Monday, August 30, 2010

Mt. Sherman and Sugar Loafin'

After our last camping and hiking trip to Kite Lake at the end of July I began planning another trip into the wilderness. I was eager to hike another 14er and had so much fun with all our friends in the great outdoors I knew I wanted a repeat weekend. I began researching campsites that were near 14ers and found the Sugar Loafin' campsite ( Unlike our previous camp ground at Kite Lake this one had level campsites, water at each site, heated bathrooms and showers, nice fire pits and a front desk/general store complete with fire wood for sale and an ice cream social every night at 7:30. While it was a bit pricey ($29 a night plus a lot of add on fees like extra person and extra car they don't tell you about until you get there) it was luxury compared to Kite Lake and I knew some of my friends would appreciate that. I sent out an invite and the only people who could go were my friends Malia, Lyndee and her fiance Mark and of course my husband Chad.

Having a small group, especially this group of people turned out to be ideal. Malia had a sprained ankle at Kite Lake and couldn't do much of anything except sit around. Lyndee and Mark arrived too late Friday night to find us and seeing as we were all hiking Saturday morning they ended up fishing and leaving. This was really a make-up camping trip for them since they all missed out in various ways the last time around. They were all going to attempt their first 14er as well with me and I picked out Mt. Sherman for them to attempt. It's an easy class 2 hike and more important was about a 10 minute drive from the campsite.

After meeting up Friday night we all caravaned to Leadville, Co. Since Lyndee and Mark weren't able to find us the previous camping trip and cell phone service can be spotty at best in the mountains they decided to follow us and Malia and Chad were both able to take off work early. We arrived at the campsite at about 7pm after stopping along the way in Climax, Co for some road side stand beef jerky. If you ever see a road side stand for beef jerky in Colorado you should definitely stop, as it's some of the best I've ever tasted.

We checked in at the front office at the Sugar Loafin then were shown to our campsite "O". The Sugar Loafin' is also an RV park but they keep the RV's separated from the regular tent campsites. While the campsites were very nice and had everything as promised by the website, they were a little close together. Luckily no one was directly on either side of us but there were some very loud rude people up the hill which liked to party all night and kept us up. If you like your remote camping sights I do not recommend camping here. However, the trade off is we didn't have to bring tons of fresh water and it was nice to have heated bathrooms close by. We went to the ice cream social both nights which was $1.75 for all you can eat ice cream. They set it up in a back room with chairs in a circle which reminded us of being in school. The one advantage to this is that fellow campers came in so you got to know your neighbors so to speak. Of course, us girls were never ones to turn down ice cream so it was a nice treat especially after hiking.

We made a simple dinner of hot dogs Friday night then went to bed early in preparation for the hike on Saturday. Since we were staying in Leadville we didn't have to get up until about 5:45am where Chad cooked an amazing breakfast of eggs and bacon. When you are hiking a 14er you need your energy and a good breakfast is very important. We used our propane coleman stove to cook on which works better than going through the task of starting a fire. I brought bread and peanut butter to make sandwiches for the hike and after loading up on water and power bars we were on our way.

You can actually see Mt. Sherman from the Sugar Loafin' campground so we knew we didn't have too far to drive. While most people hike the Southwest Ridge from FourMile Creek, we were hiking the West Slopes from Iowa Gulch. Even though the West Slopes trail is shorter by a quarter mile, you gain 50 more feet of elevation from this side and it's quite a bit steeper. The tradeoff is this route is closer to Leadville and less crowded.

(picture: getting ready to hike. With mt. sheridan a 13er in the background)
We set off at about 7:45am and all quickly settled into our own pace. Since this was my 10th 14er I was quite a bit more acclimated to the hike than Lyndee, Mark or Malia. Chad started out in the lead but after about an hour of hiking he ended up in the back coaching Malia along while Lyndee and Mark stayed behind me. We all were pretty close to each other in distance until we reached the saddle. From the saddle you could see down the FourMile Creek trail and the old mining houses that dotted that path.

It was a shame we didn't get to see some of those places up close but after seeing how many people were headed up that path I was glad we took the Iowa Gulch side. I hate hiking behind large groups of people especially as the trail gets steep and you can't pass anyone on either side.

(picture: the beginning of the rocky part)

(girls at the midway point of the hike)

Once Malia got to the saddle it was hard to convince her to keep going but Chad did an excellent job helping her. She was succumbing to the altitude and didn't know how much further she could make it. I ended up way ahead of everyone at this point because I wanted to push myself to the summit and get a good ways ahead of the mass of hikers coming up behind us. The final ridge is pretty steep on either side and juts up like a knife edge so I found that most of the families hiking with little children seemed to be turning around when they got to that point. True to most 14ers, the route looks worse than it actually is and I found there to be plenty of room hiking up the final ridge to the top.

(picture: part of the remaining ridge of the hike)

I reached the summit at about 10am, with Mark and Lyndee 15 minutes behind me and Malia and Chad 15 minutes behind them. The wind was starting to pick up at the top so I was glad I had brought gloves and extra layers. There are several wind shelters made from rocks on the summit so I sat behind one of those and waited for the rest of my friends to arrive. The summit is quite large which is nice because there were lots of people on the top. I know Mt. Sherman is an easier mountain to hike and given the fact it was a Saturday you knew you could expect a lot of people. Once all of us were on the summit together we ate a snack and took pictures then headed back down. Some of our group didn't have gloves so it wasn't ideal conditions to stay up top for long.

The hike back down was a bit harder than it had initially been on the climb up. The route we took had a lot of scree which made for a slippery hike down. Mark and Lyndee did fall on their butts a few times while I had the hiking poles to help level me out. Malia found it a bit difficult as well since her legs were shaky from all the work climbing up. Chad as usual, was way ahead of all of us and ended up probably waiting on us at the bottom as long as I waited for everyone at the top. The best way to handle scree is just to hike slow and hope you have hiking poles to stabilize you so you don't fall on your face!

At about 12:45 we were all in the car and headed back to camp. We made a pit stop at the grocery store for more firewood and hamburgers to cook for lunch. Now that we had the hike behind us we could relax for the rest of the day and agreed naps and adult beverages never sounded so good. We had a gorgeous day to enjoy the campsite and it only rained for a brief moment that night while we were at the ice cream social. Unlike Kite Lake, we were only camping at an elevation of 10,000 feet (instead of 12,000) so we didn't get burdened by afternoon rain showers or heavy cloud cover. We had a great fire going that night and it wasn't even that cold out to be miserable. Camping when it's a little chilly out is definitely better in my opinion than trying to sleep in the heat and humidity.

Although Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert were near us, I couldn't convince anyone to hike them with me Sunday so we all ended up sleeping in. After a final camp stove cooked breakfast we made our way to the nearby Turquoise lake to check it out before heading back to Denver. The lake was gorgeous and made a nice backdrop to the surrounding Sawatch mtn range.

I couldn't have been more proud of my friends for coming out to hike and camp this weekend. None of them are really campers and adding a hike like Mt. Sherman into the mix was sure to scare them off. But they all committed and finished the hike and enjoyed the camping making it a great weekend for all. I was a little scared they would hate me but now they are all looking forward to their next 14er (even though I heard a few grumblings of, "never again!" while hiking). I have only been in Colorado 5 years and my home state constantly amazes me at how much beauty there is around. I'm just so thankful I could share my weekend with such great friends and hopefully we can summit another mountain together next summer!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A weekend in the dirty dirty

Before my hiking adventure on Monday, Chad and I spent the weekend in my hometown of Birmingham, Al. My friend Kalah was looking for a good home for her yorkie Chloe and my mom, always the yorkier lover, said she would take the dog. Since my mom's birthday was on Tuesday, I decided Chad and I could fly to Birmingham on Friday and bring my mom Chloe. I haven't spent my mom's birthday with her in a few years so I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to spend some time at home.

As always Chad and I flew standby out of Denver. He had to work all day so we planned on taking the 7:20pm flight. I was a little nervous traveling with the dog because I know that most airlines have strict rules on how many pets can be in the cabin of the airplane. Also since we were flying standby I didn't want to miss the flight and have to go back home and try for another weekend, thus keeping Chloe longer than planned. Fortunately everything worked out and we made it there and back at the times planned. Gotta love school being back in session and the summer travel loads lightening up.

Since my mom lives with my dad now, Chad and I have to stay at my dad's when we come in town. This isn't the most ideal situation because my dad is, to put it lightly, a pack rat. I'm an OCD cleaning freak so staying at my dad's gives me anxiety, let alone brining my husband there. My parents divorced a long time ago so I never had to deal with staying with my dad at his house until a year or so ago when, due to changes in my mom's housing situation, she had to come over there. My dad has a garage apartment on his property that needed a new roof and, instead of simply installing one, he began to build a whole other level to the house. The result is what we now call the treehouse. It has been a work in progress for several years now and I don't think my dad ever had any real motivation to finish the place until recently when myself and my siblings were coming in to town and needed a place to stay.

(picture of the treehouse)

(the downstairs which is still a work in progress)

(view from the upstairs window)
Chad and I actually really enjoy staying in the treehouse for several reasons. First it's quite; away from the early morning barking of my mom's Pomeranian Cody. Second it's got a lot of cool stuff in it to look at as well as it's own flat screen tv and hangout area. And third the mini fridge is always stocked with alcohol. Chad never understood before, but I think now he realizes, when dealing with my family it's better to have a few beers in your system. You'll care less about what's going on around you and the craziness of the situation at that point.

Of course arriving late on Friday night and leaving Sunday afternoon means we didn't have much time in Birmingham. I had plans to see some friends but that didn't happen given the time constraint and the main focus of being there for my mom's birthday. Saturday we ended up spending most of the day grilling out filet mignon and the afternoon shopping at some of the local stores.

(chad and my dad hard at work manning the grill)

For dinner we took my mom to the Summit, an outdoor mall area, and had mexican and margarita's at a place called Chuy's. The Summit has changed a lot since I have lived in Birmingham so it was fun to explore the different stores that are now up there. We use to have to drive to Atlanta to find any kind of decent shopping so I'm very impressed at how far Birmingham has come in the fashion department. After dinner at Chuy's we went to 32 degrees which is a yogurt bar next door. I have become obsessed with yogurt bars after visiting pinkberry in San Diego so I relish any chance I can get to have some tart yogurt. It was a fabulous way to celebrate my mom's birthday and I'm glad we could be there for her.

Since we stayed until Sunday afternoon we were able to enjoy some of my dad's amazing dry rub ribs on the smoker. If it's one thing my dad does well is cook and he always prepares more than necessary. It did give Chad and my dad a chance to bond though which I was glad for. Having your parents live out of state is tough because you feel that the person you are married too doesn't really have a chance to get to know your family. My dad is definitely in his element at his house and I think he's a lot more open and talkative when we come visit him this way.

Of course before the weekend even got started it seems like it was already over. My mom really appreciated us coming to visit and especially brining Chloe as her birthday present. I know ever since Smucker's, our last yorkie, disappeared my mom has wanted another yorkie so I know she'll take great care of Chloe. Kalah was sad to give her away after having her six years but rest assured she's in great care now! If all goes according to plan we can make another trip to the south in time for the Alabama/Auburn football game over Thanksgiving. Chad has never experienced an SEC football game and I know he will really enjoy the excitement. While I am sad sometimes to be away from home. I take comfort knowing that my job allows me to hop on a plane whenever I like, which is perhaps the best perk of all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quandary Peak

This past Monday I had an opportunity to knock another Colorado 14er off my list and getting me one step closer to completing the Mosquito Range. My friend and yoga instructor, Christen, has done several 14ers in past years and was up for conquering another one. Seeing as how motivated I am she wanted to hike one with me so we picked a date and a peak. Quandary was a natural choice because not only is it an easy class 1 hike (class 2 towards the summit) but it's also close to Breckinridge. Christen's in-laws just so happen to have a condo up in Silverthorne which she graciously offered for us to spend Sunday night. This meant we wouldn't have to get up nearly as early as we would had we come straight from Denver and also gave us a chance to get to know one another better.

Our planned time to hit the trail was 6:30am but by the time we got up, loaded the car up and got coffee and found the trailhead it was more like 7:15. The trail head is a little hard to find because there are signs off highway 9 south for Quandary with an arrow pointing right but the parking area here is not the right one. Our directions from said to turn off on to Blue Lakes 850 road. While there was a small parking area and what looked like a trail where the road sign pointed to Quandary, I didn't see a national forest trail head sign nor did I see any cars. Any 14er, even on a Monday, has cars in the lot. So we drove a few more miles down highway 9 until we saw the actual small sign for Blue Lakes 850 and then turned right off of that onto McCullough Gulch 851 road. The trail starts on the left side of the road, and apparently this one replaces an older trail head which starts further up the dirt road.

There were dark clouds in the area and a few sprinkles of rain but no thunder so we headed up the trail. In my experience, if there is no thunder you are pretty safe to assume the weather might burn off if it's morning. I have been wearing North face pants that are waterproof instead of my usual yoga pants and this morning it paid off as we hiked through quite a bit of light rain. I also wore my light down jacket that is water resistant and carried an emergency rain pancho in case the weather worsened.

The first mile or so was a very nice dirt trail that wound through evergreens and aspens. The dogs loved running through the woods and the trees kept most of the early morning rain off us. It gradually got steeper until we reached a clearing and then the rock stairs started. For the remaining 2 or so miles until the summit it was all rocks and exposure although the rocks were big making them easier to hike on than the small scree rocks that made up Mt. Yale. From the route directions we knew we would reach a false summit at the ridge which was about 13,150 feet and then the real summit would be visible. It was slow going because of the rain and wet slippery rocks and the clouds were moving in around the top. Christen and I agreed if anyone heading down were to tell us conditions were bad up there we would turn around. Everyone we saw, however, that were heading down said that it was cold, windy and socked in with clouds at the top but other than that everything was fine. No snow or lightening? We were good to go!

While the wind did pick up a little closer to the summit, it never reached the level that Evans was last week making it a very manageable climb. We finally reached the summit at about 10:15 just as the clouds were starting to open up and blue sky was revealed. There were only 2 other people sharing the summit with us at this point and it is a fairly spread out summit which made it nice for us to enjoy the views as they came. The clouds kept moving in and out so you had to take advantage taking pictures as the opportunity presented itself.

As with any summit, after a light snack, the cold began to wear at our fingers and it was time to start making our way down the mountain. While your legs and feet are infinitively more tired at this point, going down is always the best part of the hike. The weather began to clear even more giving us amazing views of the Hoosier Dam and Breckinridge and after a mile or so it became warm enough for us to shed our jackets and enjoy the sun. Now that we could actually breathe again, Christen and I were able to carry on great conversations about everything from yoga to skydiving. I was grateful to have this opportunity to get to know her outside of class and enjoyed having a hiking partner that was my equal. She kept me motivated the entire hike and we were able to finish the entire loop in about 5 hours. This is a mountain I could have easily climbed alone but I relish any hiking partners I can find! So many people are flaky with their intentions in this day and age and I'm glad Christen committed from the beginning and saw our goal through to completion.

Mt. Quandary was my 9th mountain to complete this summer, brining me one step closer to my goal of 54. It was something I had been looking forward too and rounded out my weekend very nicely. If I could hike every Monday I wouldn't dread them nearly as much! Of course the beginning of my weekend was filled with a trip to Birmingham....but that's another blog story....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


As I posted a few blogs ago there are a few of Colorado's 14er mountains that I doubted I could ever climb due to the sheer technical skill involved and the consequences in hiking them. This past Sunday on the news there was another story about a 20 year old hiker that died on the Maroon Bells. (read the full story here: It's an all too real reminder just how much these mountains should be feared and respected.

Of course, this man, Spencer Nelson by all accounts did everything right. He was hiking with 7 people including his father and on the traverse from South Maroon Peak which he had already summitted to the other he was hit in the head by a rock and, even though he was wearing a helmet was knocked 600 feet into the Bell Cord.

This picture above gives you an idea of the South Maroon Peak and where the bell cord sits

Here's a picture of the Bell Cord in winter conditions. The Bell Cord is climbed with snow in it traditionally and very early in the morning before the sun has a chance to hit it and make it slushy and impassible. I'm not sure of the slope but the degree of steepness here probably about 45. A fall down here as you can imagine, would be deadly especially in the summer when it's just an open field of rocks.

Nelson's goal was to hike all of Colorado's 14ers as well and he was in shape and a good mountaineer. Way more equipped and prepared than I am at this stage to hike anything like this. Yet it just goes to show how unforgiving this mountain can be and how the consequence in pursuing a dream ended in death. They don't call them the Deadly Bells for nothing.

They are beautiful though.

A look at the traverse you would face from one Maroon Peak to the other. Not for the faint of heart.

Nelson is the third hiker I've heard of who has died this summer on a Colorado 14er. The other was Kevin Hayne, an 18-year old who fell off Little Bear Peak (full story here: He was hiking with a friend when they got stuck in the notorious Hourglass and found they could not pass it due to ice. While trying to decide what to do Hayne lost his hand hold and fell. He was alive when his climbing partner found him but died before rescue helicopters could reach him. As I've posted before, Little Bear is another "Everest" on my list of scary mountains that I don't know if I would ever climb. Pictures I'm sure don't even do it justice:

Looking up the hourglass

You can see where the Hourglass gets its name from in the photo above.

And on July 17, 29-year-old Jeffrey R. Rosinski of Rhode Island was found dead at around 3 am on Longs Peak (full story here: The 22-year-old that found him said the winds on the summit that evening were so strong that he had to crawl on his hands and knees. On the way down he found a backpack on the trail and then saw blood and when he looked over the ledge he saw Rosinski. I'm guessing Rosinski was blown off the mountain due to the high winds. Longs Peak is considered a difficult 14er but most people don't have a problem until after they reach this:
The keyhole

The Hike itself is 14 miles round trip making it one you have to start very early (like midnight we are talking here) just to be able to summit and make it down before any weather moves in. The problem with the trail after the keyhole is that it is the real exposure begins starting with the Narrows. As you can see from the photos below from the route map listed on there is no room for error and that even in the best conditions you are playing with fate here:

After the Narrows you must climb up the appropriately named "Homestretch" to reach the summit:

Little Bear and the Maroon Bells aren't even in the same category of difficulty as Longs Peak so you can imagine how much harder they are. The fact of the matter is that the rock is more stable on Longs making this climb up a bit easier for the experienced climber.

I truly believe when it's your time to go it's your time to go and that every day we are alive is a gift given to us. You could die driving to work, in a plane crash, your house could catch on fire or you could fall off the sidewalk into traffic. However, I believe in minimizing risk in being prepared for what life has to offer. If hiking 14ers is going to be my new hobby, and it is, you have to take the good the bad and the ugly with them. That means knowing that people die and hikers get hurt even on something as simple as Mount Bierstadt (a climber had to be rescued sunday after a boulder rolled over his leg giving him a compound fracture. This is the same mountain I climbed solo last week!). So while I may be scaring myself, and some of you out there reading this, I just want to maintain awareness. This winter I plan on doing some indoor rock climbing as well as getting rock climbing belay certified just so that when it comes time to hike these harder routes, I will be prepared. Of course, the mountain will always be waiting and ready for me...the question is, when am I ready for it?