Sunday, July 31, 2016

10-4: Climbing Ten Fourteeners in One Day

On top of Mt. Evans - our 10th 14er of the day - at 8:35 p.m.



"Eight 14ers?! Is that even possible?" That's what a woman asked me as I descended off Grays and Torreys yesterday afternoon. It's not a silly question, at least for people that aren't very familiar with all of Colorado's 53+ fourteeners.

I first thought of doing this more than ten years ago. I tried back then to do it solo. I failed. Badly. I added in a 13er (Sheridan)?! I went too fast, bonked, and quit after the first six. I shelved the idea, but when good friend Homie tried for the 14er record (he got 41 14ers in 7 days) and Andrew Hamilton, another friend, did all 58 in under ten days, I revived the idea. I wanted to experience what a single day was like for these Ultra-14er masters.

To climb ten 14ers in a single day, I'd need to make some concessions. First, I didn't abide by the arbitrary 3000-foot rule that all 14er record attempts use. I started each 14er from an established trailhead and in all but one case, the most popular trailhead. Secondly, Cameron is not a true 14er, as it doesn't meet the distance/drop criteria to be a separate mountain. Nevertheless, it is a named 14er and included in all the speed record link-ups.

I don't know of anyone doing ten 14ers in a day before. This is somewhat surprising, but, as with most of my adventures, it was probably deemed not worthy or too silly or too contrived. Hundreds, if not thousands, of just Colorado climbers could do this link-up faster than I could. I'm far from elite and only mention this as a curiosity item and to see if any of my tens of readers can enlighten me on other multi-14er days.

Update: Eric Lee informed me that he did these same ten mountains a few years ago, observing the 3000-foot rule, in 19 hours. Super impressive!

So, what are the ten 14ers? Sherman, Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, Quandary, Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, and Evans. These are also the closest 14ers to my house. A few years ago I thought about going for the 10-4 and recruited good friend Mark Oveson - a top-30 Hard Rock finisher. When I mentioned it to Homie he immediately said, "Oh, you have to finish with Longs!" Ugh. I had run the numbers and just doing the ten was going to take more than 24 hours. That would be too much for me. The project withered and we didn't attempt it.

Fast forward to this summer and I was looking for a follow-up to our Denali climb, which had been completely occupying my attention for the first half of the year. I needed another challenge. When I mentioned this idea to my 18-year-old son Derek, he was immediately in. He's fit and had climbed all these peaks before, but he'd never done a day like this. His biggest day was just a few weeks ago when he did the Ten Mile Traverse (15 miles, 8000 vertical feet). The 10-4 would be 30 miles and 15,500 vertical feet, almost all of that above 12,000 feet, and take twice as long. It would be a rather audacious jump.
Derek on top of Mt. Sherman at 1:20 a.m.

While those numbers are pedestrian to a number of my friends, they are not for Derek and I. This adventure was about challenging my limits, not anyone else's. I have no illusions about where I stand. Finishing this was in doubt and that's what made it an adventure. Most of my friends would never ask, "Why?" -- they understand completely. But when others ask that question my answer is, "To find out if I can do that or not?" I want to find my limits. 

In preparation, Derek and I climbed many of the peaks again. Derek did eight of them, mostly with other friends, but we recced the Sawtooth Traverse, at third-class the most technical part of the day, together. I did all ten, including a repeat of the first six. This second time I made some improvements: just doing 14ers, going slower, and did a new, shorter route on Quandary. It took me ten hours to do these six. I was tired, but not wasted. I also did a speed link-up of Torreys (via Kelso Ridge) and Grays with Homie in 2h11m. We were ready.

I recruited Homie for this also, but his participation was in doubt until just a few days before. Having Homie along is cheating, somewhat. He wouldn't be able to carry me (well, he probably could do that), but he's so experienced at this stuff and would keep us on track and take care of us. Sheri was excited to be our support person and the four of us left town Friday afternoon.

We drove to the high trailhead (12,000 feet) on the Mt. Sherman road. Derek, Homie, and I laid down our bags under the spectacular Milky Way and Sheri nestled in the back of the truck. Our start time was chosen so that we'd hit the Sawtooth in the daylight. We set the alarm for midnight and struggled to get a couple of fitful hours of sleep.

When the alarm went off we packed up our gear, tossed it in atop Sheri, wolfed down a bit of food and drink, and were hiking by 12:15 a.m. It was a bit chilly, as there was a breeze, but Sherman went nicely in just under two hours. We jogged very sparingly on the way down (only when the path was smooth and not very steep), yet as I would get gapped by Derek walking down the same stretches... Sheri was up when we got back and we were soon driving towards Kite Lake and Decalibron. 

I drove the 4WD sections, as Sheri is a more cautious (read: slower) driver. Hence, I took the wheel from Sherman to Kite Lake. We arrived there before 3 a.m. and found other climbers readying themselves for the ascent. We re-stocked our tiny packs and hit the trail just ahead of a large group. Homie led the way up Democrat and soon distanced himself from me. I could have kept up with his pace, but I didn't think it was prudent to go that fast. I failed before by trying to go faster than I could sustain. I let the gap open. Derek was right on my heels. And I mean right on my heels. He hikes closer behind me than anyone I've ever hiked with, clipping my heels every once in a while. I asked if he wanted to go by and he said, "Nope." 

We topped out Democrat and were back at the saddle just as the large group was arriving. We said good morning and immediately started up Cameron. It was very windy now and quite cold. Even Homie had to pull on his shell. Democrat had taken us 1h11m and we were on top of Cameron 43 minutes later and Lincoln just 14 minutes after that. It was just starting to get light now and we did a tiny bit of trotting on the descent to the saddle. On top of Bross we met a guy with a Labrador. Our arrival frightened the dog who proceeded to bark aggressively at us, all the while wagging her tail furiously. Labs...

Derek led the descent and he and Homie got well out in front of me. I had scheduled four hours for these peaks and we were well ahead of pace. The descent is loose and rocky. Once again, I was cautious and took my time. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h25m. Sheri had got a bit more sleep while we climbed, but was up and re-organizing the back of the truck. I took the wheel just to get us back to town and then Sheri took over the driving.

After every climbing leg we'd dig into the cooler to retrieve food. We did most of our eating on the drives between the climbs. In fact, Derek never ate while hiking up our peaks. I carried food while hiking and did eat some of it, but a small percentage of our total calories.
Derek climbing up the very steep slopes on the south face of Quandary, with Blue Lake in the background.
Sheri drove us to the Blue Lakes Trailhead below the very steep south face of Quandary. Here we found a large group of mountain goats, including some young kids. One of the goats was sitting atop an SUV! They seemed to be very interested in the undersides of the vehicles. I know that rodents (porcupine in particular) like to chew on the cables of a car, but I don't know what held the goats' fascination. These goats would keep Sheri company while we ascended Quandary.

We climbed up just to the west of the Cristo Couloir - a popular snow climb and ski descent in the spring. This route gains 2400 feet in just over a mile. Homie powered up this route in just 1h25m, but Derek was feeling the angle and, in his words, "got his butt kicked." I stayed with Derek (I couldn't have gone with Homie) and we steadily made progress. This route is actually pretty cool and ends directly on the summit. The descent must be taken carefully as the angle is great and loose rock abounds.
Homie on top of Quandary
Six down and four to go. We were off to Grays and Torreys via a Starbucks run in Frisco. Driving up the 3-mile 4WD road to the trailhead was going to the the crux driving of the day. We figured most people would be driving out when we wanted to drive in. Luckily we got there a bit earlier than expected and not many cars were coming out. Still, we had to back-up a couple of times to let people pass. This road was jam packed with cars so that it was a one-lane road for most of its distance. We powered up to the lot and found an open parking spot, as expected.

Sheri was joining us on this hike and the four of us left the trailhead ten minutes before noon. Derek and I were hoping people would say, "Late start, don't you think?" like they did to us on North Maroon the weekend before. We were all ready with our reply: "Actually, no, we started at midnight!" We wanted to tell people that these were going to be our seventh and eighth fourteeners of the day. Alas, no one mentioned our late start...

Homie hiked with us for a bit and then turned on the jets. He disappeared so fast that I thought he might be off-trail using the Little 14er Bagger's room. We couldn't even see him on the trail above us and we could see for a long way. I had scheduled four hours for this pair and broke it down, roughly, to two hours to get up Grays, 45 minutes to get over to Torreys and back down to the saddle, and then 1h15m to get back to the car. 
Selfie on top of Torreys Peak - with my alter egos on my shoulders.
Derek, Sheri, and I topped out Grays in 1h50m. We found Homie taking a nap just off the summit. He'd done the ascent in 1h25m. As expected, this link-up wasn't a big challenge for him. He'd done SEVEN days of this on his record attempt. I crewed for the first half of that and knew I wanted no business with suffering at that level. Yet, I did want to understand it better and that was a part of this adventure.

Derek and I rolled over the summit, picking up Homie, and dropping off Sheri. She'd descend back to the car instead of joining us for Torreys, as she wasn't sure she could keep up and didn't want us waiting on her. She needn't have worried for she got down in just 1h15m and would have easily kept up with Derek and me. 

Going up Torrey's, and even Gray's, people would encourage us: "You're doing great!" "Almost there." "You can do it." Homie commented: "we must look really tired!" Derek responded: "At least two of us do!" I'm sure I did. My head was down, concentrating on my footing and trying to maintain constant motion, which we did, for the most part, all day. We didn't really hike very fast, but we never stopped. The exceptions were some small stops going up Quandary and some called for breaks on the traverse to Mt. Evans.

We didn't run at all on the descent, as I figured that was just a recipe for me to trip, fall, and injury myself. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h45m. The drive back down the 4WD road was very slow as we got behind some cars from Nebraska with low clearance and...it took some time. At I-70 Sheri took over again and we all wolfed down some food. Only two to go.

We arrived at Guanella Pass at 4:45 p.m. and found the Alpine Rescue Team there. A hiker had dislocated his knee and he was coming down in a litter. We started at 4:56 p.m. Our plan was to ascend Bierstadt, hopefully in two hours, and then do the Sawtooth Traverse over to Evans. I originally gave us five hours for this section, assuming we'd be moving pretty slow. We told Sheri to expect us between 9 and 10 p.m. 

Right at the start, Homie and Derek were climbing strong and gapped me. I felt I was moving pretty well, though tired and winded, but they were stronger. Watching those two power up the trail ahead of me I figured I was looking at the future. I'd soon be joining Sheri in a support role for Derek and Homie's ever ridiculous adventures. I still have some things to teach Derek, but he's going to be the stronger partner.

A thousand feet up Derek and Homie slowed a bit and I caught up. I fell in behind Derek, just watching his feet, and Homie took up the rear, in case I needed a push. We stayed in that formation all the way to the summit, arriving in 1h45m. I was happy with that ascent time and glad to have banked an additional 15 minutes of daylight. I forgot my headlamp for this section, but Derek has his and Homie had two lights. We all wanted to finish in the light, but weren't counting on it.
Derek and Homie on the Sawtooth Traverse, with Bierstadt in the background
Homie had recently set the course record on Strava for the Sawtooth, so he started off leading...until he got us off route. That isn't true, but I did take over the lead to show Homie the way that Derek and I went. Each time we had to go up hill, Derek and I were practically crawling, making heavy use of our hands. I called for a 5-minute break, the first of the day, when we got to the low point on the traverse. I was extremely tired. Derek and Homie traded off leading the rest of the traverse and we gained the shoulder of Evans about an hour after leaving Bierstadt's summit.
Bighorn sheep on the Mt. Evans plateau
As we traversed the rocky tundra to the Mt. Evans trail we went within 30 or 40 feet of a herd of bighorn sheep. Derek and I wouldn't have even seen them if it wasn't for Homie pointing them out. We had our heads bowed to the task, watching our feet, trying not to trip, trying to keep moving. The traverse to Evans is long and tedious and I led a lot of this, mainly so that I wouldn't get dropped. After any particularly steep section I had to call for a 30-second rest. I took a number of these and my partners never complained and in fact encouraged them. 

Homie wasn't in the least bit stressed, but never raced ahead even as the light faded on us. He could have made the summit with lots of daylight to spare and waited for us in the summit parking lot, where Sheri was waiting to pick us up. Yet, he didn't. He stayed behind me and never asked me to move faster, never complained about my snail's pace. In fact, he spoke of how happy he was that he'd been able to join us for this big day. I'm a very lucky guy to have people like Homie willing to take me on as a partner for big days. It's a bit tough on me to be the slowest guy, the anchor, but it doesn't seem to bother Homie in the least.

Just before the summit we met a girl, Emily, who had driven up to watch the sunset. She followed us to the summit and took our photo. We descended to the parking lot where we were so grateful to find Sheri and not have to descend back to Guanella Pass. I'd have never made it. This was the key support role - this pickup at 14,000 feet. Sheri had been our ace-in-the-hole. She made this linkup possible for us and we were all very appreciative. She then drove us home while Derek slept, I dozed, and Homie remained alert.

It feels great to accomplish difficult goals and I'm proud that we completed this, but the most amazing thing to me was Derek's performance. He's rock solid. In his first ultra-type adventure, he was stronger than I was, with vastly more experience. He can suffer and he can just go and go and go and never whine, never complain, never be anything but a solid, calm, supportive partner. I'm super proud of him and feel very lucky to have him as my partner...and my son. Homie felt the same way about Derek and I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to join Derek on a big adventure or even invite him along. Derek's the real deal and I'll be watching his future adventures with great joy and hopefully, for awhile still, be a part of it.


2 comments:

Gayla Wright said...

Great write up. Felt like I was with you all the way. Not with Homie, he's too fast. Derek would be next, then Bill, and me dragging. Agree, you could not have done this without Sheri. What a great accomplishment!!! Derek has come a long way since Christmas. Especially, passing his dad. Great family activity!! Not for most, but you three seemed to thrive on this. Love you all, NaƱa

John Scott said...

You guys never cease to amaze me! What a great one day adventure! I wish I was in half as good of shape as you three. Great job!