Being picked up by a car at the Aspen post office during a rare rest day last week must have felt pretty strange for Junaid Dawud and Luke DeMuth, two guys who are attempting what they believe to be the first-ever “through hike” of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners.
Dawud and DeMuth had just completed the seven 14,000-foot-tall peaks of the Elk Mountains — the technical crux of their 70-day, 1,200-mile route — which they accomplished in five days. This was followed by a walk into town from the Snowmass Lake trailhead over Divide Road and across the Government Trail.
At the end of their 36-hour rest in Aspen, the pair, who became friends while both were working in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2009 through 2011, were dropped off again at the post office, meeting one of the rules of their trip: No forward progress in a vehicle is allowed. If the journey is successful, a “continuous set of footprints,” as Dawud put it, will link Culebra Peak in the south with Longs Peak in the north, touching the summit of every Colorado fourteener along the way.
“It’s like a long game of connect the dots,” Dawud said while in Aspen last week, noting the logistical challenge of planning the route and including enough opportunities for resupplying with food in towns along the way.
From the post office on Thursday morning, Dawud, 33, and DeMuth, 27, returned to the backcountry via Smuggler Mountain Road and the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, setting off on a two-day trek for Mount Massive. They are now in the midst of a north-to-south hike through the Sawatch Range, having bagged 37 summits as of Monday. Labor Day was the pair’s second four-summit day of the trip, as they linked Huron, Missouri, Belford and Oxford, according to the 14ers Thru Hike Twitter feed.
The route began July 20 with a south-to-north journey through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, followed by a descent to the San Luis Valley through Great Sand Dunes National Park. They then walked along paved roads across the valley until reaching the San Juans.
After completing the San Juans and finishing with Uncompahgre, they walked to Gunnison, and then up and over Pearl Pass to reach Castle and Conundrum peaks. After descending to the hot springs and crossing a few more mountain passes — Triangle and East Maroon — they reached Pyramid and the Bells, which they linked via Buckskin Pass to Snowmass and Capitol. They went the standard route up and down Snowmass, and reached Capitol via the West Snowmass Trail and Moon Lake.
Once the Sawatch peaks are crossed off, Dawud and DeMuth will face one of the most difficult legs of the journey: a long walk across relatively flat terrain using mostly state highways to reach Pike’s Peak, and then another traverse to get to the Tenmile-Mosquito Range. They then plan to jut west to get Holy Cross, and finish with the Front Range peaks by the end of September.
Walking the roads can be more difficult than the mountain hiking — “a special kind of brutality” that wears on you psychologically, Dawud said.
According to Dawud’s research, the closest anyone has come to the through hike have been trips following a similar route, but using bikes to cross the long distances between mountain ranges.
One of the biggest challenges has been consuming enough calories to sustain the effort. Granola and oats have made up most breakfasts, while peanut butter sandwiches have been a staple. Mac and cheese or some other pasta dish has been a go-to for dinner, while sharp cheddar cheese and cured salami have provided comfort food that keeps well, Dawud said.
Dawud, whose home is in Boulder, had done the West Coast-spanning Pacific Crest Trail twice and said he was “jonesing for another [big] hike.” He contemplated a walk along the Continental Divide Trail, and came up with the idea to hit every fourteener.
“I thought, ‘Huh, I’ll bet you could do that,’” he said.
He convinced DeMuth, who lives in Carbondale and works at Whole Foods market, to join him.
“It’s always been one trip after another,” DeMuth said of his traveling experience, which led him to believe the fourteener through hike could be right for him.
During the rest day in Aspen, Dawud and DeMuth said they felt great about the trip so far, and that their momentum was going in the direction of a strong finish.
“It’s pretty easy to stay motivated — just look around,” DeMuth said.
Along they way, they’ve seen parts of the state few have ever laid eyes on, and crossed paths with numerous kind souls. At one point, DeMuth’s raincoat became ruined, and soon after, a stranger gave him his on top of Sunshine Peak in the San Juans. This was serendipitous because the next two weeks were full of “all the precipitation one could see — on a daily basis,” Dawud said. After a resupply in the next town and a new jacket, DeMuth mailed the life-saver loaner back to the kind stranger.
The whole experience of the hike has “renewed my faith in humanity,” Dawud said.
The pair is raising money along the way for Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit that takes underprivileged children on wilderness mentoring expeditions. Dawud said that if everyone they meet along the way who professes a desire to buy them a drink would contribute $5, they could easily exceed their $2,000 fundraising goal.
The lesson for Dawud, who’s most recent paycheck came from a restaurant in Boulder, has been to “place your passion as your priority — everything else will fall in line,” he said.