Colorado 14ers – Wednesday, flight home

Greg and I had a great trip, including a bonus day, complements of high winds at the Aspen airport which delayed our departure until this morning. Our stay at the Limelight was restful and we’re back at the airport by 7am for a second shot at departing.  Everybody on the plane has checked the weather and knows the winds are around 5kts, so we’ll be out and going.

On the climb out a nice view of the Roaring Fork Valley and some possible future hikes

We love stats, so here’s what we captured for our eight day stay:

27 hours of trail time, 21.6 miles hiked, 10,000 ft elevation gain, 29 miles biking.

Greg converted the climb up Grays and Torreys: that’s 1,291 flights of stairs on the StairMaster, in thin air.  If that’s not enough already, you need to hike 1,291 flights back down (I’m keeping all this in mind for next year!)

So, our Colorado triathlon was 5 ft of swimming, 29 miles bike, and 21 miles on foot (a bit lopsided on the swim, but hey… the hot springs river pool was only so wide and we weren’t venturing out into the freezing main current…).

Total steps: 180,216 (averaging over 22,000 steps/day… hooray for the 10k steps/day crowd).

Thank you:
…  Greg for inviting me and doing all the mountain research and hiking!
…Lizzy and Ted for your wonderful hospitality.
…Janie for making all the travel arrangements, and
…Patti for holding down the fort!

Well, there are some future Colorado mountains to explore…  Princeton, Yale, Elbert…

I had a blast climbing these mountains, and of course, hindsight makes it feel so much easier.  I’m more than ready to tackle another 14er.

However, I am also humbled and inspired by those that have done so much more of this… my brother-in-law Greg has already hiked eight of these mountains and is on his way to ten, twelve or more.  Hats off Greg, I’m a rookie.

And then there are those beyond the mere mortals, those rare birds cut from entirely different stock. Meet Joe Grant and his amazing accomplishment just a few weeks ago, completing all 57 of the 14ers. In 31 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes. That’s 1.8 mountain peaks per day! He did this by leaving his driveway on bicycle, and peddled his way from trailhead to trailhead, no support crew, living on Snickers, Clif bars, and frozen gas station bean burritos. Should change his last name to Granite.

There are some peaks I’ll never attempt. If you have the nerve to watch, here’s a terrifying YouTube video crossing the Knife Edge to reach Capitol Peak. I wonder what time of day it was that Joe went across this…


Colorado 14ers – Monday, Maroon Bells and Marble

Today we are up and out by 6:30am for a morning hike in the 181,000 acre Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, part of the White River National Forest.

The trailhead begins near Maroon Lake and our destination today is Crater Lake, a nice 5.75 mile round trip with less than 1000ft of elevation gain.

We had just started when we were brought up short by a park employee warning us about a female moose on the trail ahead.  She diverted us down and around… (we never saw the moose, neither did the other hikers).

Maroon Lake has a nature walk, and this is where most of the park visitors stay. We shot up into the aspen forest.

Past my shoulder is Maroon Lake, our starting spot. Continuing down the trail we arrived at Crater Lake.  Greg commented that the lake is the lowest he’s seen.

In the picture below you see the route into the mountains… through that stand of trees, then left and into the shadow all the way down the valley.  The climb begins on the other side of the prominent rocky ledge.

Pulling back to a wider view, the summits come into view… twin 14,000 peaks.

The required photo op

Here are the two Maroon Bell 14ers… South Maroon Peak on the left, and the North peak on the right.

The peaks in this valley are outside my skill range… loose rock, steep slopes and exposure have made them the deadliest mountains in these parts.

We hiked past Crater Lake, checked out the camp sites, then back out of the wilderness and into progessively thicker clumps of casual hikers and non-stop talkers.  Although I expected it, I didn’t spot one selfie stick.

We stopped at Buttermilk to see the site for Lizzy and Ted’s wedding next June – what a nice venue for their mountaintop ceremony!

Back to the hotel to clean up and pack.  I was in the lobby for a bit, marveling at the mix of folks checking in, and received a quick education about the 2016 National Sheep Dog Finals happening this week, bringing the country’s top 150 dogs into the valley to show their skills in fetching, herding and managing sheep.  Some of the judges and a number of the teams are staying here, and Greg and I have watched them working these beautiful dogs in the hotel’s back yard grass. Here’s a YouTube from last year to get a sense of it.

Tonight’s dinner destination takes us 20 miles the other way around Mt Sopris to Marble… and killer BBQ at Slow Groovin’…

Mable is a tiny town, the last before the main road rises through the pass and drops into what becomes the Crested Butte side of the range.  The unique Yule marble in this region is quarried from within the mountain and shipped all over the world (the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is one example).
The patrons in Slow Groovin’ were a great mix… locals, hunters, fly fishermen, couple of ranchers, and us! The food was fantastic, and the aroma from the huge smoker outside wafted through the room every time the front door swung open.

Today’s Highlights:

Most dangerous creature: Park Employee

Best meal: Slow Groovin beef brisket, beans, slaw and skillet cornbread

Colorado 14ers – Sunday, Carbondale, Basalt and the Roaring Fork River

Bike riding today… Lizzy and Ted outfitted us with bikes and we rode the Rio Grande Trail, a rails-to-trail conversion that runs the length of the valley. Starting in Carbondale we rode south to Basalt, then back up to Willits for a burger at Sure Thing.

On the southbound loop the trail runs alongside the Roaring Fork river.

Basalt is 12 miles away, and holds their Farmers Market on Sunday, so we looked over the local wines, Palisade peaches, breads (and cookies which became a pre-lunch snack.)

Riding back up to Willit for lunch for a burger to refuel for the ride home

Well, Sure Thing was a sure thing – no wonder everyone wanted to stop.  The burgers are great, the fries are fresh and smoking hot and bonus points for a free soft-serve cone afterwards – as if you needed one after all that!

Yours truly adding to the blog (in a rather familiar Carbondale spot – PD)

Carbondale has this fantastic setting with Mt. Sopris defining everyone’s back yard.


Meals: Turkey burger at Sure Thing and popcorn and root beer floats with Lizzy and Ted.

Wildlife: Greg and Lizzy sight a fox along the trail.

Colorado 14ers – Saturday, American Lake

This morning we left Buena Vista, crossed the Continental Divide at 12,095 ft through Independence Pass and dropped down into the Roaring Fork Valley and Aspen.

Along the drive we stopped at Cascades and the Grotto.

Snow and springmelt carved these winding paths through the rock.

A bull moose finding breakfast.

Today’s hike took us to American Lake, part of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, a 181,000 acre area of Elk Mountains that was preserved in 1980.

The hike gains 2,129ft over 3.1 miles, ascending through an aspen forest and into meadows.  Tee-shirt weather today… full sun and a light breeze with the last scents of summer from a warm pine forest.

Little pockets of aspens are changing and we’re maybe 2 weeks from a full fall color burst.

This trail puts almost all the effort at the beginning with switchbacks bringing all the elevation gain early.  Those little zigzags on the screenshot upper right went right up the slope.  The last 2 miles is a pleasant gentle rise in the tree line and crossing a talus field to arrive at the lake.

We walked around to the far side, spotting cutthroat trout along the way, and sat with this view for our afternoon lunch.

Back down we go…



Meal of the day: Lunch on American Lake.  A very close second was an excellent meal at The Goat.

Best thing today:  great company – thanks Lizzy and Ted for hosting us on a terrific tour that covered the whole Roaring Forks Valley.

Colorado 14ers – Friday, Buena Vista, Mountain Spotting and Hot Springs

Okay, relax day, sort of…

First, a travel plug for Buena Vista… this little community is great… everything is just humming.  Several nice restaurants and coffee shops, brew pub, kayak park, outdoor gear stores, local events, Collegiate Peak 14ers on their doorstep, local hot springs on the Chalk River…. we’ll be visiting again.

Good morning to our breakfast visitors, they were walking around in the VRBO front yard

Our VRBO in Buena Vista was great

Today was recon day as we traveled the valley searching out trailheads for future hikes.  First up was Mt Yale which boasts a steady climb to the summit.

As we assessed the trail, a man came down, skipping and smiling as he came.  He’d driven down last night, car camped, hiked to the summit with friends and back down… all by 11am, and after chatting with us hopped in his vehicle for the return drive to Denver!?!! Okay, I need to be training a bit more for these adventures.
We took a couple hour break from mountain-gazing, stopping for lunch alongside the Chalk Creek at Mt Princeton Hot Springs, and treated ourselves to the historic bathhouse and hot springs. 

Although they pump the hot mineral water into three large swimming pools, Greg and I opted for the more natural setting, wading into the creek itself where a jumble of rocks create heated wading pools along the edge, some too hot initially to even walk through. Greg set about shifting rocks to allow the cold river in until things were perfect – a six foot round hot tub right in the ice cold river, with a beautiful blue sky.


Quote of the day: “If you’re afraid of change, leave it here.” Louie’s Ice Cream Shop tip jar, Buena Vista.

Colorado 14ers – Thursday Mts. Grays and Torreys

Yikes… talk about an O-Dark 30 start – we were up at 330am, checked out of the condo and arrived at the 11,280 ft trailhead by 515am.

You saw the trailhead in yesterday’s post… this morning it’s a world of silent black ridges silhouetted by a brilliant field of stars.

Up we go, and I learned the benefit of the early start on a predawn trail – the first hour’s labor simply disappeared into a swirl of  headlamps, crisp cold air and and the beginning glow of sunrise.  It was delightful… I forgot we were hiking steadily upward through 12,000 ft.

We watched dawn sunlight spread over the face of the range. Mt. Grays is on the left and looks rounded; Mt Torres to the right with the sharper ridge line. It doesn’t look it from here, but Grays is a few feet taller than Torreys.

Now we’re closer and I’m starting to get a sense of how tall these mountains are.
We could see mountain goats far away on the upper slopes, but this fellow waited to meet us as we ground our way up the switchbacks, probably wondering what on earth was taking us so long.

Euekra! We summit Mt Grays, 14,278 ft at 830am, 3hs into our hike.  Elevation gain: 3,000 ft over about 4 miles.

The saddle connects us to Torreys, so we drop down and then begin to ascend toward this second peak.  Here’s Greg trotting down the switchbacks.

The ascent to Torreys is steeper, with few switchbacks, so it’s a straight upward climb to 14,267 ft, and took us about an hour to reach the second peak.

The saddle and peak you see behind Greg’s shoulder is looking back at Mt. Grays.

The view at 14,000 ft is amazing, and the weather was spectacular – colbalt blue skies, no clouds, pleasant temps. We never used our full wind gear, but also chuckled at several college students we met on the trail wearing t-shirts.

We stopped about an hour later in a meadow near 12,000 for lunch with a great view up and down the valley.

Meal of the day: Lunch on the trail, in a meadow at 12,000 feet in t-shirt weather, cloudless blue skies

Beverage of the day:  Black Lager, Eddyline Brewery, Buena Vista

Colorado 14ers – Wednesday’s prep for the big assault tomorrow

We scouted the trailhead for Grays and Torreys this morning – we wanted to know where it was in the daylight and to make sure that the road to the trailhead was passable (tomorrow we plan to be arrive at 5am and start up in the dark, so nice to figure it out in advance).

Here’s Mt. Torreys. Grays is just out of sight.  The gameplan is to hike to Grays summit, then skip across the saddle to Torreys.  Looks easy…  ?

Found the trailhead, so now we need to find a lunch spot for today.  How about Herman’s Gulch Trail and a 3 mile hike to a little lake to enjoy our P&J:

This trail started in the tree line at 10,300ft, and followed an alpine stream.

Once we broke out of the treeline at 11,500ft, the view opened up.

Finally, the lake for lunch, 12,000ft, 2 hours to this point (making our lunch spot actually a 3pm snack)On the trail back down I was looking more closely at the meadow flowers

We heard that the whole trail was bright with flowers a few weeks ago… Colorado is enjoying a brief warm spell, and our weather has been great with passing clouds and zero rain.

We ran into this fellow who claims these trails as his no-cost Stairmaster.  We came off the trail at 5pm, back into town to wash up and walk over at sunset to sit out on the deck for dinner at Pug Ryans

They take their brewing seriously, devoting about a third of their indoor space to tanks.  Maybe Carolyn can weight in on their gear or beverages.

The alarm is set for 330am and our trip to the 14ers moves out of exhibition and into regular season play… we’ll see how the home team fares tomorrow!