Culebra Peak - 14,053 feet
Culebra Peak - 14,053 feet
|Another Flatlander Completes the 58 Grand Slam 06252021 PART 1|
In the Beginning – praise and thanks be to God for the creation and the majesty of the peaks, valleys, lakes, streams, forests, tundra, grasses, flowers and the animals that inhabit the High Country, and for being with me on this journey.
Thanks to my family and friends that have been a source of both encouragement and comfort on this journey.
The journey has been a long one. I have been going to Colorado since Middle School and annually with my wife, Barbara, since 1969 spending around 2 weeks per year – over the 52 years of hiking I guess I qualify for being a 2 year resident of Colorado! Not a bad place for a flatland Kansas boy who has spent his adult life living in Lee’s Summit, Missouri (look there, there is a Summit in Missouri!).
These trips to Colorado have always including getting out doors and hiking. In the early years my wife’s family had a cabin in Estes Park. The hikes in Rocky Mountain Park with my father-in-law and the rest of the family always led to an alpine lake where the late morning and early afternoon were spent fishing, having lunch and a Coors. There are not very many trails in the Park that I have not hiked, especially if they led to a lake. There is a reason this is a National Park as its’ beauty is unmatched.
My in-laws, after many years in Estes, relocated to the Summit County area – too many people were on the trail in RMNP and there were new areas to explore. Much the same as Estes, the summer visits were filled with hikes in the county with my father-in-law and family that ended at an alpine lake. There are not many trails in Summit County I have not hiked. This is a special area as we were blessed with two sons that enjoyed both the hike and the fishing. The Gore Range Trail is a favorite – it is dotted with alpine lakes that can be day trips or overnights.
My in-laws sold the cabin and settled in their Colorado Springs home which brought another area to explore and hike. Once again, there are not many trails I have not hiked in and around the Springs area, especially if there was a lake at the end of the trail. I have made many trips through Palmer Park and Garden of the Gods just for the sake of hiking and photos.
Then it happened. I had a friend from work (Daryl Taylor) that had been hiking 14ers for several years with his friend Dale Bain. Dale Bain, because of his love for hiking, the mountains and God, started a men’s fellowship hiking group called Men of Colonial (MOC) (Colonial Presbyterian in Kansas City/Overland Park) who have summited a 14er and more recently 13ers every year since 2003, only missing the 2020 COVID year. Daryl and Dale had also been expanding their pre and post MOC hiking trips and what an opportunity – hike with friends and camp overnight in the high country! The first trip was to ride the Silverton-Durango Train to Chicago Basin and summit multiple 14ers. There were so many bonuses on this first trip. Windom Peak was my first 14er, summited on August 5, 2004. I fished a high country stream and caught my supper. In fishing terms, I was hooked. It was the start of a tremendous journey in the high country I love. The finishing 14er was Culebra Peak which was summited on June 25, 2021 along with close friends that I have enjoyed multiple summits with – Gene Porter, Alan Horn and Grant White. My other hiking partners decided I was not worth the $150.00 fee!
I have been very blessed to have so many mountain experiences, so many family supporters and so many hiking companions. I am also blessed to have the God given mental and physical skills and inclination to stay in shape to be able to have these experiences. Hiking for 17 years on the 14er summit checklist has a story for each summit, but I only want to share my experiences on several special summits.
My first summit was Windom Peak. There were 9 of us that made the trip. Three first timers (including me) and 6 experienced 14er hikers. The target was Eolus for the group and their recommendation was the first timers should hike Windom (which they had all done) because of the exposure on the Eolus cat walk. One of the experienced hikers was going to go with the 3 first timers. Two of the newbies decided to go to Eolus (and they made it). My hiking partner and I started out for Windom, but my partner had to bail early in the hike due to foot blisters from the hike into the basin the day before. I did my first 14er solo. I enjoy telling the story, now that I have made so many summits, that my friends did not trust me and would not let me hike with them! The second day summit was planned for Sunlight, but a fog covered the whole basin and we were not able to hike. The trip out on the final day to catch the train was bright Colorado sunshine. The take aways from the trip – first please listen to your friends that have the mountain experience – they do know that 14er summits are special and not for everyone. I am glad I followed their advice. The second take away is that Mother Nature does not always cooperate with your plan. Listen to Mother Nature, the mountains will be there tomorrow and the next day. Don’t take your chances in adverse weather.
El Diente Peak was summited on July 24, 2007. The plan was to traverse to Mount Wilson, but weather forced us off the traverse. While we made it down to the basin, we were pelted with rain and a vicious lightning storm. We did not get the rain suits and ponchos out early enough and got totally soaked. This prevented the planned hike the second day to Wilson Peak while we dried out, especially the boots. Maybe this was a forewarning about El Diente, but I went back with a group and summited again August 7, 2008. The way down was an adventure (I have a friend that says if there is not a near death story it is not an adventure). I slipped at the top of the couloir and, after several failed attempts to self-arrest, I tumbled and slid several hundred feet until some specially placed rocks abruptly stopped me. Terrible accident, but after the fall so many miracles happened that just don’t make sense, other than Someone was watching out for me. First, no broken bones other than couple of cracked ribs. Second, very limited bleeding other than around cheeks, eyes and ear – thank God for helmets. The body eventually turned into one solid bruise. But I was hurting. My mountain experience said I needed to get down and miraculously I was able to walk (shuffle) down the mountain side. There was an experienced hiking couple camped at 12,000 feet (he was training for Kilimanjaro) – no one camps in the open above timberline! They saw my struggle coming down, took me in and warmed me in their tent and sleeping bags. Two of our group were high school Eagle Scouts – Zach Taylor and Evan Glidewell. They took coordinates of the tent and hurried down the mountain (even after a summit) and made the 911 phone call to get the mountain rescue assembled. Daryl Taylor and Dale Bain went further down the mountain to our camp site to retrieve my tent, sleeping bag, dry clothes and provisions for the night as we did not know whether rescue would happen before sunset. A hiker next to our camp was a ski medic who returned with Daryl and my provisions – his take was that I was in pretty good shape for the described fall, the only big issue was internal bleeding, especially from the ear. He could not tell if that was internal or external bleeding. Daryl set up my tent. By this time, I could not stand up and had to crawl to the tent. The couple that took me in and shared their sleeping bag did a great job of warming me. Did I mention whole day was in low cloud cover? Relief came over me when I heard the rescue helicopter enter the basin just before sunset, only to hear them leave – couldn’t they see the tent? They had issue with the clouds, but then they returned and landed. While they were checking me out, I heard their radio say that if they could not get me out in 5 minutes they were to return without me. The cloud opening they experienced was closing fast and they needed to move – and they did. I was on the helicopter and being transported to Durango with the sun setting. I was very fortunate and very blessed. I had a support group of friends and fellow hikers not only on the mountain, but also at home that worked in notifying my family and helping them. End result, I flew home from the hospital in two days with my wife, body fully bruised and returned to work in two weeks! The take away here is that I was in pretty good shape and that helped in survival of the fall. So always work at staying fit and in shape. And helmets are great! This incident also gave me my hiking name – Chopper and my 14er name of ElDChopper.
Snowmass Mountain first summit attempt was July 31, 2009 (yes, 1 year after the El Diente fall – you have to get back up on the horse and ride it). Our group was weathered out 600 feet below the summit, but I found one of the most beautiful settings in the mountains with a trout filled Snowmass Lake at the camp site, and an awesome hike into the Lake. The second attempt of Snowmass was August 1, 2013, the group I was with, all experienced hikers, committed a hiker’s sin in that none of us came with our maps, even though we all had maps. We thought we were headed up the right mountain, only to summit North Snowmass and look back to the south and say “that mountain looks higher”. The take away is to always have your map with you – it does not do any good in the tent. I finally did a solo summit of Snowmass, with map in hand August 1, 2017. The hike in and the setting with the lake is my favorite of all the 14ers. I would return just for that hike to an alpine lake, fish, reminisce and have a Coors.
Ellingwood Point and Blanca traverse on August 5, 2011 - Daryl Taylor, Dale Bain and I went up Como Lake Road and to camp for summit of Ellingwood Point (Daryl and Dale as they had already summitted Blanca) and Blanca. On the way up we were warned that there was a bear issue at the camping area and the bear was causing all sorts of problems with the 14er Initiative Trail Crew (and shout out to all the great work they do) camp site. We did not get much sleep that night as every sound was probably the bear. We came through night unscathed, but while we were doing our breakfast we saw the bear stalking our camp site. He retreated and so we went to hang our bear bags for the day – and the bear had circled our camp site and had Dale’s daypack in his mouth. We did what we were supposed to do – yelled and started chasing the bear (knowing I was not fast enough to catch him). Sure enough, he ran by the 14er Initiative camp and they too, yelled and started chasing and the bear lost the backpack going through bushes. With bear tear and bear yuk wiped off, we proceeded with our hike. Arriving back at the camp site we found the bear had returned and got our bear bags down, ripped them open and consumed all our food. Dale and Daryl were waiting for me when I returned from Blanca summit with grins on their faces – after a twofer I got to hike all the way down Como Lake trail to our car, eat at Sonic, and set up camp at the Sand Dunes. One long day but with a great story on the bear chase.
Pyramid Peak summit on July 26, 2014 ended up being a solo hike as my hiking partner was not ready to climb following a successful summit of Maroon Peak on the preceding day. Others were on the route that day. The hike up and then hike down were proceeding smoothly until I started being followed by some mountain goats. No big deal until I heard part of the mountain side rocks heading my way – even though the goats did not yell “ROCK”, I got down and hugged the mountain side until most of rocks passed, only to look up at the trail and mountain goat and catch the last golf ball size rock on my lower jaw. I believe the mountain goat 20 feet up was laughing. As a solo hiker that day, I relied on my own bandaging techniques to cover up, and apparently did not do a very good job as my walk on the lower trail at Maroon Lake got lots of stares and questions if I was all right. This trip ended up in the Leadville Emergency Room where 7 stitches were needed just below the lip. The take away from this is not to trust mountain goats above you and give plenty of time for rocks to clear before looking to see where they came from.
Capitol Peak Summit on August 11, 2020 with Gene Porter - great hike to Capitol Lake and the fishing was great! It was important to have my Colorado fishing license in my pocket. The climb was breathtaking both aerobically and challenging. Why did we wait until the end of our journey to climb the hardest peaks? But the billfold in the back pocket of my hiking pants, during one of my preferred down climb buttslides, came out when the pocket ripped but I did not know it. We gave a little search that afternoon, then returned the next morning to see if we could spot a red billfold. The money in it did not matter - credit cards and fishing license matter! When Gene and I were at our camp for our summit of Mount Wilson on August 14, 2020 I received a call from REI at Denver – someone had found the billfold and saw the REI credit card (which is very much a conversation piece when I use it live) and decided to return it to REI. I got the billfold back! The take away here is there is no Starbucks on Capitol Peak (or any other peak other than Pikes or Evans). So, leave the billfold in the backpack!
END OF PART ONE OF REPORT
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