| Kite Lake Loop
August 28, 2009
I decided to wrap up my 2009 climbing season by doing the DemCamLincBross Loop, aka Kite Lake Loop.
Photo 1: Topo of Kite Lake Loop
That is four 14,000+ ft. mountains (14ers) from one trailhead in one day.
Mt. Democrat 14,148
Mt. Cameron 14,238
Mt. Lincoln 14,286
Mt. Bross 14,172
There is a road up both Pikes Peak and Mt. Evans. If you drove up one of those mountains, stopped your car 100 feet below the summit and walked up to the summit, did you climb that mountain? What if you walked up the last 500 feet? There are a few rules about 14ers that people refer to. If I remember correctly, the last time I heard that rule mentioned, it was 3,000 feet to claim that you climbed a 14er, however, this rule is much argued, discussed and sometimes dismissed. Another rule applies to whether you can claim that you climbed two 14ers if you climb one and then descend the saddle between the two and climb up the second one. This rule states that the saddle must be 300 feet lower than both adjacent summits, however that conflicts with many interpretations of the 3,000 ft. rule.
The saddle between Mt. Cameron and Mt. Lincoln is 138 ft. lower than the summit of Cameron and 186 ft. lower than the summit of Democrat. Because Cameron is lower than Democrat, only Democrat should be counted if you climb both summits, one from the other. I can live with that.
Photo 2: Kite Lake Campground
Thursday after work, I drove to the Kite Lake trailhead, about 6 miles from Alma, CO. Kite Lake has only 5 camping spots, but they were all available when I arrived. I paid $16 for two days. I only intended to camp one night, but check out time is 2:00 PM and I didn't expect to be back before 2:00. Besides, the Forest Service can use the money. As usual with many trail heads, I had no cell connection.
After I set up camp, I took my flashlight, walking stick, and a light jacket and went out to explore the beginning of the next day's hike. The main trail heads north from Kite Lake and quickly gains altitude on the way to the Democrat-Cameron saddle. I hiked for half an hour. It began to hail lightly, tiny hailstones. It didn't look like severe weather coming in, so I climbed higher.
After a while, I heard conversation and, following the sound with my eyes, spotted two people above me, heading down. The acoustics were great and I could hear every word as one was talking and complaining about how difficult it was to get ahead at the company where he worked. As I listened, I realized that I had heard that story before, almost word for word. When the two men reached me, he was still telling his sad tale. I told him that I knew him. He looked at me like I was crazy. Then I said that I didn't really know him, but that at another time, I had heard that story he was telling. I could see he still thought I was loony. I started throwing at him the names of mountains that I'd climbed this year, asking if he had climbed them this year. All I got was, "No, no, no, no" until I mentioned Grays and Torreys. Yes, he had climbed Grays this year, but not Torreys as the weather was bad. "Snow", I asked. "Yes", he replied. That's it, that's where I heard him tell the story. Maybe I wasn't so nutty after all. He turned to his companion and said to him, "But I climbed Grays with you. I wouldn't tell this to you twice. Did I talk about this on Grays?" And this is the great part. His friend replied, "I don't think so, I wasn't really paying attention." I wanted to laugh out loud, right there, but I held it in. They headed down the trail while I watched and laughed inside. So funny!
Up above, a white patch moved and I was looking at a mountain goat, the only one I've seen except for those on Mt. Evans and the one on Princeton's south west ridge that turned out to be a patch of snow.
It started to hail again, so I headed back down. I passed the remains of an old shack or cabin, just a pile of wood now. There was some movement and I saw an animal's head sticking out of the wreckage. Then I saw another, there were 2 or 3 marmots that probably lived in that pile of sticks and wood. One sat up like a teddy bear and I got his picture.
Back in camp, I got into the tent. It was cold, so there was no falling asleep on top of the sleeping bag. I got inside the bag and zipped it up to my chin.
I woke just before 3:30, downed a can of Starbucks Doubleshot and argued with myself about whether I really wanted to get up into this extra cold dark night. The caffeine kicked in and I got up. In the beam of my flashlight I could see that the dew was frozen to the grass and plants. I ate the rest of my breakfast in the car where it was somewhat warmer.
A small group of climbers approached and asked if I could tell them where the trail started. I did, and they headed off in that direction. There was no rush, I dawdled and started hiking about 5:00. For a while, my headlamp illuminated landmarks that I recognized from the evening before. I did not see any lights above me and wondered where that group was that started out earlier. Could they be that fast that they had already reached the saddle and turned for Democrat?
Photo 3: Dawn over Kite Lake
After an hour's hard climb I reached the saddle between Democrat and Cameron. Turning left, I followed the rocky trail that switchbacked up Democrat's east ridge.
Photo 4: Section of Democrat's East Ridge
Another hour and I was at Democrat's summit.
Photo 5: Democrat's Summit
I had it all to myself for about 20 minutes.
Photo 6: Looking north from Democrat's Summit
Then Sam and Ben arrived. They were two great guys and we swapped tall tales for a while. Having stayed longer than I intended, I grabbed my gear and headed back the way I'd come, following Sam and Ben who quickly disappeared from my view. It took me almost as long to return to the saddle as it took me to climb up from the saddle.
"Back in the Saddle Again" (Thanks to Gene Autry) later starters were scattered here and there and some brief conversation was required. "How far to the top?" is the usual conversation starter.
Photo 7: Looking ahead at Cameron's West Ridge
Photo 8: Looking back at Lincoln's East Ridge
From the saddle, I continued east and began climbing the 888 feet to Cameron's summit. It was another steep switchbacking climb that from time to time afforded great views north and then south.
Photo 9: View north from Cameron's West Ridge
That's where I ran into the group that had asked me where the trail began and left Kite Lake before me. They had inadvertently taken the Kite Lake Loop counter clockwise, climbing Bross first. No big deal, it's still the same four 14ers and the same trail.
Cameron's summit was a disappointment. It was just a flat area on the top of a rounded hump. You could walk right through it and never even know. I checked the altitude with my GPS to make sure I'd hit it. Kept going, no reason to stop.
Dropping down the east side of Cameron, an unusual formation rose from the far horizon. At first I thought it was a far distant mountain, but as I got closer and could see more of it, it was closer than I thought. I paused to take the trail description out and matched the picture of Mt. Lincoln to this new mountain.
Photo 10: Lincoln's two humped summit
The saddle between Cameron and Lincoln was the next thing to flat. As I mentioned earlier, it's less than 200 ft. down from either summit, wide and long. It appears to have almost enough room for a football field with seating for 20,000 and room to park all the cars.
The summit of Lincoln was interesting, sort of a double humped and imposing feature rising out of the flat plain. The climb up from the saddle was a lot easier than it looked. As I approached the summit, there was Sam and Ben coming down. Brief conversation about how the day was going for all of us and then we swapped cameras to take pictures with Lincoln's summit in the background.
Photo 11: Final pitch on Lincoln, just kidding, this is the final 10 feet.
There were plenty of sharp drop offs from Lincoln's summit and I took several pictures. I could see Mt. Bross and the trail up to its summit. It looked to be a long way away, but it seemed to be fairly level, not a lot of elevation gain or loss.
Photo 12: Bross from Lincoln
On Democrat, I met Tom and his daughter Claire. Tom asserted that he was the same age as I am (66). With his parka hood covering his hair and only showing his face, I would have taken him to be 35. I wasn't sure if he was kidding me or not. And not knowing that Claire was his daughter, that added to his impression of youth.
Photo 13: Cameron Amphitheater
The three of us set out for Bross at the same time and we ended up hiking together all the way back to Kite Lake.
Photo 14: Kite Lake from Cameron-Bross Saddle
It was fairly level hiking from Democrat to Bross and the summit of Bross is only 328 ft. higher than the low point between Democrat and Bross, so it was no big deal to climb Bross. Except that it is illegal. Big sign saying; "No public access to Mt. Bross, trail closed."
Photo 15: We must have missed this sign
So the slim possibility that the federales (as Tom put it) might catch us, added a little (very little) excitement to that short climb.
Photo 16: Democrat from Cameron-Bross Saddle
The question about which trail led from Bross, back to Kite Lake involved several choices. I called it route finding by consensus. We could see some hikers to the south-west, but the trail they were on appeared to gain altitude. It also looked as if it might drop down well south of Kite Lake. We opted for a different trail and started back down Bross the way we went up and turned west down a well defined trail. Below us we watched two hikers heading down and decided that was the way to go. We traversed across the steep slope on an almost non existent path, careful least we slip and take the quick way back to Kite Lake. Then taking a short but quite steep cross country jog, we sort of slid down to the trail that the other two hikers were on. By then, they were far ahead and mostly out of our sight.
Although this trail was very steep, for the most part, it was loose enough to allow us to heel step much of our way down.
Photo 17: Claire leads Tom down the descent chute
Tom fell once, but as he put it, he fell gracefully. As I watched from my rear guard position, he appeared to go down in slow motion. No harm done.
Claire was out in front and Tom and I engaged in some very interesting conversation about life and the pursuit of happiness—or something like that. When we were almost to level ground, we stopped to remove a layer or two of clothing as it was getting warmer as we got closer to Kite Lake. When Tom took off his parka/hat, his hair was as white as mine, although he had a lot more hair than I do. That's when I truly believed that he was my age.During this brief stop, I noticed that the back of my pack was soaking wet. We speculated that my hydration bladder had burst, but I was not going to check it then, the damage was done. It could wait until I was back at the car.
By this time, we were pretty certain that we had not taken the standard route down from Bross to Kite Lake, and that was ratified when we passed two "Trail Closed" signs. Someone had neglected to put one of those signs at the top end of the trail. No big deal, I think we saved some time taking the steep way down. The trail we choose not to follow, the one that looked like it gained altitude, that was the correct trail. I'm sure it wasn't as much fun as our short cut. As I write this, I wonder why I didn't pull out my GPS back at Bross and check the descent route that I'd uploaded from 14ers.com. Truth is that it's amazing that I even took out the route description to confirm that one peak was Mt. Lincoln.
It was about 1:15 in the afternoon when we reached the camp grounds. I should have paid for only one day of camping. I had reached all four summits before noon.
In the parking lot, who would I see but Sam and Ben telling tall tails to a group of fascinated hikers or picnickers. We high-fived all around. They had seen two mountain goats. I guess I was too busy watching where I set my feet. The only time I saw one was the evening the day before.
Back at the car, I opened my pack to get the car keys and found out that a 15 oz. can of Starbucks Doubleshot had ruptured in the top compartment of my pack. Everything was sticky. It would have been better if the water bladder had broken and not the coffee can.
While I was breaking camp and packing my somewhat wet gear into the car, I met a man from Oklahoma who comes to Colorado almost every year to climb some 14ers. On every mountain that I climb, I meet people from out of state who come to Colorado to climb our mountains. Sometimes they're on a business trip and include a mountain or two before or after the business part. Some of them come to Colorado every year to enjoy and climb our mountains. It makes me realize how lucky I am to have them at my door. And it makes me sad to think that I may have climbed my last 14er in 2009, though not a bad year, having climbed ten of them, Belford and Oxford in the wind, Grays and Torreys in the snow, Columbia (finally) in the scree. Shavano (for the third time) and Tabeguache (for the first time). I met some great people on these expeditions, like my new friend Alex, or the Columbia group, Greg, Soral, Elizabeth, and Ryan. Although I usually go out by myself, I often end hiking some sections with someone I just run into by happenstance. Jody just happened to be starting up to do Harvard from North Cottonwood at the same time I started for Columbia (4:45 AM) and we hiked and chatted in the rain until our trails split.
As I write this trip report, I have the washer and dryer going, cleaning the canned coffee stickiness out of my clothing. I even washed the band of my headlamp. I cleaned out the car and sprayed a full bottle of Febreze on all the surface. That will also help with the banana peel aroma and the general camping gear mustiness. I still have to de-gunk some of my gear and I intend to take the garden hose to my trusty Osprey backpack.
Misc. flora and fauna.
Note: Elevations and distances taken from TOPO! software and/or my GPS. Hair splitting accuracy is not guaranteed.
Photo 21 Descent Route from Bross to Kite Lake
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):