Tony Vagneur: Hopscotching 14ers is better with camaraderie and conversation
So one day this spring, Margaret says she’d like to climb five or six fourteeners this summer, sort of as a birthday present to herself. “Great idea, Margaret, go for it,” I said, knowing the punchline had yet to be delivered.
“No Tony, you don’t get it. We, you and I, should do some 14ers this summer.”
“Oh, what the hell,” I half-heartedly muttered, “count me in.”
Actually, I’d been thinking about doing another one, just for the pure joy of it, but hadn’t solidified that thinking. I’m never sure what the draw is above 13,000 feet — little vegetation, no trees, scarce animal life. Veritable moonscape. But the views aren’t bad.
In any case, after many travels with Margaret, I’ve learned that she is a logistics and travel planner extraordinaire and creates some of the best trips I’ve ever been on. So, I kept my mouth shut after the above conversation, waiting to see what evolved.
Decalibron! Hike four fourteeners in one day, said the post. Now we’re talking, get this fourteener stuff out of the way quickly. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross peaks, combining the first two letters of each name to eventually make a word, and ending with a vowel and a consonant — Decalibron. It’s rated as “Difficult.”
We chose a Monday for this hike, knowing full well that weekends would be extremely crowded. A fellow hiker, going the other way, remarked that he’d arrived Saturday morning to find the area around the trailhead maxed out with more than 100 cars. He camped out, waiting until Monday to tackle the peaks. There were about 12 cars Monday.
It was brisk, 34 degrees as we hit the parking lot. All we could see were a few headlamps scrambling around, trying to decipher which trail to take. The moon, the beautiful, reasonably full moon, off to the southwest and still in the sky, became our early morning guide. And, of course, with the rising sun came the cool breeze, turning sometimes into wind. It was a perfect hiking day.
We’ve done fourteeners before and usually found ourselves alone, or sharing the mountain with very few people. This was a different experience, and not unpleasant, as you might think. As we climbed, we learned that piggy-backing (hopscotching) seems to make friends along the way. We’d stop to let two or three people by; a short time later, they’d be stopped and we’d go by, ever reaching for more altitude.
We met a young woman from New Orleans on Mount Democrat celebrating her first climb of a fourteener and was happy to let it go at that. She and Margaret had gone to the same college in “New Leens,” as bluesman Huddie Ledbetter used to say. A couple of other ladies, with whom we hopscotched for the next two peaks, had journeyed from Colorado Springs and were interested in only summitting two of the mountains. They laughed and giggled almost the entire way, following their Australian Shepherd, Bella, up the trail.
Keep in mind, it’s mostly younger people who get off on climbing fourteeners, so we were surprised to see an older gentleman approach the top of Democrat, leading a young, fresh-faced teenager. We saw him on the next two peaks, having conversation, learning that he had previously brought two grandsons on this hike, in separate years, and this was his third trip, bringing his granddaughter this year. They had driven two days before from Topeka, Kansas, to make the trek, and were heading straight back home the next day. He was 69-years-old.
There were others we met and conversed with, including one group who lost a member early due to injury, taking a fall on the slick scree downclimbing an early peak. It was only a day, and a short one at that, but we all came together as sort of family, all doing the same thing, with the same goals.
Some climbed Mount Bross first, working their way around just the opposite of us. We did Bross last, and it appeared that we were among the few who did it at all. The highlight, perhaps, was watching an old, seemingly frail mountain goat walk our trail in the opposite direction. Hats off to creatures who make a living up there.
But it wasn’t over. We still had to intersect with the trail off Mount Bross, a very unpleasant, steep, slick and rocky ribbon of potential tragedy. Everyone we talked to told us not to go down that way. Is that like a dare?
Margaret cussed; I cussed; we made it down, passed a wonderful waterfall, and celebrated over cold drinks at the parking lot with a 69-year-old man and his teenaged granddaughter.
Margaret and I might climb another one or two this year; maybe not. That was a good day in our book.
Tony Vagneur, 72, writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.