I moved back to Colorado, from Idaho Falls, last year around Christmas time. As soon as I found out I was moving back home for a new and improved job I started thinking about what I would do for the summer. I was actively hiking and fly fishing in Idaho almost every weekend so I started thinking about where to hike in Colorado. Climbing 14ers popped into my head – something more challenging than hiking back into a canyon in the Lemhi’s or the foothills of the Tetons.
Big Lost Range, Idaho: Taken with my iPhone, no enhancements to the coloring
I was a little anxious after several months of thinking about it and talking with friends about climbing above 14k feet. I was being told how hard it’ll be – it’s not going to be just another hike. Perhaps there was something about that altitude I was unaware and in for something I couldn’t anticipate.
I kept thinking back to when I first moved to Colorado and my family and I drove to the summit of Pikes Peak. Granted, I didn’t hike to the summit but I didn’t remember anything negative about the altitude. Conflicting with what I was hearing from some friends, I’d read reports on 14ers.com and people seemed to be climbing all over the place with little to no issue. I jog fairly regularly and like to do the Incline so I figured that I was in good enough shape. Anyway, I didn’t know what to expect near the summit but I was skeptical about it being hard to hike a class 1 or 2 trail up to 14k feet.
With the pitiful snowpack in Colorado this past winter, 14er season started early and I was ready to go. After a couple of planned climbs were cancelled due to poor weather in early spring, a perfect day came a long and a couple friends and I climbed Quandary Peak along the standard East ridge. The hike was a bit more difficult than most of the other hikes I’ve done but overall not much of a challenge. Pushing hard up the hill above treeline certainly got my heart rate up so I just paced myself and I was good to go. I felt great the whole way up and down.
Quandary Peak Benchmark
Grays/Torreys in background, Jeremy (left), me (center), Mike (right)
The next week I climbed Sherman from the Fourmile Creek TH. Easy hike but that day was excruciatingly windy.
A week after that Gray’s and Torrey’s were up. We got up Gray’s but had to get down the hill before we got over to Torrey’s. Clouds were building fast despite the forecast saying it would be clear till late afternoon. From the summit of Gray’s we could see rain pouring over Vail (same day as the Teva Mountain Games I believe). We had a great view of Mount of the Holy Cross. The lighting was perfect with the clouds – I wish I had had a better camera with a real zoom lens. I’ll be back for Torrey’s soon – potentially headed up Kelso ridge.
Mount of the Holy Cross
Sophistication - real glass
The Rascal per Mr. Roach
Mt. Bierstadt was the next weekend. I was ready for a class 3 attempt and wanted to do the Sawtooth traverse to Mt. Evans. However, I was with a large group and most of them were inexperienced hikers and for most of them it was their first 14er. We relaxed on the summit of Bierstadt for nearly an hour and head back down to the trailhead.
The group on the summit of Bierstadt
Mt. Bierstadt Benchmark
And now for the main point of this trip report. I have been focusing on 14ers in the Front Range and Mosquito/Ten Mile Range since they were close to Colorado Springs. I had climbed 4 14ers to that point and I had enjoyed each one and was ready for more.
The Decalibron loop would allow me to complete 4 more 14ers and finish all of the 14ers in the Mosquito/Tenmile range. Jeremy, a friend from college, suggested we get a group together for a full moon hike to the summit of Mt. Democrat for sunrise on July 4th. It didn’t take much to convince me but I didn’t expect many others to be interested since it was so early in the morning. Surprisingly we had a group of 8.
3 people were coming from Boulder and 5 people, including me, were coming from the Springs. We met in Alma at 3am and reached the trailhead around 330am. There were quite a few cars parked near the trailhead and I suspect most of the people were camped out or sleeping in the back of their cars. We parked our cars about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead because of a rough patch my Honda was having trouble getting over. At the end of the day walking back to my car I’m quite sure I could have made it past that spot – especially since there were quite a few sedans at the Kite Lake trailhead. I’ll blame my tire tread and the night time.
The moon was bright with a few high clouds.
The moon was bright enough to be able to hike most of the way up the hill without needing our headlamps. We saw 2 headlamps near the Democrat-Cameron saddle when we began our ascent but never caught up to them. I caught their silhouette headed up Mt. Cameron at one point so I’m not sure if they went up Democrat or not.
About ¾ to the top I noticed some haze rolling into the valley below and wasn’t sure if it was smoke from one of the fires or low lying clouds. It was too dark at that time to get a good picture of it rolling in. Once it was brighter the haze was everywhere so it had to be smoke. I only smelled it once though.
We reached the summit 20 minutes before sunrise. The wind was blowing a bit and it was a little cold. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. The colors in the sky were absolutely stunning. The sky looked to be on fire. Thanks to Matt’s camera and photography skills we were able to get some images that really convey what we saw just before sunrise.
Matt caught another fantastic picture of the sunrise behind the American flag on the summit. Nothing says July 4th in America better.
Summit of Mt. Democrat at sunrise - July 4th, 2012
As the sun started to peak over the mountain tops a bit more, just behind Mt. Lincoln, we snapped a few pictures of the group.
Most of the group
From there the 3 from Boulder descended back to their car and went home. The rest of us began our trek over to Mt. Cameron. We passed several people headed up Democrat and we could see more headed up from the trailhead. Most of the remaining altitude to be gained is on the way over to Cameron. After that the rest of the hike was flat with just a few hundred feet of elevation gain/loss on the saddles between each mountain.
Cameron provides exceptional views of the surroundings.
Quandary Peak and Wheeler Lake
We stopped on the summit of Cameron for a quick lunch (breakfast?) break. It was just after 7am. Then we were off to Mt. Lincoln.
We reached the summit surprisingly quick and snapped a few more pictures and got a good shot of the benchmark.
Mt. Lincoln Benchmark
Off to Mt. Bross and the final stop for the day! The Cameron-Bross saddle is wide and flat but offered some great views of Lincoln and Kite Lake.
Mt. Lincoln from the Cameron-Bross Saddle
Kite Lake from the Cameron-Bross Saddle
The public summit was nice..
And we were off. I’d read plenty about the descent of Mt. Bross being terrible but I had to do it at least once. Sure it was one big scree slide but worth it to complete the whole loop. I slipped once and landed on my pack. My friend asked if my platypus water bladder was ok...
Looking back across Mt. Bross
It was a fantastic hike and great way to celebrate the 4th of July and our declaration of independence. I’m going camping near Florissant and Eleven Mile this weekend and camping at Great Sand Dunes the next. While we’re there we plan to go to Zapata Falls and hike the canyon up along South Zapata Creek. I’m hoping to get a good view of Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Pt. The question is where should I go climbing next?