Categories: Hiking, Overlanding, Travel, USA
In Colorado there are 53 official ’14ers’ (summits over 14,000 ft) below is the story of our first two summits.
Mt. Massive -14,420 (2nd highest in CO)
I’m hanging onto a rock face with head between my arms fighting back tears, thinking that I have no business being up here. My legs are jelly, I can’t catch my breath, I have a headache coming on and it’s so damn windy. Dan is patient and trying to get me to keep going up, we still have 300 ft to the summit.
This mountain has humbled me, I got up this morning believing that this would be pretty straight forward, hike up, look at the view, hike down. We are fit people so this should be a piece of cake, right?
We set out at 6am from the trail head with a damp chill in the air, there had been a terrific thunderstorm during the night (which for those who don’t know me well, I am terrified of thunderstorms, irrationally so) which kept me up for over an hour. We started our climb at a reasonable pace and soon were stripping off our sweaters. The first 3 miles of our trek were across the Colorado Trail, which is a 479 mile long trail from Denver to Durango, it was a lovely well maintained easily hikable trail. Then we turned left and pretty much headed straight up the mountain.
Once out of the tree line we were rewarded with stunning vistas but also a cool and brisk wind, oh and we were now higher than we had been on this trip to date. The wind and the altitude got to me, I slipped my arm sleeves back on to warm up a little and tried to follow Dan but I felt like he was going so fast. We kept taking breaks, which is totally acceptable-even recommended-but I hated it. Every time we stopped I’d get cold, then hot while hiking then cold once we stopped, it’s a vicious cycle that plays with your brain. On one break we decided to eat some M &M’s for a little boost, I struggled opening my package, my hands felt so weak, and my fingers swollen (this happens to me when I run though so that didn’t really concern me). As we trudged on once again I noticed tingling in my arms, I mentioned this to Dan and when he took one look at me and realised that my arm sleeves were cutting off my circulation because I was swelling not just in my hands but my arms probably due to the altitude. I felt stupid, removed arm sleeves threw on sweater and immediately felt the feeling return to my arms. At this point we had reached the saddle just below the summit, I was exhausted and actually considered not going all the way to the summit but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t push on. So we rock scrambled up, it was scary, the wind was blowing so hard up there and I didn’t want to think about the consequences of one wrong move, but I couldn’t help it. I panicked and clung to the rock face telling Dan I couldn’t go anymore (plus I wondered how we’d get back down).
Dan was awesome. He just stood by me trying to block the wind and make me feel better. I finally had enough wallowing and continued to climb. We finally made it to a flat bit which we believed was the top and started celebrating, but then I looked across the ridge and noticed a lot more people sitting over there, including the father and son duo* we’d been following.
I pointed them out to Dan and we consulted my gps, nope we were not high enough. Across the narrow ridge in the gusting wind we went and hooray, officially submitted a 14er. It was absolutely beautiful. I was happy for the moment and chatted to excitedly with everyone else who had just summited, they all assured me that going down was much easier, and somehow it was. By the time we were back in the trees my headache was gone and I felt great. But in the back of my mind I had already started worrying about Colorado’s highest peak, which we were taking on the next day.
Mt. Elbert – 14,433 ft (highest peak in CO)
I want to tell you that I got a great nights sleep since climbing mountains is exhausting, but sadly it stormed again most of the afternoon and night. Not for the first time I was so happy with the our set up using the pop up camper, we stayed warm and dry and when we set off the sun was trying to come out. As we walked through the campsite we could see that others (all in tents) had not had such a warm and dry night, as we watched people hang wet sleeping bags and sleeping mats before heading out on whatever hike they were doing that day.
The Mt. Elbert hike once again started out on the Colorado Trail and part of the Continental Divide Trail, so it was quite nice and gradual, there were a lot more people out on the trail as well, which was nice to see. Just as we were approaching the tree line, the skies opened and it started to hail (why rain when you can go straight for hail?) this had me worried as 2 hikers had just been killed by lightening strikes.** Then we heard the thunder, I figured that was it our day was over, no summit for us. We started meeting people who were heading down, abandoning the summit attempts. I decided that we should give it 10 minutes and then we’d make a decision. We found a little log in the forest to sit on and noticed we had cell reception so answered some emails while we started to shiver.
In that 10 minutes we watched a half dozen people turn back, but then it suddenly stopped hailing, and a couple passed us going up. We made the decision to carry on on the tree line and then decide. Five minutes later we were standing with a crowd of people staring up at the sky, I consulted with couple who had gone by us, I had seen them in the parking lot and knew they were from Colorado and they had the brand packs as us so they must be smart. They said “it’s doable” but the wind was blowing out the weather and we should be fine. They were putting on their warmer clothes, Dan and I were already wearing all our warm stuff so we just went for it (after agreeing at the first crack of thunder we would retreat). Luckily the sun actually showed itself but the wind was incredible (I had thought it was bad on Massive-ha) the higher we got the more exposed we were the more I was being buffeted about. It reminded me of a poem my grade 6 student teacher had written about me to demonstrate a xxx style of poem.
There once was a girl named Heather
Who weighed as light as a feather
And if she wasn’t tied down or flat on the ground
She’d blow away in bad weather
– Miss Woodland
I told this to Dan while we were stopped rubbing his legs, his calves were cramping up on him, he laughed and agreed we’d better keep moving before one of us really did blow away.
The route we climbed has what is called a ‘false summit’ meaning that just when you think you’re at the top, your are not, I think they should be called ‘soul crushing summits’. As I swore for the umpteenth time that day, we took another break and really took in the view, it was stunning, we could see Massive too which was kind of neat.
On we pressed as, almost at the top, is not the top. We finally summited and took it all in, tears streaming down my face (that was from the wind). We ate a little but didn’t hang around long as we started to get very cold. The neat thing about this hike was that terrain hadn’t been too technical so we tightened our packs and ran down the mountain the biggest grin plastered to my face. I was elated by the people we saw still coming up the mountain, who hadn’t turned around, we cheered them on as we went by and I just couldn’t stop smiling. All I could think was how lucky we are to be doing this and taking this trip has been the best decision we have made yet.
*Dad, Birch, had brought his son, Finn, up his first 14er for his 14th birthday, thought that was pretty sweet thing to do.
**It is recommended that you summit by 11am and off the mountain by 2pm due to almost daily afternoon thunderstorms.