This past winter, my husband Brad and I were talking about how spending time in the mountains motivates us. If you said to either of us, “go run a 5K,” we wouldn’t be terribly enthused. Conversely, if you said, “run to the top of that mountain,” it would be a completely different story. We are both endlessly captivated by mountains–their grandeur, their intensity and the way you cannot possibly grow weary looking at them. I have the contours of all the peaks surrounding Breckenridge memorized. We pour over regional topographic maps, wondering about faces, couloirs, and the valleys in between. This year, we wanted a summer goal– something difficult but attainable. Bag the Colorado 14ers! Perfect!
If you live in Colorado, you know what a “14er” is. For those unfamiliar, a “14er” is a peak that rises above 14,000 feet in elevation. While there seems to be no formal list (some peaks are debatable due to their proximity to other 14ers), most Coloradans would agree–there are fifty-four 14ers in Colorado. Some entail straightforward hikes to reach the summit, while others are technical, exposed and precarious. This became our new summer (and fall) 2013 project – to summit all the 14ers.
We began by making a giant spreadsheet, gathering information and learning more about the location and grouping of peaks. We assessed the access of each mountain. The Eolus group, in particular, requires a train ride to access the trailhead. We think that’s pretty cool and look forward to that adventure! In brief time, the spreadsheet grew boring so we ditched it and started climbing!
April 21, 2013: Belford and Oxford (Peak #1 and #2)
One of the hardest parts of climbing 14ers early in the season is the access. The majority of these peaks require navigating rough 4-wheel-drive roads — and it’s not as though the plow guy has any reason to clear them, save the few of us itching to climb. So for our first summit, we had to find a peak (or two) that we could actually get to. After a little research, we learned that the road to the trailhead for Belford, Oxford and Missouri was clear.
Oh wait, I need to back up.
Before we started driving and before we made a spreadsheet, we bought a truck! That’s right. We figured it’d be nice to have a place to sleep; so in early April we purchased a 1996 Toyota pickup, with a measly 210,000 miles. Brad and I joke that we are “chubby bunnies” because we both love eating so much, so we fondly call the pickup the “Rabbit Hole”.
On the morning of April 21st, we got to hiking about 5 a.m. (you have to start early because of weather and snow conditions). Within ten minutes, we ditched our shoes and started skinning. We skinned into the basin where we could see Missouri Mountain in the distance. It’s a long, large peak with rough ridgelines. Our original plan was to summit this peak, as well as Belford and Oxford, but alas, we ran out of time.
There are standard routes for all the 14ers, but in April the trails are covered with snow so you either need to find your own way to the summit or refer to a “snow route”. We decided to make our own way. And, in lieu of recent avalanches, we chose our route carefully, keeping our eye on the snow and exposure around us. Eventually we had to ditch our skis and scramble on a rock/snow mix. Luckily, our very light race boots work surprisingly well for scrambling on rock! It was quite cold and windy (par for the course), but within an hour, we made it to the summit of Belford! Hazaah! Peak number 1 down — only 53 summits to go!
Earlier in the week we had watched a TED video about body language and position. We learned that if you stand with your arms in the air, it boosts your testosterone (good hormone) and lowers your Cortisol (bad hormone) giving you more confidence and relieving stress. So now we make a habit of standing in this power position on summits – you know, to get psyched for the next part of the journey. From the top you could see Oxford which was a large, beautiful peak to the east. The saddle across was wind scoured — we wished we had running shoes (duly noted for the next 14er adventure). We wandered across to the summit of Oxford and made it in about an hour. Hazaah! Summit number 2!
To our chagrin, we had to re-summit Belford in order to get down. We just needed to butch up and deal with it! So, we made our way back across the saddle to our friend Belford again. After a bit of time looking around, we made it back to our skis and skied our way out of the basin. All said and done, this adventure took us 9 hours and we climbed 6,000 feet.
Stay tuned for more thrilling climbs and how to mitigate horrible hiker’s breath in my next installment!
Nikki LaRochelle is a Kate’s Ambassador, graphic designer, ski mountaineer and trail runner. She loves racing, but prefers puttering around outside above treeline. She currently resides in Breckenridge, Colorado with her husband Brad who is her favorite adventure teammate. To learn more about Nikki, check out her online portfolio.