07 January 2010

DeCaLiBro

Mount Lincoln from Mount Democrat6 September 2004

I'm having an incredibly good year. I got my first winter 14er in January, in spite of being grounded by my doctor for persistent knee problems. I summited "The Mountain of My Fear" in June. I got my first double bagger, two 14ers in one day, last month. And now I've done four 14ers in a day, the very same peaks that eluded me last year in a white out. In accomplishing this magnificent (for me) fete, I also surpassed my goal of ten peaks this year. I just bagged number 11 for the year, and there are still three more months to go!

We left Denver at 4 a.m. Monday, hoping to beat the Labor Day crowd. But Monday was the best climbing day of the three-day weekend, and lots of folks had the same idea we did. Of course, it probably didn't help that I picked one of the most popular 14er day hikes in the state.

Labor Day this year would mark my fifth annual consecutive 14er climb on this very weekend. I wanted to climb five peaks in a day, but the day was so wonderful, four will do.

Kite Lake Road seemed to be in better shape this year than last Labor Day. I didn't have to put my 4Runner into four-wheel drive to reach the lake. Some of the peaks seemed to have a bluish glow as we began our ascent of Democrat via the standard route, and we traversed sections of fresh snow, but the amount of snowfall on the peaks was not truly evident until the rising sun painted orange slivers atop Buckskin and Democrat. By the time the sunlight spilled down the west face to meet us, sparkles abounded in the powder and rime.

The route up Democrat was a regular highway, with splinter bands of a youth group racing each other up the mountain in a battle to be first on the summit. By the end of the day, of course, no one was rushing to the top of Bross. Hikers were slowly making their way both over Cameron and around Cameron with no apparent shot clock spurring their progress.

Climbing Democrat was special for me because it was the first time I'd really seen the mountain, even though I've already climbed it twice. It was the first time I was able to soak up the view of surrounding peaks, with crystal blue skies strikingly setting off the white tipped peaks to the south and west.

Descending Democrat was a bit of a chore. Those heavenly white sparkles that had magically transformed the morning's work into a crystalline fantasy were now slippery rocks and patches of ice just waiting to send off-guard hikers tumbling.

Climbing Cameron was much more work than I had anticipated, knowing it is not an official peak. It may not have a big enough drop in the Lincoln saddle, but it more than makes up for the shortfall on the Democrat side. Cameron seemed to go on and on and on forever. Feathers of windblown ice along the west-facing rocks were about the only saving grace.

Cameron's summit felt like the moon, flat and bare. Lincoln loomed on the skyline and looked daunting after the just-completed ascent. We crossed a small snowfield to traverse the saddle, and Lincoln was actually fun. I took the higher trail atop the dull knife-edge ridge on both the ascent and the descent and thoroughly enjoyed the mild altitude bumps as well as the breathtaking views down both sides. There were several more patches of snow to cross on the west side of the ridge, but I avoided them by staying on top of the sun-baked ridge.

Prayer flags on the western slopes of Lincoln caught my camera's eye while The Lizard searched for a space on the filled register to sign our names. We then enjoyed a quick lunch and basked in the glow of my first three peaks in a day. These are easy peaks, but snow and ice bump up the level of difficulty just a tad.

The huge summit of Bross also was like being on the moon. Snow and ice had melted everywhere the sun shined, and the temperature was actually warm and comfortable. Now began the worst part of the day, the ankle-twisting, rocks galore in your shoes, scree descent. I HATED going down Bross. If I ever do those peaks again, I'd rather reclimb Cameron or come down on the four-wheel drive road and hike all the way around the mountain back to my car than slide down the dirt and rocks again. Yuck!

We'd planned to tackle Buckskin next, but the hour was growing late, so we slurped a chilled Berry Blue SoBe, munched on mint Oreos and admired the orange, yellow and gold aspens tucked neatly in almost every stand along the two-hour US 285 trip north.
Mount Democrat

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