifted. I was drunk on the moment and in a trance. Jen snapped it out of me and I refocused on the task at hand. That's when I noticed everyone waiting on me to go up to the actual summit.
Man, what a feeling it was to take those last steps up that summit. I felt really high – literally, mentally and metaphysically. It was truly a transcendent experience.
That's about the time I ribbed Jen by saying, "Are you going to cry now?" You see, earlier that day she told me she would probably cry on the summit. But right after making that comment to her, I felt my own eyes watering up, just as a lump grew in my throat. Karma, I suppose.
It was a pretty emotional experience. All sorts of previous 14er climbs flashed in my mind. Good and bad. Close calls. Triumphs. Tribulations. But mostly elated feelings.
Mountain climbing is much more than just climbing mountains. This journey has taught me more about myself than anything else in my life, and I've grown more – spiritually and mentally – because of it.
I could go on, but just know that that summit meant a lot to me. And having so many friends to experience it with made it so much richer.
The icing on the 14er cake
Sharing the summit with Greg on his finisher just elevated the experience 14 notches. I can't imagine a better person to climb with, in general, but to have him join us on his and our finisher was quite the experience.
I celebrated my "Grand Slam" with an Avery Brewing 14'er ESB. I felt like it was fitting because of its name, but also because it's one of my favorite breweries. Hauling that beer up 5,000 feet (and hauling the bottle back down) didn't even phase me. It was totally worth it. I can't recall a beer tasting so good at 8 a.m.
After soaking it all in like a sponge, we began our descent, and it was just as fun on the way down.
That said, thoughts of that 2006 plane crash rattled my mind, adding to the fury of emotions swirling in my brain. RIP to those four souls.
As I hiked down, I started to get a sense of what we had accomplished and it felt really good. We didn't bring peace to the world or anything, but in my little world, I felt like I had overcome some major obstacles and achieved a lofty, long-term goal. In many ways, I felt like climbing all the 14ers in Colorado was more difficult than graduating from college. And I doubt I could've done it without people like Bill Middlebrook and Jeffro ... but that's another novel.
As we hiked back down to the upper basin, some of us boot or butt glissaded down some snow.
Ryan and Matt:
I was pretty proud of this bear bag … though long branches are hard to come by with dead lodgepole pine.
Wildflowers were abundant and beautiful on the way back down to camp.
After breaking down camp, the hike back to the trailhead was long and brutal. That 400+ ascent back over the pass was agonizing. And then we had a long trek back down through the forest.
As we neared the parking area, I noticed the Xterra had a bright-pink sheen to it. Oh, crap, I thought. As we walked up to the truck, Jen seemed confused, but I knew exactly what happened. We got tagged.
You should've seen the looks we got driving into Telluride. Thanks, Debby. Just know, payback's a bitch.
After packing up the Xterra …
… we headed to Telluride, where we checked into a swanky hotel … then everyone met up at Smuggler's for many, many pitchers of beer. Beer flowed like a river, and it was good.
Overall, it was an awesome time … and I'll enjoy reflecting on these memories for the rest of my life.
Some pics from Imogene Pass (4x4 road from Telluride to Ouray), the following day:
Wilson Peak and Telluride ski area:
Other pics ...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):