Wait a minute. That’s two off the list in one event? That’s cheating right? Well, not really. Anyway, it’s my list and I can do what I want. So let me explain….
I’ve lived in Colorado for most of my life and I’ve done tons of hiking and climbing, but I’ve never “officially” logged a 13er or 14er. I know I’ve climbed 13,000 foot mountains before, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. And I can say with all honesty that I have never conquered a 14,000 foot mountain. My highest official climb was Mt. Fuji in Japan, and that comes in at 12,388 feet and I did that twice while stationed over there.
A few weeks ago, I put a date on my calendar to climb James Peak, which is a 13er just outside of Denver. I started prepping for that and a day or two before the hike, I decided that I was feeling pretty good and should just go straight for the 14er, so I planned out my hike for Mt. Bierstadt. That is listed as one of the easiest 14ers (as if there is such a thing), and decided that I would make a game-time decision on the morning of the hike as I had to drive the same route to get to either peak.
On that morning, I was feeling really good and blew right past the exit for James peak and headed up Guanella pass to Bierstadt. I arrived at the parking lot at 7:15 and it was already full. My plan was to summit in 3 hours and get back down by noon or so in time for lunch. When I stepped out of the car and saw the actual summit, I had my first bout of second-guessing myself. Those mountains always appear much larger in life than they do on a YouTube video or an Instagram picture. Determined to not waste the beautiful day, I set out and decided to eat that elephant one bite at a time. The first mile was pretty easy and then I quickly started gaining altitude. I created a series of little goals, like picking out a cairn of rocks or a small patch of grass, hiking to that, and then taking a brief rest, 10 or 15 seconds, and then moving to the next goal. I interspersed the mini breaks with a few longer breaks where I would drop my back and sit for a few minutes. At 13,000 feet, I was feeling really good. I checked that box on my list and kept pushing on.
The last quarter mile to the summit is a bit of a bear. There is no defined trail and it requires scrambling over large boulders to get to the top. They aren’t called the Rocky Mountains for nothing! At this point, I was really starting to feel the thin air. Breathing was hard and I could feel my heart pounding in my head. I slowed way down, to the point where I would take 5-10 steps and then rest for a 10 seconds. I finally reached the summit at exactly 4 hours after taking off. Not impressive in the least, but I felt a brief swell of pride that I conquered that peak and didn’t die doing it! I soaked up the incredible views and then quickly remembered that I’m not a fan of heights and decided that it was time to turn around and head back down.
Going down is always much faster, but not necessarily easier. My knees don’t work like they once did, so I had to really focus on my steps so as not to injure myself. Thank God for hiking poles! There were a couple of close calls, and I did roll my ankle once, but thankfully not too severely. About halfway down the mountain, I ran into a herd of mountain goats. Almost unbelievably, I’ve lived here all my life and have never seen one. Until the last month, in which I’ve now had three separate interactions with them!
I made it down in just over 2 and 1/2 hours. I certainly didn’t set any records, but I felt really good, albeit extremely exhausted. Going up, I played leap frog with a group of people from Kansas City. A few of them made it to the top before me and they actually looked a little bit surprised that I made it. Coming down, I ran into a few people still making the ascent and if they had thought bubbles over their heads, it would have said something like “Damn, if Lumpy can make it up this mountain, I damn sure know I can!” It’s nice to know that I can still surprise a few people, and maybe in my own unique way, motivate them a little. Either way, I’m happy I did it, but this might be the only 14er I ever climb. God has taught me well that I should never say never, so I dare not say I’ll never climb another, however, all things being equal, I’d much rather hike in a forest next to a river, or climb to see a waterfall, than tackle another mountain. I still would like to climb James peak, and there are a few others, but none are high on my list, at least not for the foreseeable future.
I jumped into my truck and headed back home just before the afternoon storms started. I decided to reward myself with a Colorado classic…Beau Jo’s Pizza! Don’t judge, I earned it. Here is a slideshow with some pictures: