It was a slow drive across the country, but made a little easier by spending a day with friends in St. Louis (thanks Adam and Laura!). It was still 11PM by the time I rolled in to the Guanella Pass parking lot. I was a bit tired and grumpy from the drive and I really wasn’t much interested in hiking. It’s always that way for me after a long layoff – all the annoyance of planning, packing, and traveling makes me wonder if it is really worth it. But I also know that after that first breath of clean, cold mountain air I won’t regret it.
I settled in for the night. The first few hours of sleep were fitful before falling into a deeper sleep (that’s part of the acclimating process for me). I woke up at first light (about 5 am) and figured I might as well get going. It was a balmy 37 degrees to start the day. Since I’m not in very good shape and I’m not ready for the thin air, I selected an easier hike to get started – Mt. Bierstadt, one of the easier 14ers. It’s a short and straightforward route – you can see the summit right from the parking lot. I moved pretty slow, huffing and puffing while my lungs were left wondering what had happened to all the oxygen. Last October I could have made this summit in less than an hour and a half. This time it took me about 2:15. Could be worse. Fitness-wise I’m probably not that far from where I started last summer. I was on the summit by 7 AM. I managed to find a spot that was in the sun and sheltered from the wind which made it rather comfortable. I looked around for a while, took a nap, and chatted with some other hikers before heading down. I would have stayed up there longer, but I forgot to bring a book, sunglasses, and a hat.
It might be a little while until the next update, as a good portion of the next week will be invested in job hunting. Which works out well, because there is still quite a bit of snow hanging around which makes travel more difficult.
After a week of hanging around doing nothing in Utah, I started heading back east and arrived in Colorado yesterday. I’ll be leaving the end of this week and should be back in PA the following week. On arriving in Colorado I was greeted by snow clad mountains. It’s difficult to explain the sheer excitement for me of seeing snowy woods and mountains. I get all giddy inside and want to pull out my snowshoes and stroke them lovingly. Now on an average day I can hardly say no to the mountains…..and now there is snow on them! It’s like a one-two punch and I was helpless to defend myself. So I decided I had best go for a little walk. I had no expectations of making it very far because my foot really needs 4-6 weeks to recover properly. But I decided that I would at least start hiking and just turn back if it seemed to be having trouble. Of course, by the time I would turn back I’d still have to walk all the way out to the car and so I expected to be hurting by the end of the hike.
I chose Yale mountain, a 14er in the Sawatch range. I climbed it back in June and it is a relatively short hike. The trailhead for the hike is at 10,000′ so it wasn’t long before I was crunching through a layer of crusty snow along the trail. How delightful! I continued on and was pleased to find that my foot was holding up ok. It definitely didn’t feel right but there wasn’t any pain. As I gained elevation the snow increased and there were a few areas with up to a foot of snow. Delightful. A little below 12,000′ the trees gave way to alpine meadows. Above the trees where the wind had free reign a lot of areas were blown clear of snow while some other areas were forming some deeper drifts. I continued climbing, stopping every once in a while to enjoy the snow capped mountains all around.
Finally my foot starting bothering me. It wasn’t painful yet, but I could tell that it was going to start hurting soon and there were still 4 miles to backtrack to the car. So at 13,100′ I decided to turn around. I certainly hate being that close to a peak and not going to the top of it, but I hadn’t expected to make it as far as I did so I was perfectly happy with what I had done. I sat and looked around for a little while before the cold wind got me moving again. I’m glad I turned around when I did. The last half mile back to the car I started having the sharp pain in my foot and had to limp out.
So I won’t be able to do any real hiking for the remainder of my time here. I may do some short things, like driving up to a pass and hiking a mile out the ridge and then returning. But I really need to lay off the foot for a month so it can heal……because the winter hiking season is quickly approaching and I can’t wait to fall in some spruce traps!
So as I have been hiking some of the remaining 14ers over the past few weeks, I kept having this nagging doubt about not doing Culebra. Culebra lies on private property and it requires a permit to climb. Information online indicated that permits were only available June-August but I finally decided to call anyways. It turns out they had added one more climbing weekend to their schedule so I reserved a spot. The ranch charges $100 per person to climb the mountain. When I first heard about this I laughed. But after climbing the mountain I really don’t mind the cost too much. The people at the ranch were very nice and accommodating. They use a good portion of the funds to maintain the road to the trail head, which is in very nice condition. They even provide bathrooms and a place to camp the night before the hike. So overall it isn’t such a bad deal and it was a good experience.
The actual hike is quite short – it’s one of the easiest 14ers. But it was a very nice hike and a nice view from the summit. It was one of those delightful mornings where everything west of the range was visible and everything east of the range was covered in clouds. From the summit I was looking down on most of the clouds and it gives the effect of a vast ocean, with the waves of clouds crashing against the mountains.
So there you have it – I’ve officially climbed all the 14,000′ peaks in Colorado. The “official” number of 14ers depends on what criteria you use to define a separate peak. But I’ve done the 58 named summits over 14,000′ that typically are considered official peaks. It’s kind of funny, because I never intended to do the list. My original plan had to spend only a few weeks at most in Colorado this summer. I’ve now spent 10 weeks here. I remember reading descriptions of the Maroon Bells, or Capitol, or Little Bear, etc, thinking how awesome it would be to do them but never expecting it to happen. Then “by accident” I end up hanging out with two peakbagging degenerates for too long and end up doing some of the best hiking/climbing in my life.
It was an odd feeling when I got to the top of Culebra. Or perhaps the oddness was from not feeling what it seemed I should feel. The word on the street is that it was some significant achievement. That I should be proud of what I have done. That the achievement was the result of a lot of hard labor on my part. Yet any significance in such an accomplishment only serves to magnify my understanding of how blessed I have been. Blessed with time, finances, strength, health, friends, opportunity. And, perhaps, blessed with just enough “stupidity” to take advantage of all these things.