“Here I go again on my own …” — David Coverdale, Whitesnake
When it comes to climbing fourteeners, I’m no Christy Mahon. I’ve hiked the ones around here and a few others, mostly because I was just plain sick of looking at them. Colorado’s fourteeners are not to be taken lightly, however. I once heard a crusty bearded old timer with brown-liquor soaked breath prophetically say they “ain’t done killin’…”
The mountains are indifferent to those who choose to hike them. That being said, some of the people themselves who hike fourteeners are in turn indifferent to the mountains — like the two shirtless frat boys chest bumping each other at the summit, chugging beers and taking pictures for Facebook on their iPhones at the top of the last one I hiked up this summer over by Buena Vista.
Of all of the activities out there, hiking ranks high in my least favorite category. Hiking bores me, but I still do it anyway because it’s the only way to access the best terrain in our state if you don’t own a horse. Horses scare me to death; I have nightmares about them.
When I was a kid our family was at a dude ranch in Squaw Valley, and I was put on a horse named “Mouse” that was apparently really kid friendly. We got out on the trail and it decided to turn around and bolt back to the stable in a full gallop with me hanging on for my dear life.
My first experience was hiking Capitol Peak shortly after my 40th birthday. It took me that long to “bag” (ugh — another irritating word) a fourteen. That summer it seemed like everyone was “bagging” the peaks around here. It was all I kept hearing about, and so I decided to see what the fuss was about. Besides, if I looked at Capitol anymore without hiking it, I was seriously gonna puke.
I did a little bit of research and looked at a book with route descriptions and was immediately confused with all of the elaborate terminology used to describe the technical hike. There were lofty directions about “achieving the summit,” and routes with complex directional instructions telling you what to do, and where to do it. These books, the accompanying maps and descriptions, drive me absolutely nuts.
My next mistake was to look on the Internet and read descriptions of the hike from people all over the country. It didn’t take me long to realize that the people who hike fourteeners religiously are a subculture of complete freaks.
As usual, I set out alone. I was surprised to find the campsite full at the base. Luckily, a couple from Canada, with long tired faces and hoarse voices from arguing with each other about the route all day, was leaving their site when I arrived. It soon became apparent that I was surrounded by tourists. How ironic. I started a survey and found that everyone I came into contact with was from somewhere else, and I could see Capitol Peak from my bedroom window.
I woke early and started up, nervously. I had running shoes, a head lamp and a fanny pack on (clothes too). There was one group ahead of me, and I assumed they knew where they were going, until they started down a steep scree-choked gully toward Moon Lake, and I intuitively knew they were wrong and took a different route. As the sun rose, the well-worn path became blatantly obvious.
Getting to the peak was cute and all, but I was more concerned with getting down. I soon realized that finding the way down is much easier for me. But you need to be deliberate when you hike fourteeners — these mountains are literally falling apart. I’ve never been happier to see my car back at the trailhead.
Generally speaking, I’m a minimalist and like to travel light. I was astonished to see the number of people and the amount of gear they were coming up with as I passed them on the way down. Someone even had a dog with them.
Hiking fourteeners is absolutely brutal. The length of time you’re on your feet, the elevation, the descent and the elements all add up to a brutal day — even the easy ones. They’re certainly not for everyone, but that doesn’t stop people. Hiking fourteeners actually feels like it’s bad for you.
When it comes to hiking fourteeners I’m a bit disillusioned right now. I guess I was expecting more of a peaceful wilderness experience — like I’ve been accustomed to over the years in the woods here.
As far as the fourteeners around here, I’m grateful to have Mountain Rescue Aspen as a priceless resource. I’m anxiously waiting to see their long-deserved new headquarters being constructed. It’ll be interesting to see how their campaign to inform people about our local fourteeners unfolds.
I oddly sympathize with those hell-bent on hiking fourteeners and truly hope they find whatever it is they are looking for. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to seek the road less traveled.
Email Lorenzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.