Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Healthy Fear

When I decided to undertake my journey of accomplishing climbing all of Colorado's 54 14ers, I knew in the back of my mind there would be some I may never be able to climb. The majority of the mountains are ranked in the moderate to easy range which means a lot of class one and two and a little class three hiking. The rankings are based on the terrain and difficulty of the climb. 10 of the mountains are rated in the difficult category including Crestone, Longs, Kit Carson, El Diente, Maroon Peak, Snowmass Mtn., Mt. Eolus, Mt. Lindsey, Wilson Peak and Wetterhorn Peak. None of these really scare me except Maroon peak probably because in my mind there are 7 others to be much more terrified of, these include Mt. Wilson, Crestone Needle, Capitol Peak, Sunlight Peak, Little Bear Peak, Pyramid Peak and North Maroon Peak. These are rated most difficult and all involve at least some class 4 if not class 5 climbing. A few involve ropes and harness and all involve helmets. People die climbing these every year. Die. On a hike.

Here's a look at what you would have to climb on Pyramid Peak:

You can see where it gets it's name from. It's only 14,018 feet and the 47th highest in the state but it's very steep. What also makes this mtn. difficult is the routes to the top are confusing and hard to find with high exposure and a great deal of loose rock. The standard routes to the top are two of the most difficult and dangerous standard routes on the Colorado 14ers. As you can see from this picture if any weather hit you would be stuck on one of these narrow ledges exposed to the elements leaving you vulnerable. Not a good place for a climber to be when a lightening storm moves in!

The Maroon Bells, or the "deadly bells" are some of the most beautiful and feared mountains in the state of Colorado.

There's actually a sign at the trailhead warning hikers of "downsloping, loose, rotten and unstable" rock that "kills without warning." Unlike other mountains in the Rockies that are composed of granite and limestone, the Bells are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened to rock over millions of years. This gives the Bells their distinct maroon color. Mudstone fractures easily which makes for a dangerous climb.
This picture shows the route one would have to take to the summit. As you can see it's long arduous. I have heard the rock up here compared to climbing on a bunch of china dinner plates. Probably not for me although they are gorgeous to photograph.

Capitol Peak takes second place for scaring me the most. It's also one of the most difficult 14ers in Colorado to climb. There's only one non-technical route which involves crossing the famously exposed "Knife Edge." Of course many fatalities have occurred on this route and the other routes involve technical rock climbing which have their own perils due to loose rock (although the rock is not said to be as loose as that of the Maroon Bells or Pyramid Peak).
Here's a photo of a climber going over the knife edge on the way to the summit.

Another picture to give you just an idea of the
scale of this mountain

And if this view of the knife edge doesn't scare you than nothing will....

While Capitol Peak does scare me, it's number two on my list because I still think it's "do-able." There's a company called Aspen Expeditions ( which you can sign up to have a guide that will take you to the summit. I'm not above hiring someone more experienced than me to guide me up a mountain once I get more climbing experience. Plus I think a guided trip would be another way to see and learn more about mountaineering.

Little Bear Peak in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range is about as awful as it gets when it comes to 14ers. It's an exposed class 4 scramble hike and is composed of pre-Cambrian granite estimated to be approximately 1.8 billion years old. An 18 year old respected climber from Highlands Ranch, Colorado just died recently when he lost his hand grip in the Hourglass section of the hike.
Oh the Hourglass:

This picture is looking up the top of the Hourglass which is an almost verticle stretch of water-polished granite famous for the amount of rockfall that comes down the middle earning it the nickname, "The Bowling Alley." If anyone is climbing above you they can easily kick down some loose rock which could hit a climber below and knock them off the mountain. The water that drains down not only makes the rock slippery but ices easily making this 300 foot section a mess.
If you even make it to the top of this mountain, and few climbers have, you can try your luck at the connecting ridge to Blanca Peak which is one of the most challenging outings of its type in the state. Once you commit to this traverse there is no going back.

This picture above shows the connecting ridge from Little Bear to Blanca.

A picture of Little Bear from the Lake Commo area.

So these are my worst fears in the world of 14er hiking. I am hoping though, that as I hike more and become more confident they won't scare me as much. Right now they are all I can think about. The more stories I read, the more I scare myself and yet the more intrigued I am. I read somewhere that if your goals in life are completed in your lifetime, than you aren't dreaming big enough. This is a goal that I might never accomplish but I realize I am OK with this as long as I come as close as I physically can. Of course I don't want to die on a mountain but then again you can die driving your car on the way to work so you can't be scared to live your life.

I have my sites set on Evans, Quandary, Sherman, Redcloud, Handies and Sunshine peak in the future. I will exceed my goal of hiking 8 for the summer by 5 if this all pans out the way I hope it will. I actually flew with a flight attendant at the beginning of summer and when I told her my goal of hiking 8 14ers she looked me dead in the eye and said, "Well I doubt you'll make it, you'll probably only get 3-5 in at the most" Which just goes to show, never judge someone you don't know very well!

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