Getting High

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 🙂

Incline

Jim and Steve at the top of the Incline

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.

Summit Yale

Summit of Mount Yale in the Colorado Collegiate Peaks

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.

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Bierstadt

I have been wanting to get up to Georgetown and Guanella Pass to hike Bierstadt since being reminded of it on 14ers.com. Twenty years has passed by since I have climbed a 14er for real and I didn’t want another year to slip by without feeling the exhilaration of a summit. I knew the pass was on the west side of Mount Evans but never realized there was another 14er just right there. Well anyway, I awoke early yesterday morning and decided it was the day to load up the car and make the climb. By 4:30 a.m. I was on my way to Georgetown. Well technically I was on my way to Loaf and Jug for a cup of coffee 🙂

Mount Bierstadt

Summit of Mount Bierstadt Colorado

Next stop, the Mountain Buzz Cafe in Georgetown for some nourishment. A huge sausage, egg and cheese bagel with some green peppers seemed like a good start for a climb up a 14er 🙂 They have wifi there too so I checked in on Facebook… just in case I didn’t make it back someone would know where to look! Not that it was necessary, there was a steady stream of hikers on the mountain all day long.

A quick trip up Guanella Pass and I was parked at the top of the pass. There was one guy already coming down and I conferred with him a bit to make sure I knew which peak was Bierstadt. Using my Leadville 100 pacing strategy, I decided to start out slow… and then slow down. Across the valley and up the side of the mountain. About a third of the way into the hike I kind of got into a groove and was covering some pretty good ground while trying to keep my pulse and breathing under control. People on their way down kept telling me that they had seen no wildlife other than the birds so I was a little disappointed about that, but the scenery was fabulous so I was having a great day anyway.

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats on Mount Bierstadt Colorado

About two thirds of the way up the three mile trail I experienced a bit of a miracle! I had decided to take a break from my determined march to the peak and stopped to put down my pack to get a drink. As I pulled off the trail to set down my pack I saw something white about thirty yards away. Closer inspection revealed that there were three beautiful fluffy white mountain goats grazing on the tundra, so I grabbed my camera and snapped off a couple of pictures before they could run away. Well much to my surprise they didn’t run away and were soon headed right for me. Put my camera on the monopod and kept shooting as they walked right across the trail and over to the other side for more grazing. The big goat stopped on the trail right in front of me and a gathering crowd and looked at another guy coming up the trail like he was going to start enforcing some crowd control. He was forced to stop and after a long stare down the goat moved on. I guess he just wanted to make an example with that one guy so everyone to know who was boss up there 🙂 Those were the only goats or sheep I saw all day and I pondered the Providence that had guided me to the only animals on the mountain at the exact moment that they were on the trail near me. And I doubt I would have seen them had I not been urged to stop and take a break. No one else would have either as everyone was just plowing up the trail looking down at the rocks for the best place for each footstep. I took it as a sign that I was being watched over with a kindness that is beyond my understanding.

Finally I made my way to the summit area where I discovered that the mound at the top of the mountain was actually a huge boulder field marked only by cairns to guide the way through the maze of rocks. The trail was very difficult to follow on the way up and I eventually decided to do the smart thing and put my camera in the pack to keep it from banging on the rocks and to free both hands for bouldering. I don’t think I took the optimal path and I have to admit there were a couple of times I gave up and headed back down. Each time though, as I headed back down I discovered a passable route and decided to keep going up. Finally the large boulders gave way to smaller rocks and dirt that were easier to traverse and soon I was standing on the summit. Had to find the brass USGS summit marker so I could get a shot of it to prove I was there.

I was worried about getting back down the boulder field with my chronologically challenged knee joints, but the trail was easier to see on the way down and I was quickly on my way back down the mountain. It seemed like a long slog back to the car, but I finally made it about two hours later than I had intended. I had wanted to go into Georgetown and spend some time but I didn’t want to hit the Denver rush hour traffic so I will have to save that visit for another day.

As I write this morning, even though I’m dog tired and my old bones are aching I am ecstatic that I can add another summit to my short list of 14ers climbed. It was a beautiful day and there is no place where I am more happy than in the cold and wind of the mountain tundra high above tree line. Maybe I can get in one more hike before the snow flies 🙂