The 24-hour record of eight 14ers cross-country (23hrs:01min) established two weeks ago by Mike Tilden and myself is still intact! It is a soft record though and I encourage those so inclined and able in body to make the good effort and break it! It is uplifting, fun, salubrious, as well as beneficial to your immortal soul.
I am pleased to have made a new friend this weekend. Mike Trevino, winner of this year's Badwater 135 flew in from San Diego to attempt nine 14ers in 24 hours with me this Friday. We met in Buena Vista and after getting a room at the Topaz Lodge in Buena Vista for Sunday, proceeded to drop his rental car at Denny Creek TH for the end of our journey, then to place caches at Winfield, and Lake Creek (at the shortcut established by Jim Nelson and Mike Trevino in this year's Nolans). Finally, we drove my 4W drive truck to 10,800 feet, below Elbert's west face (the route of choice for Nolan's). With clouds rolling in we set up the tent for a few hours of "resting the eyes" before our midnight departure on Saturday.
After the alarm at 2345 we quickly awoke and were ready to hit the trail under a gibous moon. Crossing the creek with its broken bridge where we had camped we instantly realized that we could have negotiated the creek with my truck and driven much higher. Half an hour later we reached the cairn where the West Slopes route leaves the 4Wdrive road at 11,400 feet. Though we were half an hour into the trek we started the clock here, since 3,000 feet elevation gain is what is required for the first 14er.
A mere hour and 32 minutes later we stood triumphant on Elbert's summit. We felt strong, confident and encouraged by a great start. Dropping along the SW ridge towards Bull Hill we floundered a bit in the dark, never finding a "trail", instead forced to pick our way through talus. We skirted Bull Hill to the left as I had in Nolans, accompanied at that time by Blake Wood, Jim Nelson, and Mike Tilden. As we came around to the other side of Bull Hill Mike broke out his high-powered flashlight as we looked for the mine and the old jeep road we needed to connect to below us. Not locating it we continued down slope always moving left thinking we would run into it. Unfortunately we had overshot it. Finally as we decided to simply drop through timber towards highway 82 we proceeded to really "beat ourselves up" with sticks stones and other debris taking their shots at our legs. When we finally reached the highway we had not only lost time, but were a mile east of the Echo Canyon Trailhead. We shuttle-step jogged up road under the brilliant moon-lit sky towards the route across Lake Creek we had scouted the day before. It had taken us three hours and five minutes to descend Elbert and reach our cache--absymal. Still, we had optimism for the attempt and kept the good spirits up.
Crossing the river with our "old shoe drop" of the day before we made a good ascent of La Plata, 14,366', reaching the top as dawn broke, six hours and 57 minutes into it, and 2hrs18min for the ascent. Damn good for the long way up La Plata--we were jazzed once again. The descent to Winfield was flawless. Once we hit the trail we pounded it. With an on trail descent rate of 90 feet a minute we reached Winfield at 10,260' in 1hr38min.
We reached our cache a little ways up the road towards Huron's trailhead. Here we spent about twenty minutes eating, drinking, and organizing our packs for the rest of the journey.
To reach Huron's Trail Head we first had to hike the road a ways. I was not long before I began to wonder if we had come too far. Had we missed a sign for the trailhead? I had been up this road twice very recently, but both times in the dark. Now we came on a point where the road broke out with choices left and right as well as straight on with no signposts. I had my doubts. Perhaps we had come too far and missed the turn for the trail head. Checking our elevation showed us at 10,700' and according to the topo we had indeed overshot the trailhead. The best course we could determine was to proceed directly upslope through steep timber slopes and hope to connect with the trail.
All fine and good--we were making a great ascent time, over 30 feet a minute--we congratulated ourselves on finding a better ascent alternative to the switch-backing trail. Unfortunately as often happens in the mountains we were not where we thought we were. Also as often happens, trails noticed on distant slopes match up with your onhand topo though they are in fact trails from a drainage or two distant. On this morning we thought the trails we were observing to our left as we ascended the steep easy timber slopes was the trail up Huron--in fact they were a mere jeep road--Hurons trail was to our right, we eventually realized. We continued up the ridge to Browns Peak, well off course. By this time we had invested quite an effort to reach a point well off course. Our best course in the circumstances was to simply aim for the ridge to Huron.
Reaching the summit of Huron, 14,003', 3hrs and 6min after we had left our "stash" at Winfield was disheartening, but we still felt that our nine 14er in 24 hours goal was possible. Our descent from Huron would all but dash those hopes.
Following "false" cairns down Huron we ended up left of Lois Lake, but not left enough. I knew from Mike Tilden and my record setting run of two weeks prior that we had to be well left of Lois Lake. I trusted in ill-placed cairns and we paid for my stupidity. When the cairns disappeared we had little choice other than to simply drop through steep timber slopes. Easy enough, but every time one does this it takes a toll. Dings, branches in the eye, table size granite blocks gouging the calf. Finally we reached Cloyses Lake in 1hr:28min--on the face of it a decent descent time, but the toll of damage was accumulative. We tarried at the Cloyses Lake cabin. My legs felt trashed--Mike was feeling okay. Memo to self: bring Ibuprofen tabs.
Missouri--one more hard mountain before staying high for the easy ones--Belford and Oxford.
To climb Missouri, 14,067', from the west you first must gain the ridge. A trail leads up into the basin west of Missouri, then you simply ascend steep grassy slopes to the ridge. Going up I felt fine, but was concerned about Mike--he was not keeping pace. Finally once on the ridge I let him catch up only to learn that he was experiencing a severe headache--possible onset up HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema, or fluid to the brain). Mike had come from San Diego the day before, and though he had climbed at this altitude many times without acclimitizing on this day with sustained high altitude climbing as we were doing apparently he was not acclimatized.
We reached Missouri's summit in a slow 2hrs18min--Mike Tilden and I had gained the same summit two weeks prior in 1hr:51. We had already lost time on previous mountains and we definitely were slowing down. I suggested to Mike that with his headaches, my trashed legs, and our obvious unsuccessful record attempt that we move to abort the effort. Mike concurred, so dropping into Missouri Basin before sunset we planned our route up Harvard our last peak. To reach Mike's rental car at the Denny Creek Trailhead or to reach the hotel in Buena Vista we had to go up and over Harvard. Harvard was a descent ascent in around two and half hours, but Mike's headaches returned with a vengeance. It wasn't until we had descended to below 11,000' towards the Horn Fork Basin Trailhead that Mike's head returned to normal.
Our legs and feet were in a state of shock however. With hotspots on the bottoms of the feet, general aches all and down the leg, and lack of sleep beginning to take their respective toll we decided to simply hike into Buena Vista and to our hotel. Great idea and probably the fastest course. Still, it took us about six hours from the summit of Harvard to reach our goal--a comfortable bed with clean sheets and the chance to "rest our eyes" once more.
Steve Bremner www.coloradotrailrunning.com