Hiking to the top of a 14,000 foot peak may sound exotic to some but to Coloradans it’s as common as mowing the lawn. There are 54 mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet and everyday there are people slowly but steadily making their way up a trail in an effort to “bag” another peak. Some even set out to climb all 54. I, on the other hand, would like to make it to the top of just one.
In 2007, inexperienced and naive, we attempted Mt. Bierstadt. We were 3/4 of the way to the top when the sky turned black and sheets of rain began to fall. We arrived back at the car hours later, cold and soaked, hoping to never have an experience like that again. The next day we spent hundreds of dollars on gear at REI. Rain coats, waterproof pants, gor-tex hiking boots, hiking poles, etc. To this day, we still own all the gear we purchased that day. (If you ever wonder why that stuff is so expensive, it’s because it works and it lasts.) While I would have liked to make another attempt right away, I was also dealing with getting altitude sickness around 13,000′. After driving to the top of Mt. Evans (14,240′) and feeling sick the moment I stepped out of the car (no physical exertion needed), I gave up on the idea of ever hiking a 14er.
Since then we’ve hiked to the top of smaller mountains and it has only wet my appetite to stand on top of one of Colorado’s renowned 14ers. In the 7 years since that hike, I’ve gotten healthier, stronger and more fit so this year I decided that it was time to make another attempt.
Last week we arrived at the Quandry Peak trailhead at 11am. You’d assume we’ve never heard the Colorado hiker’s adage “off the trail by noon”. Although that is a major Colorado fail that I’m a little embarrassed to admit, the weather outlook for the day only showed a 10% chance of thunderstorms. We were feeling confident it was a good day for a late start and a successful summit. From the parking lot at about 10,500′ elevation, we set out for the 7 mile round-trip hike that would take us up to 14,265′ elevation.
The views in every direction were breathtaking.
The clouds, for the time being, remained non-threatening.
I’m not sure what we saw more of on the trail-people or mountain goats.
As we neared 13,000′ we both started to feel unpleasant. We took a break to eat and hydrate and immediately felt better.
A mother and her young, blending right in to the rocks:
Our goal, the summit of Quandry Peak, loomed in the distance. As we made our way thru the rock at what felt like a snail’s pace, the top of the mountain felt SO far away.
And here’s where it ends. We knew we got a late start and that having to turn back because of weather was a real possibility. From being rained out on Mt. Beirstadt to the closest encounter we hope we’ll ever have with lightning on top of the Flat Tops, we’ve learned to not mess around with thunderstorms or any possibility of it. That cloud you see below with the dark bottom, we stood and watched it for about 10 minutes and it grew quite dramatically in that time. We were 3/4 of a mile from the top. We were above 13,000′ and feeling well. I was so happy to not be feeling any signs of altitude sickness. It was not an easy decision to make. However, we’re not the naive hikers we were 7 years ago. Weather in the mountain changes at a rapid pace and when it turns you don’t want to get caught in Mother Nature’s wrath, especially on a mountain where there is no where to hide. We reluctantly turned around and made our way down the mountain.
On the way up we’d seen that many of the trees had this unknown substance on them. On the way down we realized it was wool from the mountain goats that were foraging around the tree trunks.
It was incredible how many mountain goats were along and on the trail on the way down. I enjoyed watching them from a distance but a few got a little too close for comfort. In the above:right photo, Mark clicks his hiking poles to distract the goat while I walk around the opposite side.
Our second attempt at the elusive 14er may have failed but it was a phenomenal hike nonetheless. Colorado’s mountains offer a beauty unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Just having the opportunity to surround ourselves with such beauty makes us grateful to be alive, the mountain will always be there to hike another day.