5 14ers in 4 Hours

Okay, the title is not quite right, as you’ll see.  But this was the name of the trip report I came up with when I had only climbed 8 14ers, so think of it as an early step along my path in learning about the Colorado High Peaks.

Day One

I couldn’t find anyone to do anything for the weekend of July 20-21, 1997.  I decided I would use the time to bag the 4 of the 14ers in the Mosquito Range after flying back into town friday night.

Unfortunately, flying in from Chicago during the summer months can be tricky business.  An hour of local thunderstorms threw O’Hare airport into such disarray that my 5:45pm flight didn’t leave until 11:30pm.  As I sat in the terminal stewing, I worried that the lack of acclimatization might kill my plans for a fast-paced 4-banger.  The loss of sleep was something I was used to.

The flight arrived at DIA at 1:30am.  Desperate to get home quickly, I powered to my car, loaded my bags into the trunk, buckled my seatbelt, and turned the ignition key to no effect.  Nothing; the batter was dead.  I sat for a moment and did some clever late night thinking. Not wanting to deal with a bad battery while off in the wilderness, I decided I’d leave my car at the airport to deal with later.  I grabbed all my bags and hauled over to the rental counter to pick up a rental car for the weekend.  With the walking and shuttle busing and the driving, I got home and in bed by 2:45am.

Determined to proceed with my plans, I set two alarms for 4am.  How’s that for some unrealistic determination?

I woke with a start at 7am.  I bolted for my gear closet to find that my rain gear was in my car at the airport. I threw a sweater in the day pack with a liter of water and ran for the car.  Then I drove like a bat out of hell to reach Kite Lake at 9:30am.

After figuring out the unclear parking regulations, I grabbed my small pack and took off running.  The skies looked okay, but it wasn’t going to be one of those clear sky days.  I figured it’d just go as fast as I could and see what I could get done.

Mt Democrat fell quickly, but the weather was starting to look bad.  Two hours in the lightning started blasting around my ears and forced me to seek shelter under some rocks along the ridge connecting Democrat and Cameron.  I put on my fleece sweater  and waited for 20 minutes before I got too cold to stay put.  I waited for a lightning blast and then ran for the car.

When I reached the car, I stood in the rain while I hunted through my pack and pockets for my car keys but couldn’t find them.  No!  My mind raced to see where they fell out of my pack or my pocket, with the faint hope that I might retrace my steps to find them.  But then I knew.  I checked everything again before looking where I knew they were.  The driver door was locked, of course, so I had to lean over the hood to look down at the dashboard to confirm that the keys were still in the ignition.  And no other cars around. I’m scrrrrrrrreeeeeewwwwwweeeed!

With water running down my face and once again shivering with the cold water penetrating my fleece sweater, I dreaded the ordeal that lay ahead of me.  I was going to have to walk 6 miles in a thunderstorm and talk someone in Alma into letting me use their phone (no cell phone) to call a tow-truck, who I would have to convince that I really had money locked in my car 6 miles up a dirt road.  Oh, what a terrible, terrible mistake.

My mind replayed the events that led to such an error…I had re-parked the car to get into a legal parking spot after I had already gotten out to re-filled my water bottle.  Somehow, the confusion of re-parking the car had let me make a mistake I had consciously avoided since 1976. I had managed to leave the keys in the ignition after re-parking the car.  Then it occurred to me; if I forgot to get the keys, perhaps I forgot to lock the back seat door that I used to get my pack after the re-park.  I tried the door, AND IT OPENED!

It was a blessing from above.  I drove home at legal speeds to show my respect for my good fortune.

But I was determined to bag those peaks.  On the way home I resolved to return the next day to finish the other peaks if not do all 4. It was still a misery to drive  100 miles each way only to have to return the following day to finish what I was too stupid to complete the first time.

I was not going to fail again!

Day Two

On July 21, I left my house at 4:30am to redrive back to Alma and climb Mt Democrat, Mt Lincoln, Mt Bross, and Mt Cameron.

I was an expert in Kite Lake parking and wasted no time in finding a legal spot and carefully locking the doors using the car keys I held carefully in my hand.  Then I took off for Mt Cameron and the rest.  My plan was to do the other peaks first, and then, if the weather held, reclimb Mt Democrat so I could say I did them all in a day.

And, I was new to the 14er game and didn’t understand why Cameron wasn’t really a 14er when it was clearly higher than 14k feet. So, I decided, to hell with the establishment that can rule a 14er is not a 14er.  I would hit it twice before the day was done, and I would count it both times.  And, henceforth, I would measure my progress using the 58 14er list which included 4 peaks over 14k that do not measure up to the standards set by the 14er accountants.

Mosquito Range 14ers route map from Kite Lake

1) Mt. Cameron:

From the parking area, I followed the road past the lake and began the boring hike up the pile of rubble to the Democrat/Cameron saddle. From the saddle, I hiked northeast along the right side of Mt. Cameron’s west ridge. Near 13,500, I regained the ridge and continued until reaching the flat summit area.  A short hike took me to the Cameron summit (#1).

2) Mt. Lincoln:

Without stopping, I left Cameron and descend northeast toward Lincoln; the path was easy to see. The last little bit was rougher but still easy, and then I was standing on the Lincoln summit (#2).  There was another fellow there who left shortly after my arrival.  I took my time to enjoy the good views I had from Lincoln, but then I remembered how quickly the weather can change.  I took off after my new acquaintance, since he seemed to be heading toward Bross, about 1.5 miles away.

3) Mt. Bross:

I hiked southwest back to the Cameron-Lincoln saddle, and then turned south and followed a nice trail towards Mt. Bross. My pace was good and I was steadily gaining ground on my “rabbit.”  I reached the Cameron-Bross saddle (~13,800)’ and headed southeast heading straight for the summit.  I caught up with my “rabbit” just before the summit of Bross (#3).  We chatted and laughed a bit about our “race” before I said my farewells and got up to leave.  I still wanted to do Democrat before the weather hit.

4) Mt. Cameron:

From the Bross summit, I tried to contour around Cameron to reach the Cameron/Democrat saddle, but the terrain was too loose and too steep, so I went only a little out of the way to pass over the Cameron summit once again (#4) on my way to Democrat.

5) Mt. Democrat:

From the saddle I continued west up the ridge. After climbing about 200’ along the ridge, the trail turned left and traversed southwest across the slope. I followed a few small switchbacks that lead to the top of the slope. I was starting to feel tired at this point, and apparently looked tired too.  Some hikers descending from Democrat consoled me with the news that the summit was near.

I couldn’t think of what to say so I just said “thanks” and continued to the Democrat summit where I had been the day before (#5).  I stood on the summit for only a minute because I wanted to do the circuit in under 4 hours.

A fast run/walk down the talus and dirt got me past the friendly hikers and back to my car at 11:15.  It took me exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes to hike 7.5 miles and ascend 3,700 feet.  And it even sounded like a magnificent accomplishment until I did some real climbs in the years hence.  But even today, I feel like it was a good effort, especially the part where I drove to Alma from Boulder twice in the same weekend.

To this day, my only mountaineering paranoia is the fear of losing my car keys.

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