TRIP REPORT: Mount Elbert (14,439′)

There is no better way to celebrate the summer solstice than from the highest point in Colorado! Mount Elbert is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains just outside the city of Leadville. Not only is it the state’s high point, but it is the second highest point in the contiguous US. A steep climb, but definitely one for the books!

Looking N-NW from the summit

Out climb started just after 3:30am from the standard North route. The trail started off pretty moderately with switchbacks for the first mile, very doable. The trail then flattens out and actually heads slightly downhill for about 5 minutes of walking or so before you reach the Contintental Divide trail fork. This flat continues for just another half mile or so before the steeper incline begins. This first steeper section goes for another mile or so until you hit treeline and makes you question your life choices.

At this point, coming out of the trees the we were in twilight and sunrise was approaching. we slowly continued to make our way out of the trees just in time to see the alpenglow hit the peak in front of us and watch the sunrise. Once out of the trees you can basically see the majority of the route headed up the ridge. It is a slow steep walk but take your time and you will get there!

steepest pitch up 1st false summit

The crux of the route starts at about 13,000′. This is the steepest section and is a slow spot. Knowing you have 1,400′ left of climbing the first 900′ are right in front of you in a very short distance. This is the first false summit.

2nd false summit

As you come around the north side and to the top of the false summit you can see the second false summit in front of you, a more moderate incline in comparison as you make your way up the hill.

3rd false summit…

As you come up on this second false summit the 3rd and last false peak gets your hopes up as it LOOKS like it could be the real deal…. it is not. HOWEVER, as you quickly make your way up this last hill you can see the REAL summit and it is a simple 2-4 minute ridge walk away!

Actual summit just ahead!

Welcome to the roof of Colorado at 14,439 feet!!!!! We took our time on the way up as we encountered wind and cold and had to keep adding layers. We summited at 8:50am.

The decent took half the time for the most part. Some steeper spots were a little slow for those needing to be gentle on the knees. (bring poles) As for difficulty, its just the steep gain and the altitude. The standard North route is a class 1. Very well maintained trail as it is heavily trafficked. We did pass plenty of people who turned around early in the morning as they were not feeling it that day. Also, being June it was VERY cold and windy for us. It had snowed the day before so the summit temps were at or just above freezing that morning and the windchill was recorded at 17 degrees Fahrenheit! (burrr) Overall, it was a BEAUTIFUL day to summit.

HAPPY SUMMER!

TRIP REPORT: Longs Peak

My 3rd successful summit of Longs Peak is in the bag!

Before I give you the details, let me take you back a little: My first summit was in August of 2003. I was 13 years old, and it was actually my second attempt. The previous year I made it to the bottom of the homestretch and turned around. I had the worst nerves and threw up at the trail head that morning and was miserable the entire climb. Despite making it like 95% of the way to the summit, I just couldn’t go any further. I was completely depleted. It haunted me for a year, so the following summer I completed my first summit. It was the first time it really solidified my interest in climbing Everest in the future.

My second summit was in 2011. I was in the throws of recovering from an eating disorder and working through major depression and anxiety. I had been in a dark place for a long time and had completely lost my passion for climbing in the midst of my mental illness. Summiting Longs again with a friend of mine was the perfect way to rekindle that fire as I was working on my recovery.

Now here I am, 8 years later, growing and chasing my dreams! I went to EBC last year, I climbed Kilimanjaro a week ago and I come home and lead a few friends up Longs Peak only days after returning! So, without further ado, here is a little synopsis of my most recent summit!

We had some weather in the forecast for today so we started at 2am. We made it to the boulderfield before sunrise and began climbing up the rocks to the keyhole as the sun rose. We were moving quickly but slowed to a crawl as we navigated the boulders and the trail moved from a class 1 to a class 2.

As we crossed over to the other side of the keyhole and began navigating the ledges, taking our time to navigate, and help my friends through the rocks as the route became a class 3.

Next came the dreaded trough. I hit a mental wall at the bottom of the trough. A combination of jet lag and still recovering form Kili made me realize how much I did not want to climb up the trough once I came up to it. It has always been my least favorite part of the climb. It is a slow exhausting crawl up to the narrows. But it just comes one step and climb at a time. This winter was one of the snowiest and so there was still a decent amount of snow in the trough. It was off most of the route, however the very top of the trough had snow on route and we had to climb around it. Once that was navigated, we climb the last final 15′ rock up and out to the narrows.

A sense of relief for me as we popped out into the narrows, and a sense of panic as my friends saw the exposed view. low clouds began to build and I knew we had to be quick. We carefully climbed through the narrows and made it to the base of the homestretch in no time.

Some crowds navigating up and down the most technical part of the the climb slowed us down. We pushed to try to keep moving to the summit as we were now in a race with building clouds. There were patches of wet spots of recently melted snow, but before we knew it we were on top at 14,259′!

Our time on the summit was short. As soon as we started back down the homestretch we actually started to get a sprinkle of snow. It made the rocks slippery and slowed us down as we cautiously made out way down the homestretch. I will say this was the scariest Longs Peak decent I have ever had out of the number of times I’ve been on this mountain. The wet slippery decent continued into the trough as the mountain became enclosed in the clouds. Exhaustion definitely set in as we made it to the bottom of the trough and began to traverse the ledges back to the keyhole. Relief hit us as the keyhole came into view. After much needed snack break, the sun came out and we descended from the keyhole to the boulderfield. Back on class 1 trail, we cruised back down to the trail head. We lucked out and didn’t get the heavy rain, hail and thunderstorm until we were about 10 minutes from the bottom.

Our total time was about 12 hours and it was definitely the slowest I have ever climbed Longs. I definitely attribute that to the slippery slick conditions on our way down. If you EVER decide to climb Longs, start early, know your limits, NEVER go off route, check the weather conditions, and re-evaluate them constantly. As soon as it started raining/snowing up top, people were turning around despite being so close to the summit which was the smart thing to do. The mountain will always be there, you can always come back. We witnessed a helicopter rescue of a 15 year old that slid about 300′ down the loft on the other side. Good news revealed later that he was OK and somehow managed no broken bones, but it shows you how sketchy the conditions became as soon as those rocks got slick. My friends asked me to lead because of my experience on the mountain and my experience with class 3 climbing. If you have never been class 3 climbing before you NEED to go with someone who has experience with that kind of technicality and exposure. And of course, NEVER climb alone.

Despite my words of caution, Longs is a classic. It is my favorite peak in the world for a number of reasons. Don’t let the exposure scare you out of trying to do it, just make sure you are 100% prepared and know the risks. Longs may be one of the most famous of the Colorado Fourteeners and is definitely one for the books!

The 14er Quad: Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, Bross

Report from 6/30/18

I’ve been home from Nepal less than 2 weeks and the high altitude fever was already killing me! time for some more high peaks! 4 in a day to be exact.

Located South of Breckenridge, CO and North of Fairplay lies a series of 14ers in the Mosquito Range. Some of these got checked off my list on Thursday.

We left Littleton around 3am to drive the 2 hours to South Park. the trailhead for this quad is located up a dirt road Northwest of Alma. My partner and I started hiking at 5am. After reading various forums on the internet, we decided to take the advice of many and do the loop backwards, starting with Bross. The trail is steep with slippery scree and many have mentioned that it is much easier going downhill on Democrat, especially if you have bad knees. So, with that advice, we started with Bross. As we neared 14,000′, we ran into 2 mountain goats who were surprisingly chill with us hanging out with them. After a few selfies with the goats, we moved onward to the summit. Within 2 hours we were on top of our first out of 4 fourteeners for the day at 14,172′.

**A little note about Bross: Mount Bross’s summit is located on private property, so technically, you are not legally allowed to go to the summit. The trail scoots right along 14,000′ so if you do not feel comfortable trespassing, then you still at least hit 14k. The mountain itself lacks structural integrity. It is an old mining site and has not been maintained so with the summit trail closed it is a “climb at your own risk scenario. Also, NEVER EVER enter one of the mines as they all risk collapse. Other people have reported that on occasion there will be someone monitoring the fork in the trail on Bross to keep people off the summit. We didn’t see anyone on our ascent. My guess is because we started with Bross instead of Democrat and no one was monitoring the mountain that early.

After spending about 20 minutes enjoying the summit, we moved on to your next peak. Headed down the saddle, following an old mining path past Mount Cameron, we soon arrive at our highest point for the day. after 50 minutes of traversing, we were standing on the summit of Mount Lincoln at 14,295′.

A short 10 minutes of pictures and smiles, we move on to Mount Cameron. Since Cameron’s prominence does not meet the 300′ minimum, it is not an official 14er, and is listed as unranked. It is basically an extension of Lincoln’s shoulder. Regardless, it is named and still a peak in my book, and the trail goes across the summit so after maybe 20-25 minutes of hiking, we were standing on Mount Cameron at 14,238′.

We spent a good amount of time resting on the summit of Cameron knowing we had a large obstacle ahead. The downside to doing the loop backwards is the fact that Democrat is last, and it is the hardest of the 4. After dropping over 800 feet in elevation, we then had to re-ascend 700 of that within a half mile. it was slow, steep, rocky, and exhausting in the hot sun. After what felt like forever, we finally stood on the summit of Democrat at 14,148′. We are 4 for 4 on this fourteener loop!

Car to car, including our summit breaks, it took us 8 hours. We arrived back to our car at 1pm, and headed into South Park for lunch!

Definitely recommend this loop as you can check off 4 peaks of your 14er list. Be sure to acclimatize well before doing this climb as it is a long day above treeline. Bring lots of water and always be prepared for weather!

TRIP REPORT: Mount Lady Washington, CO (13,281′)

Report from 8/20/16

The Overlooked 13er…

I know I wasn’t planning on any cool peaks during my week off, but it happened anyway! After all, what is a vacation without a massive mountain to climb? *winky-smiley-face*

Mount Lady Washington is located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It stands front-right of  Long’s Peak which is the park’s only 14er. This little pile of rocks constantly gets overlooked since a large majority of the people who hike this trail go to hike Long’s Peak.

L to R: Mount Meeker, Long’s Peak, Mount Lady Washington

However, MLW has literally the most sunning view I have ever seen in my life. It is one I highly reccomend if you are visiting RMNP. (See what I did there? I got lazy and just used letters…) Anyway, Mount Lady Washington, also known as “MLW”, “Lady”, “Lady Washington”, or “#5 in the Grand Slam”. It stands at 13,281 feet above sea level. It’s not nearly as impressive in size as its 14,261 foot neighbor, but it has very understated qualities.

I started my hike at 4:30am however the trail was not scarce. Because of the unpredictable weather the Colorado 14ers create because of their height, anyone wishing for a successful summit of Long’s has to leave in the middle of the night. I passed many hikers who were on their way up to Long’s Peak, and as I asked in passing to each group I went by, not a single person was hiking anything else. 

First light on the trio. (MLW is the pile of rocks on the right)

I reached Chasm Junction 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead just before sunrise. I took a break here and waited for the stunning view. Soon after the mountain turned pink, the orange, I headed up the trail less than 1/4 mile more before taking a hard left. There is no maintained trail on MLW and there are basically two main ways people reach the top. One is directly up the front, east face. It is a steep 2,000 foot climb in class 2 tundra/class 3 scrambling mix. The other is to hike to the Boulder Field camping area another mile and a half up the trail (also known as basecamp to Long’s), then to follow the Northwest ridge. I decided on the shorter steeper route for my ascent, and the longer, flatter route for the way down to save my knees. It was steep, slow going, and strenuous boulder hopping that seemed to never end. I was literally the ONLY person on that mountain all morning and I honestly doubt anyone else summited after I did. No one else that I passed on the way down was planning on MLW, and if there was anyone attempting the Grand Slam that day, they would’ve gotten rained out since it’s the last peak in the series and it began to rain just after I made it back to the trail head. 

my line up MLW

When I finally made it over that ridge, I was immediately in awe. The summit view, like I mentioned before, was absolutely incredible. I have climbed Long’s Peak 3 times, summited twice, and you do not get a better view on that mountain than on MLW. The famous diamond face on Long’s was massive as it stood right in front of me on that pile of annoying, frustrating rocks. It was immediately worth it. I sat, in solitary silence, just staring and the magnificent and majestic mountain standing in front of me. Long’s Peak has always been my favorite mountain and 14er, but I had never seen it like this before… My eyes teared up and I fell in love with Long’s all over again.

The Diamond (pictures do NOT do it justice)

Soon after decending the northwest ridge, I was reunited with the Long’s Peak trail, and the crowds. I enjoyed my solo time on MLW, and it is a peak I will never forget. 

The Boulder Field

My Summit List is growing!! Check it out!

TRIP REPORT: Mount Evans, CO (14,265′)

Report from 6/24/16

Right now, I am sitting in my grandparents living room in Littleton, CO. About 12 hours ago (it is now 4:00pm) I woke up for an “early bird” hike.

Tomorrow my cousin is getting married in Estes Park so I decided to come a day early and play! An old friend from summer camp was supposed to meet up with me to go climb Greys and Torreys Peaks this morning. However, about a week ago she messaged me and said she was unable to get the day off. This meant that my only option left for a hiking partner would be my husband (who is not exactly a fan of hiking). We talked about it and he agreed to do something “easy”. (There is no such thing as an easy fourteener) So my plans to do G&T were scratched and we decided to climb Mount Evans since it is a bit closer to Denver and the hike is a lot shorter.

We woke up at 4:15am (which, believe it or not, is pretty late by 14er standards.) For those who have climbed in Colorado before or live there, they understand that those mountains are so high they create their own weather as the day heats up. Any hike you do must start early enough that you can summit and get below treeline before the thunderstorms kick in, and this is why we wake up at ungodly hours of the morning….

Since this hike is so much shorter, I knew that if we started at sunrise, summit by about 8 and returned, we would have plenty of time to spare. So, we took the hour and a half drive up to the trail-head at Summit Lake (12,800) where we saw big horn sheep and watched the sunrise and began our hike at about 6:30. We were originally planning on taking the West Ridge route which was an estimated 2 1/2 hours. But I knew a lesser known route up the Northeast face that would shave an entire hour off that climb time (and would make my husband a lot more inclined to climb the mountain). This was an incredibly direct route where you basically just go straight up the side instead of up and around Mount Spalding and the ridge-line.

We were only a tiny bit slower on the uphill than I predicted. We reached the 14,265 foot summit at 8:15am. The skies remained clear enough we hung out on the summit for about an hour and a half  enjoying the views (and mountain goats) before heading back down.

When we got back down we enjoyed one last view of the lake and headed out. Clouds formed from nothing within about 20 minutes and the rain kicked in just as we were getting back onto the freeway. (proves just how fast things can change in these mountains.)

Overall, it was a fun little peak with spectacular views and I am super proud of my husband for climbing his first fourteener!!! He still thinks I’m crazy, but after the views he saw this morning, I think he might finally be beginning to understand why these peaks become my happy place. Now it is time to shower and get ready for a wedding!