I originally planned on camping overnight at Mineral Park Mine in order to wake up for an early start on the trail the next morning. From Mineral Park Mine, I mapped out my hike to Kite Lake and then around all four peaks–Mt. Bross, Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Cameron. As I have learned, hiking a 14’er doesn’t often go according to plan. This was no exception. Heavy rain in the evening and reports of a washed out road derailed me. Instead, I woke up early and made three full breakfasts worth of food. Once I had eaten enough to make a hobbit proud, I got on the road knowing that the weather predicted heavy rainfall again beginning around 1 pm. I arrived at the trail head located at Kite Lake and read more about the adventure before me. With my new trail mapped out, I went toward Mt. Bross first. Immediately I could see that the steep gravel trail I was tackling would provide a challenge on a descent, but I knew the trail I chose would be worth it.
I ventured upward along the shadowed mountain face at severely acute angles–no switchbacks, no hiking diagonal up the side, just straight up. Slipping most of the way, I scrambled 3000 feet to the summit. I stood up to take in the fruits of my labor: the view. I instantly felt my stomach sink.
Despite the fact that the view of the three other peaks was breathtaking, I could see a wave of clouds beginning to roll in from the distance. I had to make a choice: try to climb down the way I came and attempt the other peaks another day or strap in and make a run for it.
I bet you’ll never guess what I chose….
I started my run down to the cradle, the base of Mt. Lincoln, located to the right. Running downhill without too much impact on my joints and without slipping and sliding was proving to be difficult on the gravel trails. In fact, just running alone at 14,000 feet was painful. My lungs burned, my heart felt as though it was trying to break free of its natural cage, my eyes watered from the wind, yet felt dry from the thin air. My heart was beating so loudly that I could barely think. Focusing on the trail and not falling down became an even more difficult task.
As I made my way down to the cradle between Mt. Cameron and Mt. Lincoln, I paused for a moment to re-hydrate and allow my heart rate lower just long enough to control my breathing before I set back to it again. Mt. Lincoln had knife edge trail that followed the top of the ridge and then straight to the summit. There were already a few folks at the summit as I approached.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the U.S. Survey pin as I reached the peak. I have noticed that the more populated trails tend not to have pins, but Mt. Lincoln is an exception. I began my rest sequence again while I quickly drank, snacked, steadied my heart rate, and this time, pulled out my rain jacket for what was coming. The clouds that I originally saw pushed North, but I saw another small cell of clouds heading directly my way.
I packed up and jogged down Mt. Lincoln and headed for Mt. Cameron. Since Mt. Cameron is not an official 14’er, I took in the views from the top at my jogging pace, stopping only briefly to reevaluate the current weather conditions. As I crossed the cradle between Mt. Cameron and Mt. Democrat, I tried to track which direction the clouds were moving, unsure if I had a shot to complete Mt Democrat. I observed what looked to be a clearing so I threw on my rain jacket just in case and took off to Mt. Democrat. I scampered up the side of the mountain and occasionally did a little boulder hopping. As I approached the summit, I was certain I made the right decision. The clouds were clearing above me and I was going to have a sunny climb down. Looking back, I could even see Mt. Lincoln covered in clouds from the summit of Mt. Democrat.
By the time I descended down the mountain to Kite Lake, the cloud cover had almost completely disappeared as if the concern of a storm was a figment of my imagination. Instead of rain, I was left with an amazing view, a great experience, and a new appreciation for what hard work can accomplish.