I love hiking Colorado’s amazing peaks over 14,000 feet. In a sort of love-hate way that is. I actually feel fairly terrible the entire time: out of breath and slightly delirious due to a lack of oxygen on the way up, cold from crisp mountain winds on top, and then knee pain and leg instability while hiking down miles and miles of steep terrain that is slick due to small rocks on top of loose dirt. But the views! The air! The thoughts you think! Being on an adventure with friends! That cold beer when you reach your car and the meal you eat later that day!
I had tried to summit Mt. Evans with a girlfriend during the summer of 2011, but we couldn’t even find the right trail. (Don’t ask!) So for my second attempt, a visiting friend and I decided on a completely different route, this one located up Guanella Pass at the same trailhead as Bierstadt (my first 14er!). Soon after we got on the trail we were greeted by two male moose hanging out in a big pond. So cool! And then the bushwhacking started. Over wet terrain. And my socks and shoes were soaking wet. And then we walked straight up a very steep gulley that from a distance did not look humanly possible to ascend. And then we walked over huge open fields just below the summit. And then we walked just below the ridgeline towards the summit and the Mt. Evans Road, full of tourists driving to the top of the 14er. Meanwhile Colorado blue skies were being replaced with clouds and light snow.
When we got to the summit, one of the tourists told me to be careful, my hair was standing straight up in the air. And I had no idea. What were we to do? We had miles to go to get back, much of it with no coverage and above 13,000 feet. I was terrified of being struck by lighting, and equally terrified of making a dash for it and slipping on wet rocks and then twisting an ankle with a lightning storm in the area. The Mt. Evans Road didn’t go anywhere close to our car–it was on the exact opposite side of the mountain, about 50 miles away by car.
Just when we were putting on our rain gear and about to make the run of our lives, our hero arrived. He had seen people hitting rocks on the summit, saw the sparks that were flying. He had seen everyone’s hair standing straight up. And he was studying to be a meteorologist. And he must have known how dangerous it would have been to be on the top of the 14er with that storm in the area. And he was in the military. And he drove us those 50 miles. I cannot thank this man enough–he may have saved my life.
Now, I just want to point out that I take the weather very seriously when I summit a 14er. I like to be on the trail as close to 6 a.m. as possible, on my way down from the summit by 11 at the latest, preferably closer to 10. I have even turned around while attempting to summit one before, due to lightning in the area. I studied the forecast–no storms were due until later in the day. I watched all the clouds that I could see–nothing looked too threatening. Except that the summit of Evans was blocking the view of the incoming weather–I had no idea what was on the other side of the summit! So, we were incredibly lucky to have our hero rescue us. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A million thanks.
Photos from the adventure are below. **To see photos of my happy bachelorette hike up Mt. Sherman, another Colorado Fourteener, click here.**
All images © Susannah Allen 2012