| proud little brother
Months ago, when my older sister, Jacie, a mother of three, told me she set a fitness goal of climbing a mountain with me in Colorado, I was really excited that she was taking an interest in one of my biggest passions.
Choosing a mountain for her to climb wasn't easy. I wanted it to be a challenge, but I didn't want to kill her. I also wanted to choose a mountain with a distinct summit (so it really felt like she was standing on top of a mountain), and it needed to be Class 1 (i.e., no scrambling or climbing required) with little exposure (i.e., no steep drop-offs).
Regardless of what I chose, she was in for a challenge because she had never climbed a mountain before and she lives just a few feet above sea level, in Florida.
At first I thought of some mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park. But they all seemed to be either too difficult or too easy, or they had summits that didn't really "feel" like summits, like Flattop Mountain's summit.
Then, Jen and I thought, why not try to take her up one of our beloved 14ers? After all, nothing says mountain climbing like an oxygen-deprived slog to one of the highest points in the state.
In the beginning, my brother-in-law, Rich, didn't seem to understand my sister's goal. But after time wore on, I think the crazy idea rubbed off on him, and he eventually decided to join us on the climb.
After some careful thought (weighing factors such as proximity to our home, trailhead access, distance, elevation gain, terrain, etc.), we chose Quandary Peak.
Booking a condo in Breckenridge for a couple nights allowed some acclimation time and convenient access to the trailhead. And Grandpa "happily" agreed to babysit the ankle-biting germ incubators while we climbed.
The night before the climb, while carbo-loading some beers, I told Jacie and Rich we'd be getting up at 4:30 the next morning. This would allow enough time to hopefully be up and down the mountain before the typical afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. After telling them the alpine-start plan, I expected to see them wince or whine, but neither even flinched. As it turns out, Rich is used to getting up in the wee hours of the morning for his job, and Jacie has raised three infants. So, for them, getting up at 4:30 a.m. was like sleeping in.
I stumbled into the kitchen – dressed and ready – at about 4:45 a.m. Not only were Jacie and Rich both up and ready, but they had already made breakfast. As I've discovered, parents make the perfect climbers. They're reliable, they have patience, they're efficient and they know how to get shit done.
We made it to the trailhead before the sun, so we had to wait in the truck for first light. About 10 or 15 minutes later, at 5:50 a.m., we were on the trail with enough light to see without headlamps.
Even though the trail is a little steep at first, I thought Jacie and Rich kept a solid pace.
On the trail we met some Texans and a Floridian, and as they passed us Jacie and Rich spoke to them in an esoteric language that I didn't understand. It was a language of deep breathing, high-pitched sighs and grunts. They all seemed to understand each other, though.
When we hit the rocky portion of the trail our pace slowed a bit. But I still thought they handled the challenge like champs.
"When you see these mountains from a distance," Jacie said, "they look smooth. I didn't realize they were so rocky on top."
Above treeline we came across a couple goats and many pikas. I was glad that Jacie and Rich got to experience some wildlife on the trail.
But then the majestic mountain goat licked voraciously at the ground, probably where someone just peed.
Fortunately, no bears or mountain lions attacked us. Rich joked, but I think he was secretly worried. But that's OK, when I visit them in Florida, I'm always watching my back for alligators.
We also saw some fearless pikas:
Earlier in the climb I tried to prepare them for the daunting sight of the upper mountain. I think a lot of people give up when they get above the trees and see the long, arduous climb before them. So I tried to soften the blow with my words. But they probably weren't necessary, because when they saw the upper mountain I didn't hear any complaints or sense any doubt in their steps.
Understandably, as we gained altitude, Jacie and Rich needed to take breaks often for some blows.
Luckily, the weather couldn't have been better, though we could've used a little less wind.
After four hours of hiking almost 3.5 miles and 3,450 vertical feet, we finally gained the summit ridge, with only a short stroll to the narrow summit remaining (click on panorama photo for larger image).
I'm not sure how Jacie and Rich were feeling, but I was feeling really proud of the both of them. Climbing a 14er is quite the accomplishment for anyone, not to mention a couple Floridian flatlanders.
As expected, it was crowded on that popular summit. One group celebrated with PBRs, and another group celebrated with some weed. We celebrated by posing with our Which Wich bags for free subs. It was quite the party up there.
Our descent went much quicker than our ascent (fewer breaks were needed), but it still took some time.
I think the altitude finally caught up to Jacie and Rich, as they both started to feel headaches and slight nausea. But no one puked or started slurring words, so it wasn't so bad.
The goat that we saw on the way up was still loitering in the same spot, waiting for passing hikers to pee so that he could lap up the salt.
Here's Jacie and Jen taking a break:
Jacie and Rich, back down below treeline:
Overall, it was a great day and a great climb, and Jen and I are super-proud of my sister and brother-in-law for making it to the top. I hope they enjoyed the time as much as we did.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):