Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Halfway to Heaven - 27 peaks down

Even though I find myself recoiling in the realization that summer and hiking season is almost over for me I have to give myself a high five for my accomplishments. Three years ago I set out to hike all of Colorado's peaks over 14,000 feet and this year I reached the halfway mark by completing 27 peaks. It has not been easy, it has taken up time and gas money and taken me away from friends and parties and BBQ's. But when you set your mind on a goal you cannot let anything take away that sight you set for yourself. And if you are lucky you find friends, your spouse or your family to come along on the journey with you to keep you sane. I have been very fortunate to have so many willing bodies to hike with me and even more so that a select few have committed to doing this with me. The idea of hiking a 14er appeals to a lot of people until they hear they will have to hike at midnight or they need a helmet or the hike is 14 miles and that yes there is a chance it might rain.

After Uncompaghre my friend Cara and I headed to the Sangre de Cristo's to hike Humboldt peak. The Sangre's are down near Pueblo, Colorado and the great sand dunes. This was my first peak in that range and it's probably the easiest peak in that range although it's still 12 miles roundtrip and 4,200 feet of elevation gain. Cara had never done a 14er before and so she was a trooper to tackle this as her first. Most people attempt Bierdstat or something shorter in distance and closer to Denver but Cara was up for the challenge. We camped the night before off the 4wd dirt road and were blessed with beautiful weather, amazing views, and a fairly quick hike to the summit despite getting a little off route (my bad!)

crestone peak and crestone needle surround you as you hike

dramatic summit shot

congrats to Cara on her first 14er summit!

After this hike my next would seem like a walk around the park as it was only 6 miles rt and 2,500 feet in elevation gain. My little brother was coming out from Alabama to hike with us so I was excited for him to see a different part of Colorado. Last year was his first 14er where he hiked Huron with us. Despite my attempts to invite other friends on the camping trip, people bailed and so it was just Chad, Austin and I and a couple friends were were meeting at the American Basin Trailhead in Lake City. Of course I've been to Lake City twice already this year so I know this drive by heart. It's quite a long one but the company more than made up for it. We ran into some rain around the time we hit Gunnison and it continued to rain on and off until we got to the campsite. We actually veered off course driving to the American Basin trailhead because I had Chad turn too early at a fork in the road. The shelf road driving back was the same we took for Sunshine and Redcloud about 2 years ago so once we got on that road I felt secure in knowing where to go. We drove past the trail for Sunshine and Redcloud until we dead ended at the start of Handies peak. Despite the on and off rain we managed to set up camp and cook dinner. The next day I ignored my 5am wakeup call because I could hear rain and we awoke at 7 instead. It was only a 6 mile hike so I knew we could get up and down quickly. Though the wildflower showing was practically non-existent, the American Basin Trail was definitely the way to go when hiking Handies and afforded us beautiful views of the glacier Sloan's lake:

Austin's second 14er! not bad for an out of state flatlander

That's right we had a fire

always a good time in lake city

After the hike we moved campsites to a lower elevation so we wouldn't have to drive so much the following day since we were a good 13 miles back in the deep wilderness. It also allowed us to set up a tarp to protect ourselves from the rain showers that moved in and out. We ate at my favorite bakery on the way out of town that Sunday and then visited Chad's brother in Gunnison. It worked out well that we didn't have a huge group for the hike as we had an easier time moving about campsites, hiking up and down quickly and taking our time on stopping on the way home.

After our Lake City trip I took a couple of weeks off to recoup and to go to Alaska for a friend's wedding. Alaska was amazing and had been on my bucket list for awhile. We ended up hiking Exit Glacier the day after the wedding because we had a little time to kill before our midnight flight. While we weren't prepared for the hike with our choice in footwear, it was great to be standing near a glacier and in a snow field in August:

Exit Glacier

this place has ocean, beach and mountains what more could you want?  

Next up was Long's Peak. Long's has been on my list of peaks to hike since I started the 14ers. It's a classic hike and almost anyone who has heard of the 14ers has heard of Long's. That and Mt. Evans are the only ones you can see when driving into Denver and being in Estes Park, Long's is well known by locals and out of towners alike. It's a class three and my last peak standing between me and finishing the front range 14ers. I was nervous when we planned to hike it last year but a leg injury kept us from going so Chad and I decided to try again this year. Randy was the only friend of mine who was interested in the 1:30am start time and the driving from Denver at midnight in lieu of camping. Randy has hike Long's before but he had not done the Keyhole route so we decided to go up the Keyhole and down the loft route. At 1:30 we met him in the parking lot and joined the train of headlights heading for the top. We couldn't have picked a better night there were meteor showers and the sky was clear. We made it to the Keyhole about 5:30 am and paused to wait for sunrise:
through the boulder field up to the keyhole

sunrise and barely any wind

the real climbing is about to begin

I admit I had been nervous about everything that came after the Keyhole but the conditions were perfect and I had climbed the mountain so many times in my mind through trip reports that I felt comfortable. Past the keyhole is the Ledges:

Then you work your way up the trough which many say is the worst part although I didn't mind too much it's just a lot of scree and loose rock to contend with:

looking down the trough

After you exit the trough you begin the Narrows and they don't call it that for nothing:

a look back on the traverse
a few spots where it's easier to lean into the mountain
After the Narrows comes the Homestretch. I'll admit this part looks impossible in photos. And if it looks hard going up you wonder how you'll ever get down. I would not want to do this if there were any rain, snow, ice whatever on this part. I don't know how we made it but we did. And no you don't need ropes and yes we were the only people I saw in helmets on this route (dumb).

me and my new friend Lisa making it to the top!

I made friends with this girl Lisa and her friend G on the way up and we were laughing and talking so much through the hard parts that before I knew it we were at the top. It was such a wonderful day with no wind we ended up spending an hour up there:
Chad, Randy and I on the official summit marker

Honored to be with Randy's friend here who has hiked more advanced peaks than I

our team summit bandits

big days call for big movements

with Chasm lake below our next target

the Que to head back down the homestretch
The Loft route is a bit trickier to navigate and I don't recommend it to anyone who doesn't know where they are going or have mountaineering experience. Randy had done it before and even he was getting a little lost from time to time. You go down the homestretch and then veer off to the left, loop down the mountain, around towards Meeker, climb past Clark's arrow up and then head down the front of Long's towards Chasm Lake. We probably only saw 6 people total on the Loft route and they were all wearing helmets. The rock is a lot more steep and loose and unlike the Keyhole route there are no bull's eye's to tell you which way to go. It's supposed to be a little shorter but our friend G who we met at the top beat us down to the parking lot (although we did stop by the lake for half an hour or so). I think it may be shorter in distance but not in the length and time it takes to find your way. It was an amazing route however and we pretty much got to see the tour de longs:

class 4 move no big deal

finally we can rest our feet and take our helmets off at Chasm lake

Thank you Long's peak for a most excellent summit day

Looking back up at the mountain after all our hard work and effort I couldn't believe it was over with. A hike I had built up in my mind for years was completed in 12 hours and then I found myself halfway through with my goal. While I know completing all the 14ers is still a long ways off, I am thrilled to be where I am today. It's taken many weekends, many friends and brought me to places in Colorado I never knew existed. I firmly believe that the only way I will ever achieve this goal is by leaning on others to help me out. Stronger mountaineers, people that know where to tell me to go and where to put my hands and feet and people who motivate me to get the job done. Sometimes the people I climb with are less experienced than me but that motivates me as well because I know I have to be a leader for them. Whatever the case I'm halfway there, and that's 27 more than I was three years ago. Never give up on your dreams no matter how long it takes, the time will pass anyways

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