| A Week in Colorado
On Aug 9th, I left the fire station at 4:00AM, went home picked up Kinsey and my son Eli, and off to Oklahoma we sped. This trip has been in the works for several months, and I have been obsessing over trip reports, trailhead conditions and maps for a while now. My dad and I were going to be the only ones going, but a month and a half ago, I asked my friend Bay if he would be interested in joining us. Bay is a geologist and an adventurist, so he jumped at the chance. He actually quit a job to spend a week in Colorado. It was just a part time job while he works on his masters degree, but still he quit a job to visit CO. All of us have been working out like crazy, cycling, running and spending countless hours on the stairmaster.
We arrive in OK, pick up my dad and Bay, drop off the wife and kid with the inlaws, then off to CO Springs we go. We catch up on old times while we drive, and my dad and I retell stories of climbing Blanca Peak (even though we had to turn around at 14,000ft due to weather, it was Oct 1st, 2007) Guadalupe Peak in December, and Bay tells us of his time in CO last summer, although he didn't climb any mountains, he did do a bunch of geeky geologist stuff. The hours and flat terrain fly by very quickly. Before we knew it, we were in Colorado. It was dark before we could see Pikes Peak.
We stopped in Fountain, CO and found a nice area to car camp near Fountain Creek. Psyched about our upcoming adventure, this was my best car camping experience ever. Woke up in the morning to beautiful August weather. Being away from the Houston humidity and smog was a wonderful thing. We stopped for a quick breakfast, then away to Pikes Peak for our first step in our acclimation process.
Pikes was great. The last time I was here I was about 5 or 6. I guess I didn't appreciate the mountain as much then.
What an awesome sight, looking down on Colorado Springs from this height. We spent several hours on the summit, and hiked down the Barr trail a bit, to get used to the altitude. I bought a Junior ranger hat(I'm such a tourist) for my son Eli, he's 9 months old, and hopefully a future hiker. I sent a text message to all my friends at work about the temperature(37 degreesF) they were jealous. Then down we went. It was time to start the hard part of our trip and off to the Halfmoon Trailhead we went.
Driving toward Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, they were hidden in the clouds. It was kind of disappointing, but we were able to see them later on from Leadville.
I was happy my stock Ford F150 was able to make it within ˝ a mile from the SW Slopes trailhead for Mt. Massive. Then off we went. Our goal was to get to 11,200ft to set up camp, near the creek. The hike in was incredible, the clouds had cleared. The views of Elbert and Mt. Oklahoma were great. This was Bay's first experience at high altitude hiking.
We found an area near the meadow, where the sign tells you to make a right toward Mt. Massive, to camp.
This is a great area. An open meadow, a stream nearby to filter water and views galore!!! We set up camp, filtered water and began to cook dinner. A dinner of potatoes, celery, corn, MRE chicken and canned baked beans made us all feel like kings. We cleaned up our mess, hung our trash and food in a tree, and watched the campfire and stars until we began to get sleepy. We all curled up in the 3man tent and put our gear in the 2man tent, then fell asleep.
About an hour and a half later, I thought I heard a boom in the distance. I wrote it off as my imagination, then went back to sleep. Then, I heard the patter of rain on the roof of the tent. "This can't be" I thought, "the stars were out when we went to sleep" . Within minute we were in a full fledged thunderstorm. The lightning and thunder were flashing and booming all around us. Even though we were in a valley, I still felt very exposed due to our altitude. I kept praying that we would be ok. After about 45 min, Bay said he couldn't stand it and he needed to go outside to pee( all the water we had been drinking to help fend off altitude sickness was kicking in). While he was outside, by the way it was freezing cold, I took a look out of the tent to see if this storm was going to pass soon. I did not want a repeat of last year. While I was looking out, a lightning bolt hit the top of Mt. Elbert. This lightning was unlike any I had ever seen before. It was a short, quick, powerful and very scary flash of light that sent Bay and I screaming back inside the sheer fabric walls of the tent. Then I really began to pray. The rain slowed and I fell back to sleep.
We woke up a little past 4:00AM to the brightest stars we had ever seen in our lives. The storm had brought dry air and very cool temperatures in behind it. In fact, there was ice all over our tent. We boiled some water for coffee, readied our gear and soon we were on our way, starting at about 4:45AM.
The SW Slopes of Mt. Massive are very very steep, but when the sun peaks over the ridge the views are incredible. We continued on our way, and as we reached the ridge we could see something shining back at us from the Mosquito range. The rain we had at 11,200ft was sleet at 12,000ft and it made for a great view of the other mountains.
Our plans were to be the first on the summit, and we were!
What a great feeling!!! I have been above 14,000ft before, but this was the first time I have climbed to the summit. The views of Leadville, Elbert, Oklahoma, the rest of the Sawatch range and the Elks were breathtaking. After spending an hour on the summit, we began the trek down.
We saw many people on the was down. The most popular thing to hear when you are first on the summit is, "HOW MUCH FARTHER!?!?!?!?!?!?!" It is nice to be able to encourage people on their way.
Because the SW Slopes are so steep, the journey down is very painful. When we reached our camp, our feet were hurting. We took a brief break, then broke down camp. I guess the storm had knocked our trash and food down from the tree, because we found a marmot very near our camp with a familiar looking bean can on his head! The poor guy was just sitting there trying to figure out what was going on. I wish we had pics of this, but we were in full rescue mode, so picking up a camera never even entered our minds. Bay was able to get very close to the marmot, who was shaking like a leaf, and pulled the can off his head. The marmot looked up at Bay, then took off. Mission accomplished! Now this marmot can bother someone else who camps near this site. We picked up the trash that the marmot had scattered and broke down our camp. Hiked back to the truck, and took a day off in Leadville.
We went to Rosie's in Leadville, celebrated, then rested in a real bed. The next day, we headed off for the Mt. Elbert trailhead. As we scoped out the Trailhead in the afternoon, we met some nice ladies from Idaho who were just finishing their hike. They gave us some helpful info, said they were going to take a day off, drink some beer, then go to Democrat, Lincoln and Bross. We told them we were going there too and hoped to see them there. They wished us luck and said goodbye. We found a campsite a few hundred yards away from the trailhead and set up camp. Dinner was more of the same from our Massive camp, but with some sausage this time.
After an uneventful night of sleep, we woke up at 3:00AM(again wanting to be the first on the summit) boiled water for coffee, had breakfast and set on our way.
It was a beautiful morning. We stopped near 13,000ft to eat and watch the sunrise.
It was a calm morning that offered great views of the Mosquito Range and Mt. Massive. Then we noticed a hiker below us who was moving quickly. When I say he was moving, I mean he was MOVING!!!
We continued our hike, the crux between 13,500 and 14,000 is very very tough, but we somehow managed to keep moving. After leaving our camp at around 3:45-4:00AM we reached the summit at 7:23AM.
Looking down toward our camp near Massive
Oh, by the way, did I mention my dad is a cancer survivior, surviving cancer in April of this year and he was the 1st to reach the summit. We found out later the guy behind us was a nice guy named Mike from Denver. He had camped the night before at around 11,900ft. After exchanging pleasantries and taking photos of one another, he left. We spent about an hour on the summit. It was pretty humbling to be on the highest point in the Rockies, something none of us took very lightly.
We had a great hike down, more of the same "HOW MUCH FARTHER?" just about the whole way down. When we finished our hike, we opened up a couple bottles of my homemade Jarrod Byrd's Not So Pale Pale Ale. This is a good way to finish a hike.
We then broke camp and had lunch at Doc Holiday's in Leadville.
We then drove to Alma, and made our way to Kite Lake. This is the highest I have ever camped in my life. Cooked another dinner, then went to sleep. We woke at 4:00 to begin hiking before 5:00AM and started toward Mt. Democrat.
It is very windy at the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, I definitely wore the wrong hat. I was expecting a sunny day above 14,000ft, it was sunny, but it was also windy and cold. The climbs up Democrat
and Cameron were a lot harder than I thought they would be, but that might have been because we had climbed Massive and Elbert in the days prior. We saw the ladies from Idaho, who were making good time. Once we were on the summit of Cameron, the hike got a lot easier. We made our way over to Lincoln.
Lincoln has some interesting scrambling and views near the summit. On the way to Bross, we saw a 4runner that was stuck on the trail. We definitely did not expect to see a vehicle up that high! On the summit of Bross the wind was howling.
We took a bit of a break behind a wind break on the summit. Then we made our way down the brutal trail back to Kite Lake. I can see now why it is called Kite Lake. We made it back to the camp and again broke down camp. We made it!!! What an adventure!!! Six 14er summits(not counting Pikes, but counting Cameron) in 4 days!!!
I felt like we were very lucky. We had a great trip, no injuries and a fantastic time in Colorado. We will definitely be back next year. We stopped in Fairplay and celebrated a little before hitting the road.
Come visit me in Texas if you are looking for some winter hiking without snow. Guadalupe Peak offers fantastic views of the salt flats from 5000ft above, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend are awesome in the winter. Until next year, Colorado!!!!
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