The 14er Project - Part 2

The 14er Project - Part 2

Posted by Nikki LaRochelle on 10th Sep 2013

The last time I wrote about climbing 14ers—back in June—was immediately after we conquered our first two peaks. Now it’s September and we’ve summited 30 mountains since April!

My husband Brad and I started to get a little discouraged with the daunting task of summiting all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks before winter. However, a few weekends ago we hit a notable turning point. That Saturday, we woke up early to tackle Mount Lindsey in the Sangre de Cristos. We originally planned to climb Crestone Needle and traverse to Crestone Peak (two of the more difficult 14ers in the state) but the weather looked grim, so we opted for a more straightforward climb up Mt. Lindsey. We powered up and back down in a little over four hours, then hopped in the car and drove to the Ellingwood Point trailhead, a peak we tried to climb in May but turned back due to lack of snow gear.

Unfortunately, we failed to research the driving directions, so our commute from Lindsey to Ellingwood took a few hours longer than it should have. Additionally, the approach to Ellingwood Point requires a slog of a hike up to Como Lake – five miles of relentless dirt road. Any reasonable climber would tell you that starting a climb at 2:00 p.m. with weather rolling in is a terrible idea – you never start in the afternoon, particularly with a weather threat. But the 14er adventure demanded some risk taking, so off we went.

We made it up the road relatively quickly and I gasped (for the second time) at the view from Como Lake. It’s an incredible panorama of Little Bear Peak, Blanca, and Ellingwood Point—a must for anyone’s bucket list. The clouds kept building and the clock was ticking, so we pushed on. My legs tired but the urgency and allure of bagging Ellingwood and never having to climb up Como Road again (we’ve done it three times now) was a great motivator. We made it to the saddle between Ellingwood and Blanca in just over an hour. We were really pushing it – now on a ridgeline, the last place you want to be in a lightning storm. With no thunder in earshot, we went for it and thirty minutes later were on top of Ellingwood, elated to have reached the summit. We celebrated for, oh, two minutes and then quickly scrambled back down, making it down just before nightfall. That night, we grabbed a burger in Alamosa and drove to the small town of Crestone to sleep before attempting Kit Carson and Challenger Point the next morning.

The alarm went off at 4 a.m. – we awoke to heavy rainfall. We were exhausted and definitely didn’t want to start hiking in a downpour, so we slept two more hours until the rain finally let up. We started our approach for Kit Carson and Challenger at 8 a.m. I know – we are total slackers! The weather was not promising. Swirling clouds, fog, and a dark sky made me wonder if we’d get as lucky as we did with Ellingwood. The approach is anything but short – 4,000 feet of vert to Willow Lake – a beautiful pool of water at the foot of these giant peaks. We made it up to the lake only to find the weather looking even worse, but still we pressed on into the clouds. By this point, the fog was so think we could only see about six feet in all directions. We scrambled up some technical, slippery rock for an hour and a half until we finally made it to the ridgeline leading up to Challenger Point. Now the weather was really bad – wind, rain, hail, thunder – Ah, we are so close! We wandered the ridgeline until we made it to the summit of Challenger. Success! Do we take a chance and press on one more half mile to Kit Carson? No, too risky. Damn! We hiked back down a little disappointed, but safe. We’ll be back for you Kit Carson.

Until the next installment, keep eating Kate’s Bars to fuel your adventure making!

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.