After Greg and I got married, we thought it would be a really cool tradition to summit a 14er each year on our anniversary. We started out strong and actually conquered two on our first anniversary. I remember the hike to Gray’s and Torrey’s being tough, but we also lived at sea level at the time and had just flown out the day before (I would like to do that hike again and see if it feels any easier, now that we’ve lived at 5300′ for a few years). On our second wedding anniversary, we did my favorite 14er to date, Mt. Bierstadt. That hike seemed much easier (and “easy” is a relative term, because any 14er is challenging) and I absolutely loved it. We also conquered Quandary Peak before the end of the season that year.
For the next two years, our plans got kind of screwed up. I had ACL surgery in late May of 2014, so I wasn’t quite ready for such a big hike by July. We drove up to Mt. Evans instead, so we could technically still summit a 14er on July 17th. In 2015, I had some bad luck again and broke my pelvis right before the start of summer. I was still on crutches on our anniversary, so obviously hiking was out of the question. Luckily there was still another 14er (Pike’s Peak) that we could summit by car, so we did just that. I was in decent enough shape to climb Mt. Evans by the very end of the summer, which was fun (but parts were a little scary).
I still have some lasting injuries from the car wreck I was in last year (which will be fixed at a later date), but I was actually well enough to continue our anniversary tradition this year (and SO grateful for that!). Greg and I have wanted to hike the Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln-Bross loop for awhile now, since you can knock out all four on the same hike. We did some research beforehand and decided that this was our plan for our fifth anniversary (which was on July 17, 2016). We thought about camping overnight (and in retrospect, we should have), but decided to head out to Breckenridge the day before and stay at a hotel there (since it’s only about 45 minutes from the trailhead). We went out to dinner the night before and tried to go to bed early, but I was so anxious that I probably ended up getting around 3 hours of sleep total.
The alarm went off at 4:30 am and we quickly checked ourselves out of the hotel and headed to the Kite Lake trailhead. Once we got there, we had to park about a mile and a half away (due to some jackass telling us that there wasn’t any available parking near the trailhead), so we had a nice warm-up before actually starting the hike. The sun was just coming up, and it was beautiful!
After waiting in a long bathroom line, we were finally off to start our big hike (around 7:30 am). We decided to do the traditional clockwise route and started with Mt. Democrat as our first summit. The trail started off pretty easy, which is a relative term because just breathing at 12,000′ is a bit challenging.
It was pretty crowded, but everyone was super nice that we came across. We slowly made our way up the mountain, stopping often to take a few breaths and enjoy the awesome views.
My advice for hiking above 12,000′ is this: move at a steady pace, take rest breaks and drink lots of water. I usually find a point about 100 feet in the distance to get to, then stop and rest for about 30 seconds, drink some water, and move on to the next point. As we kept climbing up Mt. Democrat, the air got thinner and the trail got steeper. It was also covered with loose rock (scree) that made balance and stability a little challenging (but, it’s definitely easier on the way up than it is coming back down- more on that later). After walking through just a little bit of snow, we finally saw the final ascent towards the summit.
We made one final big push to reach the summit, and just about two hours after we started on the trail, we made it!
I breathed a little sigh of relief once we summited the first mountain, knowing that our largest ascent of the day was already done (even though the most challenging part of the hike happened much later on!).
You just can’t beat the views from the summit of a mountain that stands at 14,148′.
One down, three to go.
We stayed up at the summit for about 15 minutes, ate a quick snack, took some photos and decided to make our way back down. It was going to be about 700 feet of descending to reach the saddle between Mt. Democrat and the next peak, Mt. Cameron. When it comes to hiking down a steep section of trail, I’m pretty much the worst. Having knee surgery made my left knee a little weaker, and made me much more of a wuss in general. So, I take it slooooow and steady.
Yes, it really was that steep!
We made our way down to the saddle, where we could’ve easily just kept going down the trail and called it a day. But, we decided to push on and conquer the remaining three peaks. The climb up Mt. Cameron was nice: not too steep, easier terrain and less crowded than Democrat.
From the saddle, there’s about 800′ elevation gain to the summit. When we reached the summit of Mt. Cameron (around 11:30), I didn’t even realize it! It’s a large, flat area and there’s not really anything there. Again, we stopped for a while, enjoyed the beautiful views and ate another snack. And, of course, we took some photos.
About 20-30 minutes after reaching the summit, we made our way on to the next peak: Mt. Lincoln. It was a pretty short distance to the summit of Lincoln, and that was definitely a relief. I could see the peak of Lincoln in the distance, and it looked a bit intimidating as the trail (and mountain!) seemed to become more narrow.
We kept trekking along, getting closer to the top.
This is where I got a little nervous: when the area suddenly become much more exposed and it seemed like you could easily just drop off of one side. (And again, I’ll fully own the fact that I am a total wuss when it comes to hikes with lots of exposure!)
I just kept my head down, focused on my feet and told myself you can do it! And just like that, we reached the summit of Mt. Lincoln.
The top of Mt. Lincoln is tiny compared to the other summits, and it was definitely a bit intimidating. That being said, it was probably the best view of the day. We didn’t stay up there long- just long enough to snap a few photos and make our way back down. It was already about 12:30 at this point, and we still had one more peak to bag!
The last summit for the day was Mt. Bross. Bross is technically on private land, but everyone hikes it anyway. (Also, I’m not exactly sure how a mountain can be private land?)
The hike up to Bross was the easiest of the day: a wider, dirt trail with a very gradual incline.
Even though it was getting later in the day (for a 14er hike anyway), the weather was awesome. There was a little breeze, sunshine with a little cloud cover, but no threat of storms. (A thunderstorm can quickly turn a 14er into a scary nightmare!) I think it was about 1:30 when we reached the summit of our final peak, Mt. Bross.
We finally broke out our celebratory beers (from Upslope, of course) and toasted the mountain.
I kept calling Greg Brian Fellows with this outfit on.
The summit of Mt. Bross is also large and flat (and offers amazing views all around!).
Now came the part I was dreading: the descent down Mt. Bross, back to the trailhead. It was the only part of the hike that I had heard scary things about, so I knew it was going to be a challenge. The descent started off okay- kind of steep with just a little loose gravel on dirt. Then we came to a fork, where we could either go left or right. Each “trail” (and I use that term loosely, because it was just basically rock) looked insane. Greg thought that the trail to the right looked to be a little bit easier, but I insisted that the left would be better. As it turns out, I was wrong. Apparently both are awful (from all of the trip reports I’ve read), but we definitely took the more challenging, sketchy way down. I’m definitely not comfortable hiking down scree, because every time you step down, you slide along with the rocks (DOWN A REALLY STEEP MOUNTAIN) and it’s SCARY. I even had to scoot down on my butt in parts, causing me to shred my pants.
After about 700 feet of terrifying descent, we finally reached a point that was far less scary and we could walk pretty comfortably again. The trail remained steep, but it was mostly dirt with a few large rocks and lots of places to steadily grip with your boots. The further down we got towards the trail, the easier it got (which was a huge relief!). There were also GORGEOUS wildflowers everywhere (we probably took 100 photos of flowers alone!).
Right before 3:30, we finally finished the hike. I know that it definitely could’ve been done in a shorter amount of time, but: a). I’m very slow descending, b). we stayed at the top of each summit for a while and c). it’s not a race- I wasn’t looking to break any records. And- this hike was hard! Crazy people who do 14ers all the time may think it was “easy,” but it definitely was not. There were a few times where I wanted to quit (but realistically, that wasn’t an option). I kept reminding myself that a year ago I had been on crutches for almost 7 weeks, was miserable and would have done anything to be able to do a hike like this. That definitely helped. And finishing felt AWESOME. I don’t care who are you: summiting four 14ers in a day (or one, for that matter!) is pretty badass.