Saturday, September 15, 2012

14,000 feet in the air

So, I'm not really sure who reads this, but as some of you might know I am starting a new job at Mapquest on Monday. I'm really excited about this, as I think it's going to be a great opportunity for my life and my career. The job is in Denver, and I am anticipating having a lot less free time due to the job and the (1 hour each way?) commute.

I had some time off in between jobs and was trying to decide what to do with my free time. Because I live in Colorado, doing something outside seemed like a natural (ha) choice. I don't hike enough, and when I have in the past it's been mostly walking around a boulder field miserably with a giant crash pad on my back.

Looking for boulders at Rocky Mountain with James back in 2008

So I got the idea to try and do a fourteener. For those of you who aren't familiar here are some cool facts that I totally did not just steal from Wikipedia:

1. A fourteener is a mountain whose summit exceeds 14,000 ft. above sea level. 
2. Only peaks with over 300 ft of prominence are considered in this qualification
3. There are 88 of these mountains in the United States, of which 53 are in Colorado.

Here is a graph illustrating how awesome Colorado is compared to the rest of the United States:

On Saturday 9/8 and then again on Saturday 9/15, Tiffany and I went out with hopes of conquering two of these mountains. Most (all?) of the fourteeners in the state have established trails, and due to differences in starting elevation, terrain, weather conditions, and distance, the degree of difficulty can vary greatly.

The two we chose to do were Longs Peak near Estes Park, CO and Mt. Bierstadt near Georgetown, CO. What was interesting is that while Mt. Bierstadt is widely considered one of the easiest fourteeners, Longs Peak is widely considered one of the hardest. Here are some stats:

Hike Elevation Gain Distance (Miles) Class 3 Terrain Avg. Deaths per Year Time
Bierstadt 2,850 ft. 7 0.25 miles 0 4 hours
Longs Peak 5,100 ft. 15 1.6 miles 2 10 hours
We did Longs Peak first, and with proper planning we managed a very successful hike. 

About 2 miles from the summit

We woke up at 4:45 AM and began the hike at 6:18 AM. With the difficulty of the top section, it's very important to summit before likely afternoon thunderstorms arrive. We were feeling great at around 9:30 AM with about 1.6 miles left in the hike and I foolishly drank most of my water, not knowing how difficult the last section would be. The last 1.6 miles took nearly as long as the first 6 miles, and we reached the top around 12:10 PM. At the top we overhead a man saying it was his 70th birthday. I found this to be absolutely incredible. While I'm not an experienced hiker by any stretch, I am a fairly accomplished and sponsored climber who has been very active in the last 14 years of my life. On top of this I am only 28 years old, and I can say without a doubt that this was the most difficult hike of my life.

Tiffany posing as we begin our descent

We made it back to the car starving and exhausted, but by next Saturday we were ready to try another one. It was a pretty interesting experience to follow one of the most difficult fourteeners with possibly the easiest, but Mt. Bierstadt was a beautiful and still challenging hike (plus dogs were allowed!).

For this one the planning was quite different. We woke up around 8:45 AM and began the hike bright and early around 11:00 AM. There were people, dogs, little kids, and even overweight people, but the hike was still great. Doing it in 4 hours round trip was not that easy, as the hike is more gradual than Longs Peak and still features some Class 3 scrambling near the top. 

If a Westie can do it, so can you!

Anyway, I loved doing these hikes, and felt that my timing of starting work Monday could not be better. I feel refreshed and focused, not to mention I have a new goal of 5 more fourteeners in 2013!

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