Peak(s):  Huron Peak  -  14,003 feet
Date Posted:  07/08/2010
Date Climbed:   07/03/2010
Author:  Mountainspirit

 Fourth Annual 14er  

Okay, so far I've written reports for every 14er I've climbed (and then some) - but this is the first one I'm posting here on 14ers.

Saturday July 3, 2010

My eyelids slowly cracked open while my head began doing its figurative handsprings. No doubt about it, I was awake. I squinted through the darkness, first at Lisa, then the clock - it was 4 am. Certainly, it was a tad earlier than I had hoped, but I knew I'd still be able to muster up enough energy to summit my first 14er of the season. Once we'd eventually get to the trailhead, it would be a six mile round trip journey with nearly 3,500 feet of elevation gain to summit Huron Peak (14,003 feet above sea level).

I was anxious to get going, as I'd already had two previously planned climbing dates botched by snow, and a summit bid of Mt. Evans (14,264 feet) become a quick reminder of priorities - first and foremost, ensuring that all who climb have a safe return to his respective family. Regardless, I was up for Huron, though at this hour, no one else was . . . yet. As the pre-dawn moments passed, I thought about the possible storms that were forecast for later in the day. I looked out the window from Dan and Amy Schroder's home in Breckenridge to see abundant cloud cover over the Ten Mile Range. Hmm.

The rising sun soon produced glowing reflections of reds, oranges, and pinks upon the clouds above and to the west. I watched the morning light-show for a few more minutes, drinking up its beauty as colors danced and migrated. One by one, folks began waking up. Lisa rolled over and asked, "What time were you up at?" I told her "four". Her simple response, "ugh". I proceeded to put on my attire for the day (which included long underwear, pants that zip off into shorts, a tee-shirt, and a whole lot of sun block) and made my way downstairs. After seeing that the kids were already being fed, I made a bagel for myself and prepared a coffee for the road.

The baby sitters showed up just before seven. Lisa and Amy quickly walked them through the expectations of the day while Dan and I loaded up the car. By 7:15, the four of us were in Lisa's black Saturn Vue and on our way to our fourth annual 14er. As I drove, time passed quickly, as we all engaged in conversation that flowed so easily. I drove the car deep into the Sawatch. As I descended a small hill on a dirt road, a buck stood before us, then disappeared into the woods. Next thing I knew, I was focused on manipulating the car through and over rocks, prominences, gulleys, creeks, and mud in an effort to access Huron's trailhead. Eventually, the road got so bad that the decision was made to park on a minor pull-off on the side of the road. By 14er standards, we were getting a late start. We were still a mile and a half from the trailhead, and with the choice already made to remain parked where we were, we had just added a total of three miles and two hundred additional feet of gain to our walk. Suddenly, a "quick" six mile hike, just became nine miles long with roughly 3,700 feet of gain to Huron's summit. I laced up my boots, threw my pack (weighing about 25 pounds) on my back, it was 9:15, and quite literally, we hit the road.

Clouds spotted the sky overhead as a light breeze blew in the 55 degree morning at 10,300 feet. As we walked, we assessed the condition of the road. Truthfully, it wasn't so bad that the Saturn couldn't have handled it. Nevertheless, we kept on walking. Though we were ascending, the road smoothed out after an additional half mile of run-outs, rocks, mud, and gulleys. It then accessed many spectacularly beautiful campsites. Spotted with assorted wildflowers of yellows, reds, and purples, these sites stretched on for another 3/4 of a mile or so, nestled upon Clear Creek, with amazing views of the surrounding Sawatch mountains. In no time at all, well, actually 25 minutes, we had reached a collection of cars parked at Huron's official trailhead. Initially, I was minimally fearful that we'd perhaps see that a Pinto was bold enough to manipulate that "road", but my ego was soon put to rest that we had made a good decision, as the lot was filled with trucks, Jeeps, SUV's and Subaru's. Regardless of the meaningless collection of cars, we pressed on beyond the trailhead, beyond 10,560 feet.

From the trailhead, according to the route description, we would climb 3,500 feet over the next three miles. That being said, this trail went up, and up quickly! Switchbacking its way through a forest of spruce and fir. The four of us walked at a brisk pace, gaining between 4-6 inches per step. The air was crisp and smelled sweet, a cross between pine sap and wildflower - a fine combination. I took a sip of cool water from the blue tube hanging over my right shoulder, that was attached to the three liter reservoir within my pack. After drinking, I struggled to catch my breath again, as our pace had me breathing heavily already. Looking down at the trail before me, I noticed the good condition of it, and how well cared for it was, and . . . oh - a streak of purple, white, and yellow blurred to my right. I stopped for a moment, took a few steps back, and there were two Colorado Columbines (our state flower). As I inhaled heavily, the grin on my face migrated to a smile - I was exhausted already, sucking in as much oxygen as the altitude would allow, and felt so happy to be back on a trail with my wife and two wonderfully amazing friends.

Back to walking, we all kept the pace up. Lisa and Dan were chatting about something, I wasn't quite sure. Amy had asked me about out upcoming move. I explained how the rental we found on Peak 7 in Breckenridge would be spacious enough for our needs. "It's an older place, built in the mid to late 70's, and it's décor hadn't been updated since then." Heavy breathing in an attempt to catch my breath. I continued, "Orange carpeting. Darker cabinets. Similar light fixtures to what Lisa had when she was a kid." Another deep breath. "But, it's about 1,800 square feet with three bedrooms, a decent sized kitchen and living space. A huge deck looking over a half acre. And great views of Peaks 8, 9, and 10." Amy's response gave me yet another opportunity to catch my breath, "I can't wait to see it. When do you move?" A question? That means I have to speak again. Just when my lungs were getting back into a rhythm. I answered, "August first." She continued on about how she would be able to help on that day - so sweet! All the while, we kept walking. We kept climbing.

In the silence of footsteps on trail, a light breeze through aspen leaves, and heavy breathing, I heard the sounds of a babbling waterfall. Sure enough, within a few steps of hearing it, we came upon a tributary cascading its way down to Clear Creek. There were a few rocks deliberately placed within the water, perfect stepping stones. After crossing the creek, we came out to a clearing as the slope from Huron descended down and to our right. Looking ahead up the trail, three very defined pyramid shaped peaks emerged from above the greenery at the other end of the clearing. There we stood at 11,700 feet, and stared for the first time at "The Three Apostles." The Three Apostles sit deep in the Sawatch and include West Apostle (13,568 feet), Ice Mountain (13,951 feet), and North Apostle (13,860 feet). The were spectacularly grand, mesmerizing, daunting, and gorgeous. With my breathing how it was, any excuse to stand and stare was a good one, but this was a REALLY good one! Eventually, we continued walking as the Apostles disappeared behind the trees. We hit another switchback to the left (and up of course). Lisa was breathing audibly and tossing in the occasional "ugh". As we climbed, the trees got thinner and smaller. We got to a point where there was a significant break in the trees, and seemingly simultaneously, we all turned our heads up and to our right.

For the first time that morning, we all stared at our destination, Huron Peak's summit. It was so close, and so freakin' high (stretching another 2,000 feet above our heads). We took a couple of pictures, and continued on our way. Above, clouds continued to grow while also assuming a tinge of gray - lovely. We would keep a vigilant watch. Once again, gazing down at the trail as I walked, I noticed how green the grass was. I panned both left and right along the ground. The sea of green turned yellow as well, as Alpine Sunflowers, Rock Groundsel, and Buttercups stretched to the talus fields above. As we walked, other flowers made themselves known in abundance, including the white and bushy Serpentgrass, the red Alpine "Indian" Paintbrush, Scarlet King's Crown, the neon blue and violet Alpine Forget-Me-Not's, and so many others that were not known to us. The beauty was so abundant on both an incredibly large scale, as well as such a small scale. Though breathing heavily through my mouth, my lips curled up on each end, and I kept that smile as I walked. Ahead, Amy had stopped to talk with another hiker who had been descending. He explained to her that we'd climb a bit further, then the trail would flatten out in an alpine meadow. We'd then climb again via some switchbacks up to Huron's shoulder, up to the talus fields where we'd, go figure, climb some more. Did he say "flatten out?" When?

I checked in with Lisa to see how she was doing. "Fine", she said as she kept one foot striding in front of the other. Her breathing was less audible. Deep, but less audible. Me, I just felt like I was breathing as I had when struggling through a congested cold - open mouthed. Sweat had accumulated on my brow and was absorbed into my Cubs hat. Snot occasionally dripped from my nose (sorry, but I gotta be descriptive, right?). We crested the hill in front of us and just as we had been told, an alpine meadow presented itself and the trail leveled off. A myriad of colors blanketed the floor, only to be interrupted by a glistening, yet small, alpine lake. Above the meadow, snow fields stretched their way up, up, up toward Huron's rocky and gray summit. We stopped at a collection of larger rocks for a snack, as well as to add a couple of layers. I tossed on my forest green fleece and orange and gray rain jacket. Looking to our west, in the distance I saw a plume of moisture stretch from the ground up to its source in the clouds. It was an isolated storm, and was tracking to the north and west - definitely going to miss us. I pointed it out to the others, and Amy, the other "weather geek" among us (including myself) said, "I wondered when you were going to notice that." I had a few more sips of water and we continued on our way.

We enjoyed the walk across the meadow, then approached what was quite literally, a staircase made of rocks. I stopped and looked up as they disappeared up to the left and out of sight. Each step ranged in height from eight to eighteen inches. Within a few moments, we came upon a 20-something young man, and a 20-something young woman - each hard at work repairing/building the staircase. Trailcrew! We talked with them for a while. I had the appropriate yet dorky comment that they were building the stairway to heaven. The young lady obliged and in her best "cool dude" kind of a voice replied "Yeah, totally!" We bid them farewell and continued up, as others were making their way down. The switchbacks were relentless up to the shoulder. However, the flowers became even more abundant - almost as if we were witnessing the migration of the seasons as we ascended. The air surrounding us was like candy - aromas so richly sweet I could taste it. Yet, up we continued. In the distance from above, I heard some folks hoopin' and hollerin' as they had very clearly gained Huron's summit. They were close to us, yet still very high above.

As we got closer to the shoulder, the very in shape Dan and Amy pushed ahead of Lisa and myself. We knew we were slower. Dan and Amy knew we were slower. Everyone just accepted it and moved at a pace that was comfortable. Lisa and I chatted about how beautiful our surroundings were. We felt so fortunate to be exactly where we were, and being together. Sometimes we'd walk with one another, other times, we'd have a fifty yard interval between us. One time, I waited above as she approached me. Upon arriving, I let her catch her breath and tossed out the one word question - "Doubt?" "Not at all" she responded and sounding stronger, "it just takes me a little longer, that's all." God, I love her so much! We were all going to summit. It would just take us a little longer. I looked up at the summit, which was still a few hundred feet above, and then looked beyond the summit. Uh-oh, the skies were seeming grayer behind the mountain, the exact direction the weather was coming from.

Though we had seen the isolated storm in the distance, there did not seem to be any electrical activity going on in these skies. I said to myself that if I heard just one boom, we'd duck and run for cover - though I was very confident it would not happen. Above, Dan and Amy waited. Lisa and I eventually caught up with them just as we were about to enter the talus (large boulders). The wind howled in gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Dan mentioned that he thought we had another 200 feet to go, or so. "Let's get to it!" Because that darker cloud was coming. So I, and everyone else seemed to move pretty fast. At one point, I found myself with my head buried down in the talus as I walked. I then glanced to my left and noticed that there was roughly a 1,500 foot drop. Good thing I was watching my footing! With about 50 yards to go, I felt the first piece of graupel (styrofoam snow a milimeter or two in diameter) hit me. I was carefully confident that lightning would not occur. Dan and Amy waited just below the summit while Lisa and I approached. The graupel fell harder, pelting the exposed skin on my face. Lis and I met up with Dan and Amy. We placed our arms around each others' shoulders. So, on July 3rd, in the snow, my wife, my friends and I gained Huron Peak's summit - 14,003 feet.

Raising my arms in victory, at the top of my lungs I hollered "WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOO! Ow!" The wind was gusting and graupel continued to slam sideways into my skin. I saw the registry and immediately went into "go mode." I place my hood over my head and ducked down to open the canister. Dan offered, "Just sign all of our names." In this weather, we were not going to hang out any longer than necessary, though we were staying longer than necessary. I wrote out each of our names, hometowns, and the date. Right when I had finished, the sun came out and shone upon my skin. As a quick reaction, I asked Amy to take a picture of Lisa and I. She kindly obliged and I returned the favor for she and Dan. We then did a quick set up for a group shot, and got one. I went back and picked up the camera, turned around, and stopped. Just for a few moments. The weather was crazy. My adrenaline was insane. But, I just stopped. Before me, below me, to the southwest, stood "The Three Apostles." They were simply magnificent as they each stretched toward the clouds. I panned around and drank up the views I stared upon. The graupel relented and became an occasional pelt. "Hey?" I asked, "What time was it when we got up here?" "12:40 - it took us three and a half hours" Three and a half hours to walk four and a half miles and gain 3,700 feet of elevation. "Let's get down off of here!"

"Man, that was quick." I said as I stepped down the talus, "How long were we up there, four minutes?" "Nope", Dan said looking at his watch, "ten minutes." Wow, ten minutes? It seemed to go by in no time. Nevertheless, the absolute shortest amount of time I had spent on any summit. We all continued down. After a few minutes and a couple hundred feet down, it struck me - duh! "Hey Lis?" I asked as she was ahead of me, "Wait." "What?" she asked. "I forgot to give you something up there." And I leaned in and embraced then kissed my wife at 13,800 feet on Huron's windy shoulder.

Amy seemed to have weights in her shoes and nearly ran down the trail - she probably did run down the trail. Meanwhile, I was more focused on not rolling an ankle (something I've done repeatedly on many descents). Dan, Lisa, and I continued at a brisk, yet more careful pace down the trail and we were jabberin'. Adrenaline is funny thing. Anyway, we were talking about all sorts of things . . . the summit, the snow, the flowers, the weather, the storm in front of us. What . . . whoa! Up the next valley, there was this enormous plume of gray moisture falling from the clouds to behind the other side of the burnt orange ridge in front of us. It passed in front of the rounded and snow patched summit of La Plata Peak (14,336 feet), then headed to the northeast and away from us. Gorgeous!

We made our way down the switchbacks and through the wildflowers. Dan was kind enough to take some pictures of Lisa and I descending. Amy had waited for us near the top of "the case" (the rock staircase). We talked a bit more with the trailcrew folks (who continued to do their hard work), and made our way down to the meadow. We had earlier decided that because we were unable to enjoy our lunches on the summit, that we'd do so down among the flowers, lake, view, and rocks. We sat and relaxed under what had become a partly cloudy day in a spectacular alpine garden. Dan and I each pulled out an Avalanche (Breckenridge Brewery's amber beer) from our packs, and cracked them open. A few folks who were taking a longer time to descend passed our little group. "Excuse me?" I said, "Would you mind taking a picture of us?" "Sure." Dan dug out his camera and asked another to do the same. At first, they each took one of the four of us as they stood. Then, one dropped to his knees and said he'd take one from a bit lower. The other, a young woman, thought to do the same. And, as she lowered herself, the soreness from her hike kicked in as she exhaled "UHL!"

We all got a laugh at her expense and she was gracious about it. They moved on and we hung out a bit more. Shortly after, the two trailcrew folks moseyed on by, and suddenly we found ourselves to be the last on the mountain. We all relished in that fact, but also knew there was a bar-b-que we needed to get back for. So, we gathered up our things and moved on down the trail. Lisa and Amy began to chat, so Dan and I hung back with our cameras and began to soak in the wildflowers. He and I stopped for nearly every species we saw. Dan elaborated on how the ecosystem can be seen on a grand scale, akin to the views we were seeing. As well as on a small scale, as he expanded on how one flower (to the naked eye) can appear to be just one flower, when in fact, the "one flower" was really a collection of several smaller flowers - an ecosystem within itself. Stuff I knew and appreciated often, but still, very fun to talk about. Coming back down into treeline, "The Three Apostles" came back into sight. We took a few more shots with them in the background, then sank down into the trees. Occasionally, I'd fall into a jog as gravity helped me down. While doing so, I felt fairly light on my feet and . . . AH, Damn! And I sprang up on my opposite foot a good 16 inches into the air as I had rolled the other ankle. Thankfully, it wasn't so bad and I walked it off.

We caught up with the ladies and all walked together down through the spruce and fir. We all talked about what a beautiful hike this was, and we also brought up giddy, silly stuff like toe-jam. We crossed back over the babbling creek and continued on our way. We all stopped in different spots a good distance from one another to de-layer some of our clothing, as it was getting hotter and hotter the further we descended. As we continued, a young girl had her camera fixed upon a purplish flower - the Columbine! We were close to the trailhead. Onward we walked, and came upon the trailhead sign. There were fewer cars there, but we still had a mile and a half to go. We meandered through the campsites, all preparing for the following day's festivities. Down through the run-outs, rocks, and mud. And finally, back to the car. It was 3:45.

A total of six and a half hours to walk nine miles with 3,700 feet of elevation gain, then loss. We were spent and I was driving. I had two Cokes on that drive back to Breckenridge. A fantastic day for our fourth annual 14er. A fantastic day for my fourteenth 14er. A fantastic day for the day before my 41st birthday!

Thanks for spending some time with me, and believe me when I say . . . I'm just getting' warmed up!

Grace & Peace.



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