Thursday, August 9, 2007

14er Project Pregame






When I catch myself waiting for things to happen, I am overcome with sheepishness. Sheep. Animals of the field. Found in a flock, herd, clump. Munch munching through the day with occasional wary glances shown over wooly shoulder. Several weeks back, while waiting for phone calls, emails, plans or invitations, I sniffed the distinct odor of sheepish self pity. Time to move! Ready now to resurrect last summer’s forgotten project. The 14er Project. 14 14ers in 14 days…It has a nice ring to it! I have these 14 days, will it be done? 100 miles and 46,000 vertical feet? Maybe. Does the prospect of leaving the project unfinished cause concern? Nope. This will be a 14 day pilgrimage. Clear air, clear mind, and only competition-free walking. Pilgrimages are paths with waypoints but the destinations are as much internal as geographical. What do I hope to gain? Stronger quads. Good conversation on the trail. A readjusted attitude set for the upcoming school year. Maybe even a sheep sighting or two.

Enjoy my stories!

Project Overview

Day

Date

Peak

Mileage

Elevation Gain

Trailhead

1

Weds 25

Quandary

6.75

3450

Quandary

2

Thurs 26

Lincoln/Bross/Democrat

7.5

3700

Kite Lake

3

Fri 27

Sherman

6

2200

Fourmile Creek

4

Sat 28

Rest

0


BV/Breck

5

Sun 29

Harvard/Columbia

16

4375

N. Cottonwood Creek

6

Mon 30

Belford/Oxford

11

5800

Missouri Gulch

7

Tues 31

Huron

9.5

3800

Clear Creek/S. Winfield

8

Weds 1

Missouri

10.5

4500

Missouri Gulch

9

Thurs 2

Rest

0


BV

10

Fri 3

La Plata

9.5

4500

La Plata Peak

11

Sat 4

Elbert

9

4700

N. Elbert

12

Sun 5

Massive

9

4200

N. Half Moon Creek

13

Mon 6

Holy Cross (aborted)

7

2250

Half Moon (Tigiwon)

14

Tues 7

Rest or Makeup Day




Total

11 hiking days

14 peaks

101.75

43475


Shout Outs

Wendy Chi - for hiking 9.5 14ers with me and for being a good friend

Donna Siglin - for camping in the rain and hiking Mount Sherman even though it was hard!

Diane Friedman - for your energy and companionship

Mom and Dad - for daily phonecalls to make sure I made it

Brother Todd - for dinner and housing and calling to make sure I wasn't reported missing by the Summit Daily

Kim - for good company and checking in on me

"Trout" - for romantic promises in a bar and the shot of JD

The Lovely People of Big O Tires in Frisco

Haven - for conversation and invitations

Scott McNabb - for a ride up the "easy 4WD road"

Jeff the Jackrabbit, Johnny and Sir Lancelot - new hiking friends on an epic traverse!

Jane and Jim - for a ride down the "easy 4WD road" and for good spiritedness in general

Tom and Justin - campfire camraderie

Jaye and Koda - my dog friends and all of the people who helped in the owner search

Everyone who called my voicemail to see how I was doing

Everyone I talked to on the trail

People of Minneapolis

Things I've Learned

1) Don't yell in the woods unless you are hurt or lost.
2) Sleeping at the trailhead gets you close to the trail but doesn't guarantee a good night's rest.
3) Rocks are hard, slippery and abrasive.
4) Leash your dog when other people and other people's dogs are around.
5) Yield to the hiker coming uphill.
6) Let people pass if they are faster.
7) Be quiet at the trailhead early in the morning.
8) Poop before you go.
9) Read the trail description but be flexible enough to improvise.
10) Carry a map.
11) Make your route a loop!
12) Offer words of encouragement.
13) Don't fall face first.
14) 14ers are all uphill.
15) There is no such thing as an "easy" 14er.
16) When in doubt, take the high road (on the trail and morally).
17) Seek out ways to bank good karma.


Day 1: 7/25/07: Quandary Peak: 14,265






Stats

6.75 miles

Standard Route – East Ridge

Company: Wendy Chi

Wildlife: pika,goats

3450 feet

Start: 7:30 am

Summit: 10:30 am

Stop: 1:00 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 11:00 am

Thunder/rain – 1:00 pm

There must always be a Day 1. Day 1 is for kicking off the dust, loosening stubborn muscles, working out the kinks with shoes, gear, snacks, breathing. Today’s Day 1 earned no special distinction. It was not epic- no trips, slips or falls. No famine or mosquito infestations. But in the absence of epic (which really means the situation is dire during but becomes rosy in hindsight recollections around the campfire) – there is pleasant. A perfectly lovely day with trail stretching out ahead and behind, meandering through alpine meadows of Indian paintbrush, purple aster and mountain bluebells. The sun was out. The goats were out. The people were certainly out (including 70 church camp kids from Wichita in t-shirts and jeans, sans raingear). I had good company (with Wendy Chi who will end up hiking 9 of 14 peaks with me) and a gracious host in Quandary Peak. Nothing to complain about. Everything to celebrate. It was good to get out!

Day 2: 7/26/07: Mount Democrat/ Mount Lincoln/ Mount Bross(Cameron):14,148/14,286/14,172/ (14,238)








Stats

7.5 miles

Standard Route – Kite Lake

Company: Wendy Chi

Wildlife: pika, ptarmigan

3700 feet

Start: 7:00 am

Summit: 8:50/10:25/10:50/11:50 am

Stop: 1:15 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 1:00 am

Oh how the trail provides for methodical minutes in which to contemplate. Sometimes thoughts are consumed by the mere action of plopping one foot in front of the other systematically, rhythmically. In tough sections, this action is paired with mantra: just keep moving, just keep moving. The yogic breath of mountaineers matches the staccato of trekking pole tapping rock. Keep. Move.Ing. And then there are those times we float. The music my feet make continues in time effortlessly and thoughts drift off to places good and bad. That flower is so purple. I have a rock in my shoe. Cairns must represent perfect mountainside feng shui. How can I be happier in my daily life? What is my cure for loneliness? How much farther? Today, moving up and down, across saddles and ridges into barren, moon-like terrain, body and brain detached. It was an “on” day where each step was easy and the mind was set free. Free to be present. Free to be absent. What to do with the spare time? Work hard to think of nothing – finding an elusive meditative state? Rehash the goings-on of front-range life? Today I thought about how people approach life and how that approach is not unlike the trail. Sometimes each step is premeditated with a perfect precision. I’ve memorized the contours of the next rock and the next and the next in order to minimize surprises. This is like living life myopically with an eye only on what is immediately in that moment. Other times I force my head from the camel sand hole and look down the trail – looking and planning for the future while maintaining a competent connection with the present. Then there are moments where vistas shout loudly enough to draw eyes upward to soaring peaks, billowing clouds, blankets of tiny pincushion flowers, streams giggling past sprung from an unseen snowfield. Ah, the big picture. Oftentimes it is in these scarce moments that a random rock bites a toe, sending me sliding, slipping, groping for terra firma. It is also in this rare moment that life rushes into you. A scraped knee’s itch reminds me I’m alive. The surprise of a mountain goat chewing his cud on the trail reminds me too. The sweat dripping into my eye reminds me as well. In this instant born from the contemplation of how life is like the trail, once again my mind is free, present and future blended perfectly into landscape.

Day 3: 7/27/07: Mount Sherman: 14,036






Stats

6 miles

Standard Route – SW Ridge from Fourmile Creek (from midway between Leavick and 12,100’ gate)

Company: Donna Siglin

Wildlife: marmots

2200 feet

Start: 7:50 am

Summit: 10:15 am

Stop: 12:15 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 10:00 am

Rain – 12:30 pm

The day started unwell. Actually, not so bad considering other alternatives… Some 8 miles up bumpy Fourmile Creek Road, lodged at a roadside campsite, one tire completely flat. To be fair, I had noticed it in the previous evening’s downpour while sipping red wine and devouring mac and cheese (mmmm powdered cheese) under the makeshift rain fly canopy. So I had all night to hope for the best. Immaculate reinflation. A suitable spare. Luckily, in my “learning to drive days”, my dad created ample opportunity to practice such skills as “checking the oil”, “backing up”, “freeing oneself from ice and snow”, and of course, “changing tires”. Before I was allowed to set foot to pedal in the old Oldsmobile ( a classic according to some), I had to master the aforementioned skills and earn the honor of road worthiness. Despite my claims the day began unwell, while it did begin that way… all turned around with the successful replacement of spare (yes, fully inflated!) on front driver’s side hub.

Then to the hill. Mt. Sherman is a combination of ruined mines and loose rock. We created a loop of the short hike by climbing a trail in the talus south of the Hilltop Mine. At one point, my hiking partner suggested I tell the two girls from Indiana behind us that we were creating our own route. They seemed amenable to route-find with us and we ended up summiting, descending with and giving them a ride back to their car. At summit, we were shrouded in billowing veils of foggy clouds accompanied by brisk winds coaxing us back from whence we came. The descent was also brisk, paused only by several marmot sightings amid the ruins of mining buildings.

Day 4: 7/28/07: Rest!

“How a Rest Day Becomes Not a Rest Day” and Other Interesting Stories

From the cobbly heights of Mount Sherman and hasty departure from camp near Fourmile Campground (Donna needed to return to Boulder for work!), off to Breckenridge for pampering at the Grand Timber Lodge. The joys of ownership include day access to the hot tub, pools, Lodgepole Bar and Restaurant, and most spectacular, the locker room. Ah the locker room – stocked with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, mouthwash, cleansing soap, deodorant, disinfected combs, tampons and assorted pads, cotton balls, q-tips, a swimsuit spinning dryer, hair dryer and unlimited clean towels and HOT water. After a shower, quick soak in the tub, and another shower, I was ready for the bar to enjoy a happy hour cocktail and promises of “Trout” the rugby player who swears he will meet me on the trail because as Trout says, “Girls who sleep in their cars are sexy”. So, we will seeJ

Dinner at Todd’s was amazing (baked tilapia, corn on the cob, pan seared broccoli, garlic bread and red wine). He refused to let Kim and I help so we didn’t! With 2 glasses of cabernet down and Tour de France coverage showing, I settled in for a cozy night sleeping in my clothes (too lazy to go to the car) on the infamous coffee table. Todd claimed his living room was immaculate but I woke up with crumbs and sand stuck to me freshly moisturized and shaved legs. Crumbs dislodged by a quick shake, off I go to Big O Tires in Frisco! Thinking the worst, I ask if they had time to check my flat tire. But of course! It will be done in half an hour. Serendipitously, WalMart of Frisco shares the parking lot with Big O and provides multiple aisles of redundant product with which to entertain oneself. With newly purchased candy corn in hand, the Big O folks called me into the garage for a consultation. My wounded tire marinated in a tub of water (much like I had done the day previous) with an endless array of bubbles erupting from multiple points on the tire. It was pronounced dead at 11:23 am. With my dad’s voice haunting me, “You have to have a spare, you have to have a spare”, I told Carlos, “I have to have a spare”. He immediately walked to a pile of tires and announced, “This is the same size and similar tread”. “How much?” , I question. He whispers conspiratorially, “It is an expensive tire. For you, don’t worry about it”. After being offered spicy pork tamales with green chile, I skipped into the showroom to pay the bill: $12.64. Yes!

From Frisco to Leadville and a check up on the health of our favorite highest town. Old Leadville conjures up bad memories of nights sleeping on the floor of the Super 8 but today she was downright bustling. Corvettes and Harleys cruised Main Street weaving through a slalom course of pedestrian tourists. She looked good, ol’ Leadville. So this story goes on and if you recall, it is about how rest days end up not being restful. How can this be if I am cozied up in my tent at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead listening to the tap dancing raindrops on the fly? It is only 7:15 pm! It all started at the Buena Vista river park and a cute boy. The conversation ended with an invitation to camp with him and friends. Tempting yes. Possible with a 4:30 am wakeup call? Maybe. I volleyed the idea back and forth in a mental Wimbledon and erred on the side of helping the 14er Project continue as planned.

So up a series of Chaffee County roads I drive: 350, 361, 365… up a couple of miles nearing the point the guidebooks say the road changes to “Easy 4WD”. Not so easy. In fact, despite the many driving lessons (see previous entry) provided prior to my leaving the driveway, this road had no such thing as “easy” written on it. After 3 failed attempts, twice backing up due to beefy 4 wheelers hurtling toward me and an ill-fated road building project, I parked. Adrenaline coursed and sweat broke and then, action! The rest day turned into a backpacking trip. 3.25 miles in flipflops carry the new not-so-light Go-lite pack over ruts, stones, mysteriously smooth road even! Eventually, after several conversations with locals (the road has never been this bad) and fellows camped along the road, one offered me a ride. Now I wouldn’t say I was fishing for a ride but you can’t catch a fish unless you put the bait in the water. Scott to the rescue! Maiden (haha) in distress (not really) saved from two more uphill pack-laden miles!

Day 5: 7/29/07: Mount Harvard/Mount Columbia: 14,420/14,073






Stats

16 miles

Standard Route – N Cottonwood Creek + low traverse across Frenchman Creek Basin

Company: solo

Wildlife: pika, marmots

4375 feet

Start: 5:30 am

Summit: 9:15 am/1:15 pm

Stop: 4:30 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Sunny/warm – 7:00 am

Epic! Length, weather, view, trail conditions. Parts of the day even fell into the category of level 2 fun (not fun now but fun to talk about later). The traverse linking Harvard and Columbia is, quite appropriately described by others, a long haul. While Harvard is a delight, Columbia was frightful (not in a risky, scary way… but more in a not the most picturesque, fun trail kind of way). Loose, steep, lengthy. While those associated with the Ivy League may argue their merits, Harvard seems to outshine Columbia even here in the Collegiates! As luck would have it, I leap-frogged up Harvard with a group of 3 Wisconsin-cum-Denverites who also would attempt the traverse below the ridge. Together we did, but not without ample rest breaks, Vitamin I intakes, GPS checks, unnecessary down climbing and elevation loss, etc. When we finally reached Columbia, we were already ready to leave! Of course, we definitely deserved a momentary congratulatory summit break. After a slip and slid descent, the guys set off to their tent readily in view in the Horn Fork Basin while I looked forward to the relatively gentle 3 mile hike back to the trailhead and my gear stashed there. Upon descending the TH I accosted the only possible ride. 11 hours of hiking was finished with a hitch back down the “easy 4WD” road by a lovely couple in a rental Jeep. Upon reaching the crux (huge uneven ruts) we were forced to stop midhill by a white Saturn sedan high-centered and leaking oil. With room to pass, I was deposited at my vehicle ready to head back down to BV and on to Missouri Gulch.

Day 6: 7/30/07: Mount Belford/Mount Oxford: 14,197/14,153





Stats

11 miles

Standard Route – NW Ridge from Missouri Gulch + exploration of technical Missouri Route

Company: Wendy Chi

Wildlife: pika, chipmunks, marmots

5800 feet

Start: 6:45 am

Summit: 10:30 am/12:15 pm

Stop: 5:00 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Partly cloudy/warm – 7:00 am

Haiku to Switchbacks

Uphill climb
Relentless pain you bring
Us closer

3 guys drinking celebratory Coors in the Missouri Gulch parking lot commented, “Oxford and Belford are supposed to be easy 14ers!”. All parties present wryly chuckled as we had spent, what seemed like, all day going uphill. Switchback by switchback. Switchbacks in the morning, switchbacks in the evening, switchbacks my ragtime gal. When the route description said “relentless”, we should’ve realized “relentless” and “easy” are not synonyms. At daybreak we toyed with the idea of adding Missouri Mountain to the “easy 14er combo” to make the day a long triple play! This idea became increasingly popular but less likely as the pair of us trudged up Missouri Gulch and slogged up Mount Belford. The popularity of the idea of the idea enlarged because we agreed re-hiking the approach to climb Missouri was as desirable as the bite of a crazed marmot (which we fended off with trekking poles on the Oxford summit).

At first, the golden furball seemed only mildly curious and he inched closer with every photo opportunity. However, like a pop star out of rehab, he could not stay away from the goods. The old adage: “too close for comfort” soon applied. While taking a self-timed summit photo, Lenny (the nickname our marmot became christened with, his full name being Relentless in honor of his behavior and the uphill battle we had endured on Belford) snuck up on us from all angles. During the self-timed photo process, Lenny – buck-toothed and steely-eyed, actually lunged out and licked the camera! Will Nikon’s warranty cover such damage? Emboldened, he approached us again, lusting after the jerky and trail mix. Slinky swagger, he managed to get within a foot of my day pack until fended off with a pole. Undaunted by pole-poking, we were forced to take up additional arms (the remaining 3 trekking poles) and flee the summit sending scuttling ptarmigan into rock outcrops willy-nilly. The Missouri Mountain summit bid fell short as did time but not without some fun reconnaissance below the technical east ridge. Hikers below asked us if we were OK; we were having so much fun (at least I was. Wendy was looking at my route-finding a tad incredulously), we waved trekking poles and whooped, “Yes!”.

We were able to pass the San Antonian who was concerned for our off-trail welfare partway down the gulch. We had met him the night before after he had hiked up to treeline with ambitions of climbing a peak. After a quick chat, we hustled down and wrangled a Coors from the happy hour boys (the same ones who laughingly reflected on the “easy” status of Belford and Oxford). When our new San Antonian friend finally arrived, we greeted him with congratulations and Colorado beer. His first 14er! Here! Here! He was dog tired after his own relentless 10 hour pursuit of Belford but beaming with the glow of accomplishment. If the switchbacks don’t kill you, they will make you tiredJ Rest well man from San Antonio – you did it!

Day 7: 7/31/07: Huron Peak: 14,003





Stats

9.5 miles

Ascent – Lulu Gulch and Brown’s Peak

Descent - Standard Route – North Ridge to Clear Creek

Company: Wendy Chi

Wildlife: marmots, goats, rabbit, humming birds

3500 feet

Start: 8:05 am

Summit: 12:35 pm

Stop: 4:05 pm

Weather:

Clear/warm – 8:00 am

Cloud formation – 12:00 pm

Getting to Huron Peak was as eventful as climbing it! Once again, adventures in off-road travel proved too challenging for the combination of the driving skills I possess and the vehicle I drive. So what was meant to be a “rest day” with a hike of less than 6 miles turned into a long day of route-finding, hopeful following of other hikers and a lot of walking on 4WD roads. After crossing a small stream not far from the parking at Winfield and the “You need high clearance” sign, we parked in an alcove. Our timing seemed perfect as we parked just in time to catch a gigantic white Suburban (or something equally behemoth) barreling uphill unfettered by 2-foot ruts and pig-sized boulders. Asking if we could hitch a ride to the trailhead, the 2 blonde large-haired ladies gaping wide-eyed declined due to their rig being “too full”. As they rocketed away, leaving us in a cloud of exhaust and disbelief, we started the trudge playing and replaying various non-violent revenge scenarios. Obviously the cloud of exhaust and disbelief clouded our usually careful routine of memorizing the route and driving directions.

So when we came to the fork in the road, and the decision to “when in doubt, stay high” led to a series of switchbacks up the Road to Nowhere. On this road to nowhere, we met a foursome consisting of a Quaker minister and his wife along with a couple recently transplanted to Boston (after years teaching in Boulder –Paul had even subbed @ my school!) Up through a drainage (Molly according to the minister, but Lulu according to the map) and on up to the summit of Brown’s Peak we went. 13er! By this time, one of the group had backed down the way we came and the ultra-fast minister and his wife were but specks of movement in a vast unmoving scree field hanging below the sharp-toothed ridge to Huron. The three of us (Wendy, Karen – who latched on with us after her husband descended the other side and myself) picked through the rubble slowly like high-alpine dentists, picking at each rock with trekking poles to ensure solidity. We finally connected with our originally planned route high into the switchbacks on the flank of Huron. Accompanied by a goat, the summit was ours. #10!

Taking our leave of the remaining three, Wendy and I went down into the woods on-trail. Finally exiting the humid warmth of tree cover, we found ourselves at the trailhead – that very trailhead we hadn’t found so many hours before due to our error in navigation. With no Suburban to hitch a ride with, the two of us continued back down the long road to the car, rehashing the day’s unexpected length, adventures, and the spectacular loop hike of Huron Peak.

Day 8: 8/1/07: Missouri Mountain: 14,067




Stats

10.5 miles

Standard Route – NW Ridge from Missouri Gulch

Company: Wendy Chi

Wildlife: marmots, grasshoppers

4500 feet

Start: 5:40 am

Summit: 10:40 am

Stop: 1:40 pm

Weather:

Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 1:00 am

Thunder/rain – 2:30 pm

Deja vue. An uncanny feeling that I’ve been here before! I’d felt various bouts of deja vue throughout the previous climbs – it had been especially strong on the summit of Mount Columbia. And now again today…but this time I really had been there before. The long hike up Missouri Gulch had impressed itself upon my memory and was now replaying, step, step, step, switchback, step, step, step, switchback, relentless. While the first mile in the woods went quickly (much more so than the previous time), it was not long before Wendy was stricken by uncomfortable abdominal ailments and general malaise. Oh how well I know how horrendous it is to complete a single step when in intestinal distress. While I hiked to forget those long days in India, the diversity of the Missouri Mountain trail unfolded itself. All the wonders of the trail were out – fields of wild flowers, flocks of juicy, humongous grasshoppers, marmots stealthily following (perhaps distant cousins of the infamous Lenny from nearby Oxford). So while I enjoyed the trail and having an “on” day (despite sore legs from this being the 6th peak in four days), Wendy – with here endless will power – continued ad tedium up the trail.

The ridge trail across the top half mile curled toward the peak blemished only by a spooky haze encroaching on the 360 degree view. Marmot-free we celebrated #11 with fancy sandwiches and a brief photo shoot. Upon venturing down, we encounter Brian, boyfriend of Missy, running down the trail. The night before, we met them at the trailhead. After Missy had checked the trail register, she had come running back to talk to me – we had gone to junior high together in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Big world. Small world.

Day 9: 8/2/07: Rest!

Well needed and well deserved!

Off the trail
Thunderstorms threatening
Two-hour nap
Wet-wipe shower
Stroll around BV
Dinner at the Cantina
Riveted by news of bridge collapse in Minneapolis
Unable to connect with home due to tied up phone lines
Search for block ice at Safeway
Camp on Colorado Avenue
Restless reading
Coyote pack howling and passing the car under cover of darkness
Internet at the BV library – news that everyone at home avoided the collapse
Chai and writing time at Bongo Billys

Cottonwood hot springs soak and outdoor shower
Drive to La Plata

Day 10: 8/3/07: La Plata Peak: 14,336





Stats

9.5 miles

Standard Route – NW Ridge

Company: Diane Friedman

Wildlife: pika

4500 feet

Start: 7:15 am

Summit: 11:00 am

Stop: 2:00 pm

Weather:

Cloudy/cool – 6:00 am

Rain – 3:00 pm

La Plata – the Silver Summit. Upon this day, Diane “Energizer Bunny” accompanied me for the follies and festivities. Knowing she would be filled with boundless energy (as witnessed on many telemark slopes last winter) I steeled myself for a fast-paced day. The mountain and trail were certainly shapely with awe-inspiring views of the Ellingwood Ridge and surrounding peaks. Within this amphitheater, several acts occurred that would help me gain the title (self-proclaimed and self-invented) of “Least Attractive Legs”. While this title comes with no monetary stipend or travel allowance (who would want to see them, really?) the legs have produced an ample amount of concerned attention. After hiking, today alone, I had offers of 4 first-aid kits (and these offers came after cleaning up with my own kit!).

Nevertheless, tripping face first due to foot entrapment down loose rock and dirt in other circumstances could certainly result in dislodged teeth, gaping skull through eyebrow gash or cracked long bones. In this case, a welt/contusion the size of a ½ liter Nalgene bottle crept from ankle to mid-shin with tiger-claw like scrapes oozing atop it like red cupcake frosting. From outer left shin to hip, a ribbon of blue and purple formed, adorned with diagonal stripes of red where skin had formerly formed an unbroken barrier. All of this on one leg – that same leg who injuries required the “Lap of Healing” at kickball nearly 2 weeks ago. Just as those second-base-slide-induced scabs became itchy and ready to be ripped off by an inopportune snag, revealing petal-pink new skin, a whole new set of La Plata wounds appear! With the sock tan, half-disintegrated pink toenail polish and the limited attention to a Lady Bic in the recent past, I may very well deserve the honor and privilege of “Least Attractive Legs”.

P.S. La Plata is a great, wonderful, amazing hike –overshadowed only by the blood. Hiking up two snowfields and boot skiing down was the highlight! We are ready for ski season!

Day 11: 8/4/07: Mount Elbert: 14,433





Stats

9 miles

Standard Route – NE Ridge

Company: Solo

Wildlife: none

4700 feet

Start: 7:10 am

Summit: 10:00 am

Stop: 12:50 pm

Weather:

Warm/partly cloudy – 6:00 am

Rain – 1:00 pm

40+ cars at the trailhead. Oh no!

No flowers along the trail!

Legs filled with peanut butter!

Oh Elbert. On a Saturday. In early August. Alone at the trailhead last night, sleep came easily (much needed after the traffic of 82 keeping me up the night previous at the La Plata TH). One other car belonging to a backpacking trio from St. Louis kept me company but as for living things, only the world’s tiniest chipmunks were there with me. And then the onslaught. Starting at 4:00 am, cars of all shapes, sizes and colors streamed into the lot and out the driveway. Passing 6 hiking groups in the first mile and 50 more people in the second mile, I readjusted my anticipation of solitude and started making friends among the folks crawling uphill. Other than the conversation on the uphill train, Elbert was rather un-noteworthy. Despite its reputation as a giant among giants and the fun of saying you’ve been on the highest peak in Colorado, the fun part of the day started at the post-party in the parking lot (which consisted of me sitting in the Crazy Creek with a book under a light drizzle).

While trying to finish an Umberto Eco novel, a lovely strawberry blonde with one blue eye and one brown sidled over to my tailgate party. “Jaye” enjoyed a few of my pets and a bit of water from the MSR cook set lid. Not long after, “Koda” joined the festivities. None of the other hikers finishing in the parking lot knew of these dog’s owners. I watered and leashed them assuming the owners were merely slower at descending than their 4-legged friends. Hours passed. Witnesses questioned. Phone calls made to the number on the dogs’ tags and the Lake County Sheriff. By 6, no owners! Lucky me! I inherited two pleasant canines and a half package of hot dogs (donated by concerned witnesses). From what I could gather, the dogs had been at the summit and had water at tree line. Rather than turn my new friends over to animal control, I prepared to keep them overnight. I would set up the tent for their shelter and have Wendy stop at the Leadville Safeway for kibbles. They would hike with us! Be our companions until their owners turned up!

Phone call. Troy from Denver: I hear you have my dogs? I’ll be there right away to pick them up.

2nd Phone call. Troy from Denver: You said the Mount Elbert TH? We’re there – it’s a paved parking area off 82 and we don’t see you.

Me: What!? Not the South Mount Elbert TH! North!

The dogs had gotten up with first Elbert pilgrims, abandoning camp before being leashed up, and summated from the south. After reaching the highest point in Colorado, they continued down the north side. They probably packed in 10 miles! The sweeties jumped into their familiar green Explorer amid promises to leash them up before hikers entice them out of camp. In remembrance of my afternoon with the dogs I can’t have, I ate their hot togs sliced into mac and cheese in the continuing drizzle. Much thanks to the Oklahoma guys for fun after dinner conversation around the campfire! I’ll lend you fire anytimeJ

P.S. for pictures of the dogs posted on 14ers.com, go to:

http://www.14ers.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=8403