Sunday, December 6, 2020

Colorado - 2014

This trip to Colorado was kind of an end to an era. My trips to Colorado with my boys had been to hike fourteeners. Our son Sam was heavily into rock climbing and hiking fourteeners was no longer something he wanted to invest his free-time on. Our son Andrew's interest was in mushrooms and if he was at a mountain, he wanted to be at the bottom hunting for mushrooms. However, I still had the interest and a goal to climb as many fourteeners as I could while I had the health to do so. So when we discussed a family vacation with our children and grandchildren, I suggested Colorado as a way to further my hiking goal as well as to provide a setting that would be fun for the entire family. We rented a cabin outside of Buena Vista, Colorado as a gathering point for our family, then I planned some time in Colorado ahead of that time to hike some fourteeners. Unfortunately, my susceptibility to high altitude pulmonary edema caught up with me on this trip and these fourteeners ended up being my last, ending a string of many years of going to Colorado each summer. 

On Friday, August 1, 2014, I left LAX at 8:15 p.m. on American Airlines and landed in Denver at 11:25 p.m. I rented a Jeep from Fox Rent A Car, completing that process by about 1:00 a.m. 

Saturday, August 2, I drove 259 miles in four hours, through the night, through Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fort Garland, San Luis and Chama, until I reached the north gate to Cielo Vista Ranch about 5:00 a.m., just north of the state of New Mexico.  
There were people camped near the entrance and several people in vehicles, waiting for the gate to open at 6:00 a.m. for the hike to Culebra Peak. Culebra Peak is the only fourteener you have to pay to hike to and there is a limit of 30 people per day. A $150 non-refundable payment is required as well as a liability waiver. It is only open certain Fridays and Saturdays in June, July and August each year. We drove two miles into the ranch, provided proof of payment and signed liability waivers, then drove our vehicles 3.4 miles to the main trailhead, although there is no trail, at 10,880 feet. I continued another 1 mile to an upper four-wheel drive trailhead at 11,240 feet, which the majority of our group also did. From there it is a 6 mile roundtrip and 2,850 feet of elevation gain. A mist made visual reckoning difficult, and with no trail, I got lost for awhile. My lack of acclimatization, lack of sleep and I think pulmonary edema, which I did not really recognize at the time, caught up with me. I was beat at the end and wondering if I could handle any more fourteeners before my family arrived, and considered what I would do with my time if I didn't. Afterwards, I had a 140 mile drive to Salida where I had reservations at Holiday Inn Express. I stopped at Silver Sage Stake House in Fort Garland along the way for a late lunch/early dinner. 
     Culebra Peak  (Bob)

Sunday, August 3, I'd planned to hike Mount Antero, but I had a sore throat and was very tired and thought I might be getting sick, so I slept in and ditched the idea of a fourteener. I decided instead to take it easy and visit Great Sand Dunes National Park about 86 miles south of Salida, northeast of Alamosa. 
I did a little bit of hiking and walked barefoot in the cool sand. It was a nice change of pace from mountain scenery. 

After several hour there, I drove 31 miles southwest to Alamosa 
and had a late lunch/early dinner at Calvillos Restaurant. I also saw some Swainson's hawks, an American avocet and a white-faced ibis in some flooded fields near the Rio Grande River nearby. Then I drove back north 101 miles, in about 1.5 hours, to Buena Vista, 
where I had reservations at Vista Court Cabins & Lodge for the next three nights. 
     Swainson's Hawk  (Bob)
     American Avocet  (Bob)
     White-Faced Ibis  (Bob)

Monday, August 4, I decided to make my second attempt at Mount Princeton. I attempted it the year before and was turned back by thunderstorms. Because the road in is so treacherous and scary (too narrow for two cars and severe drop-offs to the side), I decided to do it on a Monday when there would be fewer people doing the hike, and early in the morning to minimize the chance that I would run into someone coming the opposite direction. I started hiking at 6:05 a.m., was at the 14,197 foot summit at 9:20 a.m., and was back down to the Jeep by 11:30 a.m. It was one of my least favorite fourteeners. I had a late lunch of Mexican food at Los Girasoles in Buena Vista. 
     Mount Princeton  (Bob)

Tuesday, August 5, I'd planned to do the Mountain of the Holy Cross, but decided to switch to Huron Peak, a hike I'd planned to do  after my family arrived, because it was shorter and easier and I felt like I needed that at this point, both physically and mentally. Huron Peak, at 14,003 feet, is one of the easier fourteeners. One thing that had held me back from doing it previously is that the last two miles to the trailhead are described as "rugged and narrow (4WD required)." 
But after the road up Mount Princeton, this road was sounding much less intimidating. The road was a breeze by comparison. I started hiking at 6:30 a.m. It was a 6.5 mile roundtrip hike with 3,500 feet of elevation gain. I was back to the Jeep by 11:50 a.m. and felt good. It was a nicer hike than Mount Princeton, but nothing about it really stood out. I had a late lunch/early dinner at the Evergreen Cafe in Buena Vista. 

     Huron Peak  (Bob)

Wednesday, August 6, I hiked up Missouri Mountain. I did so with trepidation. I'd really struggled on Culebra Peak, but did better on Mount Princeton and Huron Peak. Missouri was 10.5 miles round trip, 4 miles longer than any of those previous hikes; had 4,500 feet of elevation gain, 1,000 more than the previous hikes; and a greater level of exposure, on par with Longs Peak and Mount Sneffels I'd done previously, that challenged my fear of heights. The trailhead was the same as for Mt. Belford and Oxford, which I'd done two years prior. I started hiking in the dark, at 5:40 a.m. and was back to the car by 1:40 p.m. I felt like I had my strength back and it was one of the most fun hikes I've ever done. The sustained hike along the thin ridge was beautiful and exhilarating and I did an exposed portion of the hike off the ridge with relative ease.  Meanwhile, the rest of my family was on the way to Colorado. Judy and Andrew flew into Denver from LAX, arriving at 1:03 p.m. Sam flew in from Salt Lake City, arriving at 1:55 p.m. Judy rented a car and had Sam and Andrew with her. My daughter Rachael and her two children, Squirrel and Bug (their internet names), drove to Colorado from Utah (her husband was unable to make it). We rented a beautiful cabin (house) called The Cabin at Trout Creek (several miles from Trout Creek Pass) with an address in Hartsel, 18 miles north east of Buena Vista, or a 20 minute drive. That is where we all met late in the afternoon. 
We went to Buena Vista for dinner (except Rachael and her children who had not arrived yet) and ate at Punkys. 
     Missouri Mountain  (Bob)

The cabin was about 10,000 feet in elevation (by comparison, Buena Vista is 7,965 feet). 
As I slept Wednesday night and into the morning on Thursday, August 7, I kept waking up gasping and thinking I was drowning. I could hear the fluid in my lungs. My breathing was difficult and I got very paranoid about falling asleep, afraid I wouldn't wake up. It is not anything I'd ever experienced before and it was one of the worst nights of my life. It scared me. In the morning I talked with Judy and we decided I needed to sleep at a lower elevation, so I got on the phone and tried to find a hotel in Buena Vista, but they were all full. I finally found Hampton Inn and Suites in Salida, at 7,083 feet, where I'd stayed a previous year with my boys, with an available room and booked it for the next three nights. The problem was that it is 35 miles away from the cabin in Trout Creek Pass, meaning I had to drive 70 miles a day to be with my family. I had some hiking options on the agenda of some relatively easy fourteeners, but given my altitude issues, those were removed from the agenda. It is hard to determine why I could feel good on Missouri Mountain at 14,000 feet during the day, then wake up and feel like I'm drowning during that evening at a lower elevation. That morning I left the cabin pretty early to go to Buena Vista to get to a lower elevation. I went shopping at The Lettucehead Food Company which has lots of gourmet foods and local products. I got smoked trout, ground goat meat, ground elk meat, and buffalo ribeye steaks, among other things. I also got a few items at City Market. Later that morning we all went to the Mount Yale trailhead where we'd found mushrooms in prior years and had fun trying to find edible king bolete and hawks wing mushrooms. Judy and Rachael took the girls and continued on the road west of the Mount Yale trailhead and drove to Cottonwood Pass. 

Sam, Andrew and I took the mushrooms back to the cabin where Andrew cleaned them, cut them up and cooked them. I made a salad of lettuce, beet greens, golden beets, red beets, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and Gouda cheese and 
Andrew sautéed mushrooms which we put on grilled buffalo ribeyes. As everyone started to say goodnight, I headed to Salida to stay the night.
     Smoked Trout  (Bob)

Friday, August 8, I got up early to drive to the cabin. We spent the day in and around the cabin, enjoying each other's company and the outdoors. 
Bug and Squirrel approach a deer outside the cabin. 
View near the cabin. 

The girls built a lodge from branches. 

Andrew found some edible wild onions/garlic.

We made dinner at the cabin. Andrew made some delicious mushroom soup, including sliced mushrooms, carrots, kale, cream, spices and shaved Manchego cheese.  

Saturday, August 9, I left Salida early to get to the cabin to help with breakfast. I made hash with the ground goat, adding onions, carrots, garlic and peppers and then had Persian melon and water melon as well. 
Judy, Sam, Rachael, Squirrel and Bug went on a horse ride at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Stables. 
Mount Princeton in the background.

Andrew and I went mushroom hunting near the cabin and found a snake. We brought it back to the cabin and it got loose inside and Judy was not happy with me. Later, we all went mushroom hunting at the Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Trailhead outside Salida. 
Driving to the trailhead outside of Salida.

Lots of aspens.
Judy, Rachael and I ate at the Thai Mini Cafe outside Salida and I believe Sam, Andrew and the girls went back to the cabin. 

     Garter Snake  (Bob)

Sunday, August 10, I got up early and drove from Salida to the cabin where I made breakfast. I fried some ground elk, onion and corn, then put on a layer of guacamole and put fried eggs over-easy on top of that. I thought it was pretty good. We started cleaning up the cabin and getting ready to leave. Judy discovered the snake in the kitchen which we let go outside. 
Rachael and girls left us to drive back to Utah. Judy, Sam, Andrew and I drove to Denver where we had lunch at Star Kitchen. 

Judy and Andrew had flights leaving Denver on Frontier at 5:20 p.m.; I had a flight on American at 6:40 p.m.; and Sam had a flight on Frontier at 7:09 p.m. I got to LAX at 8:05 p.m.   

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