Reawakened with a new sense of outdoor life, the Colorado weather, which I considered to be a closed book, opened back up with beautiful weather for a three day stretch.
I arrived at Mt. Princeton mid-morning. Before tackling my first of the three, I visited the historical area at the base of the mountain. Then I set out for the top with a renewed hope that I could get over half of my list done before dormancy. I was feeling encouraged by the cushion I was giving myself to complete this challenge with in the time frame I allotted myself.
Mt. Princeton reminded me a lot of Mt. Sherman because instead of hiking through woods and trails to start, my path was comprised of gravel road, scree, and boulders the entire time. This lack of vegetation made for great views of the valley and the flats to Buena Vista, CO all the way up the mountain. As I continue above the tree line along the face of the ridge, the silence was a unique and a welcomed surprise. After the difficulty of my most recent hikes, it was nice to have the odds in my favor–little to no wind, cool temperatures, and sunshine.
Even after twenty or so peaks, each time I start my approach, even as I am driving up, I find it humbling. Often when I hike for miles, it seems as though I have barely made progress on the path ahead of me (not to mention the distance I have to return as well). I fight through the mental breaking points to the summit. It is that place and its endless horizon that allow me perspective on the true difficulty of what I have just accomplished in the moment. Mt. Princeton was no different than the experience I just described.
I passed a rare sighting on the trail–a memorial to a hiker. The reality of these hikes is that they can be very dangerous even when you are prepared. Every year, Colorado sees just over 50 deaths of people who fall, get stuck in storms, lost, or other hiking related fatalities. These memorials are a reminder that while fitness and body awareness is a major part of successfully completing a 14’er, a portion of that completion comes from smart decisions and a bit of luck.
Once reaching the summit, I enjoyed lunch with a view while I sat with my thoughts of what I have accomplished and what the future may hold. With that, I had completed 27 of the 53 peaks–over the half way mark! With more climbing planned for the weekend, I was eager to see how much I could get done.
After a descent down the scree and boulder mountain face, I made my way back to the car for an early dinner in Buena Vista. Buena Vista is a gem located right on the Arkansas River with trails winding all around it, yet it holds a population of about 3,ooo people.
Another great aspect of hiking all over this beautiful state is exploring the small and often historic towns of the Colorado mountains. I hope to blog a little bit about my experiences during the upcoming months of hibernation.
After dinner, I walked along the river and enjoyed a beautiful sunset when I came across a group of six locals who decided to start their weekend with a little adventure. They planned a midnight hike up Mt. Antero beginning in a few short hours. I accepted their invitation to join and without unpacking from my first peak, I added to my bag more layers, my headlamp, and more snacks to handle the trip. After some instruction on how to play Ultimate Frisbee and taking in the last drops of sunset, we started the drive to Mt. Antero. We pulled into the icy and snow covered parking lot and gathered our things for a night hike.
I have some experience at night hikes, early morning hikes, and late night trail runs, so I have grown accustomed to exploring the trails with reduced sight. Nonetheless, the occasional twig snapping or noise in the distance still sent chills up my spine. As we got through the woods and ascended above the tree line, the wind started to pick up. We could see the lit town below but it wasn’t providing any residual light. Using our headlamps to locate cairns and guide us through the snowy path, we stopped frequently to regroup, making sure everyone was accounted for and also to enjoy the night’s sky.
While it is quite a bit harder to breathe at 14,000 feet, the sky is not littered with city lights and pollution. Millions of stars became visible as we made the ridge line and headed for the top. I found myself tripping and slipping more because I was looking at the stars instead of where I was stepping. We all made it to the summit successfully and spent some time without lights to just sit and be amazed at this unique view. Shooting stars that seemed close enough to touch occasionally streaked across the sky as we sat in the cold wind loving every moment.
While it is not advised to hike in the dark (because you cannot see incoming weather), this exceptional night brought a sight that only a rare few get to enjoy. I am lucky enough to have been able to enjoy that view and I hope that someday I will be able to do it again. For now, we made our way back down the trail to the cars before the sun touched the mountains again.