Nicholls greeted me at the Park ‘n Ride by saying “This may be our worst idea yet!” That “idea” was to hike as many 14ers as we could within a 24 hour period… it sounded great while sitting behind a desk at work. Attempting Nolans 14ers was a bust for this weekend due to crazy amounts of snow, so this seemed like a nice alternative. A last minute email to John (aka. The Cyborg) brought him along as well.
I wasn’t starting out well rested by only getting 3 hours of sleep Wednesday night working on a server virus at work. Thursday night yielded slightly better with 6 hours. I was up at 2am fearing I would miss my 2:30am alarm, so I got up and started pounding coffee. At the Morrison Park ‘n Ride at 4am, and loading Steve and John’s packs and bags of miscellaneous food and gear that may be needed. By driving between trailheads we had the advantage to pack, and repack, often.
We were able to drive all the way to the summer trailhead for Grays and Torreys peaks. The plan was to ascend Dead Dog couloir since the overnight freeze would make for (hopefully) perfect snow conditions. Boots on the ground at 5:05am and we were making quick work on the trail up Steven’s Gulch. In less than an hour we were putting on crampons and helmets in the apron of the couloir. The snow was perfect for kicking steps all the way up. A 5’ deep runnel ran down most of the couloir and the occasional rock in the snow reminded us of potential projectiles coming off the rock walls. The snow was perfect and at 6:55am we were on the summit of 14,267ft Torreys Peak. For being such a popular peak, I love the variety of routes on this mountain. We had the summit to ourselves in perfect weather. Quickly down to the saddle and up a snow field put us onto the summit of 14,270ft Grays Peak at 7:30am, still before the hordes of hikers. We descended the standard route boot skiing and glissading where we could and passing a dozen or so hikers, back at the truck at 8:40am. Two peaks down.
We drove along I70 and through Breckenridge, arriving at the Quandary Peak trailhead. We left wet socks on the dashboard, changed clothes, and hit the trail with light packs at 9:55am. Surprisingly my legs hurt a little and I was breathing heavily. The problem was that I was trying to keep up with John, and as soon as I tuned down my own pace, I was in a comfortable groove. We passed plenty of people heading up and down. A curious mountain goat was following hikers along the trail and posing for pictures. We didn’t bring snowshoes along, and fortunately did not need them, despite there being plenty of snow above treeline. John was heading down while I neared the 14,265ft summit of Quandary Peak and I could go no higher at 11:35am, a respectable 1hr and 40mins after leaving the truck. I took a seat in some rocks and stuffed Fritos and cookies in my pie-hole while waiting for Steve. Another goat was hanging around up here too. We hurried down, jogging in places, arriving back at the truck at 12:55pm. Three peaks down.
Drive to Kite Lake trailhead, repeat. Snow drifts stopped us about a half mile short of the actual trailhead and we started hiking at 1:45pm. Looking at the snow on Mt Democrat we realized how much the soft snow was going to suck. Steve had an epiphany that we should go up Mt Bross first since it was mainly dry, his best idea ever! Across a stream, through some snow, up, up, up. I was feeling perfectly in my element at this point and enjoying every second. My heart truly sings in the mountains. Along the last thousand feet of Mt Bross, what is usually a loose mess of ball bearing-sized rocks, was dry and solid this time making the hiking quite easy. We arrived on the breezy summit of 14,172ft Mt Bross at 3:15pm. A quick break then we kept going. A few snow fields cooled off our feet (aka, soaked our shoes) and we arrived at 14,286ft Mt Lincoln at 3:55pm, 11 hours deep into this journey. It’s rare to be up here all alone, but there was no one except us and an old steel wheel. 14,238ft Mt Cameron is a gimme and we dropped down to the saddle towards Mt Democrat. Steve stated he would rather be in Pueblo then going up this 800ft slope. The snow was a sloppy mess with post-holing mixed with slippery rocks. Oh well, one foot in front of the other. At 5pm we arrived on the summit of 14,148ft Mt Democrat. John was enjoying lying in the dirt and I soaked in the views. Instead of taking the trail down, we bee-lined it down snow slopes with quickness. Towards the lake I was walking behind Steve cheering every time he post-holed. He cursed, I cheered. Back at the truck at 6:05pm we had relaxing beer and swabbed clothes/food/gear again. Seven peaks down.
The dirt road to Mt Sherman was longer then I remembered. We were happy to see the road clear almost all the way to the mine. Our feet were moving at 7:40pm knowing we would finish this peak in the dark. Mining roads, loose rocks, stream crossings, snow fields. There was just enough snow going up to the saddle for kicking easy steps. The saddle was a magical place… Alpenglow spread across the surrounding peaks as the sun disappeared, turning everything amazing shades of red. What a treat. John was on his way down and he waited for Steve and I to finish the cool snow-ridge to the summit of 14,036ft Mt Sherman at 8:50pm. We got out jackets and headlamps, though didn’t need to turn them on yet… an advantage to hiking on the longest days of the year! Retracing our steps down we had to occasionally check the GPS to make sure we were on the same path. My attention was tuned to not making any mistakes as I reminded myself that it was dark, at altitude, there was no one around, and we had been on the move for 16+ hours. Less than an hour later we were back at the truck at 9:40pm. Whew, eight peaks down.
Next we wanted to head further west towards Belford and Oxford, those plans got changed due to a detour on highway 285 that would’ve added a good portion of extra driving. Plan B was to head back towards Guanella Pass to Mt Bierstadt and Evans. This would also reduce the tired driving in the morning. We passed the time with music and chatting. Part of the way up Guanella Pass I suggested we just do Bierstadt given our slower pace, the technical nature of crossing the Sawtooth Ridge at night, and the significant amount of time that it would add. Steve and John were both on-board and had actually been thinking the same. This relaxed the mood a bit knowing we were on the home stretch. At the top of Guanella Pass at 11:45pm the Milky Way was painted across the sky. Off we went through the mud and across the boardwalks through the willows. We could hear the stream raging with snow melt and it was about 20ft wide at the trail crossing. We went upstream a bit and found a spot to jump across. John jumped and got one foot wet. Steve jumped and got both legs wet. I jumped and came up short, wayyy short. Instantly I was soaked up to my waist and falling to the left. There was nothing to grab and my entire left side went under while the shock of the freezing water set in. I don’t know how, but I was standing on the bank catching my breathing thankful that I didn’t get swept downstream. We weren’t that far from the truck and I could’ve turned around, but instead decided to strip down and wring out my clothes. I hoped that the warm air and body heat would dry me off quickly, and between the three of us we had extra clothes if needed. Above treeline we lost the trail once it was covered in snow, but knew the general direction to go. The wind had a chill to it and soon enough we were on the last few hundred feet of rock-hopping and frozen snow fields. At 2:00am we arrived at the 14,060ft summit of Mt Bierstardt. 21 hours on the move, 9th summit! Hot Damn!!! We each bundled up, cracked open our summit beers, and planned to get down ASAP. We took turns sliding and wiping out on the way down while wondering if the lights in the distance were headlamps, a campfire, someone needing help, or pure hallucinations. Back on the trail each step was one closer towards rest. John was pretty wiped out and claimed he was going to sell his hiking gear and would never do a 14er again. Did we find The Cyborg’s Kryptonite?! It was much easier to cross the stream this time because we didn’t care if we got wet and just charged right through. 3:35am got us back to the truck and ditching wet and dirty gear in our bags. I requested an hour nap before heading back to Denver, it took about three second to fall asleep in the drivers seat with my head against the windows.
At 4:30am we started the coffee-fueled drive home reminiscing about our journey. I already had some ideas how to do this again. I’m tremendously happy about how things went… weather was perfect, my legs felt great (frequent double laps up the Incline must help), my stomach didn’t bother me at all, etc.The grand total came to: 9 peaks, 22.5hrs, 32.4 miles, and 14,685ft elevation gain. Would I do it again? Absolutely.