Mt Democrat (14,155 ft), Mt Lincoln (14,293), Mt Bross (14,178 ft), Alma, Colorado
Journal of a Mad Hiker (Part 2, continued)
|Hike Stats||Date: September 3, 2002|
|Mount Democrat: 14,155 feet||Base: 12,020 feet||Vertical Rise: 2,135 feet|
|Start: 08:00||Summit: 9:45||Return: N/A (to Lincoln)|
|Mount Lincoln: 14,293 feet||Base: from Democrat||Vertical Rise: ~950 feet|
|Start: 10:00||Summit: 11:25||Return: N/A (to Bross)|
|Mount Bross: 14,178 feet||Base: from Lincoln||Vertical Rise: ~500 feet|
|Start: 11:40||Summit: 12:15||Return: 13:20|
|RT Dist: ~8 miles||Conditions: sunny with afternoon storm|
A peak bagger's dream -- the triple banger. Yes, you can bag three fourteeners in one day. This is the one hike I wished I had time to do on my last trip in June, and the only one I knew for sure I wanted to tackle while I'm here this time. Despite its stats, this hike felt to me one of the easier ones on the circuit. The peaks are clustered together and separated by only a few miles of trails. The vertical drop to the saddles between the peaks are all less than 1,000 feet. The only drawback is that the entire hike is above timberline, and you spend a considerable amount of time in the thin air. Some people would like to embellish their accomplishments by adding Cameron Point to the list of peaks bagged on this hike, making their day a quadruple banger instead of just a triple. Cameron Point is a hill just about dead center between Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross. While it is over 14,000 feet (14,245 ft to be exact), Cameron is not officially recognized as a fourteener in Colorado since it is really just a speedbump along the ridge, and its saddle with Lincoln is less than 300 feet from Lincoln's peak.
Before I get into this hike, let me step back a day first. I passed Labor Day as an exercise in relaxation. Having driven all day Saturday, hiked all day Sunday, I was ready for a rest. It never ceases to amaze me how good it feels to sleep in after a hard day of hiking. I met up with Jennie and Paul, the friends from Phoenix, for a short hike in the afternoon, a nice relaxing stroll at the base of the Flatirons near Boulder. After some leisurely gift and souvenir shopping, I whiled away the evening with a beautiful sunset dinner on the deck of a friend's house. The weather was absolutely perfect; we'd never get to do this in Phoenix during September!
OK, Labor Day has come and gone. Now it's time to get down to the hiking business. Well, I really shouldn't call it business since to me it's all pleasure. Anyway, I got up bright and early and headed toward Fairplay for the triple banger. The trailhead recommended by the book starts at Kite Lake, a campground located at 12,000-ft elevation, 6 dirt-road miles above the little town of Alma half way between Fairplay and Breckenridge. (Can you tell I'm a little peeved at the dirt-road access? I'm gonna have to get a 4WD next year just to avoid the stress.) Unlike all the other hikes I did on this trip, this is the only one where the entire trail lies above timberline. I was a little apprehensive about it at first since I recalled the Longs Peak hike in '98 when I had a very difficult time doing extended hiking above tree line. In retrospect, I shouldn't have worried at all. My body had acclimated to the altitude by then.
A little about the mountains on this hike. All three (Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross) fourteeners lie within the Mosquito Range, a sierra parallel to but due east of the Sawatch Range. There are fewer fourteeners here; Quandary Peak and Mount Sherman are the only other ones. Actually if you want to be technical about it, Quandary belongs to the Tenmile Range, which is usually mentioned in the same breath as the Mosquito.
These three peaks were named in the highly politically charged years during the Civil War era. Originally, mining activity dominated the area, but after the assassination of the eponymous president, pilgrims who climbed Mt. Lincoln in his honor outnumbered the miners. One such pilgrimage in 1868 included then Lt. Governor William Bross of Illinois, and his name was fittingly attached to the hill at Lincoln's side. Not to be outdone by the Republican president, the other prominent peak was named Democrat to achieve a balance of political power in the Mosquito Range. And they all lived harmoniously ever after...
My plan of attack was to capture the toughest peak (Democrat) first, then slog my way over to Lincoln, and return via Bross. It turns out that this route is the standard and recommended way to do the triple banger because most of the work is climbing Democrat from Kite Lake and then up the ridge to Lincoln from Democrat. The hike from Lincoln over to Bross is relatively easy and flat (if anything over 14,000 feet can be called easy and flat) if not a little long winded. I made just one mistake. Somewhere along the way up Democrat, I lost the trail and ended up scrambling up a heaping mound of loose boulders, a process draining much of my reserve energy not to mention extracting most of my available fluids in the form of sweat.
As the morning wore on, the storm clouds started to build up ominously. By the time I reached the large flat top of Mount Bross just after noon, the lightning was threatening close by. As I will learn all too well in the next few days, this pattern of afternoon t-storms almost always played itself out like clockwork, giving me extra incentive to descend the mountains with a little added vigor. On this particular descent down the west side of Bross, the "trail" consists of piles upon piles of loose pebbles and rocks. For every step you take, you slide forward a few extra feet. The whole time I'm thinking, I'm really glad I didn't try to come up this way!!! Made it back to the car by 13:20, a nice morning hike.
I had a few hours to kill in the afternoon, so I explored the area around Alma and Fairplay. It turns out South Park, the town after which the cult cartoon series was named, is in the area, so I decided to check it out. Interesting little tourist trap to say the least.