#14/15 – Climb a 13er; Climb a 14er

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:

Mt Bierstadt Hike – YouTube Video

 

#13 – Drive-in Movie Night

A few years back, I read an article about the rapid decline of drive-in movie theaters across the country.  At some point, I guess there were over 4,000 and now it’s down to around 300.  I grew up with both the South Drive-in and the Cinderella Twin Drive-in within a few miles of our house and I have great memories of both from my childhood and teen years.  After reading that article, I decided that I needed to make sure my kids had a chance to experience a drive-in before they went completely extinct.  Sadly, the Cinderella was torn down in 2007 in favor of some new condominiums.

Cinderella

Doing a little research, I found two theaters left in the Denver metro area.  One is the 88 Drive-in located in Commerce City.  The other is the drive-in at the Denver Mart which runs all summer.  That one was a lot closer, so we settled on that.  They were showing a double feature of the new Lion King and Aladdin.  We had to take two cars, but were able to park next to each other.  We setup my truck bed and Savannah’s hatchback to accommodate everyone.  The weather was a bit uncooperative.  There was lightning and thunder that surrounded us, but fortunately never got really close.  And we battled light rain all night.  But all-in-all, it was a lot of fun and I think the kids enjoyed it.  Although, at one point, Sydney said “Well, I see why they decided to build theaters indoors” with just a little bit of attitude.  🙂 

We only lasted through the first movie.  Because it didn’t start until after 9:00, the kids were wiped out and we all had work the following day, so we packed it in before watching Aladdin.  We really did have a great time and I’m sure we’ll be doing it again next summer!

Drive In Night

#12 – Celebrate My Parents 50th Anniversary

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I fully intended to post this on my folk’s actual anniversary, July 5th, but as usual, life got in the way and I dropped the ball.  Anyway….

My parents were married on July 5th, 1969 in what I believe was a bit of a whirlwind.  They ran off to Las Vegas and got married at the Little White Chapel right on the strip.  In fact, it was so fast they didn’t even stop for a picture!  Legend has it that Elvis officiated the ceremony, but that cannot be substantiated at this point.  However, could that be why there are no pictures???   Anyway, they scooted back to Denver, and as my Mom already had twin girls that were 4 years old, they quickly began their lives together.  I came along in February of the following year and our family was complete!

Ask anyone who has been married for more than a few years, and they will quickly tell you that it’s not always sweet wine and red roses.  Marriage takes work; a lot of work.  I think most of us don’t realize that until we are knee-deep in it.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, I don’t think people are willing to put in the work.   It seems like we’ve made everything disposable.  I’m incredibly fortunate and blessed that I’ve been surrounded by people who have shown me what marriage should look like, and it all starts with my parents.  I watched through the years as they loved, supported, laughed and cried with each other and above all, made sure my sisters and I and all of their grand-kids were always at the top of their minds.  Sometimes they would go without just so we wouldn’t and it took me a long time to see that.  Much longer than it should have.    

Mom was insistent that we not have a big to-do over their anniversary, but my sister and I decided that 50 years was certainly worth celebrating.  So we had a small, family gathering to mark the occasion.  And, as usual, my Aunt Char, Aunt Linda and Aunt Sandy made everything look awesome.  Our friend Jodi did the catering and made a cake and we all had a great time.  I made a slideshow with some pictures and one of their favorite songs:

Dad and Mom – 50 Golden Years

#11 – Survive a Backpacking Trip

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I love the outdoors.  Always have and always will.  I think you can take the most beautiful cathedral in the world and it can’t hold a candle to the magnificence God paints in the wilderness, especially the Rockies.  I’ve always felt closer to God the farther I get from civilization.  When you are able to stand out in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night and see billions of stars, it can be overwhelming to the point of terror.  It does make you realize how small and insignificant you are.  To me, however, it gives me a sense of peace knowing that an infinite God that created each one of those stars knows me, loves me, and has a plan for my life.  It puts things in perspective for me and helps to drown out all the noise of the world, if only for a few moments.

I’ve been wanting to take a stab at backpacking again for a few years, but haven’t been able to make it happen.  The last time I put a pack on and went “camping” was in the Marine Corps over 25 years ago.  So when my friend Dave suggested I tag along on his yearly excursion with him, his cousin and his two boys, I jumped at the chance.  Initially, it was just going to be me, but it worked out that Matt was able to go as well, and I’m glad he did.

We were extremely fortunate that my Father-in-law lent us his jeep, as that knocked about 3 miles of relatively ugly hiking on a 4×4 trail.  After 2 trips up and down the trail to shuttle everyone, we got underway.  We immediately started the ascent up Music Pass.  It was a difficult climb, but certainly doable.  Matt and I had to make a few adjustments to our packs, but once we reached the top, the view was spectacular and quickly made us forget about the hike up.  We descended into the valley with the intention of crossing a creek and hiking up to the lower lake.  Well, with the unprecedented amount of snow this year, the runoff turned what was typically a little creek into a roaring river.  Our fearless leader donned his sandals and braved the frigid water (twice) to try to find a crossing, but with youngsters in tow, we decided against it.  So we kicked out a friendly herd of mountain goats and camped in the nearby valley.  We had a good dinner, a nice little camp fire, sang “Happy Birthday” to Matt to celebrate his 13th birthday and then called it a night.

The next morning, we decided to hike to the upper lake as Dave had never been up there.  We grabbed our fishing poles and started the trek.  We were able to cross the creek on a makeshift log-bridge.  Almost immediately, we were greeted by snow; lots and lots of snow.  The 2-mile hike to the lake took us almost two hours as we had to contend with snow drifts, muddy conditions and constantly losing the trail.  Once again, the views were spectacular, but unfortunately, the fishing was not.  With at least 3/4 of the lake still frozen, the fish were having none of it, so we gave up after about 30 minutes.  We talked with several other people who said they were having no luck either.  We hiked back to camp, grabbed lunch, watched the mountain goats play a little, then packed up and headed to Dave’s family cabin for dinner and a night’s rest before heading back home on Sunday.

All-in-all, it was better than I expected.  We learned a lot about what should have brought and didn’t, and what we brought that should have stayed at home.  Matt had a great time, and even though he struggled at points, he was able to push himself and I think gain more and more confidence.  Anytime I see my kids grow stronger, gain confidence and realize they are capable of more than they think, it makes my heart swell with pride.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to continue doing this.  I’m already planning our next trip and can’t wait to explore some of less-visited areas of this beautiful state!

I put together a little YouTube video slideshow of our adventure which you can find here: