Been a busy week getting high… high on elevation that is 🙂 The week started last Friday with a six mile hike through the rugged hills of Section 16 in Colorado Springs with the Pikes Peak Adventures Meetup Group. The trail was great as were occasional views of Red Rock Canyon and the mountains of Southwest Colorado Springs. It was a great group, great trail and a great time!
The next big moment for the week was a visit from my brother Jim and Robin. Haven’t seen Jim for quite a few years and it was great to finally get to meet Robin! Anyway, we got to take a nice hike in Red Rock Canyon, all the way to the top of the south ridge followed by some great brew at the Colorado Mountain Brewery 🙂
Then this Wednesday at the last minute we decided to tackle the Manitou Incline. I have been looking at that thing for many years and decided this was the time to do it. It proved to be the hardest mile I have ever hiked. Two thousand feet of elevation gain in one mile, from 6500 feet to 8,500 feet at the top. It was tough, but it looked like every person on it was having a tough time. At the summit we decided that the smart money was on a trip back down the Barr Trail and a pleasant return journey through the Pike National Forest.
Surprisingly I wasn’t completely dead on Thursday, so after checking the weather forecast I decided to try to climb fourteener Mount Yale in the Collegiate Peaks. So Thursday night I packed up my gear, including my water filter in case my supply of liquids proved insufficient. Set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to have breakfast and to arrive at the trailhead by sunrise. Breakfast was at the only place in Buena Vista open at that time of day, Jan’s Restaurant. Excellent omelets there by the way, and the most fluffy looking hash browns I have ever eaten 🙂
From there, up Cottonwood Pass to the Denny Creek Trailhead. Checked the time and my boots were on the dirt at 7:00 a.m. on the dot. I wasn’t too sure about this endeavor. Five miles one way with 4,300 feet of elevation gain was more than I have tried in many years. So I set my sights on summiting at around noon. Much shy of the summit at that time I determined would be time to rethink my goals for the day.
The trail was steep and rocky, no question about that. I knew it would be dark in the canyons so my strategy was to keep the camera in the pack and refrain from picture taking until after reaching summit. Of course the stray mountain goat or bighorn sheep would have changed those priorities in a heartbeat! But there was no wildlife to be seen on the trail at all. I knew I was making good time and reached the treeline by 9:00. I was starting to get a little more confident that I could conquer this one after all. It didn’t seem that long before I was standing at the base of the giant boulder field with plenty of time before my noon deadline, so I just started climbing.
The boulder field was difficult for me, the worst one I have encountered. The cairns were not always easy to find and the trail at times was indistinguishable. Fortunately I had found a group to negotiate the boulders with, so when one of us got stymied, another managed to find a route. I forgot to look at my watch here, but I’m guessing just the boulder field took an hour to climb. And it was not without casualty. One slip garnered me a bruised rib and another a bruised knee cap. Leather gloves would have saved my hands from a couple of bloody mishaps and I was thankful for my mid height hiking boots which preserved my ankles a couple of times. Near the top the boulders became a bit smaller and easier to negotiate and by 11:30 a.m., I had conquered the summit of Mount Yale, 14,196 feet 🙂
So it was time for a break and some picture taking at the summit. I took shots with both lenses of the 360 degree view before starting back down. The journey back down through the boulders seemed harder than the journey up, but I eventually made it out and was thankful to have my feet back on the dirt. As I looked down the steep switchbacks I could not believe that I had made the climb. From the top, the trail looked like it had been etched into the edge of a cliff. Once on it of course it didn’t seem that bad, but it was still a knee wrecker to get back down.
The sun had of course by this time made it over the peak and the scenery was fantastic. Excellent views of Cottonwood Pass, plus fourteeners Harvard, Columbia and Princeton. The tundra taking on its fall glory, displaying beautiful red and yellow mixed with some of the usual green plants. By the time I had reached treeline again I had managed to snap 264 pictures, hoping that they would be every bit as beautiful as the magnificence I was experiencing with my eyes. Once I descended through the treeline the trees obscured the light and I decided to just get back to the car as quickly as I could. I was out of water and was tempted at several creek crossings to put my filter to use, but didn’t want to take the time. I knew I could make it to the end without water and I had more to drink at the car so I just kept going. At 4:00 my feet were on the pavement in the parking lot and I was just glad to have the mountain behind me. My climbing team that I had befriended had made the parking lot just ahead of me and were happy to offer me a beer to celebrate our victory. I don’t think there is any better way to commemorate an awesome hike, so joined them for a while and toasted some new friends.
Soon the snow will be flying and the high peaks covered in a beautiful but dangerous blanket of snow. My big hikes are probably done for the season, but there are still autumn landscapes to be captured before the winds and storms of winter turn the gold into white. I think I’ll concentrate on capturing as much of that as possible from the car in the little time that remains of a glorious autumn in Colorado. Stay tuned to my Examiner News feed as I provide hiking tips and the specifics on how to reach these trails and complete them.