Our Final 2 Weeks in the Wilderness – Week 6 and 7

Total Miles Hiked this Summer: 240 Miles
Total Elevation Gained this Summer: 98,000 ft

Well, with 5 peaks left before we reach our summer goal of 36 peaks, we will unfortunately come up a little short. After Kirsten’s knee problems in Chicago Basin, we decided to take it easier with more rest days between peaks. After climbing Longs peak yesterday, we reluctantly decided that it would be our last of the summer. Kirsten’s knee wasn’t getting any better and since she still needed it for South America, so we thought it was best to not push it.

After Chicago Basin, we took a few days off to see if Kirsten’s knee would improve. After a few days, we decided to continue climbing and drove up to Aspen to climb in the Elk Range.  Our first peak to climb in the Elks was Castle Pk.  The Elks are a beautiful range and Castle was no exception.  Castle holds a lot of snow throughout the entire year, so we finally got some use out of our ice axes and microspikes.

Kirsten reaching the summit of Castle

Next up in the Elks was going to be Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak. However, since it was a weekend, the Maroon Bells overnight lot was full so we headed back to Buena Vista to continue making progress and finish up some peaks in the Sawatch.

Back in the Buena Vista area, we still needed to summit Mt Harvard and Missouri Mountain.  Earlier in the summer we hadn’t been able to traverse from Mt Columbia to Mt Harvard due to extremely strong winds and lack of visibility.  Also, we had substituted Missouri Mountain with Pikes Peak so that we could make an emergency stop at the apple store in CO Springs to get our Mac working again (turns out we needed a new hard drive).  We had chosen to hold off on Missouri Mountain in particular because it has a deep and wide river crossing at the beginning of the 4WD road leading to its trailhead.  Due to all the spring snow Colorado received this year, it would have been impossible for our Xterra to cross it back in early July, making the hike much longer.  Later in the summer we knew we would be fine.

Since we had already been up to the Horn Fork Basin to summit Mt Columbia, we decided to climb Harvard from the much less traveled route on the eastern slopes.  It turned out to be a beautiful hike, most of it on open tundra.  The hike was 11 miles round trip and 4,120 ft of elevation gain.

Breaking out of tree-line on our way up to Mt Harvard

We were thinking we’d take a full two days off between mountains, but after a day off, we decided it was time to climb Missouri Mountain.  The river crossing was intimidating, but not a problem at all for the Xterra.  The route up Missouri was short and sweet: 3,200 ft of elevation gain over only 2.7 miles (5.4 miles round trip).  We made quick work of it and were back in Buena Vista that afternoon.

Kirsten refueling on our way up to Missouri

After Missouri, the next peak north on our list would have been Mt of the Holy Cross, near Vail.  However, the forest service had decided to close the road leading up to the trailhead for the entire summer in order to cut down the pine trees that had been killed by the pine beetle.  The next best route would have been much longer and not on a trail, so we decided that mountain will have to wait until next summer.

Since Mt of the Holy Cross was off the agenda, we decided to hit a peak nearby that Kirsten had yet to summit but was my first 14er ever, something like 10 years ago: Mt Massive.

We drove to the Mt Massive trailhead, intending to spend a day relaxing, then climb it the second day.  Around noon of our rest day, however, we saw that the sky was clear and we decided to snag an afternoon summit.  This was a Saturday, and on most Saturdays you would expect to encounter quite a few other hikers, however when we reached the summit around 4 pm, the last of the other hikers were leaving and we had the summit all to ourselves.

Kirsten proud of all the wild strawberries she picked on our day off

Our final goal of the summer was to climb Longs Peak.  Longs Peak is a long hike (15 miles) and quite a bit of elevation gain (5,300 ft), so we had intentionally saved it for our last climb of the summer so that we’d be in good shape.  Also, it is known for being ridiculously crowded — probably because it can be seen from so many front range cities and also because of the huge number of people visiting Rocky Mountain National Park — so we knew we wanted to climb it on a weekday.  We wound up splitting the cost of an overpriced $20 campsite with a random guy we saw setting up his camp named Stuart.  Stuart is from Summit County and into mountain biking so we had a lot to talk about.  Since he was alone (except for his dog Lucy, who isn’t allowed on the Longs Pk trail or on any trail in RMNP for that matter) and he said he would like to hike with someone, we decided to hike with him.  It turns out that he was a fast hiker which was nice…we started at 5 am, and averaged almost 3 mph up to the ‘keyhole’ and reached the summit in about 4 hours (past the ‘keyhole’ the route is single-file and you are only as fast as the slowest person on the mountain).  Longs Peak is a great mountain with a magnificent 1,000 foot tall vertical northeast face overlooking you for most of the hike.

Summit shot on Longs

As we continued to push forward with these 14ers, Kirsten’s knee wasn’t getting any better – in fact, it was getting worse. After our tedious push on Longs, we decided enough was enough. It was a hard decision since we were so close to our goal but probably wise since we still had 10 months of exploring South America, not to mention, less than adequate health coverage since we left our jobs.

Now we’re headed to Denver for about a week to wrap some things up and then to Texas before we leave for South America in mid-September.

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One thought on “Our Final 2 Weeks in the Wilderness – Week 6 and 7

  1. Hello, we are interested in using your Chicago Basin trail photo on a conference Brochure (CO Legislative Council conference in Vail CO) and would like get your permission and a better resolution copy of the photo. Please contact me ASAP. Thank you!!

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