The day before Thanksgiving I decided to go for an ambitious winter hike up four 14ers in one day. Mt Democrat (14,148 ft.) Mt Cameron (14,238 ft.), Mt Lincoln (14,286 ft.) and Mt. Bross (14,172 ft.) This hike is about 8 miles round trip, but gains close to 4000 ft in elevation. On 11/23/2011 it was about 4 degrees when I started hiking at 6:30am.
On the way up Mt. Democrat, the day lived up to it's forecast of a beautiful day, although it was chilly to start it warmed to probably 25 or 30 degrees and there was a lot of sun, and very little wind. It was tough hiking though since I was "breaking trail" through the newly windblown snow on the trail. I did not bring snowshoes for this hike, but I did have microspikes on over my -40 degree insulated boots the whole time. There were places on the trail where the snow was knee high and even thigh high at times. The further up I went, the better it got since the wind seemed to have cleared the snow from the trail the higher I went.
Finally getting into a zone, I reached the saddle between Democrat and Cameron. At this point I thought Democrat was immediately to my left up about 300 ft more in elevation, but I slowly realized there were a few false summits and it was really more like 600 - 700 ft further up.
Finally reaching the summit, the day had become downright beautiful for November in the Rockies, I put the jacket in the backpack and was just in my fleece and base layer. I took in the views and even took a video of the surrounding peaks and noted how calm the wind was for a wintry day in the Mosquito range.
Mt. Democrat video
Later I would regret jinxing myself with the comment about calm winds.
I quickly descended back to the saddle and started up Mt. Cameron which runs along the backside on the ridge. Upon reaching the saddle, the wind starts up out of nowhere. I curse myself for commenting about it earlier.
The trail up Cameron, was nowhere to be found for parts of this jaunt so I just did some rock hopping and would occasionally post-hole into some deep snow. During one of these steps into snow covered rocks, my boot oddly hits a loose rock underneath the snow causing a weight shift, and immediately my knee is catching the brunt of the shift of weight. After realizing what happened, I quickly decide to just take another step and see how the knee is. Pain is shooting down the side of my leg and I feel the source of the pain is somewhere on the outside of my knee. So I stop, but I can't stop long because this wind is now bordering on horrible and is freezing. The only way for me to stay warm is to keep moving.
I evaluate my options. My knee is killing me, but I am still able to walk on it. This hike is a loop, so I tell myself that I am probably close to halfway so turning back doesn't even make a whole lot of sense.
A while back I had knee surgery from basketball injuries. So, I tell myself this ain't shit. I got this, and I press on... slower though and in pain. And the wind was calming a bit... or maybe not...
I eventually found the trail again, and this is about the time the wind started to really pick up again. I pressed on with now estimated 40 mph sustained winds. I put my jacket back on, put both layers of my gloves on and had the ski goggles on for a bit to keep the blowing snow out of my eyes. I trudged up Mt. Cameron to the summit which is completely exposed. There is nothing on the summit of Mt. Cameron and is probably the most uninteresting summit I have ever been on.
On the summit of Cameron, the wind picked up even more. I was having lean into the wind to maintain my walking direction. And now is about when two fingers in my right hand start going numb regardless of the fact that I have on quality mountaineering glove with glove liners.
So the hike over to Lincoln is about one mile round trip or so from the loop... but in this wind, with this knee, and fingers I am having trouble keeping warm, a mile sounds like a LONG way. I immediately decide that Lincoln is going to have to wait for another day.
So I start down the loop towards Mt. Bross not even stopping to take a picture from the summit of Cameron. My only thoughts are getting the hell off this mountain and into my warm truck before my knee completely gives out.
Reaching the saddle between Cameron and Bross the wind calms a bit, restoring parts of my sanity, and allowing me enough time to take a drink of water. After my brief break, I continue in winds that are now maybe only 20mph and it's much easier to mange. I decide to hike up the summit of Mt. Bross, thinking to myself, there is no way I could pass this up. It's only 300 - 400 ft in elevation from this loop. I trudge up a old mining rd. / trail and with every step up the wind is getting worse, but the wind is now at my back....pushing me up the trail. Easy hiking when a now 50 or 60 mph wind is pushing you up the trail.
I reach the summit of Bross and snap a few pictures and immediately begin my retreat down to the loop now into the wind. I stop briefly to capture a video of how bad the wind is. I was screaming into the camera about how I am having to walk a 30 degree angle to the trail just to stay upright... and the wind is so bad that you can't even hear me.
Mt Bross video
Anyway, I continue down to the loop where I find a sign that says Mt. Bross summit is closed. Ooops.... too late now. Anyway, I continue down the trail until it disappears and then I end up just descending via a gully with each step hurting me knee more. I glissade down a ways where I can just to help my knee from hurting. I know where I am, but I am desperately trying to find a trail. At one point I sunk to my chest in snow in the gully. I eventually see a sign, and thinking it's the trail I walk over to it. After reading the sign, I wish I hadn't walked over to it. and I really wish I hadn't lost the trail
The sign reads: "Danger : Unsafe mine shafts and highwalls, deadly gas and lack of oxygen, unsafe ladders, unstable explosives, deep pools of water."
I now just straight up haul ass to Kite Lake and the truck has never been a prettier sight. I lose all the gear, climb in the truck and crank some music and drive away from this place.
3 out of 4 summits is not bad. It's not about the summit anyway, it's about the adventure.
Driving away, I am glad to be leaving this place. I don't really ever want to go back, but I know I will be back just to do Lincoln someday.
Note: When I got home after 2.5 hours of driving... I got out of the truck and I could barely even move my knee. Adrenaline = Good stuff.