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Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Post Date:  09/20/2010
Date Climbed:   09/06/2010
Posted By:  Jon Frohlich


 There are always more mountains to climb   

Mt. Bierstadt (14,060') and Mt. Evans (14,264')
September 06, 2010
Route: Guanella Pass to Bierstadt, across Sawtooth to Evans
Participants: Jon, Rachel (csuram), Susan, Mike, Joy, Julius, Jessica


It's difficult to try and put 9 years worth of memories into words. There have been ups and downs. Times when I didn't want to finish. Times when I didn't think I could. Wondering whether the journey was worth it and what it all meant. I think everyone that does the 14ers does it for their own reasons.

I moved out to Denver in March of 2000 from Nebraska. I didn't know anything about the mountains and I'd certainly never hiked anything. I wasn't athletic growing up. I had asthma from a young age and the most athletic thing I ever did up until I moved here was playing golf and riding my bike around the neighborhood. I studied Computer Science in college and spent all my time indoors playing videogames and messing with computers. Eventually about a year after I moved I began to explore the open space parks around Denver. At first it was small stuff.... Green Mountain, Evergreen Mountain, Mount Falcon.

Gradually I got in better shape and eventually climbed to the summit of Bergen Peak...not on the first try. I think it was on the 3rd. After that two of my coworkers, Eva and Rob, invited me on a climb of Quandary in July of 2001. I had no real idea what I was getting myself into so armed with some cheap hiking boots and a backpack from college I met up with them for the climb. I was wearing cotton and I had no idea what to take so besides water and some food I didn't have much. I struggled up behind my partners and around 13,800 sat down and wanted to throw up. I ate something and didn't throw up ...at least I didn't puke on my first 14er. I ended up making the summit about 30 minutes behind my partners. Both of them thought they might have to carry me down and were a little worried. We eventually made it safely down. There is a picture somewhere of me hugging the first tree I saw. This is my first summit photo on a 14er though.



My partners then thought I'd never do another one. Somehow I wound up agreeing to go with Eva and another coworker of ours on Grays the next weekend. We did Grays that day but not Torreys. Then came Bierstadt that same summer. Eventually I wound up doing 6 14ers that year. I eventually started doing more difficult mountains but I took things slow. My first Class 3 was Wetterhorn as my 19th 14er. That was maybe the first time I thought I could actually finish them all.

I got more confident after Crestone Needle (#27) and realized that I could do one of the really hard mountains. There were two summers when I nearly stopped doing new 14ers due to some things in my personal life. I went to Africa and did Kilimanjaro which was another personal dream of mine. I visited Patagonia and Peru. Eventually I met Rachel last year and she convinced me to stop wasting time and do the rest. She proved to be the motivation and the right climbing partner that I needed to get going again. I can't thank her enough for being my partner on these final peaks.

We had a crazy summer this year trying to do our remaining peaks. Every weekend it was a difficult peak and it started to be mentally draining after a while. There was tragedy on Little Bear when Kevin died which gave me pause and made me really consider how important it was to finish this right and do it safely. I also managed to sandwich in a 6 day backpacking trip in Glacier NP somehow. Our planned finish came down to the wire. Rachel had to do the Bells traverse and I had to do North Maroon on Saturday 9/4 or we weren't going to make it. Thankfully things worked out and everything was set for the finish.

Me on top of Quandary again this March, things have changed!


Going up castle in May


Top of Castle, my 3rd time, Rachel and Jessica's 1st


Rachel on top of Mount Wilson


On top of Mount Wilson


My friend Jessica and I on top of Capitol celebrating my birthday


Capitol again


Top of North Maroon



The Climb


The time had finally arrived. All the years and all the preparation had led to this point. North Maroon not more than 48 hours earlier had been the last difficult climb. Rachel had done the Bells traverse that same day and now all we had left was Evans. We told everyone to meet us on top around 10:30am. We really were guessing at how long it would take. I hadn't been on Bierstadt in years and at one point had vowed never to set foot on it in summer again. We had seen the weather forecast the day before and knew that it was calling for high wind but no chance of storms. We hoped that the wind wouldn't be that bad but inside I knew things might get interesting.

I left my house in the dark and drove out to meet everyone in Aspen Park. I pulled into the gas station for coffee and my friend Susan pulled up next to me. We made the short drive over to the lot and everyone pulled in right on time. We divided gear up into cars and got ready to head out. I know for me the feeling was surreal thinking that in a few hours time Rachel and I would stand on top of our last peak. I thought back to 9 years ago when I was first starting out and how different things seemed. I was a different person then and this journey has changed me. I made sure we took a photo in the parking lot before starting out.



The group of 7 set off up Bierstadt just after 6am. Rachel, Susan, and Mike set the pace as expected. Down low the wind wasn't that bad. The morning was cold but clear and while moving the temps were manageable. As we climbed higher I tried to savor the moment and enjoy this. I wanted to take it all in and remember it.





I noticed that Jessica seemed to be slower than normal and got a bit worried because I knew she'd been sick recently. As we neared the saddle the wind started to increase and now the forecast appeared to be coming true. We reached the saddle and I noticed Jessica had fallen back further and Julius was staying back with her. The wind made it hard to wait so I watched to make sure they were still coming and continued up to the summit. Near the summit the wind got brutal. Now everyone was getting knocked sideways. Even the easy Class 2 became an adventure. I made the summit and briefly noted a few of my group huddled in the wind shelter. I didn't stop and headed off the side towards the Sawtooth hoping the wind would be less intense. My 4th time on the summit of Bierstadt lasted less than 15 seconds. A new record for the shortest summit stay. I took off my gloves and tried to warm my hands back up. One hand was numb. The temperature had to be in the teens at the most.



I sat there for a few moments looking at Evans asking myself what in the hell I was doing. I didn't even think about turning back though. We'd planned this for months and the time was now. I'd stalled out on finishing since 2007 and I wasn't about to be denied. Rachel and I were going to do this somehow. Joy popped over to my shelter to give me the news. Julius, Joy, and Jessica were turning back. Jessica couldn't go on and Joy didn't want to cross the Sawtooth in these conditions. Julius was elected to head back down with them. I tried to tell them it was ok and I didn't blame them for heading down. These conditions were no fun for anyone. The other 4 of us looked at each other and knew we weren't quitting. No way. A little wind wasn't going to stop us.



We descended off the summit of Bierstadt and as we got lower the wind died down. We could see waves on Abyss Lake from the wind but in our spot on the East side of the ridge things weren't bad. On the West side it sounded like there was a hurricane. I figured we'd worry about the hurricane later though. Somewhere along the way I tripped on a rock and fell forward onto my right shin. I had a momentary panic where I thought I'd been injured. I got up and made sure I could still walk. Ok, now we've got a hurricane and a nasty shin bruise...this is getting fun.

Along the traverse


Looking back at Bierstadt


Susan got a bit spooked on some of the Class 3 sections of the traverse but Rachel helped her through. Considering Susan's only Class 3 experience to this point had been Longs I had to give her credit for doing this. Under normal conditions crossing the Sawtooth would be no big deal, but with 50mph wind gusts it was going to take on a whole new dimension. We were all dreading crossing over to the West to climb the ledge. We could hear the wind. It was waiting. We stopped at a point just below the crossover and took a deep breath. We all told each other to do the ledge as fast as we safely could. No one wanted to stay on an exposed ledge in this wind any longer than necessary.

Can't believe Rachel got the camera out for this one


I followed Rachel and Mike with Susan close behind. I hugged the wall in between gusts and waited for brief breaks to advance. I never felt like I was going to get knocked off but it was still an unpleasant feeling getting smacked around next to a couple hundred feet of exposure. I saw Rachel and Mike round the corner and knew we were almost home free. I ducked behind a rock to wait out another gust and then Susan and I made a few quick moves off the ledge to safety. We could all breathe a sigh of relief now. Except the wind was knocking our breath away.

I looked at my GPS and it said we had about 3/4 mile to go. The wind was more reasonable now that we weren't next to a cliff but it was still knocking us around. It was difficiult to have any sort of conversation. We just followed cairns and each other and kept going. I tried the radio a few times to the summit and got no response so I had no idea if anyone was up there to meet us or not. I figured it didn't matter. We were on the last stretch. We were a little behind schedule because of the wind. I noticed my GPS elevation kept bouncing up and down 100 feet every time I looked. It was hard to tell where we were because I couldn't see the parking lot or any sign of the summit. We just kept following cairns.

Finally I managed to raise my mom on the radio. I told her we were 10 minutes away or so. She said there was no way she was hiking to the top in these conditions. I can't say I blamed her. It was hard enough for us to walk. Rachel got out a hula skirt and somehow put it on the wind. We saw the tourist trail and I told Rachel we could take the easy trail for the last bit of our 14er quest. We headed up the switchbacks and the emotions started to come. I was really going to do this. I'd done them all. Here was the culmination...and here's a 50mph wind gust to knock me back to reality.

Getting blown to the finish line




Two of my friends made the brave trek to the summit to meet us. Rachel climbed up on the summit block while I pondered how to get up there without getting blown into Kansas. My finish had to wait a few more seconds while I decided to commit to getting up on the block. In between howling wind gusts Rachel and I hung on to each other and the rock while trying to pose for photos. I'd told Rachel on the way up that what fun would our last peak be without an adventure and it had certainly been one. We might as well have a good story to tell.

How do I get on this thing in 50mph wind?


Done!




Are we having fun yet?


After the pictures we headed down to the parking lot. Rachel's friends had made us a sign and I found my mom and we started giving everyone hugs. We decided to do our champagne toast in the building as it was the only place that might be out of the wind. My friend Kitty brought us brownies. I have to say that might have been the best brownie I've ever had. Our original plan had been to grill food on top but that plan was quickly scrapped. Rachel and I popped the champagne and we passed around cups for everyone.





Champagne


Eventually we decided to move the rest of the celebration to the cars. My mom and Rachel's friend found spots next to each other and we all ate cake and hot dogs and chips. The absurdity of the moment made it awesome. Our 14er quest had finished up in a car rocking back and forth in the wind on top of Mount Evans. I drank part of a beer while joking around in the car with my friends and my mom. Eventually I decided that a buzz probably wouldn't be the best thing. That wind was still out there and we had to get down. Susan was trying to decide if she was really going to head down with us. Part of her really wanted a car ride off this windy amusement park ride but she eventually decided to hike down with us. After about 90 minutes on top we finally decided to head back. The wind sounded slightly less insane....that's what I kept telling myself at least.

All finisher celebrations should be held in the backseat of a car


On the way out we found my friend Lara who we didn't know had actually made it to the top. She handed me a bunch of cookies for the hike down and we made our way back to the trail. The wind had died down a little bit. We weren't getting thrown sideways any longer. About 20 minutes off the summit Rachel mentioned she didn't feel so good. The combination of tons of sugar, champagne, and food that we'd never normally eat on a 14er made us both feel a little ill. As we went down though things felt better and we made our way to the gully to descend between Evans and Spaulding.

The gully


This was the part I'd been dreading a little. I'd heard horror stories about the willows. How bad was this going to be? We made our way down the gully and found the start of the trail. Mike and Rachel led the way while Susan and I followed behind. The trail mostly was easy to follow but some spots were deep mud and some spots the trail disappeared briefly. Thankfully we all managed to keep to the trail and found ourselves on the main trail again with relatively little problem. We cruised back to the cars and made it back at 3:15pm. The entire hike with 90 minutes on top had taken us about 9 hours and 15 minutes.

We ate the cookies Lara had given us and relaxed by the cars. We took some more photos to capture the memory. I thanked Rachel for the journey and for the drive to get us to finish. It was surreal to stand there and realize we were done. We could drive home now. We didn't have another peak to climb next weekend.

Back in the parking lot


We did it!



Epilogue


This journey has changed me. I've pushed beyond my limits and found new ones. I've realized what I can do if I put my mind to it. I've had so many amazing memories and met some incredible people. I never thought I could do the things I've done. I had a doctor tell me early on that he wasn't sure I should really be doing 14ers. I could have listened but I realized that I needed to do this and challenge myself. Everyone that's known me since before I began has seen the growth and change in me. I had a friend one time on a climb remark that "I can tell that sometimes your body hates you for this, but you do it anyway". Testament to my stubborn attitude and unwillingness to give up. I had some bad days where my lungs wanted to quit on me. An early climbing partner of mine said "Turtles make it". It was my motto for years and it's true. One step at a time will get you there. It's been one step at a time and one climb at a time. I tried to never look too far ahead.

On a personal level things the last few weeks have been a bit tough. That's part of the reason this trip report took so long. I pushed so hard this summer and focused myself so much that now without the quest to consume me I've found myself adrift a bit not knowing where to go next. I've grown in many ways but I've also ignored myself in some ways for the quest and pushed aside issues that I've needed to work on a long time. I'm hoping that this journey has given me the strength to realize anything is possible if I want it to be. An asthmatic with no reason to believe managed to climb all the 14ers, Kilimanjaro, and almost 100 peaks over 13,000 feet in 9 years. What else is possible?

The personal struggle may be every bit as hard as the mountains and the summits may not be as obvious but I have a new goal. It may be a spirtual and mental mountain this time but the idea is the same. Challenges manifest themselves in all parts of life. Some we put in front of ourselves to see what is possible and sometimes life puts them in our way for other reasons. I'll continue to climb but I think at a slower pace for now. The highest 100 will be there when I'm ready and I'll finish them when it's time.

Thanks to everyone that I did a 14er with or participated along the way. There are too many to thank by name but they all contributed in some way to me getting to this point. It's been an amazing journey. Time for whatever is next.


 


  • Comments or Questions
mountainmicah83


Congrats!     2011-02-08 11:43:07
I was just reviewing past reports of the Sawtooth gleaming beta and I wanted to congratulate you on your finisher! Major props and way to finish in style.


Alpine


Excellent report!     2010-09-21 06:44:43
Nice report Jon, and congratulations. I hope to finish next year. I really liked the personal nature of the write-up.


USAKeller


Nicely done     2010-09-21 10:59:03
And great write-up! Congrats!


Exiled Michigander


Beautiful narrative.     2010-09-21 13:38:45
Jon, you should really try to publish this somewhere--what a fantastic read. Congrats on finishing, and thanks for sharing your 14er journey with us.


KeithK


Congratulations Jon and Rachel!     2010-09-21 14:28:10
This is really great, Jon. Congratulations on the achievement, and good luck to you as you continue onward!


Trudger


Good read     2010-09-22 07:28:28
Congrats.


tundratif


Thank you!     2010-09-22 23:41:04
Jon, That's a great summary of 9 years in the making!!! You've definitely been an inspiration, a mentor, and great source of information to me over the last few years, particularly as I've questioned my own abilities and desire to finish or not and insight on Kili. Thank you for that and for doing Holy Cross with me a few years back. Ironically if I do Wetterhorn this weekend, that'll be #19 for me too - weird huh?! And I really like the last photo - you should definitely frame that one.


divaMel

Namaste!     2010-09-24 12:58:50
This is why we live in Colorado. To have experiences like this that transform us. Cheers!


Aug_Dog


Great read!     2010-09-26 10:32:23
Congrats!


psycholoco



Wow...     2012-07-26 14:33:04
...how have I not read this yet? Thanks for the flashback! Those were the windiest conditions I've ever been in. I swear it must have been more that 50mph. Anyway, congrats again (if anyone even sees this 2 years later)!

Mike



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