| Longs Finale - via Meeker Iron Gates
Granted, using Petrarch’s quote about Alexander the Great in this context is more than a bit of hyperbole. There certainly are more mountains to climb. And I’m well aware that climbing the 14ers mainly in summer-like conditions does not automatically vault me into the upper echelons of the climbing elite. But I’d like to think that it gets me at least a mantel move out of the lower echelons. So permit me this feeling of accomplishment: I’m living proof that any schmuck of average fitness and strong single-minded determination can climb all of Colorado’s 14ers.
The summer after I moved here, my friend Brian asked if I wanted to climb Mt. Bierstadt with him and his wife Linda. It’s a 14er, he probably said. And I probably asked what a 14er was. Well, I had moved out here with some vague dream of becoming a modern-day Jeremiah Johnson, right?
Brian and me
Linda and me. Yep, I’m wearing cotton head to toe! But that’s one of TWO half-liter bottles of water.
Let me tell ya, having senior citizens, a couple trading a Baby Bjorn, and a troop of Cub Scouts running circles around you will not make you feel like Jeremiah Johnson! That first time up Bierstadt was the hardest thing I had ever done. On the way down, my legs felt like Jell-o. I gave no thought to repeating this task one time, let alone 57 times. What was I thinking?! Back in Hyde Park, the only climbing we did was to the top of our ivory towers. Maybe I should just go back and hole up in the Reg where I belong and continue hardening my arteries with Harold’s.
But a key event happened in my life. I lost my job and, out of fear of not having a job, decided to follow an opportunity outside of Colorado – to a place that is pretty much the exact opposite: Florida. I would sit around, wallowing in the humidity, listening to drunk frat boys blather on endlessly about some ‘roided-up meathead’s prospects in the NFL draft, as I daydreamed about the mountains. I would proselytize about Colorado – about being out in the fresh air, at peace, living completely in the moment, with no thought of “civilization,” feeling so small and insignificant in the vast wilderness. I would mention my Bierstadt accomplishment – bragging not overtly, but just by uttering the strange German name. No one seemed impressed. I would stare at the pictures that I had taken on that hike with love-sick, dilated pupils. The gnawing continued until I finally realized that this is where I belong. I began to plot my return. And I thought more and more about trying a few more 14ers – but still had no thought of completing The List.
After moving back to Colorado in the fall of 2004, I was able to renew my journey in 2005. And for the next couple of years, I pretty much doubled my output: 3 in 2005, 5 in 2006, 10 in 2007. Sure, they were just the tourist routes in the Front Range and Sawatch. I had not given any thought to how I should be progressing; I just knew they were close to home. Not once did I feel the drudgery of a check-list since I was not thinking seriously about The List yet. The 14ers were a way to explore different parts of Colorado, a way to experience the peace of the outdoors, a way to get some exercise, and a way to grow as a human being.
It probably wasn’t until I did my first class 3 in 2008 that I started to think about finishing – and started to believe that I could: Oh, that’s class 3! That was a blast! I had done some rock-climbing before, but had some silly notion that class 3 and class 4 would be more similar to class 5 – but without the “pro.” Completing the 14ers had now become a goal on which to focus my energies, and an apprenticeship into mountaineering. But I still didn’t know my adze from my a**hole. What to do?
Once I had come around to the idea of climbing the harder 14ers, I realized that I would probably want partners. Until that point, my main hiking partner was my dog Okie. He has enjoyed every minute of the 30 14ers (plus several centennials) that he has climbed. I’ve enjoyed watching him get excited about the marmots and mountain goats and such – and been annoyed each time he yanked me off balance trying to get at them. But Okie would have to stay home for these harder peaks. He can not be trusted off leash.
Me and my buddy Okie - looking stoic and proper
I did have another partner for a few of the early hikes: Keith. However, while he is a great guy and a strong hiker, we had different approaches. He liked to sleep in his own bed, have a leisurely breakfast, and get to the trailhead at 8:30 or 9:00. He also did not like to do his own research or preparations – relying on me completely.
Keith and me - it was funny headwear day on the 14ers
I knew that these habits were frowned upon in the mountaineering community and were not allowing me to progress in my apprenticeship. So it became apparent to me that I should look for more compatible climbing partners. And it turns out that, thanks largely to this site, I’ve had pretty good luck with that. Beyond Brian & Linda and Keith, I have shared these mountains with a number of partners. I’ll single out a few with whom I’ve climbed the most:
Shawn (Rainier_Wolfcastle) and Kathy
Mike (emcee smith)
Eric (lostsheep5) and Britt (globreal)
And then, of course, Peter Topp (sourdough) and Charlie Zimmerman. Thank you all for helping me to become a better climber, for sharing the journey with me, and for allowing me to be part of your journeys.
Other 14ers.com members I have met along the way (I hope I haven’t left anyone out):
Giarcd (Quandary, Yale, and Snowmass)
Papillon & Wooderson (La Plata and Horn Fork fest 2011)
Spontaneous Weekends (Shavano)
Tmathews (Pikes, Horn Fork fest 2011)
myrone (S. Arapahoe)
GeorgeJames (N. Arapahoe)
14ergirl & Holy Schist (Wetterhorn)
ksegasser (Culebra, Lindsey, Buffalo Mtn attempt)
MediaDude (Broken Hand Pass)
Kgmo (Broken Hand Pass)
Baumgara (the Needle)
Moonnugs (the Needle)
Jamie (the Needle)
Don Eberl (N Maroon, Pikes)
Marcvolland (N Maroon)
oman (Halfway to Heaven book-signing)
maverick_manley (Halfway to Heaven book-signing, Horn Fork fest 2011)
Aubrey & Jen (Halfway to Heaven book-signing, northside get-together, and Mesa trail)
the Griswolds (Halfway to Heaven book-signing, Grizzly Peak D)
Stevietwoshoes (northside get-together)
Native_mntguy (northside get-together, Mt Richthofen)
sgladbach (Snowmass, Horn Fork fest 2011)
ridge_runner (Snowmass, Horn Fork fest 2011)
Dancesatmoonrise (Snowmass, Horn Fork fest 2011)
BobbyFinn & KatieFinn (Snowmass, Wheeler Lake, Horn Fork fest 2011)
Fepic1 (Snowmass, Challenger, Horn Fork fest 2011)
BoggyB (Snowmass, Challenger)
53_peaks (what’s the new screen-name?) (Castle/Conundrum)
Badgernick (S Maroon)
TerryLiv (S Maroon)
Kimo (Loveland Mtn)
Weschun (Mt Evans, and Dave Cooper’s AMC talk)
Paul Perea (Mt Evans)
GreenWok (Mt Evans)
Randall Martin (Mt Evans)
nebnative (Pikes, Evans)
LIV (Mt Richthofen)
Belexes (Mt Richthofen)
Kiefer (Horn Fork fest 2011)
Dmccool (Horn Fork fest 2011)
MichiganBrian (Horn Fork fest 2011)
sevenvii (Horn Fork fest 2011)
SummitLounger (Horn Fork fest 2011)
Bergsteigen (Horn Fork fest 2011)
Moonstalker (Horn Fork fest 2011)
ScottP (Missouri Basin, Horn Fork fest 2011)
TomPierce (Horn Fork fest 2011)
Sstraus (Horn Fork fest 2011)
Scanner (California Peak)
Meteor (California Peak)
Wildlobo71 (Peak Y)
Lemurtech (Peak Y)
Kara (Peak Y)
thevagabond (Holy Cross/Casco attempts)
sunny1 (Holy Cross – though I didn’t realize it at the time)
(Crap! I did forget someone)
BrianC (Flatirons climbing)
Wow! That’s a long list! A list that is actually more important than the list of 14ers.
My view of Longs/Meeker nearly every day – from the Davidson Mesa Dog Park in Louisville
When I was first hiking the 14ers, I didn’t want to try Longs because it seemed so long, and even though many people do it as their first one, the thought of things like The Narrows and the steep, slabby Homestretch intimidated me. After a while, the contrarian in me caused me to hold it until the end: since so many people do it first, I’ll do it last. Plus, I thought it was fitting that this peak that was staring down at me every day – lording over me – would be the final exam.
When I got to the Longs Peak trailhead at about 12:15am, Shawn was already there – catching a few winks in the car. I did the same until he shone his headlamp at me at 2am. We were off at 2:30 – just as the last parking space in the lot was taken.
The approach felt like the good ol’ days of the Front Range and Sawatch – when I passed more people than passed me. We got to the Chasm Lake turn-off in good time and kept going. We soon came to what I think was the sketchiest, scariest part of the day. I had heard that there were a couple of little snowfields on the way to Chasm Lake that were of no concern. Well, there was one that concerned me a lot! There were good, flat steps across it, but the snow was iced-up and slick as snot. With microspikes, I could have danced across. But with only trek poles, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I was even having trouble kicking out the icy layer to get better purchase. I could see that a slip would take me toward some rocks and then into some unfathomable murky darkness beyond my headlamp beam. How great would that be to get killed on my finale because of a 50 foot snowfield traverse on the approach? I could just see the comments in the news stories: “It was just a freak accident. He was an experienced mountaineer.” And the inevitable comments in the Forum: “What a dumbass! Why didn’t he have the proper gear? I say it’s natural selection at work.”
Since you’re reading my trip report and not “Accidents in North American Mountaineering,” you know that I made it across okay. At which point, we started to follow some headlamps up in the direction of the Loft. But before we got too far, we turned left and headed for the barely distinguishable black mass of Meeker’s northeast ridge. The skies lightened as we climbed up and through to the Iron Gates. This was mostly pretty solid talus with some loose spots.
The Iron Gates
While climbing the Iron Gates, we got a good look at alpenglow on Longs
After a bit of talus-hopping through the Iron Gates, we reached a short but very sweet scramble to get out onto the northeast ridge
Once out onto the ridge we still had quite a ways to go just to get to the east (false) summit of Meeker. This was fine with me because I loved this ridge! The rock was awesome, and the views were spectacular. When you wanted, you could toe out to the edge to get some intimidating exposure on Meeker’s sheer north face.
Still a long way up
Shawn coming up Meeker’s northeast ridge
Mt Meeker’s sheer north face
Now, I admit that I hadn’t really done a heck of a lot of studying up on the route that we were taking on this day. My plan for a while had been to go up the Loft and grab Meeker from there. I heard about this route only a few days before from Britt. And very shortly thereafter, MtnHub put out a trip report which persuaded me to alter my planned route. What I had heard is that there was a class 3 ridge between the false, east summit of Meeker (aka Meeker Ridge) and the true summit which would provide some fun, moderate scrambling. Yes, we had seen MtnHub’s picture, but with the rating of class 3 that the Roachs give it, we were a bit taken aback by the knife edge that we encountered. If you ask me, Gerry and Jennifer Roach really gloss over this part of the route in their 13ers book. And I don’t understand how it can be rated class 3. For the most part, the scrambling is not difficult, but the airy feeling pushes this into class 4 territory, I think. That’s not to say that the ridge is not absolutely suh-WEET! Just that it’s not what we expected.
Meeker’s knife ridge
This ridge is easier than Capitol’s, and given the amount and nature of the exposure would be a good test piece for it. It’s not to be taken lightly, but we actually found the hardest part to be getting onto it from the false summit. I had noticed a direct descent onto it, but also looked around for a way to curve down around the left side about 10 or 15 feet under the ridge. Shawn seemed to like this way better, so we started out looking at that. One spot proved a little more difficult for me – being shorter and with the boots that I was wearing. So I went back up to the direct way that I had initially identified and met Shawn at the ridgecrest. Once on the ridge, I found it to be quite solid and straightforward. Unlike on Capitol, I was quite comfortable walking across in some spots.
Shawn on the knife ridge
The knife is getting sharper
After getting off the knife edge portion, we still had some work to do to find a way around the rock wall blocking access to the summit. It looked like you could go around on either side. We chose the right side.
Contouring around the rock wall to access the summit block
We didn’t stay long on Meeker’s summit. Instead, we dropped down halfway to the Loft to take a little break and get ready for the next leg. The Loft is pretty neat. We had seen the white quartz cairns from on top of Meeker and so found our way easily across. Without much effort, we were able to spot the “diving board” cairn that marks the down-climb to the Clark’s Arrow ledge.
Shawn climbing down toward the Clark’s Arrow ledge
A faded Clark’s Arrow
From here, we continued around and up Keplinger’s Couloir and started seeing people above us. We had to cross below a small snowfield on our way to the Homestretch. The melt from this snow made the rock a bit slick, so took a little bit of care and maneuvering to get around safely, but not much of a problem. And finally we came to the Homestretch. Since we were a bit late getting there, we lucked out with the crowds. We did not really experience the conga line. So it wasn’t long before we got to the top.
Shawn on the Homestretch
So close! I see the summit cairn!
Cotton shirt, shorts, and baseball cap – such a newbie!
Sure, we didn’t arrive until 12:30pm, but there were only about 6 people on the summit. I figured there would be plenty of newbs to mingle with on a summer Saturday – especially given the weather forecast of only 10% chance of storms after noon.
After a few minutes of relaxing, we headed back down the Keyhole route – following the bulls-eyes. I really don’t remember any of this part being anywhere near intimidating. I was kind of on the look-out for the chockstone – although I couldn’t remember where it was supposed to be. I never did notice it, although we noted the metal rods in the rock.
The Narrows often felt tens of feet wide to me
As we were getting to the Trough, we saw a bit of a storm developing and heard thunder. It was off a ways, but it got us moving a bit faster – well, it would have if we hadn’t run into some traffic. Anyway, we did make it over to the Keyhole to find it passing by to the north of us.
The view through the Keyhole – Storm’s a-brewing up north – didn’t amount to anything, though
Goodbye, Keyhole – Hello, Boulderfield!
Yes, we still had a long way to go. People often describe the return trip to be a slog. But I wasn’t feeling too bad – my feet were hurting but my energy level was still fine. Yeah, it wasn’t that fun getting across the Boulderfield and back to tree-line, but once we got back to easy trail in the trees, I was hopping and skipping my way down – knowing this particular long journey of 58 peaks was coming to an end.
Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
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