| And the first shall be last
Ascent Route: Loft
Descent Route: Keyhole
Elevation Gain: 5,600'
14er Finishers: Darrin (kansas) and me!
Champagne Sprayer and all-around Animal: Kris (crossfitter)
Summit Photographer: John
And the first shall be last
Longs Peak was the first 14er I ever saw and recognized. The first Colorado peak I pointed out to my family that I was going to hike. When my Mom and grandmother visited Colorado, I took them to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike and view the peak. For my grandfather I compiled a video blog, and in one scene, I point out Longs and say that not only will I climb that peak, but all of the 14ers in Colorado. I see Longs just about every day on my walk to and from work. It was the first 14er I almost attempted my first month in graduate school at CU. But having only just arrived in Colorado from effectively sea level, I didn't think that was a good plan. So I put off Longs, so I could train. Then I avoided it, because of the crowds. Finally, I saved it for last.
The Inspiration and Journey
Every milestone achieved, starts with an inspiration and a journey. I grew up in rural Western NY, where trees and hills out numbered people sometimes. I walked in the woods, climbed trees, played in the creek. My grandparents put me on cross-country skis as soon as they could find small enough boots and skis for a 3 or 4 yr old. We spent winters skiing around the property. A few years later, they put me on downhill skis, and by the end of the first run, I was hooked.
While I spent my childhood walking in the woods exploring, hiking or climbing wasn't a part of life yet. I have always been fascinated by mountains, and have always wanted to live in Colorado to be close to them. It wasn't until a trip with my grandfather to Germany and Austria in 1994, that I went on my first real hike. The Tyrolian Alps are a magical place, and my face was glued to the window as we drove into the mountains there. We hiked up to a small mountain town for lunch. The hike wasn't much, but it inspired me to pursue mountaineering and hiking once I got to College the very next year. While my grandfather and brother talked after lunch, I ran outside and hiked/ran up the nearest hill I could. I wanted to go as high up as possible, as the view improved with every step. A photo from that hike, has always been on display in every place I have lived. A reminder of what started me on my journey.
College took me to the Adirondacks, where many peaks are tree covered and navigation is much much harder than it is here in Colorado. I managed 3 trips to these lush, rainy mountains. Twice leading my friends into what I considered my playground. I only have 8 of the ADK 46, so I will be back!
Graduate school brought me to CU, and on to the next set of mountains in 1999. So I got the Roach 14ers map set, and started researching. 14ers.com back in 2000 was just a website in it's infancy. It had lots of nice photos to help with the limited Roach descriptions of the route.
Despite my first offer from a college friend to hike Longs, I slowly worked my way up on the difficulty scale. I wanted to make sure I could handle the longer harder days, by working up the mileage and class difficulty. I was a student of the mountains, and prefer to take 'baby steps' in my trips out. I don't want to find myself out of my element, as it becomes easier to make bad decisions then. Practice something harder in the front country, before you do something easier in the back country, is my motto. I also started rock climbing in 2000, so that once I got to peaks with exposure and class 3&4 routes, I would be prepared. From Quandary Peak, as my first, to Handies as my last in grad school, I ended up hiking almost half of the 23 peaks solo. Finding hiking partners back then, was a lot more complicated than it is now.
I took a detour up to Alaska for work, and backpacked and climbed as much as I could. But I always thought about how I could finish that 'list'. On my return back to Colorado in fall of 2007, it once again became my top priority to start hiking and climbing in the mountains I had so missed. Alaskan mountains and peaks, while amazingly beautiful, are difficult to get to and climb. Glaciers, rivers, access issues and unique climbing partners become an obstacle up there.
Darrin's inspiration came to him in 2006, from his couch as an overweight smoker who wanted to climb Mt Rainier. After stopping smoking, training in Scott Park KS and at home on exercise equipment for 2 years, he walked up Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail in July of 2008 then 3 days later he was off to Mt Rainier for a successful summit. From there he voraciously worked on hiking the 14ers, mostly alone and at a fast pace: 25 months total from start to finish.
Last year, I met Darrin on Crestone Peak, and soon we were hiking and climbing all our 14ers together. After an amazing season last year, we realized we could finish them off. We had some in common, but many that were not. It would be a tough 2010 to be able to finish, but we planned and plotted and hoped the weather would cooperate. We needed to summit 25 14ers between us, to finish together! In the end, we only had to reschedule 2 peaks due to weather/conditions concerns. Along the way, I've had to repeat 16 14ers for Darrin, but in the majority of the cases, they were well worth it. Many I had hiked a decade ago, and have since forgotten. Others like Mt Wilson, El Diente and S Maroon, were a test of strength and will to repeat.
This past fall/winter, Darrin finally found the desire to learn how to ski. So on Breckenridge opening weekend, I took him for his first lesson. He hurt afterwards, but still wanted to continue. After all, he wanted to learn ski mountaineering. This winter, he went from never being on skis before, to his first back country experience on Uncompahgre, to his first successful summit ski descent on West Pearl Mountain. Not sure I've seen someone take to skiing as well as Darrin, but if it reflects well on the teacher, I'll take it ;)
This climb of Longs is exactly 1 year to the day of our first 14er date weekend on Pyramid and North Maroon. So far we've shared 35 summits (29 14ers) together. It's been a very good year.
Many people over the years have commented on my photographs. Without my grandfather to teach me, I would not be where I am today. He worked as a photographer for Kodak, and at one time had his own motion picture company, producing commercials for TV and for print. Once I began showing interest and skill in taking photos, he took me under his wing to teach me all that he could. I started learning the basics on his old Olympus OM-1 (fully manual film camera) that he gave me. Vacations home usually involved some sort of photography trip or at least me showing him what I have shot recently. Seeing the smiles on his face when I produced an excellent image or video shot, was worth all the time and effort in the learning process. Being a rather picky artist, the praise was only occasional, but well deserved. I knew that I had captured something special, if he liked it. Showing him the photos from the climb of Mt Baker in Washington state, I knew he was not only impressed by the photos, but by the climb itself.
For most of my Colorado 14ers in the digital age, my photos were taken with a Sony DSC-V1, Canon 30D, or the Canon S90.
The Final Scramble
We met the crew up at the already overflowing parking lot at the trailhead around 1:30 am. There was lots of excitement in our group for only a nap and a long day ahead. The trail through the forest went quickly enough with all the chatter, and soon we were seeing the stars and numerous headlamps zig-zagging up the slope. Once at the trail junction to the loft, the number of people to contend with dropped dramatically. I can see why this is the more popular trail for repeated visits!
A stary night, with headlamps
The loft - with lights
After visiting one of the outhouses on the trail, and filtering water at the lake, we were off to climb the loft couloir. Since both Derek and Kris had done this route before, they knew to stay way right for the solid rock, and to avoid the loose areas in the center. Soon into the venture, I was reminded why you wear helmets, as I gently hit a rock with my head. In the dark, I didn't see it coming!
Higher up in the couloir the rock is much more solid, and the scrambling was quite fun! It was here that the sun began its slow rise to greet us. I had hoped to be on top of the loft at this point, but looking back on the photos now, I am not displeased at all. The light of daybreak illuminated the surrounding rocks in a rosy glow, as we found the exit ledges and appeared on the loft.
Some solid scrambling
We are alpenglow
A squeeze - Photo Credit: Darrin
The final ledge
Darrin towering over Longs
From the loft, Kris started his journey to attempt the grand slam: Mt Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, Storm Peak, Mt Lady Washington, Battle and Estes Cone. Of course, this animal needed some ballast, so he delightfully took our bottle of champagne from Darrin's pack and took it up both Meeker and Longs! He would rejoin us just below Clark's arrow. It would be a theme for the day, as he would disappear and then reappear in unusual places on his quest.
Long shadows on the loft
Longs from the SE
Derek and Darrin led us to roughly where the down climb to Clark's Arrow is. We didn't want to go too low, so we had stayed a bit high. The ridge along the descent was littered with rather lost hikers, staring at route descriptions and GPS's. But once Derek found the diving board rock with the cairn, and made the sign for us to follow, the whole group of semi-lost hikers swarmed in our direction. This created the first of many bottlenecks along the trail this day, but luckily we were in the front of this one!
Clark's Arrow is barely visible, even up close. But from farther away, it is next to impossible! The climb up to Keplinger's Couloir and over to the homestretch took longer than desired, as it seems my asthma reared it's ugly head on the ascent to the loft. So both Kris and Derek took my summit beer and Illegal Pete's burrito from my rather heavy pack.
Derek has found the way
The crux boulder
Derek 2 - Arrow 0
Route over to the Homestretch
Clarks Arrow from Keplingers Couloir
Once at the base of the homestretch, it was an easy and simple scramble to the summit. Darrin testing his skills and doing it "no hands". We then proceeded directly to the summit block rock, where Kris was so excited to open the champagne for us, we had little time to warn those around us about the impending shower. But I can only presume the 14K brain was slow, and no one though Kris could create the impressive shower of champagne that he did. The poor guy running out of the photo, mumbled that he was glad he was wearing gortex! Hahaha
I had made a find in a local beer store, so we also had to have "Longs Peak Raspberry Wheat" on the summit as well. After the champagne, the beer did taste a bit funny ;)
Longs Peak Raspberry Wheat
Summit party - Photo Credit: Darrin
We relaxed on the summit for about a hour and a half, before starting our descent at 10am. Then we saw the true chaos of Longs. The descent of the homestretch was almost laughable. All cracks left and right, were filled with people going up and down, getting in each others way. Terrified foreigners gripped in the tougher sections, not moving and creating bottlenecks. Darrin, John and Derek had managed to shoot a gap and made it through the chaos rather quickly. While I was stuck in one of those tricky sections with an Indian guy terrified and not moving. I tried to help him, by showing him how to put his full sole of his loafers down on the rock, to get them to grip better. But he was stuck. I finally suggested he move over to another, slightly easier crack, so that I may get out of the area, as there was a group behind me waiting as well.
Once off of the homestretch, this moving bottleneck continued. The narrows went well enough, as no one was too terrified here. But at the choke stone, it was once again chaos. We went directly down to the left of it, and managed to get in front of a few that didn't like our approach to the rock. From there the loose descent of the trough began. We ran into a few people that would have liked to have our helmets. Near the base of this part of the route, Kris caught up to us, and then promptly took off, and ran up some prominent feature on the ridge, thinking it was the keyhole. Ahh, to have that kind of energy…
The Keyhole up close and personal is a pretty neat area. If it weren't for the swarms of tourists, this route would be rather enjoyable. We took a short break here, and viewed the vast expanse of the boulder field. Once down by the outhouses, the trail improved, and we made decent time, until the most ridiculous switchbacks I ever saw. Long sweeps to the left and right, barely losing any elevation, as extra mileage was put on our feet for no reason. I swear each switchback lost maybe an inch of elevation!!! Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, a foot was lost each switchback. Makes me with I followed Al's advice to take the Kissing Camel deproach.
Below the ridge to Mt Lady Washington, we once again ran into Kris, taking a nap on a rock. A couple minutes later, he was off again for Battle and Estes Cone somewhere over the ridge and NE of where we were. After that the slog back to the trailhead was on in the heat of the day. Those last 3.5 miles felt like an eternity! Meanwhile, Kris was exploring his options to get over to Estes Cone, the final peak in the grand slam. But with the late day, and radio communication getting sparse to impossible, he bailed on the final peak, so that we wouldn't wait and worry about him. Plus we had a 14er finisher party that we were just going to make, if we were quick about it.
With all the rush at the end, it was hard to fathom what we had just completed. Even now, it hasn't fully sunk in. 10 years after I started hiking the 14ers, I am finally done. Maybe it will hit me when I hike the next peak…
Sometimes life isn't always fair. My grandfather, who has been such an enormous influence in my life, passed away just this last December after a bad fall. I was raised by my grandparents, so to me, my grandfather is my father. He was also the one who created my namesake. Of all my family members, he was the one I wanted to share this achievement with the most. I would have compiled a special 14ers collection of photographs to show him. To watch his reaction to some of the photographs I have taken over the years, would have brought so much joy to both of us. Today (Aug 23) would have been his 90th birthday, and during my phone call home, I would have told him the news of my achievement, and of the photos he will be seeing on my next trip home. I would have also told him of Darrin, and finally finding my soul mate, something my grandfather has wanted for me for a while. Parents worry about those sort of things. On many of my climbs/hikes this year, I was constantly reminded that those photos I took, those experiences, I could never pass along to him. Many a time, tears would come unbidden to my eyes as I thought about this. The photos felt a bit emptier then, without being able to share them with him.
My family has never been one for ceremony or those types of formal details. Many milestones have been missed, like my grad school graduation. Being an eccentric artist type, my grandfather never wanted a funeral. So we didn't have one. But I have since found this to be too difficult. The event needs to be marked. So in my way, I have left a small part of my grandfather up on Longs Peak, so that he could at least be there in spirit on my final 14er. I will see him every day now. Goodbye Opi.
So for those of you who's goal it is to climb all the 14ers, it's never too late to start. But don't put off for tomorrow, what you can do today. Those who you want to share the achievement with, may not be there when you want them there the most.
Favorites: Crestone Needle, Wetterhorn
Dislikes: Columbia, Bross
Physically Hardest: Uncompahgre (ski), S Maroon (both times), Wilson-El Diente traverse
Mentally Draining: Capitol
Scariest: El Diente – Wilson Traverse... both times (fall snow/ice & rock fall)
Epics: Wilson-El Diente 2008, Uncompahgre 2010
I'm definitely glad I completed most of the easy (class 1&2) Sawatch peaks before moving on to the other, harder peaks. Some of the big rock fall peaks really should be done later in the list, just so that you can be sure you are travelling as carefully as possible. The 14ers were certainly a learning experience for me. I learned something new each trip out into the backcountry, even on repeats. Ones partners, the weather conditions, and other factors like rock fall can also flavor your experience of the peaks.
I want to thank everyone that has gone on this journey with me. Hiking with others is much more enjoyable than hiking alone. It allows you to learn more along the way. How else would I have learned about the wonders of the Patagonia R1 Hoody, or that I need a Suunto altimeter watch, so I don't out-pace myself? The journey was also made better by the camaraderie and support on the mountain.
Thank You: Darrin, Keith, Chris, Kris, Derek, John, Brett, Jeff, Marty, Mark, Caroline, Lance, Bill M, Ashley, Jen D, Jen H, Kelly, Michaela, Erica, Sarah, Bill W, Brian, Scott, Brad, Trish, Matt, Ryan, John, Al, Josh, Mike, Rob, Paul, Dave and all those others I met on the trail or summit. All of you have made this amazing journey what it was.
A big thank you to my SPOT team: John O, Dave and Darrin (when he wasn't hiking with me)
What is Next?
Many ask "What's next?", after someone finishes the 14ers. For Darrin and I, we will continue to hike and climb and put out TR's. 14ers, 13ers, 12ers, etc. I want to ski as many 14ers as my skills and partners will allow. Will there be a "list": doubtful. Having to spend the weekend hiking "the shiniest turd on the remaining list", was not enjoyable. But if I get close to finishing some list, I'm pretty sure I will do those turds. Indian Peaks are on our radar for fall, be it 13ers or 12ers or anything fun. We both want to get better at rock climbing, and move on to more technical peaks. Grand Teton is in the works for next year. Alpine climbs will also be high priority as well, most likely in RMNP. Climbing out of country will also happen (once I can get a Kansan to get his passport!). But first and foremost: REST!!! In the past year, we have been so focused on finishing our lists, that many other important things were forgotten or put out of our minds. Friends & family were ignored, injuries drugged and complained about, beer left un-drunk, fun plans canceled. It's time to get back to a more balanced life. Besides, I only have a few more months to rest and rehab my knee before ski season!
Darrin and my photo album
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):