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Over the winter, Bonnie and I decided that we would attempt to climb all 56 of the 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado. At the time, only about 5,000 climbers had scaled all of the “14ers,” and several of these were Himalayan climbers. So, we were setting a very lofty goal for ourselves and knew it would take us several years, going for two or three weeks a year.
July 19 found us camped near the trailhead of Mount Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado at 14,433 feet. Mount Whitney in California is the only mountain higher in the continental United States.
At 3 a.m. we were already on the trail, and after hiking for about five and a half hours and gaining 4,400ft we were on top, but I was starting to get a headache — the first sign of altitude sickness.
I took some aspirins and lay down for a little while, but I had to get down to really start getting better. After descending for four hours we were back at camp. All I could do was lie around with an ice pack on my head and hope I started feeling better. Before dark we ate and I was feeling a little better. We decided to take a short walk to make sure we knew where the trail to Mount Massive was, just in case I felt good enough to climb the next day. We set the alarm for 3 a.m.
When the alarm went off, Bonnie and I decided to start the climb, but would turn around if I started having any problems. It seemed the more we walked the better I felt, and after five miles and gaining another 4,400 feet we were on top of Mount Massive at 14,421 feet, the second highest mountain in Colorado. We dragged back into camp after 11 hours. We were very tired but we both felt OK.
On July 22 we hung out in Leadville, resting and sightseeing. On July 23 we climbed 14,036-foot Mount Sherman. On July 24 we moved to the Kite Lake campground; at 12,000 feet this is the highest campground in North America and is northwest of Fairplay, Colo.
On the morning of July 25, we prepared for a long day, all above 12,000 feet. First, we climbed 14,148-foot Mount Democrat, descended to a saddle and then climbed 14,238-foot Mount Cameron. We descended again and a mile later were on top of 14,286-foot Mount Lincoln. Next, we headed for 14,172-foot Mount Bross two miles away to the southeast. As we stood on the top of Brass we examined the route down, 2,200 feet of steep scree (very loose rock that you just slide down like skiing). We were down in less than an hour.
Next, on July 26, we moved to 14,265-foot Quandary. We decided to climb the West Slope route. This route is eight miles with about a half-mile of serious class 3 scrambling on some very loose, jumbled rock towers. To make matters worse, the wind was between 50 and 60 mph. After 13 hours, we were finally down and totally exhausted — we needed a rest day!
The night of the 26th we got a room in Breckinridge, took it easy on the 27th but late in the day moved to the trailhead for Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. We set up camp and took a short hike to make sure we knew how to get on the trail in the dark the next morning.
We were up and on the trail by 4 a.m. and just after light we had our first encounter with mountain goats. At one point we stepped off the trail to let one walk by just a few feet away. There were four baby goats running along the cliffs, dropping out of sight on steep ledges. We would hear rocks kicked loose and falling, then the babies would reappear. They were amazing.
We finally reached the summit of 14,270-foot Grays Peak and headed north, dropping into the saddle between Grays and Torreys. We continued to climb and as we reached the top of 14,267-foot Torreys Peak, a mountain goat came up from the south side and we shared the view with him for several minutes. He was still there when we left. We got several pictures of us with him on top.
When we got down we again broke camp and moved to Guanella Pass Trailhead on Gaunella Pass Road and set up camp for the last time this year. Near camp we saw a bighorn sheep.
At 3 a.m. July 29, we were back on the trail, this time climbing 14,060-foot Bierstadt. From the summit we dropped down into the class 3 section called the Sawtooth, working our way along 1,500-foot cliffs until we came out into a rocky meadow. Next we headed for 14,264-foot Mount Evans, a 1 1/2-mile climb through boulders and along ledges to the top. There was a thunderstorm brewing to the west; we got two quick photos on top and started down but were quickly caught in a snowstorm with 50 mph winds. The rocks got icy and we had to hole up out in open among the rocks and boulders and just hope for the best. The storm finally passed, and as the ice melted we made the long hike back to camp.
In 10 days, Bonnie and I climbed 12 of the 14ers gained a total of 23,750 feet and hiked 75 miles in the high mountains. It was a good start.
2014 3-D Shoot schedule
June 14, 28
July 12, 26
Shoots are held at the Culvertown Ballpark on Monks Road in New Haven. Signups are 8 a.m. – noon. Cost is $10 for adults, $8 for youth and $5 for cub shooters.
Local archer and outdoorsman Gene Culver operates the Bent Arrow Archery Shop (www.bentarrowarchery.com) with his wife, Bonnie. Contact them at 549-8119 with questions.