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!

Mt. of the Holy Cross (hiking alone)

Important things that you think about on long solo hikes: we say depth instead of deepness…but steepness instead of stepth. WHY!?!? I could probably find out why now that I’m home and have access to the internet, but I spent hours considering this serious problem on the trail.

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

I do love hiking with friends; people I knew before and some that I meet along the way. Casual conversation helps ease the steepness, helps you keep pace, pass the time, and especially not lose hope when the going gets rough (like miles of snowmelt flooded willows as you’re losing light). But there is something special about facing all of it alone from time to time.

The Mt. of the Holy Cross (elevation 14,003ft) starts off with a good amount of gain pretty quickly, in fact you hit treeline before you make it to Half Moon Pass in the first couple miles. At the top of the pass, two things happen: sweeping, epic views of MTOTHC, and now the trail heads steeply down (and loses not only all of the elevation you gained, but maybe even a little more).

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

At this point, the weather was pretty ominous. I was getting a later start than I planned (hit the TH at 8a) and I heard it was a good thing-it rained and hailed until about 7a, maybe a little later than that on the summit. It was still looking pretty dark up there as I descended Half Moon Pass and headed for the river crossing that would lead me to the ascent.

A big descent early in the hike is a bummer for so many reasons-you lose what you’ve already gained, you realize you’re going to have to gain it all back again (and then a lot more), and most importantly, the out-hike is going to have a long ascent on it when you’re already exhausted. And we all know, the main rule of hiking is, the way out always feels much, much longer than it actually is.

The main ascent was what I’d like to call arduous. I was in a hit-it-and-quit-it mood because of the weather, and because I had to be back in Denver by 5p to teach class at 6. So I burned up that mountain like a…I’ll have to come back and insert a clever simile here. Anyway, there weren’t a whole lot of hikers out, I came across two heading town that gave me weather reports from the summit (hail) but optimism as well-“the clouds are moving quick”. In total I think I saw 7 people (even though there were at least 20 cars at the TH-where were they??).

At the top of the ridge that leads to the final, the trail evens out for a bit, providing a break (although the trail is all small, loose rock, so is it really a break?) I had a good view of the final and the summit for a while (good news: the weather cleared, bad news: I thought it looked far and rough-with no conversation to distract you, that’s a fun mental game). Starting to attack the trail quickly gets lost and things get technical and scrambly very quickly. Luna was rock hopping, as usual (and, as usual, I think all 7 people on that mountain commented on her epic capabilities, grace, stamina, agility…), and I really wasn’t fairing poorly. I was rocking my trail shoes instead of boots, which has become my norm for summer hikes, and I passed a group of 3 older gentlemen who were shocked to see someone in tennis shoes (they don’t even UNDERSTAND about trail shoes, yo) and assumed my feet were pretty torn up. I told them not to worry about it, this is my 9th summit this year in these shoes and my feet feel great 😉

Rock Hopper

Rock Hopper

Because of all the losing-the-trail confusion (made even more fun by the cairn game-found a cairn, but where’s the trail?) and rock hopping fun, I hit the summit in no time at all and was shocked to realize that was it. The clouds had even broken and we had a few sunny minutes on the summit before I decided to roll.

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

The descent was fast and dirty. We even ran part of it, trying to get out as quick as possible. Well, I ran part of it. Lu ran the whole thing and then some. I made a mental note about getting Lu sponsored as a #caninebadass endurance athlete.

Do you see that mid-jump!?

Do you see that mid-jump!?

The clouds rolled back in as we were approaching that hellish up-hill back to Half Moon Pass, and it started to rain. NBD, we were already safely into the woods. McDonald’s fries and Coke for fuel down! Back in Denver just in time to teach my 6pm class and head to the climbing gym for 3 hours! (fun new fact about climbing: climbers are not only super friendly, but pretty lazy. Initially I was only lasting about 45 minutes at the gym because I just climbed non-stop…until I found out that protocol is this: you climb a route, you sit down with the other climbers, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. Then someone else climbs a route, sits back down, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. It’s awesome! Definitely the most welcoming community to any sport I’ve become a part of.)