4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mt. Antero, The Reward is at End of the Road


Its been a long long time. Blanca Peak, September 18, 2010.

That was the last time that Don, my usual hiking partner, and I last ascended a 14er together. This year he and his wife celebrated the birth of the their daughter right in the middle of climbing season. I mean really?! Who has babies during climbing season?

In any case, things had settled down enough for Don and family that Don’s wife graciously granted Don a weekend pass to climb. We had planned a few earlier dates but there was either too much snow or just bad weather. August 27 was to be the lucky day!

Don and I left the Denver area on Friday afternoon. By the time we got to South Park the clouds had started to fill in and it was sprinkling. When we got to Buena Vista (BV) it was raining and as we drove deeper and higher into the mountains towards Antero’s high trailhead it was pouring and looked pretty menacing. It appeared, at least then, that we may just have a night out camping in the rain and breakfast somewhere in BV the next day.

The local forecast called for 40% chance of thunderstorms for several days so we figured we would give Antero a shot if we got a good weather window. With the rain at campsite arrival however it appeared that the only climbing we would do would be back into the Jeep in the morning to head back down to town.

We arrived at the camping area at around 5:30pm near 10,850 feet just beyond the first stream crossing. We found a great spot and set up. We had enough tree cover that we could remain relatively dry. We set up our tents and rehydrated our “food.” Chili Mac with MEAT! and Beef Spew. Honestly they were pretty good. Well…they were good for freeze-dried at least.


Camp at 10,850 feet. This Shot was Taken After the Climb…That’s Why it isn't Raining.

Later in the evening the rain relented a bit and were were treated to one of the most intense sunset alpenglows we had ever seen. It was magnificent and Don was feeling pretty chipper to be back in the mountains after such a long absence.


A Preposterously Intense Sunset as Seen from our Campsite

Don and I agreed on a 4:30am wake up in order to get up and down Antero, hopefully, within a good weather window. We would wake up and see if it was raining at 4:30am. If so we would go back to sleep and try again in an hour.

As it turns out, it was not raining. When we popped out of our tents the sky was completely clear and the Milky Way and attendant stars were painted across the sky quite remarkably. We in fact did remark on its magnificence! The climb looked like a go.

We both attended to our morning duties and were ready to hike by around 5:30ish. We began hiking up the mining road and swiftly crossed the second stream crossing, at which point I realized I had left my hat back on the headrest (to dry) of the passenger’s seat in Don’s Jeep. So I dumped my pack and went back to camp then meeting again above the stream crossing about 15 minutes later.

Again we started off up the mining road. Below tree line it was so humid that my glasses were constantly fogged up. No breeze. Warmish temps. Plenty of humidity. It was rather frustrating. As soon as we ascended above tree line there was a slight breeze and there air seemed to dry out a bit. It was MUCH more comfortable.


A Typical Early Morning View of the Mining (Jeep) Road Just Above Tree Line

Walking on the road was not too bad. Roads can be, for those who have done this, a pretty crappy way to climb a 14er. They are not typically scenic. They can be uneven and rutted out, and rocky. As far as roads go however, the road up Antero is rather pleasant. It’s in good shape and it actually gets better as you ascend.


Point 13,870 Glows Against the Dark Foreground

The road seemingly winds back and forth and back and forth…for miles up towards Antero. Actually, seemingly is not the correct word. It really does wind around for miles as it ascends. Don and I were able to make great time on this part of the hike cruising up the road in what seemed like an improbably short time. The gloom and fogginess of early morning gave way to giddy cheerfulness. The weather was good but there were high altitude clouds beginning to blow in around the area providing a subtle warning that we had a specific time window in which to climb this thing.

We made our way up through 13,000 feet as the road takes a long loop around the South West shoulder of Antero. At 13,000 feet there is coincidentally a cairn built next to the road. As there were no other cairns to this point I can only guess that a thoughtful person built this cairn as a milestone for that altitude.

As we made our way around the loop we came upon a Forest Service informational sign. It describes many things including the Native American Chief Antero, wildflowers and gems which, can be found on or around these mountain.


Forest Service Sign on the Big Loop at 13,100 Feet



Don Rifles Through His Pack With A Colorful Point 13,870 in the Background

We stopped here for a break and for food. The remainder of the climb from here would be more steep. The weather still looked good although it was very slowly building by now into fair weather cumulous.

At about 13,200 feet the road turns a little nastier and steeper. It was at this point that we met two friendly girls who had left the Denver area at the insane hour of 2am in order to make the drive…all the way to 13,200 feet! We stopped and chatted as we smeared ourselves with sunblock. Our own selves…not each other.


Sharon (black) Tina (purple) and Don look at the Remaining Route up Antero



At this Point the “Road” Switchbacks Up Between the Two Points and Drops You at the Narrow Ridge Leading to Antero. The Brown Marker Center Frame is the Forest Service Route Maker – Route 278A

From here the road is much steeper, rockier, and narrow. It is still not too bad for the hiker but it sure slowed me down. Its really not all that bad. I am just not as fit as I would like and also I am carrying an extra 25lbs of unneeded bodily mass. It was also pretty hot.


Climbers Grinding Their Way Up the Rougher Portion of the Climb Towards the Ridge

At the top of the switchbacks we were thankfully delivered to the near-end of the ridge to Antero. The ridge may look a little imposing but it is never more than an easy Class 2 hike. There are a few portions where you have to use your hands to haul yourself up narrow, but short, rock crevasses, but it is enjoyable in a mildly challenging way.


First Close Look at the Ridge with Antero In the Background. This is the End of the Road, Literally.

The road ends here and even has parking for several vehicles. This is as far as many people ever come. From here they spread out to various portions of the mountain hunting gems. Peak Baggers continue on towards Antero over a beautiful ridge liberally sprinkled with interesting spires and other rock formations.


The High Point on the Ridge is Chemically Altered, Nearly White, Rock. It Contrasts Strongly to the Surrounding Geology.



Three Equidistant Spires Along the Ridge. This Ridge is a Beautiful and Fun Scramble.

Don and I continued on to the ridge with Antero well in sight. The weather was holding and it certainly looked as though we would make this summit. Don was energetically, but carefully, cranking his way along the ridge. The entire ridge took perhaps 15 minutes or so to traverse.

From the ridge and most of the final pitch we could see happy successful climbers on Antero’s summit. I would not call this a crowded peak. In fact it was rather more deserted than I thought it would be with just the “normal” number of climbers on the route. After completing the ridge we were delivered to our final pitch at the base of Antero. There were two choices. One route zig-zags easily up Antero’s southern slope. The other route blasts directly up the southwest shoulder to the summit.


Seven or so Climbers Ascending the Direct Route to Antero’s Peak

On the ascent Don and I elected to take the marginally longer but somewhat easier Southern route as I was feeling a bit winded. Don pulled ahead drawn by the urge to stand on his first 14er of 2011. I dawdled up the trail until I apparently took a wrong turn somewhere at a switchback. At this point I didn’t bother to find the actual route and I simply made a direct line up the last 100 vertical rocky feet to the summit. I arrived just a few minutes behind Don at around 10am.


Don (above) and Me (below) on Antero’s Summit Around 10:15am


I relaxed on the smallish summit of Antero with Don and just one other person. Amazing. Just one other person to share this summit with. We watched as the cumulous clouds began to build into something just a bit more exciting than the fair weather clouds that had been with us most of the day. It didn’t look like bad weather was imminent but we still had the down climb to, and then along, the exposed ridge. We both agreed that we did not want to be on that ridge if something more sinister were to develop from the formerly friendlier clouds.

Don and I descended the direct route down to the ridge passing a few groups of folks and exchanging some friendly mountain chatter. We crossed the ridge and then headed down. At about 13,200 feet we were surprised to see a small weasel. It was skittering about in the rocks then ran across the mining road where I got a good look at the thing. It was not a pika. It definitely had a long slender body and small ears. Interesting…I had never seen a weasel before outside of a courtroom. We also saw three ptarmigan near this area during our ascent.

Don and I finally reached camp a little after 1pm after endlessly negotiating the long switchbacks, dodging ATVs and 4X4s. It was a hot day. And little if any breeze. The heat really zaps me on these hikes. It was a great hike and Don was quite happy (relieved) to have a new 14er under his belt. The clouds really started to build and there was even the rumble of thunder as were packing up camp .

We stopped at the Coyote Cantina (http://coyotecantina.com/) in Johnson Village (near Buena Vista) for one of the best burritos in the world and a beer, then the long drive home to the Denver area through the vast expanse of 285 and South Park. Another great hike and it was great to be back in the hills with Don.

If you liked this trip report and photographs please check out my book at:


AnteroTRK, Aug 2011

GPS track, Aug 17, 2011. Round Trip Length About 10 Miles, and a Little Bit Better than 3,400 Feet Elevation Gain.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mt. Elbert, Solitude It’s Not. But It Is Thoroughly 14,433 Feet Wonderful


Finally! 14+ feet and its already August. Crazy! Crazy I tell you. Last year I made it to 14+ feet at the end of May. But last year there was not the snow on the summits that we had this year. There is STILL snow up there now. It seems fitting that I would climb the highest Colorado peak after waiting so long to get started.

Mt. Elbert, 14,433 feet. The king of the 14ers in Colorado. And just a few feet shy of the highest continental 14er, Mt. Whitney located in California. While Elbert is indeed the highest peak in Colorado, it is not exactly challenging…technically. It is, pretty much any route you try, a long hike with plenty of steep portions. But it is essentially a walk up.

We chose the South Mt. Elbert trail originating near Twin Lakes. It’s a great trail with the typical long, steep, hot, aspeny approach. Its about 4.5 miles from the trailhead to summit. But you traverse aspen forest, krumholz, alpine tundra and rock. All along the way there is much to look at. It’s a rather pleasant hike.

It’s a good thing too. Cause you are likely to be hiking with many, many “friends.” Laurence and I started this hike at around 6:15am from the trailhead and still had a bunch of company. Typically when starting a hike this early there are few people. But, as Elbert is “easy”, close to Denver, and the highest summit on CO, it does attract the crowds.

I originally climbed Mt. Elbert in August of 2003…eight years ago. Things have changed since then. There are now a LOT more people on the trail. I finished my 40 X 50 14ers last year, and the proceeding years, with more distant and less travelled peaks including, Handies, Blanca, Uncompahgre Peaks. These are not as crowded as the closer-to-Denver-easier-hikes-that-anyone-may-drive-to mountains.

But I am not saying the crowds are a bad thing…always. Sometimes you need that remoteness and solitude that a high peak can provide. And sometimes its fun to tear up a mountainside with tons of folks. For some reason I rarely meet someone I would classify as a wanker in the mountains. Usually they are interested in the same things as me. They cooperate on the trail. And are generally pleasant to be around in those regimes above 13,000 feet.

Laurence and I were going to climb Elbert the weekend before but the weather was locked into the monsoon flow and there appeared to be a very high chance of thunder and lightening on Elbert. So we postponed one week to much better weather.

I found a campsite at the unexpectedly nice Forest Service Whitestar Campground near Twin Lakes. We had a great walk-on site. It oddly had no bugs. We got a late start on Friday 5th. And then there was a bunch of traffic. We stopped at the Dam Brewery in Silverthorne for dinner. It was excellent. We finally arrived at the campsite at around 9pm. It was dark. We wondered around a bit till we found the site and then were pleasantly surprised by it large size, levelness, and general layout. It was really quite nice. We set up our tents. Then took some time to look into the dark starry night. We saw the light of several satellites and the Milky Way in beautiful clarity. Around 10pm we retired to our respective tents for a 4:45am wakeup call.

4:45am came pretty damn early. Laurence and I roused ourselves, ate, organized gear, etc. We climbed into Laurence’s Forerunner and headed off for the trailhead just a couple of miles North past the Twin Lakes Campground arriving around 6am. After last minute preparations we were “boots-on-trail” around 6:15.

The hike starts out through some pretty dense foliage crossing a creek and finally climbing into a thick and beautiful aspen forest as it climbs steeply uphill.


The South Elbert Trail Winds its Way Through Some Rather Dense and Beautiful Aspen Forest

There are, as is typical of the Sawatch range, some pretty steep portions within the first mile or so of the hike. As you gain altitude you are afforded a beautiful view of Twin Lakes now increasingly below you.


The Trail Ascends Up Providing Views of the Twin Lakes Area Below

Finally the aspens begin to thin out and open up into alpine meadows near tree line. It feels good, for me at least, to get out of the trees. I much prefer hiking above tree line. I like the open rugged solitude of busted up rocks and high altitude alpine tundra. So it is with great anticipation that I welcomed the open meadows.


Laurence Stops just Above Tree Line for a Few Pictures. Twin Lakes in the Background

And finally the meadows transition to tundra. The trail in this potion of the hike has been widened and duplicated. At some points there are three or four distinct braided/parallel trails. But the way is clear and well travelled.

There were several groups of folks that we were “leapfrogging” along the trail(s). We would stop to rest. They would stop chat and move on. Then they would stop to rest. Repeat, for hours, and you get the idea.


Well Into the Tundra at Around 13,000 Feet We were Never Far from the Crowds. Elbert’s Summit in the Background.

The climb above 13,000 feet relented somewhat. Its still a grind but nothing too steep. Great scenery comes into view and we both got a good look at the people coming up the “standard route” about a half mile to the North using the Half Moon trail. You will be thankful to be climbing via the South Elbert Trail when you see how steep that trail is.

The trail turns to the SW to West and contours gently around the the upper portions of the peak just above 13,700 feet. At 14,100 feet the trail finally turns for its final summit pitch. At this point the climber STILL has over 340 feet vertical to ascend.


The Crowds are Visible Even From a Few Hundred Feet Below the Summit

At this point, Laurence and I slogged through the last switchbacks up the trail to the whooping and hollering crowds at the summit. The weather was great. It was warm and just a little breezy. Immediately below the summit I saw the precise point where the Half Moon Trail and the South Elbert Trail join, at right angles. I just found it amusing and interesting to stand on that spot. Maybe it was hypoxia. I don’t know. It seemed cool at the time that these trails that start miles apart and thousands of feet below finally meet just feet under Elbert’s summit.


The Exact Point where the Half Moon and South Elbert Trails Meet. Climbers in Background Ascending Half Moon. Climbers to Extreme Right Ascending South Elbert.

From the trail junction I turned for the last few feet to Elbert’s crowded summit. I could literally hear several conversations and people whooping in celebration at arriving upon the highest point in Colorado and indeed the second highest point in the Continual US. Mt. Whitney in California is about 72 feet higher. But heck, Whitney is in Cali.


Two Climbers Walk the Last Few Feet to Elbert’s Summit on a Well Worn Trail



Laurence (right foreground in green and black jacket) Takes in the Views and the Summit “Party”

I walked up the last few feet in total exhilaration at FINALLY reaching 14,000! Indeed 14,433 feet! It was August 6 and here I was finally tottering around on a 14er summit this late in the year. What the Hell!? It felt great! Laurence and I had had a great climb. Excellent conversation. Incredible views and meeting many MANY friendly folks along the way. The weather was perfect with just some fair weather cumulous drifting by above. Not even that far above.


A Bunch of People on the Summit. There were More Dogs on Elbert’s Summit than I Usually see People on Other 14er Summits.



Another Look (NE) at the Summit Crowds. Two Ladies We Met on the Summit (Julie left in red, Jodie right in purple)

Laurence and I talked with lots (LOTS) of folks on the summit. It seemed we were in the prime photo spot as group after group asked if we could snap their summit picture…Which we did, happily.

One pair of folks who we met was Jodie and Julie shown above. Very nice ladies from Grand Junction who we ended up talking with on the summit. Elbert was Jodie’s first 14er and Julie’s 4th.

I (and I am guessing most 14er climbers) typically poo poo crowded hikes. But Elbert is different. I guess because we expected that it would be crowded. Well…maybe not this crowded. But anyway, it was absolutely fun. Everyone was joyful, almost manic as is often the case in the thin air of 14,000+ feet. But as Jodie said, “it was fun to be a part of the energy of the crowd.” I completely agree.


The Heroic Summit Shot of Me (left) and Laurence (right) on the Summit of Elbert

The trip back down was uneventful. We followed our ascent route and passed a lots of people still coming up. The hike, as hikes often do, dragged on and on…and on. This was a nine mile round trip. While not super long, it is not trivial, especially if you factor in the 4,000 foot ascent. And it was a rather hot day.

We arrived back at the trailhead around 2:30pm. Not a bad time considering the 6:15 start and the time spent on top. Laurence and I drove back to the Whitestar Campground from the trailhead where we struck camp and then headed off to the Golden Burro in Leadville to fill our pie holes with a burrito. The Golden Burro has been hit or miss in the past. But on this day it was a definite hit!

The service was excellent and the food fantastic. And the waitresses were all dressed in period clothing (which was oddly alluring) because we were coincidentally in Leadville during “Leadville Boom Days.” See http://www.leadvilleboomdays.com/ for more info.

Elbert was a great climb and Laurence a great climbing partner. Along with the “cast-of-thousands” this late (in my season) 14er hike was a success!

If you enjoyed reading this trip report, and honestly, how could you not, please have a look at my recently published book, “a common experience.” You can find information here: http://4000meters.blogspot.com/2011/03/please-have-look-at-my-recently.html.

Elbert Aug 6, 2011

GPS Route of the Elbert Climb