STRAIGHT ARROW: Colorado 14ers 1995 Pt. 2

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By Gene Culver

After our rafting incident on July 12, Bonnie and I decided to take one more day off for a little more recovery time before attempting another climb.

We rested, drove across Independence Pass on Colorado Hwy. 82 to visit Aspen and to see the Maroon Bells Peaks, two of the most beautiful mountains in the world. If you ever have the chance go see them, the scenery here is truly breathtaking, and you will only have to walk less than a flat quarter-mile from the parking lot. Be sure to check the regulations before going.

Late in the day, we drove back across Independence Pass in a thunderstorm, spent the night in Buena Vista and left early to attempt Mount Princeton. As we approached the mountain in the graying dawn, it looked like the upper mountain was very frosty, like when you open a freezer door. About a mile into the climb we realized why the mountain looked so frozen. The storm last night had coated the upper mountain in a sheet of ice.

We had to be very careful, but Bonnie still took a pretty hard fall while we were crossing some boulders. As we climbed the talus of the southeast ridge at about 13,300 feet, we encountered thick clouds, snow, and 40-50 mph winds. We made the 14,197-foot summit of Mount Princeton in about seven hours on July 14, and took about four hours to descend.

On July 16, we scaled the 14,196-foot Yale peak by the Southwest Slopes route. We gained 4,300 feet in elevation, in 3 1/2 miles, a steep, leg-testing climb. Resting on the summit, the views were fantastic, and we could see 30 of the Fourteeners that we were planning to climb — it looked like an impossible endeavor.

On July 18 at 4 a.m. we crawled out of our tent near the West Winfield Trailhead and hiked to the Southwest Ridge route on La Plata Peak’s south side at 10,380 feet. It would be a rough day! About a mile in, I jumped across a small creek, but when Bonnie started to jump, the bank gave way and she dropped into the icy water and went over her boots. We discussed going back for dry socks, but Bonnie said her wool socks were not that wet and wanted to continue.

Next, we were supposed to hike to the southwest ridge and follow it to the summit, but in the very thick clouds we turned too early and climbed the wrong ridge. We realized our mistake when the clouds broke for a few routes. We descended and as we got back on route we met Gary and Barb, a couple from Evergreen, Colo. After talking awhile, they proceeded with the climb; we rested, ate a snack and then followed as they disappeared into the clouds.

We finished crossing the valley, climbed a steep snow slope to reach the southwest ridge at 13,200 feet, then turned northeast and headed for the summit a mile away. On this exposed ridge, the wind was about 60 mph, and we were on the clouds when it started snowing. In near whiteout conditions, we met Gary and Barb on their way down — we were about a quarter mile from the top. We made arrangements with them that if we weren’t down to their camp within four hours after they got there that they would contact search and rescue.

We continued climbing into the storm. Bonnie snapped one quick photo of me on top of Colorado’s fifth-highest mountain, 14,336-foot La Plata Peak. It was about 25 degrees and windy, and we still could only see maybe 50 yards in the clouds and snow. We had to get down! At one point we started off the wrong snowfield, but when the clouds broke just long enough for us to see our mistake we got back on route. Then, as we started down the steep snowfield we had climbed earlier, I slipped and fell, but was able to stop my slide with a self-arrest using my ice ax.

After 13 hours on the trail, we got to Gary and Barb’s camp, stopped to let them know we were down and OK, then headed on to our camp. We decided to go to Buena Vista, spend the night and take another rest day. Late in the day of the 19th, we drove back up into the mountains and set up camp 12 miles from a paved road.

On July 20, we climbed 14,003-foot Huron Peak. This climb was uneventful and since we were going to camp in the same spot again that night, and with great weather, we were in no hurry to get down. We lingered on top and enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy the views and appreciate just being up there.

After 10 hours, we were back in camp. At sunset, guess what, we took a walk. It was cold, clear and beautiful, with no lights or another human around for miles. At dark, we crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep serenaded by the wind rustling the tent and the cascading creek near camp.

On July 21, we were up at 5 a.m. and drove five miles to the trailhead, crossed a bridge, then climbed endless switchbacks to Missouri Gulch. What was supposed to be an excellent trail to 12,600 feet was all under snow, and we saw no tracks in the snow. Several hours of trudging up the snow slopes later, we summited 14,067-foot Missouri Mountain and headed home the next day.

This makes No. 20!

2014 3-D Shoot schedule

July 12, 26

Aug. 9

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.