Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, part deux

Day two was planned to be three summits: Huron Peak (14,003), Harvard (14,420), and Columbia (14,073). Plus much more mileage (26) and similar gain and loss (10,000ish ft).

Day 2 total elevation gain and loss: 8,900ft

Day 2 total mileage: 25miles

I didn’t wake up until just after 7a (that’s right, if you read day one you’ll know I slept almost 12 hours!) so I didn’t get an early start today either. Good things, though, it was raining all morning and I got up just in time to start Huron in the sunshine. Even the hike in to the Huron Peak TH was absolutely gorgeous, which would be a trend on this mountain.

That's not Huron Peak, it's to the left and hard to see from the hike in.

That’s not Huron Peak, it’s to the left and hard to see from the hike in.

Luna was running in every direction, as if she wasn’t tired at all. At the TH there’s a brief bit through the forest, then the switchbacks start right away and they’re arduous but somehow don’t go on as long as you’re expecting, or don’t seem as miserable as they should. I didn’t see my first human until treeline; he was on his way down and gave me the dl on the rest of the hike. As promised, at treeline the trail opens up to cross this breathtaking meadow with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. It is one of the world’s greatest tragedies that I did not take a picture on the way up (you’ll see why when you see the way down picture). We crossed the meadow then head into more switchbacks up the shoulder toward the ridge. This is where I started feeling the gain from yesterday in my legs, but more so in stiffness and not burning. I came across a group of 6 on the final ascent, they were all experienced hikers and we discussed the impending weather which seemed to be going from bad to worse. 2 of them made the summit and the rest turned around as I was heading up. I was only 400 feet off or so so we went for it. And my god, it was maybe my favorite summit so far.

You can see in the video how quickly the weather can change. By the time I get all the way around the 360, you can see the storms getting so much closer. The snow got much worse as we headed down, and we ran down as fast as we could. By the time we arrived in the meadow again, it looked like this:

The ghosts of mountains in the distance cast a much different feel on the meadow

The ghosts of mountains in the distance cast a much different feel on the meadow

Once below treeline, it poured on us. Which really wasn’t bad and it wasn’t even that cold. The storm broke as we hit the TH, and the sun came out. Which was good news for the Harvard/Columbia attempt. I was feeling great. Huron was a straightforward 11 miles and 3,800ft gain, and it served to warm me up rather than tire me out (so I thought). Lu and I both had peanut butter sandwiches, and we headed for Harvard.

The first few miles in through the forest were sunny and nice, but the weather was turning slowly but surely. When we broke out of the trees and into the valley there were extraordinary views on all sides. It’s really miraculous how enormous 13ers and 14ers are, before you climb them. They humble us, certainly.

As I say in the video, I was feeling pretty rough at this point. The mileage and slow elevation gain was emptying me out just as slowly but surely as the weather was going bad. By the time we hit the talus field to start the last big ascent, I was pretty miserable. This is fun for me because the cool thing about 14ers is that you have that moment where you think “I’d rather die than keep going” but I haven’t felt that in a while, maybe since that miserable Pike’s ascent. So to find that again felt good in a weird way. Peakbagging and endurance hiking isn’t about conquering, as much as it may seem to be. You become a part of the mountain and you leave yourself on it. You always have a choice-to stay or go back. And if you stay, not just to stay but to dig deeper and go harder than you believe you can. That’s why I planned this trip, because the elevation gain was much more than I’ve ever done in the amount of time I was setting out to do it. Since I believed it to be past my limits, I wanted to prove that I could break out of them.

There was a mountain goat on Harvard, we actually came pretty close to it but it was around the corner and I didn’t want to spook it.

Can you find Waldo?  Me neither.  I know he's in the frame!  We're not even that far away.

Can you find Waldo? Me neither. I know he’s in the frame! We’re not even that far away.

The weather was turning quickly and the Harvard ascent took longer than I had imagined it would; which meant we were losing daylight too.

Right next to the summit, where I did not take even a single picture :(

Right next to the summit, where I did not take even a single picture 😦

We reached the summit and did another one of those quick taps and immediately started to descend, thinking we’ve got to bust ass if we’re going to make the Columbia summit before dark. It didn’t feel like a celebration or an accomplishment, making it to Harvard, which it should’ve! And I really wasn’t as familiar as I should’ve been about the route to and down from Columbia…I was a little nervous about doing it in the dark. We would descend from the Harvard summit to a saddle, then hike up an unnamed 13er, descend to another saddle, and head up to Columbia. That traverse would’ve been 2.54 miles, and was slotted to take over an hour due to difficulty and route-finding, and once on the ridge there’d be no escape if the weather turned.

On the saddle before the unnamed 13er, I stopped, stared at it, and just shook my head. It was 7:20pm.

In 2 parts because my phone wouldn’t upload it in onehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G570j-QO4EU

Here’s what’s really funny about the whole thing: the ridge I show you in the video, and the peak in the distance that I believe to be Columbia? It’s not! I told you, I wasn’t familiar with the route…whoops! Turns out, when I show you the creepy death eater fog coming over that ridge to the Northeast? That’s the ridge to Columbia. It doesn’t change the fact that I had to call it due to weather and losing light. We started descending immediately and were in the talus field (read: broken rock field) when the fog made it into the valley. Visibility wasn’t even 20 feet anymore, and then it started pouring (that was a close call!). Darkness fell completely while we were in the forest, we hiked back a little over 3 miles (felt like so much more) in total darkness. I had a light, but that doesn’t go very far. Darkness in the forest feels very heavy and thick. I sang devotional songs in Sanskrit to ward off the bears (and to help keep me from losing my mind-I’ve never been afraid of the dark, I didn’t know this would scare me so completely). I also discussed the impending fuel down at length with Luna.

Unfortunately for both of us, everything in Buena Vista closes at 8 or 9pm. Coming out of the Collegiate wilderness, it was a little after 9. We found one gas station still open until 10 (“summer hours” for one more week!) and got a coke. Coming back from BV you go through a variety of small towns (Fairplay, South Park, eventually Conifer) that also have no amenities “late” at night, so there was no fuel down to speak of. We didn’t roll back into Denver until 11:30p and by that point I just wanted to hit bed so hard.

5 summits over 14,000ft. 19,700ft gain and loss. 42 miles. I can be good with that.

Coming up: no sleep till we summit Columbia and finish the Collegiates. Sarah gives up sugar, and starts training for the Long’s Peak ride

Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, day 1

Day one served up three mountains: Belford (14,197), Oxford (14,153), and Missouri (14,067).

Total elevation gain and loss: 10,800ft
Total mileage: 17.5miles

On this trip, I took fewer pictures but made a couple videos. LMK what you think of this format!

We got an early-ish start. Ultimately, I was up later than planned packing and writing route directions out and I didn’t want to start this on no sleep, so I set the alarm a little later than originally intended. Then we got stuck in the blasting traffic near Idaho Springs. Belford went off without a hitch. There were storms forecasted for noonish, about 60% chance I think, so I was watching the sky pretty fervently and it was going back and forth between sunny and ominous all morning. A group that summited right after I did had been planning the Belford/Oxford double and called it due to the foreboding weather in the distance. Not enough for me to give it up on a day like this though! Lu and I headed down from Belford to the Southeast, on a low saddle that would provide a lot of cover should the weather turn quickly. Otherwise, both of these mountains were relatively barren. It was so windy, but the weather was holding.

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

We nearly got blown off of Oxford, and headed back down immediately to cross the saddle and head for Elkhard Pass. We would be taking a south ridge off of Belford to head towards the pass and to Missouri. The whole thing was very straightforward, and when we reached the pass there was a faint trail up a shoulder towards Missouri. Assuming this was the standard route that I was headed for, we took it.

Doesn't look so bad just yet

Doesn’t look so bad just yet

It turned class 3 very quickly, but I was undeterred, thinking it was just misclassified and Luna was fine. Then, just as we were approaching the final ascent to the summit ridge, it turned very much class 4. I was having a good time navigating this and still in good spirits, but Lu was getting stuck a lot, to the point that helping her was getting dangerous, and the last pitch was going to be impossible for her. I really wanted to give it a go, and even though she was right at the bottom I didn’t want to risk anything by not being able to get to her if something happened. So we descended the crazy ridge to look for the real route up Missouri. We lost a lot of elevation, but found the route and it was much simpler. It really didn’t take very long to get up all the switchbacks. As we approached the summit ridge (from the other direction) the storm clouds were coming in hot and we ran to the summit, tapped it, and headed back down as quick as possible.

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it.  The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it. The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

It didn’t start raining until our last 4ish miles, which was pretty miraculous. By the time we set up camp near the Huron Peak trailhead, it had mostly stopped raining. I even got a fire started on damp wood, which I was pretty proud of. Realized I didn’t have a can opener and haven’t replaced my lost multi tool yet so we were SOL with the baked beans I brought. More PB&J. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and fell right asleep around 7:30pm.

Up next: three more fourteeners and much more mileage is on my plate for day 2!

Elbert & Massive (the two tallest peaks in CO in 24 hours)

I hadn’t gotten to a fourteener since the epic Sawtooth day of awesomeness, so I got this guy on the books. Mt. Massive (14,428) and Mt. Elbert (14,433) (you guys know how much I love parentheses-elevation is speculated, there are a lot of numbers floating around but they’re all within a few feet).

Lu came with me to my Monday morning class, then we headed to Mark’s house to set out for Leadville, CO (but first-coffee and a quick grocery store trip). With iced coffee and frosted donuts, we were en route to the mountains.

On the way into the national forest to the TH, we came across my friend Chris from the Evans hike who was meeting us for the hike up. I had chosen the Southwest slopes route because we were going to be getting a late start-we hit the TH at 11am. So we were looking at 9ish miles and 3,950′ gain. The first couple miles were in the woods and meadow and very lovely, but the gain started pretty quickly and we were headed up.

20140728-102149.jpg

Mark was feeling hella strong (probably all of that Orange Theory working out, we speculated) and I was feeling hella-not-energized (here’s a moment that I’m going to take to tell you that I did not properly feed myself or hydrate on Monday…I did not take this trip seriously enough and had cookie dough and Coke for dinner the night before…then coffee and donuts for breakfast WHOOPS. Lesson=learned) and my thighs were BURNING and I wasn’t getting to my second wind very quickly. So Chris and I took it relatively easy while Mark trucked on.

20140728-102235.jpg

This was basically the story of the whole ascent, but it was beautiful and pleasant. When we reached the top, Mark was sitting on the rocks chilling and we commented about where the summit actually was (Massive has several false peaks) and we were informed that we were on it!

20140728-102140.jpg

The ascent went pretty quickly, we were back down around 6:30. Chris was dying to put his feet in the river, and Mark and I were dying to go into Leadville for some Coke. Sad, right? Nothing like a cold soda after working your thighs to death! There is KILLER camping in the forest between our TH and the Elbert TH that was further east on the way in. We picked a spectacular spot in great vicinity to the roaring river (and with the world’s most epic firepit, that I, of course, didn’t take a picture of because my phone was dead by now). We had Mark’s tent so it was put up in a jiffy, and I used my badass fire starting skillz to get a roaring fire going to cook our veggie dogs and bourbon baked beans over. Chips and coke too!?! Plus-Lu got the extra “dogs” and beans so we hit the tent with full happy bellies.

Not quite a 5am wake up, but 6am so not too shabby. We broke camp and headed to the Elbert TH to rock out one more mountain before we had to head back to Denver. The Elbert TH was already very crowded, the parking lot nearly full and a line for the highly overused bathrooms (should’ve pooped at the campsite, damn). There’s a bit of trail in the woods that’s a nice windy hike, then suddenly BAM! steep incline that never lets up. We passed several people in this section, constantly thinking- any second now, this steepness will let up. It never, ever did. It was a wild trail, the standard route, just up and up with no breaks. But, to gain 4700′ in 5 miles is a lot!

Still snow.

Still snow.

We were fully prepared with food and water, though, and I felt amazing on this hike. Just hauling ass and taking names. We continually encountered more and more people-good lord this trail was busy on a Tuesday! Then we got to the steepest of the steep parts! Oof! I had a mantra in my head on this one-can’t stop, won’t stop. I was rocking as hard as I could. We had seen 3 people trail running on this route (I know, right?? New goals) and somehow right in the middle of the steepest stretch with a little less than a mile left to go I suddenly thought I could run to the finish. That didn’t happen. But, I didn’t take any breaks and was pretty proud.

We spent approximately long enough to take this picture on the summit-it was crowded.

We spent approximately long enough to take this picture on the summit-it was crowded.

We really burned it on the way down. And we realized something-we didn’t start Massive until 11am on Monday-and headed down from the Elbert summit it was only a little after 10am! Two peaks in 24 hours! It felt good.

20140728-102159.jpg

The Elbert trip was the fastest fourteener I’ve done to date. I thought about it a lot on this trip and decided to go for my new goal: 28 fourteeners before I turn 28, which means I’ve got 18 to go before October 3rd! It’s a tall order, but I think it’s doable. We fueled down at the Boathouse in Frisco-fries, mountain dew, and pizza.

The mountains are waiting, so get on your way.

We wandered (but we skipped Wanderlust)

So Kristina and I had it all settled to go to Wanderlust Festival in Aspen this past week. It was epically difficult to sub all of my classes, so I haven’t taken a vacation in ages, plus I had to find someone to watch Lu (the amazing mountain dog). All of it done, the car packed, all of our responsibilities and worries at bay, we headed to Aspen on Wednesday.

Aspen, Colorado is fancy upper class mountain town (this is on the list of things I didn’t understand before I went to Aspen). It is terribly crowded, and traffic and mountain towns do not mix (they are NOT set up with flow, just sayin). The festival didn’t allow camping on site (of course-because the fancy people who pay to go to such things are going to stay in hotels anyway) and the National Forest employee would not even allow us to drive down the road to the campgrounds to look around-he never actually answered our questions (you’re saying everything is full?) just that we could come back in the morning and they’d “definitely hook us up” (when posed with the “so not full?” he just repeated himself over again). Disappointed but not defeated, we headed towards Independence Pass where there was the promise of more camping. Now, every campground that takes “reservations” (these mythical computer related things that I don’t understand-because camping is camping and you shouldn’t need to worry about such things) was fully “reserved” meaning the sites were totally empty, because it was Wednesday, but no one was allowed to camp in them because someone on the internet said they “got there first”.

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

On the other side of Independence Pass we finally found a campsite (really, many campsites, because at this point we were so far south of Aspen that nobody cared apparently) at Twin Peaks Campground. After setting up the tent, we went into “town” for beer (by town, I mean a single building that served as a general store (read: ice cream, grocery store, liquor store, gas station, pharmacy).

Game time.

Game time.

We realized then that neither of us had any interest in going back to Aspen, trying again to find camping, or going to the festival in general. After a rad night around the fire at Twin Peaks, we woke up to sunshine and the rushing Arkansas River. Exploring the river, we found it lead to a canyon where it rushed and fell and winded through steep turns. So epic. Phones were dead, so there are no pictures from this morning. Back at the campsite, we practice yoga by ourselves for hours. Then packed up and headed to Leadville.

City on a Hill coffee.  Epic.

City on a Hill coffee. Epic.

In Leadville there is an epic little coffee shop with all of the comforts of our Denver coffee shops, but a wonderful small-town everybody-knows-your-name feel. I’ve never been to such a place. It was wonderful. After regrouping over coffee, charging our phones, and asking the internets about things (camping/hiking) we took the National Forest access road to Turquoise Lake.

Seriously.  This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Seriously. This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Turquoise Lake is a gorgeous, huge lake that you would never be able to see from the highway, tucked in at the base of the mountains. There were almost no other people anywhere in the vicinity. We found a random campsite a ways off the road that provided us with the opportunity to spend the day on the “beach” (read: sand colored rocks) and the evening over a campfire with astonishing views.

Shit man, life is hard.

Shit man, life is hard.

The next morning I took a long hike around the lake, practiced on the “beach”, and drank my chai (I brought my tiny backpacking stove with the intention of heating water for morning tea and nothing else-and brought no coffee with the intention of breaking that habit…damn) reveling in the awesomeness.

In retrospect, it's funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

In retrospect, it’s funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

We headed back to Leadville (for coffee), and their adorable fourth of July parade, then to Buena Vista, because we heard there would be fireworks. Set up camp in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness amongst a grove of Aspens in another random, free, secluded site. One of the NF signs on the way in mentioned “Harvard Lakes” so we took the Cottonwood Creek trail in that direction, and it was gorgeous, but never did we see any lakes. We did, however, get rained on and totally soaked.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us.  But instead, here's a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us. But instead, here’s a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

Interesting thing about situations that *could* feel miserable: it’s a good time to think about how this is your life right now, and you are never going to feel exactly this way ever again. Back at the campsite, we changed into dry clothes and, since it was still raining, headed to town for dinner at the Eddyline Brewery. It never quite stopped raining, and definitely wasn’t going to clear up anyway, so we skipped the fireworks that probably never happened and went back to the forest where we slept soundly because the ground in the Aspen grove was wonderfully posh.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders.  Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders. Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

We got up and packed first thing to attempt to reach Hanging Lake on a Saturday morning before the parking lot was full. With only a small sense of urgency, we took our time, and even stopped at our favorite little coffee place in Leadville on the way. Reaching Hanging Lake at 9:30a it was already full, and the exit wasn’t officially closed yet but the police were sending us all back. Shortly thereafter, they officially closed the exit for the day. We attempted to find a way to hike in from the bike path, thinking we’d beat the system, but the bike path was closed on that end, so the only option would be from Bair which is an extra 5 miles each way.

Back in Glenwood Springs, K found mention on the internet of a secret hot springs near Carbondale that is both free and generally uncrowded. Only about a 30-minute drive, and the scenery left nothing to complain about, we found said hot springs. For being so small, the ten people or so that were there made it feel a little crowded, but definitely manageable. The river was still purely ice water, so the contract was cool, and the views spectacular. Another epic secret we stumbled across in our wandering.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains.  NBD.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains. NBD.

Back to Glenwood Springs again for lunch at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, which was fantastic. Excellent service, totally delicious food (veggie burger and fries to die for), really delicious beer. After lunch we decided to give Hanging Lake one last college try-the exit was still closed, which meant the parking lot was probably empty because all the morning people that had gotten there early would be done and gone…a car in front of us moved the cones and drove in, so we followed suit. While I don’t recommend it, it’s apparent that after they close the exit they ignore it for the day, and most of the parking was open. The hike was very short but reasonably challenging. Much less exposed than I expected, and featured a beautiful stream and constant views of the canyon. The lake itself was the highlight of course, but the whole experience was lovely (or would’ve been, if it weren’t for the cross section of rude Americans that littered the trail being loud and not even attempting to follow hiking etiquette).

Yep, that's Hanging Lake.  So gorgeous it doesn't really even look real.

Yep, that’s Hanging Lake. So gorgeous it doesn’t really even look real.

Above Hanging Lake is “Spouting Rock”- a totally breathtaking 3-part waterfall. By the time we got up here, it was raining pretty good, and the crowds were heading down quickly, so we took our time taking tons of silly pictures, climbing on the rocks, shimmying across fallen logs, etc.

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I'll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I’ll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

We were pretty cashed by this point, and headed home to Denver pretty late. Definitely four days of celebrating independence and Colorado. More adventures to come!