Date Climbed: October 3, 2014
Elevations: Democrat (14,148), Cameron (14,238), and Cross (14,172)
Partner: Salix (dog)
Even now I look back on this hike as a lesson well learned. From it I took two very important skills which has helped me tremendously over the years (which you'll soon see).
It was very early into my 14er career, and I had learned from a guidebook I owned that it was possible to achieve a whopping four 14ers in a single day! Looking back now, I realize this is still no small feat, but definitely sounds more impressive than it really is. Having knocked out a hard fought Oxford and Belford where Salix and I had gotten lost, I decided to take my pup with me into the snowy month of October (well, I guess that depends year to year in Colorado).
A recent snowstorm had covered the high peaks in snow. Although the day called for sunny skies, I had yet to learn my lesson about the ferocious winds of the fall and winter. Entering completely unprepared, I was just able to make the upper trailhead of Kite Lake. With nothing but light thermals, ski pants, and thermal top and uninsulated ski jacket, I took on the 14ers for the first time in their semi-winter blanket.
The hike to the top was relatively straightforward, and I remember it being an easy hike up until I reached the saddle connecting Democrat and Cameron. At this point, the winds took on a ferocious speed. Having no gloves (lesson #1), I immediately tucked my poles under my armpits (they were simple ski poles) and shoved my hands in my uninsulated pockets.
It was relentless. Up to this point, I had never even considered turning around on a 14er before. Sure, I did not make the hike over to Torreys, but I did not consider that "turning around" as I had made Grays, and I had never really intended to hike over to Torreys that day anyway. But this, this was a whole new ballgame for me from summer 14ers. The wind was scary strong and scary cold. So cold, in fact, that by the time I had reached the summit of Democrat, my uninsulated Camelback had frozen solid (lesson #2- use water bottles)!
It was at this point, I finally came to understand why these small shelters had been constructed on the top of every 14er- the wind (I'm a slow learner)! After a long break of huddling with my dog for warmth, we set out for the next objective; the long, flat plateau of Cameron Peak.
Rather than letting up, the winds seemed to intensify with every step. Soon, they became so strong, I would occasionally have to kneel down with my face to the ground in order to avoid being blown over. Salix seemed to do okay in the wind, although she was often push around as well. The picture above shows just how bad it was- Salix couldn't even come over to me to take the quick picture!
Another solo traveler met me on the summit of Cameron, obviously on his way back from Lincoln. I asked him what the winds were like over there, and he said probably a little worse. He was on his way down, opting not to continue over to Bross. With this in mind, I took a longing look at Lincoln, knowing I would have to come back for it someday. Yet, as cold as I was, I had no choice; if I had to finish safely, I needed to tag Bross and get out of there.
Rumor had it that the summit of Mount Bross was closed, and considered trespassing. Weather or not the owner really cares, I'll leave that for others to decide, and weather or not we went to the summit will remain a mystery. Suffice it to say, Bross is checked off the list.
The wind fought us still, but at least it was at our backs by this point. Once on Bross' west slopes, the down climb became treacherous. It was steep, loose, and snowy (the first of many that would come). Not having had water now for several hours, my head was pounding. With my hands frozen, I was unable to really use them for balance.
Salix, of course, seemed to have no problems, and was curious as to why I was moving so slow. Every once in a while, she'd turn back around and run back to me, give me a sniff, and then run back down, hoping I'd move at her pace. This was the early years! Salix, full of energy and enthusiasm and me slower than a turtle. It would be this way, really, until Aconcagua. At that point, a total shift from how I treated climbing and hiking would ensue, and it would become a sport for me rather than a hobby. Nowadays, I often end up pushing Salix harder, although she loves it all the same.
After an arduous feat of down climbing the rottenness that is Bross, I stumbled to my truck half frozen to death. A visitor (didn't seem like a hiker as I remember it) passed me in his truck and asked how the hike was. My speech was so slurred, I could barely understand myself. I think he got the message though, and continued on down the road.
Once back safely inside the cab, I cranked the heat to full blast and sat there warming my hands until I could finally feel them again. From this partially successful, yet important lesson-learning day, I took many things to heart. One, dress warm, NEVER leave layers behind. Two, wear gloves. Three, use water bottles and keep them warm. Four, bring snowshoes (later skis) in the winter. These lessons would stick with me for the rest of my days, and I am grateful I learned them before encountering any serious problems on my adventures. With that, I had knocked off three more 14ers from my list.