June 23, 2007

Big Guy on a 14er

On the late morning of June 22, a larger than average climber was spotted on the summit of 14,197 foot Mt. Princeton in Colorado's Sawatch Range. Passers by were dumbfounded by the spectacle. After an arduous 5 hr ascent, the 54-year-old man from Oregon gained the summit of Colorado's 18th highest peak.

Enough of this narrative. Last week, my dad came to visit. He arrived on Sunday night - Father's Day. I had to work Monday through Wednesday, so we began our Colorado road trip on Wednesday evening. I had previously picked out a 14,000 foot peak in the San Juan Range of southwest Colorado by the name of Uncompahgre Peak as Dad wanted to try another 14er after his thwarted attempt on Mount of the Holy Cross one year ago. Utilizing a 4-wheel drive road, we hoped to cut the remaining part of the trail into a manageable section.

We began hiking through one of Colorado's most beautiful landscapes at 5 am. Progress went well up to about 12,000 feet, where the pace began to slow noticeably. At around 13,300 feet, the big guy admitted defeat. I finished up the climb and caught up with Dad for the remainder of the descent.

Since we started so early to avoid the very predictable noon thunderstorms, we had much of the day left after returning to the trailhead. We used this extra time to detour through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. At one point, the canyon is 2000 feet deep and only 1000 feet from rim to rim. It is also home to Painted Wall, the largest cliff in Colorado at 2300 vertical feet.

That evening we drove about half way home, stopping in the middle of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range. Hear we planned to get dad another chance at summiting a 14er as the Mt. Princeton road neutralizes some of the defenses guarding the summit of Mt. Princeton.

With a similar start time as the previous day, we began slowly trudging up the mountain. It turns out we parked about a mile further up the road than we should have, which caused us to have to traverse about 3/4 mile of boulder field before joining up with the main trail. Once on the trail, progress was slow and steady for the next few hours.

The last 500 feet required Dad to feed off of his determination and trick himself into thinking that the air contained more oxygen than it did. Ultimately, he fought his way to the top and summited his first 14er in three attempts.

About half way down the mountain on the descent, the clock struck 12 and the thunderstorms began. As quickly as possible, we finished off the descent without ever feeling a strange electrical charge in the surrounding air.

As Dad ticked off his first Colorado 14er, I ticked off numbers 15 and 16. There are 54 overall and I'm trying to see how many I can do while living in this state.

No comments: