Chris and his friend from New York have made it a tradition to climb 14ers in Colorado together, and while the pandemic derailed any plans for that tradition last year, they were back at it in full force this year! Below, Chris shares the details.
While 2021 is far from fantastic, thank goodness there are some freedoms restored from 2020. One of my best friends from New York traveled out to Colorado in early September and joined me for two days of hiking 14ers in the Sawatch Mountain Range. We had our eye on three 14ers, specifically:
*Mt. Elbert, which we tackled on Friday with some fellow running club teammates
Here’s our itinerary, in case it helps anyone else interested in doing something similar:
Start of the Hike
I picked Gavin up when he flew in on Wednesday and we drove straight to Buena Vista, a little town that’s about 2.5 hours west of Denver. Buena Vista is a great central location that gives you access to a wonderful mountainous playground. It was fun to spend the time in the car catching up and making up for lost time. We stayed at this great one-bedroom Airbnb (I crashed on the couch), and we checked out the Eddy Line Restaurant, a local brewpub I had remembered from a birthday lunch years ago. We prepped for the hike on Thursday by getting our food, drinks and gear ready and went to bed early. The AirBnB actually didn’t have a smart TV (the horror!) but they did have one of the best DVD collections I have come across, and we were able to rewatch some classics like Snatch, Fight Club and Dogma.
We woke up at 4:30 am and left to hike at 5:00 am the next day. The trailhead for Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford is just a 33 minute drive from Buena Vista. The road to the trailhead is a pretty intense dirt road, but the All Trails directions got us directly there. We were hiking by about 5:45 am, which is way darker than I remembered. Still, a lucky flashlight in the car made it less intimidating (bringing a headlamp or flashlight is a must).
This hike was hard….immediately. Usually, there is a gradual climb or a chill portion, but this hike was pretty hard the entire way. It also didn’t help that we somehow got off the trail and ended up semi-rock climbing up a waterfall and steep, rocky surface of a mountain. It was hectic, to say the least. Finally, we were able to find the trail, and almost kissed the ground when we did.
The rest of the summit was a slog made up of steep switchbacks, as it goes with 14ers, and we reached the top … only to see a thick, heavy cloud cover and some light sleet.
Feeling a little defeated by what we dubbed “the situation,” and seeing the sleet/cloud cover, we decided to bail on Mt. Oxford, the second peak we had planned to hike. Luckily, there was a truly mellow trail off the back of the mountain that was a Godsend. There was even a pretty magnificent rainbow that showed up around 13,000 ft.
The rest of the way down did feel never-ending, but it was very rewarding when we got back to the car.
Details: All told, we hiked 9.5 miles. This was the hardest 14er we have hiked to date (and it is only a Class 2). I would also do this later in July or early August to help avoid any cloud cover. We have unfinished business with Belford and Oxford, so we will be back!
We packed up and left the apartment at 4:30 am and made it to the Mt. Elbert parking lot by 5:20 am Friday … and it was already packed! We were lucky to snag the last parking spot (!) and began hoofing it with our running team friends, Joe and Zach.
Mt. Elbert was two miles longer than Mt. Belford, but the trail is better marked, and is very easy to follow, some hikers refer to it as the ‘gentle giant’. The weather was also incredible on the way up, chilly but sunny. We hit the summit by 8:50 am and took the obligatory pics, though there was some cloud cover that had rolled in.
After that we booked it back down, and we made it back to the lot by 10:50 am. From there we drove to Idaho Springs and stopped at Westbound and Down Brewing for some delicious (and well-deserved!) sandwiches and beer.
Details: All told, we hiked 11 miles and it was well worth it. It is certainly long, but the effort is paid off by the achievement.