Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kite Lake Camping/ 14er hiking

This past weekend was the much anticipated group camping trip. What started out as a drunken bar conversation evolved to 20 of our friends driving into the wilderness for the weekend and agreeing to sleep in tents, eat and pee outside and yes, hike a 14er with me. The camping trip was not originally my idea but when it came down to it (as it seems to always with travel plans) I was the one who researched and picked the site and planned the weekend. I was also the one, who was nominated to get up at 4am and drive up early to reserve our campsite Friday.
(picture: the drive up the trailhead)

14ers.com is a great website full of useful information about hiking the 14ers of Colorado and also the trailheads in the area. There's message boards on the sites under different places where people can post the latest weather and conditions and any firsthand advice. Through scouring these message boards I discovered that the Kite Lake road was under construction and had been closed daily several times during the week from 7am to 7pm. A call to the ranger station confirmed this. My friend Jeff didn't have to work Friday and neither did I so we were nominated to drive up early to reserve the camping sites. There were 20 of us going and arriving all at different times but only 7 campsites available and the ranger suggested each site could hold 8. So it was off bright and early to make sure we had plenty of room for everyone.

Kite Lake is located near the town of Alma which is just outside of Breckinridge making it about a 2 hour drive from Denver. Right after you pass a Saloon in town you turn right onto Kite Lake road which turns into Buckskin road and you begin the bumpy drive up to the campsite which is about 6 miles. It had rained the night before which made the drive extra slow as there were lots of washed out ruts in the ground. However, there were no signs of construction crews at 6:30 am so we were able to get in no problem. Of course, as the day progressed we saw other people arriving at the trailhead to camp and hike meaning that the road obviously wasn't closed that day. Disappointing to say the least to know we could have slept in a few hours!

The front campsites were already taken so we decided on campsite 5 to start with. It was right on a hill not far from the parking lot, but still wasn't the car camping we thought this was going to be....meaning everything had to be carried from the car in. After walking further down towards the lake Jeff noticed another campsite, the 7th one which was open. The 6th one however, had a tent pitched in it. Everyone parked at the lot had to pay for a campsite and place a paper in their windows so I looked through the windshields and found a car with the site 6 reservation. On the paper I could see that had only reserved it for one night, meaning Thursday so we hoped that the person would return from hiking and we could claim their spot. Our vigilance paid off and after afternoon hiking, Jeff and I spotted the man and his son taking down their site and we quickly overtook it. Success - three campsites! We were glad we arrived early because throughout the day several people came down the hill looking for a site. Anyone planning to camp at Kite Lake should definitely plan on arriving early to stake out their spot as there's no reservations taken.
(picture: our initial campsite)

Kite Lake was a beautiful spot to camp. The lake is nestled right at the bottom of Mt. Democrat, Cameron (not a true 14er), Lincoln and Bross. From the campsite you could see Democrat and Bross and although they didn't look too imposing, they would prove to test us all the next day. There were wildflowers everywhere and waterfalls coming out of the mountain feeding into the lake which made for great sleeping at night. Jeff and I took a hike up to the top of one waterfall that still had snowpack on it after setting up camp. Then we waited and talked until our friends Neil and Meghan arrived at about noon.

The expected part about hiking at 12,000 feet is that, since you are in a valley there will be plenty of weather. That afternoon the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. We retreated to our tents for awhile until it stopped then emerged to build a shelter over the picnic table and cooking fire pit. I had brought a pop up shelter tent which we attached a tarp too and constructed so it was big enough to give us cover from the imposing rain. We were able to get a fire going to cook lunch and quickly found out that shanty town (as we came to call our tent area) would smoke out quickly from the fire pit. Not so pleasant but at least we had fire and an escape.
(picture: shanty town)

After about 7 the rest of our friends began to arrive and set up their tents. We showed them around the campsite, helped people bring their stuff in and set up and marveled that everyone made it to such a random spot in the middle of nowhere. Without cell service we had no way to know who was arriving when but in the end it turned out fine. Plus it's nice not having to rely on a phone now and again. We did put a sign on the back of Jeff's car though pointing people in the right direction. I recommend anyone camping in the middle of nowhere to do the same. Unfortunately, two of our friends never found us and slept in their car because they arrived at 10:30 at night. Let that be a lesson, you do not want to set up your tent in the dark and you will have a hard time finding your campsite this way.

No one wanted to get up at 5am to hike Saturday morning so again I had to bite the bullet and get up early to wake everyone else up. When you hike a 14er rule number one is to start as early as possible. Thunderstorms almost always occur in the afternoon in the high country and the last place you want to be when a lightening storm hits is at 14,000 feet with no tree cover. I did read however, should you get caught in a lightening storm the best thing for your group to do is split up. That way if one person is hit someone else can revive them (if they aren't burned to a crisp that is).

Another reason for getting up at 5am is the fact that we had to build a fire, eat then get everyone going on the trail. My intended departure time was 6am but by the time we left it was more like 7. About 7 people had decided they didn't want to hike (some were fishing instead) so they stayed behind to hold down camp. While we all tried to start together hiking, I knew that we probably wouldn't all stay together. Chad is a very fast hiker so it forces me to keep pace with him and his friend Neil and Neil's wife Meghan were about our speed. Malia's boyfriend Geoff, stuck with us as did Jeff who had come early with me to set up camp. The best part about camping at 12,000 feet is that we were already acclimated to the altitude and there was only about 2,000 feet to gain before reaching the top of Democrat. The trailhead started out as pretty crowded but as we gained elevation it thinned out. Our group, group one I should call us ended up with the lead while Kim, Kelsey, Todd, Jenny and Jason or group two fell behind us.
(picture of hiking group one)

Democrat is definitely a prettier hike than Torrey's. You cross over several waterfalls and at the saddle between it and Cameron you have some spectacular views. In fact if you can only make it to that saddle you'd probably be satisfied.

(Jeff, Neil, Meghan,Me, Chad and Geoff at the saddle)
What is not so great about Democrat is that after you ascend some more you reach a false summit then look over to see the real summit is about 100+ feet away. We made it to the top in just about 2 hours and after about 10 minutes up there group two arrived. We were all able to get a picture together before descending. Group one had decided we were going to hike the whole loop which included Lincoln and Bross next (with cameron after Democrat) so we had to get going.

Although Cameron is over 14,000 feet it's not considered a true 14er because there isn't a required 300 foot drop between it's saddle and Lincoln. It's very vast on top and exposed making it a good resting spot before heading over to Lincoln. Mt. Lincoln looked imposing from Cameron. It was just a speck of twisted rock in the distance and it didn't look easy. The traverse, however, happened to be very nice and went more along the back side of the mountain. Although I got a little vertigo and was afraid to look off to my right and some spots were, let one person pass at a time kinda thing, all in all the hike to Lincoln wasn't bad and was probably one of my favorite peaks to date. We all quickly took a picture then headed down on our way to Mt. Bross.
(picture of Lincoln from the top of Cameron)

(us on the top of lincoln)

The traverse to Mt.Bross was one of the easiest I have done to date. The trail was wide and flat and turned into a Jeep trail near the summit of Bross. The sun was high and hot at this point, however, making for lots of exposure. All of us ended up with burnt necks, lips and hair parts the next day from being in the sun so open like that for so long. Next time I will definitely remember to wear more sunscreen. The top of Bross was a little ho hum. It was the size of a football field and nothing very dramatic but you did get a very nice and clear view of Democrat and Lincoln from here so that made it worth it. We took our picture and headed down quickly after spotting some ominous black clouds.

Descending down Bross was a little tricky. By this point we had been hiking almost 5.5 hours so our legs were turning to jello and we were trying to be careful with our steps while still wanting to head down as fast as possible. The trail was littered with scree (also called talus) which is an accumulation of broken rock fragments. It was almost trying to walk down very steep piles of gravel but if that gravel had vertical drop off's on either side and the potential for falling hundreds of feet down a mountain. This was my first time hiking with poles and I have to say they saved my life hiking down that scree. I'd highly recommend anyone hiking a 14er to invest in some and they gave my arms a nice workout too and took some weight off my legs.
(hiking down the scree field)

Slowly we all were reunited at camp at about 2pm. The rain held off and we had a few hours of sun and time to relax before the rain moved in again. Rain however, just gave us all an excuse to head inside our tents for a nice nap before dinner. After a few hours we all convened at shanty town to cook our dinners and talk about our hikes and fishing. We would have spent more time around the campfire that evening but unfortunately it began to rain harder after dinner and we were forced to call it a night.

(cheers back at camp after hiking)

Before we knew it, it was time to cook a big breakfast then pack up our tents and head home.

I truly enjoyed spending the weekend with all my very close friends and realized just how amazing they are. To give up the comforts of home and head outdoors, not in the best weather conditions is a true character test. Everyone contributed different things to camp whether it be cooking, building a fire, clearing trash or sharing their gear. For a weekend we were our own community and we all functioned together. I'm also so proud of those who hiked their first 14er and for everyone who continued on with me to hike another 2. It would have been easy for them to quit but I'm glad they stuck it out. I am obsessed with reaching my goal of hiking 8 14ers by the end of summer and I thank my friends or helping me now by being only 3 mountains away from my goal. Camping and hiking are two free ways to enjoy the beauty of colorado and to spend it was such great people just made for a perfect weekend. Here's to many more to come

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