Part 2 Is On!

Longer, Bigger, Harder!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This year's 14er project started July 25th and concluded on August 7th. Jeff Sanders and I traveled the state of Colorado seeking out adventures at altitude. Our plan is below (although it changed along the way!). Check back to see our thoughts on life, marmots, and dutch ovens.


Planned Date



Elevation Gain




Fri 25





Guanella Pass


Sat 26

Holy Cross




Half Moon (Tigiwon)


Sun 27


6.5 – 13



Castle Creek*


Mon 28





Maroon Bells TH**


Tues 29






Weds 30

Wilson Peak




Silver Pick Basin


Thurs 31





Yankee Boy Basin


Fri 1





Silver Creek/ Grizzly Gulch


Sat 2






Sun 3





Matterhorn Creek


Mon 4






Tues 5





Denny Creek TH


Weds 6


6.25 – 13



Mt. Princeton Road


Thurs 7

Pikes Peak




Crags Campground


12 hiking days

14 peaks

106.5 – 121.75


14er Project Part 2 Pregame

After needing to talk myself into the 14ers project last year, trying to get ready for this year's project could've gone one of two ways. Either, I would fall prey to that little voice saying, "Do you really want to give up sleeping in, bike rides to the coffee shop, and lounging in the grass reading books?" or I could say heck yes. I'll give it all up! While my summer leading up to these two weeks were very different than last summer, my motivation to get out and wander needed no cajoling. Last summer was solitary and the 14er project felt like a personal expedition to climb mountains and find open spaces to think. This summer, I planned, got excited for and set off to the hills with Jeff Sanders: a climbing partner and partner in crime. There are many things that can test a relationship and two weeks in the car, sweating, farting, waking up early, eating cold food, and most importantly walking outside, could certainly qualify as a test. Without ruining the stories that follow, I can tell you we passed the test and found ourselves in fits of laughter, moments of anxiety, learning situations, chased by mosquitoes, and on the other side: even better friends and partners.

Why does the pirate like to climb 14ers?
All of the arrrrrrrduous hiking!

Day 1: 7/25/08: Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt: 14,264/14,060


9.5 miles

West Ridge from Guanella Pass

Company: Jeff Sanders

Wildlife: deer, elk, marmot, pika, squirrels

3900 feet

Start: 5:15 am

Summit: 9:45 am/2:15

Stop: 4:00 pm


Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 11:00 am

Thunder/rain – 12:00 pm

Another year, another project. Climbing will be different this time around. The peaks are longer and harder and rather than going it solo, I will have a climbing partner in Jeff for the duration. Oftentimes, big events begin with some extravagant kickoff. In our case, commenced captive in the car. In the rain. Under volatile cloud cover. A no-cook dinner of left-over pizza accompanied by route finding through a drop-spattered windshield and a misty curtain was followed by wonder of wonders! Our big send off! Bon voyage – champagne broken on the hull of our two-week project: two arcs of promise tied neatly over the basin of Guanella Pass. A double rainbow emerged from the condensation, linking two mountains in front of us, linking two years of climbing, and two people set on the satisfaction found only after time together doing deserved deeds.

The morning always arrives too soon on these climbing days. Alpine start! Ha! Why doesn’t Colorado weather cooperate with a brunch start rather than pre-breakfast starts? Despite the bleary eyes, we were able to disengage from the car trunk and head out into the willows pre-dawn. These willows now, they star as the villains in all 14er guides of climbs from this basin. I must admit, the guides seemed a bit melodramatic, however, soon after a left turn at a large boulder, the willows came to life as a giant, wind-powered, nature-made carwash. The willow limbs seemed to shrink together at the precise moment of our passage – on demand, reaching, shimmying, rotating like giant scrubber brushes. I’ve heard that the road to hell is paved in good intentions and landscaped with willows. For eternity, we sloshed through boot sucking muck being washed continuously with last night’s rain. By a mile into our route-finding up to a gully to find access to Evans back side, we were bushed from bushwhacking: cold, soaked, abrased, tired.

This is no way to start the first hike of the first day! What we didn’t know then, we know now. The willows and the war we waged with them set us up to handle anything these climbs could throw our way. And on Day 1, throw they did. Patches of columbine too large to take in in one gaze, wet socks, frozen hands, soggy underwear, folks in motorcycle helmets at the top of a mountain, an elk hiding behind a rock (Jeff swears it was there!), the four hour scramble of the Class 3 Sawtooth traverse, electricity in the air, sore knees, sick stomachs – all those things that comingle to make experiences epic. So in this way, the first day did start with a bang – as all good events do (dinner, dancing, drinks, revelry). Our long day on the mountain provided something for everyone - a very real preview into the possibilities of the open trail.

Day 2: 7/26/08: Mount of the Holy Cross: 14,005


11.5 miles

Standard Route – North Ridge

Company: Jeff Sanders

Wildlife: mosquitoes, varmints

5600 feet

Start: 5:20 am

Summit: 9:45 am

Stop: 2:30 pm


Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 1:00 am

Thunder/rain – 3:00 pm

Waking up several times in the night, trying to time midnight so I could wish Jeff a happy birthday, I had another mediocre-motivation morning. At least the day started with presents! Getting on the trail erases those cobwebs but today would be a day dominated by other creepy critters. God loves all her creatures but the mosquito was likely deposited on Earth as, just like the willows, test to the fortitude of humankind. Halfmoon trail head provides a nourishing Mecca of standing water and uncovered flesh. Winding through the trees up to the pass and into the spectacular valley below – the winged demons followed. They pursued up to and past treeline on the other side of the valley. Just as we start to wobble through the endless boulder field of the north ridge, we think it may be possible to stop without a resident swarm attacking earlobe and knee pit. However, these evolutionary yins to our yangs relentlessly shadow. Everybody’s gotta eat. These mosquitoes seem like an appropriate welcome after last year’s less-than-enthusiastic introduction to Holy Cross.

Although denied only once, Holy Cross’ reputation built in my mind, growing into a nemesis during the past year. As the beauty of her trail unfolds, one comes to realize that mission takes on the feel of Holy Grail rather than retribution. To succeed in this search would be to overcome the mosquitoes and the other challenges thrown in our way. Fighting through the squadrons of winged needle-noses and a mounting stomach ailment, Holy Cross acquiesced – just in time to celebrate Jeff’s birthday! The celebration of 25 years, the celebration of the summit, birthday donuts on top! We lingered not long on the summit as Western Burgers at Rosies in Leadville whispered sweet nothings on the wind. Yum! The way out, as promised, makes for a lot of elevation gain but upon reaching the car, Jeff told me that this was the “best birthday ever”! He spent it climbing Mount of the Holy Cross – with her trials and triumphs, her environment is inspiring, challenging to the senses, and always glorious.

Day 3: 7/27/08: Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak: 14,265/14,060


6.5 miles

Standard Route – Northeast Ridge and South Ridge

Company: Jeff Sanders

Wildlife: marmot, lone goat

3100 feet

Start: 6:00 am (after drive up to 11,200 on 4WD road)

Summit: 9:45/11:30 am

Stop: 1:00 pm


Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – none

Thunder/rain – none

Sleeping in the car is always puzzling to me – a conundrum so to speak. Why is there a chasm between the trunk floor and fold down seats? Why is it freezing one night and mildly tropic another? Why do unidentified animals claw and gnaw at one nearly empty tub under the rear bumper? These are questions without answers which make them frustrating to think about – especially when awakened mere moments into a precious, elusive sleep by a whisper in my right ear, “There’s something trying to eat our junk tub”. Indeed – something was trying to access the Frisbee, folding camp chairs and canvas water dromedary. What is it? Does it want to toss the disc around? Peering into the dark offered no answers. The clawing continues. I’m already leery of mountain lions incising my jugular in the dark woods so while I offered to turn on the car to “scare” it, Jeff walked into the darkness, into the den. The report back was that “it” was a raccoon or badger or possibly a bear cub. Maybe it was an elusive elk behind a rock like on Mount Evans. Any way you slice it, this whole sleeping in the trunk makes for short nights…luckily our morning was a half hour later than usual! So the half hour that “it” stole from us was given back by the kindness of some neighbors camping near us.

Stymied by crossing Castle Creek the night before, Jeff managed to procure a chariot of the Jeep persuasion to erase nearly 7 miles of hiking on 4WD drive road. The chariot would leave at 5:30 sharp for a bumpy jaunt up the undeniable high-clearance terrain. Janet and Glenn of Louisville were merely the first ride of the day as we required help to access and egress these two mountains. Castle and Conundrum seemed frustratingly close yet so very far when equipped with only a rodent-attracting-medium-clearance-crossover-SUV. After being dropped off somewhere near 11,000 feet so as to ensure our 3,000 foot minimum vertical gain, we started trudging up what would come to the first of many 4WD roads on this trip. After picking up my trekking poles by the Jeep, parked at a curve in the road prior to a large snow bank encroaching across the road (they got a ride all the way on accident), we reached the official parking area. We gazed upon a layered series of snow-covered slopes. As we geared up, we watched as Janet and Glenn inched out onto the first snowfield and retreat soon after. Knowing that we would be traversing under steep slopes dripping with the infamous Elks Range rocks, they decided to abort due to having no helmets. Undaunted, with helmets, we left the pair to their foray into the Aspen shopping district and set foot into winter.

Tromping across this gentle pitch, I gave Jeff a few lessons in snow travel and practiced self arrest with mountaineering axes in this low-risk area. Across the first field of snow and up a steeper pitch, we entered the loose, dirty face while gazing up at the exciting ridge scramble to come. Here, my troubles began. Legs of lead and grumbling digestive tract, I followed the advice of a climbing guide I knew: there is always a pace you can follow, slow or fast, that will allow you to keep moving. As my mantra has always been…keep moving, albeit slowly in this case. Keep moving is what I did – but paired with frequent stops to allow legs to recharge and intestinal cramping to subsided, what should’ve been a relatively easy climb became very hard. These mountains have a way of doing this – making a day out of it despite our best preparation and great conditions.

Despite several moments where I was hit with anxiety on the upper pitches, I dragged myself onto the summit to meet Jeff. Those who had gone before us had already descended off the other side to traverse the ridge to Conundrum. A couple we had talked to at Holy Cross and one half of a brother/sister combo from Green Bay, WI could be seen as tiny points of color inching across the rock. Initially, my desire to cross to Conundrum was hindered as I immediately felt more intestinal distress. I needed a few moments to collect myself and decide if I felt well enough to bother with the Conundrum ascent. After the customary jerky and trail mix, and some deep breathing to relax my nerves, I knew that today was too good of a day to say no. The ridge became an exercise in fugitive bowel movements for both of us. Stopping here, hiding there, we left our droppings like mice in the pantry. We should’ve realized that this was a sign for things to come, but the inconsistency of our bathroom visits was in its infant stage.

Days like these become more about physical toughness and sucking up the discomfort. As we watched a father and sons scramble up Conundrum easily, we knew that we could make it – especially with our lightened loads! We sucked it up and we too went up and down easily. The down was made much easier by descending the snow field in the saddle rather than reascending Castle’s Ramparts. Careful down climb for two-thirds of the pitch and glissading for the last bit created kids of us again – not that we act differently usually! (See Jeff’s movie for evidence!) Slip-sliding our way down and regaining dry land, we could see that there was only one car parked by the snow bank. I made an innocent comment like, “It would be really heart-breaking if that last car drove away”. Before finishing this comment, Jeff took off running down the road toward the group of hikers nearing their car. Headlights on. Engine on. Engine off. I jogged as best I could with several days worth of food sloshing around and jumped into the back of the pickup for a ride back to our well-rested vehicle.

Day 4: 7/28/08: Maroon Peak: 14,156 (Aborted)


2 of 12 miles

Standard Route – South Ridge

Company: Jeff Sanders

Wildlife: geese

4800 feet

Start: 4:30 am

Summit: no

Stop: 6:30


Clear/cool – 5:00 am

Cloud formation – 6:00 am

Thunder/rain – 11:00 pm

Montezuma’s Revenge comes in many forms – usually liquid forms at inopportune times. One of these forms comes early in the morning…and often. And when that morning is the front bookend of a very long, difficult and exposed climbing day, it is time to reassess what should fill that shelf space. In this instance, Maroon Peak – with all of its specters attached – made for too scary of a read. All signs pointed to no today and rather than muddle through what may become another of the “Deadly Bells” horror stories, we turned around less than an hour into the hike and less than two hours into our day. Now what most of those hours were filled with can hardly be called hiking: four trips to the bathroom, eyes glued shut with sleep, stale and hard and dry bagels for breakfast, scattered rain drops, and an accidental tour of Maroon Lake’s “scenic loop”.

While waiting for Jeff to reemerge from the twilight underbrush after another bout of “the revenge”, I started to stack all of these signs upon each other. While a bad breakfast or an upset stomach alone would not be enough to force a turn around, in succession and accumulation, it was all too much today. To top it off, as I waited at the literal and metaphorical crossroads, Aron Ralston – the now well-known demi-celebrity of the climbing scene zipped past with his climbing partner. Or should I say partners. He waved hello (without recognizing me from a wilderness medicine class we took together) with his prosthetic climbing arm swinging from his backpack. I remember well his story as recounted in our class and the level of risk assumed physically manifested in consequences. Seeing the one armed climber was not so much omen but reminder that to take risks – like climbing when it doesn’t feel right – has consequences attached. It is easy to forget those consequences when you’ve had a string of good luck. This sealed the deal in my mind and Jeff, not firing on all cylinders after exiting the shrubs agreed that today was not the day. We took lots of pictures of our new nemesis and noticed clouds filing in as the bell tolled 6:00 am.

We napped in the car for several hours (heaven!) and waking up sweaty, descended on a coffee shop in Aspen for an afternoon of tea, people watching, journal writing, and watching for a second celebrity sighting (the Dalai Lama was in town). We leisurely made our way to Ouray for dinner and what would’ve been a deserved dip in the hot springs pool. They had flash floods create turbidity in the pools, thus closing them to our aching muscles. So bedraggled, dirty and tired, we continued on to our rest day in Telluride with Nicole. On this day of being honest, we knew we could “make it” up Maroon but with what style and with how much good humor, we were not sure. Remembering the stories of Adam Barron’s attitude during his last moments, I decided to listen to the voices – see the signs before me. In turning around, there is strength and in doing so, we have created another nemesis – Maroon is a peak whose reputation preceded it and proved true.

Day 5: 7/29/08: Rest in Telluride!

Haiku for Nicole

New raingear

Green in its freshness

Keep me dry

Day 6: 7/30/08: Wilson Peak: 14,017


8.25 miles

Standard Route – Southwest Ridge

Company: Jeff Sanders and Nicole Nugent

Wildlife: rodents

3800 feet

Start: 5:05 am

Summit: 10:45 am

Stop: 2:30 pm


Clear/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – no

Thunder/rain – no

What this climb provided is simple to describe: fun. While Jeff and I have spent hours dissolved in laughter, tears streaming, telling pirate jokes when we should be sleeping, adding another element to the mix certainly brings something. Our something is Nicole and from the onset, we had fun. From playing ninja at the trail head to worrying about the “bear in the vestibule” and playing Frisbee after two small glasses of wine (can you say limited coordination?), Nicole contributed to the good times. Opting to take a short cut up to the Rock of Ages saddle, Nicole’s good times may not have been too good as she picked her way across the intermittent snow fields and straight up the scree chute I led her into. But all day, she kept the fun alive – mostly through non stop discourse with me (we needed to catch up on lost time) and at times through conversation with herself!

From the Rock of Ages, the prospect of climbing the gnarly ridge to the treacherous summit (the wreckage of a plane crash from 2006 is scattered there) became more real. The rocks are narrow geometric things, stacked up to look like skyscrapers cemented together. The scramble before the ridge was loose but conversation made it go quickly and we stopped to put on helmets and get ready for our photo shoot. With the two of us climbing first, Jeff had time to capture the climbing beauties in a variety of very flattering poses from behind. While the climbing itself wasn’t hard, there was just enough vertical and just enough exposure to make it feel exciting. Over the false summit and up to the actual summit, plane debris started to be visible. While the exhilaration of the summit can’t be entirely quashed – the memorial plaque and large amount of personal effects still remaining was sobering. At times, each of us stopped to take pictures and reflect, with gratitude, at the time we still have to explore these high places.

Snacking and picture taking abounded – along with conversation with a climbing guide from Telluride and his client who were getting ropes and harnesses ready to down climb! Ropes and harnesses oh my! Negotiating the “hard” parts smoothly passed and while Jeff anteloped his way ahead of us, I took a faulty step. From upright to bouncing off a rock with my left hip to rolling back onto my feet all in one motion, I managed to avoid serious injury. Nicole said her heart stopped- which would’ve been much more serious than my fall. Undaunted but more conscientious, we picked through the wobbly rocks to be greeted by dogs barking and picnickers on the saddle. We avoided the temptation of screeing down (straight down is so much faster!), we found trail through the snow and rock. I lent my pole to the client of the climbing pair we had lunched with as he was struggling but the pitch was gentle enough on the trail not to feel the knees too much.

Rather than walking the 4WD road that swung back and forth the width of the basin, we found an intermittent trail through shrub and tree and stream. The day was one of those that sticks in the memory for me because of the good company and the good climbing and the good weather and all else that was good. And the day continued, good food in Ouray and then more good friends to hike with showed up!

Day 7: 7/31/08: Mount Sneffels: 14,150

Day 8: 8/1/08: Handies Peak: 14,048

Day 9: 8/2/08: Redcloud Peak/Sunshine Peak: 14,034/14,001

Day 10: 8/3/08: Rest in Lake City!

Shower! BBQ! Rain! Sleep! Clean Sheets!

Day 11: 8/4/08: Wetterhorn Peak/Uncompahgre Peak: 14,015/14,309

Day 12: 8/5/08: Mount Yale: 14,196

Day 13: 8/6/08: Mount Princeton: 14,197

Day 14: 8/7/08: Pikes Peak: 14,110 (Aborted)


0 of 11.5 miles

Northwest Slope from Crags Campground

Company: Jeff Sanders

Wildlife: tourists

0 of 4500 feet

Start: Drove to top for donuts!




Rainy/cool – 6:00 am

Cloud formation – 6:00 am

Thunder/rain – 6:00 am