Friday, July 07, 2017

Another Birthday. Another 14er.

To celebrate my 65th birthday on July 5th 2016, I returned to Colorado (the land of my admittedly misspent youth) and hiked up the 14,065 foot Mt. Bierstadt. For almost two years I had been doing a lot of walking here in Omaha (over 7 miles a day, several days a week) but I soon learned that walking a level, paved course wasn't nearly enough to prepare an elderly fellow for the challenge of hiking far above timberline. Yet, by the gracious permission and provision of God, I managed to make the summit.  (The pictorial review of that adventure can be viewed here.)

And so...for my birthday this year, I decided to try again. Here, in photos and brief descriptions, is the story of our quick trip trip to Golden, Breckenridge, and Mt. Quandary.

1) After a lovely day driving out to Denver, a day including conversation, prayers, in-car picnics, and a Louis L'Amour audio book, we went on into Golden, the town where I went to Junior High School and where my Father's and Mother's bodies are buried. Claire and I stopped to buy some fresh decorations for the grave and then spent a little time at the cemetery before heading on to Breckenridge.

2 & 3) Claire found us a great studio apartment to stay in Breckenridge and at a surprising price. It allowed us to fix our own meals, enjoy an unusual but pleasant shower, and experience a delightful view of the mountains. Early the next day (Tuesday), we ate breakfast at the Columbine Cafe and then found a place along Main Street to watch the 4th of July parade. To be honest, we found last year's parade in Frisco to be bigger, more fun, and more decidedly Americana, but this one was okay. The photos below show the town's fire engine, a high school marching band, and a portion of the very large crowds that the event drew.

4 & 5) Following the event, we drove south on Colorado 9 into the long grassland valley that is South Park in order to check out the trailheads for the two hikes I was considering. Along the way were the towns of Alma and Fairplay. Just south of Hoosier Pass, we stopped to snap a few photos. The first is looking south into the valley. The next photo is facing west and shows Claire with the gorgeous backdrop of North Star Mountain.

6-10) After our drive, we returned to Breckenridge. It was a refreshingly cool evening in which to saunter around and soak up some of the Rocky Mountain atmosphere we both love so much. The following photos were taken on the grounds of Beaver Run Resort where we were lodging -- or in the forest nearby.

11) And now the hike. I had chosen Mt. Quandary, mainly because of the information we had learned the day before from a forest ranger we met on our drive west of Alma towards Kite Lake where you begin the trail for Mt. Democrat. Because of the late snows in Colorado this year, the road was worse than usual (it's never good) and that meant that people were having to park 1.5 miles away from Kite Lake. The prospect of adding 3 miles onto the already daunting hike made my decision for Quandary pretty easy. The photo below shows Mt. Quandary, named by a group of miners in the 1860s who were unable to identify a certain mineral they had found.

12) I was up at 4:30, breakfasted and out of the hotel by 5:15, and actually on the trail just before 6. I took this photo maybe a half hour later to capture the exciting moment when the sun first slipped above the mountains.

13) The newly awakened sun illuminates this steep (but clear and well-travelled) part of the trail. It's a big help emotionally because I had been unpleasantly surprised by the sharp ascent I had encountered so early in the day.

14) It was really exhilarating when the sun rose high enough to brighten up the whole mountain.

15) Here's a look up the valley showing the Blue Lakes reservoir fed by Monte Cristo Creek. At the photo's left is the north face of North Star Mountain and deeper into the valley is the rise to Mt. Wheeler.  On the far right is Mt. Quandary. The trail is a bit rocky here but still quite clear. I would soon encounter a lot “rockier” going.

16) I've been hiking for 80-90 minutes before getting beyond timberline and getting my first real clear “peek of the peak” that is my goal. I've inserted an arrow so you will notice some of the hikers that are already ahead of me...way up yonder.

17) I meet another hiker on the mountain. Cute, isn't she?

18) Here's the first of 3 snow fields that needed to be traversed. Because I hadn't packed in spikes (I was, in fact, wearing tennis shoes), it was super slick and a bit tricky. I had the day's first fall here.

19) I took this shot after making it through the first snow belt. It looks east and back down the mountain towards Highway 9. I've put in an arrow marking where the hikers parked their vehicles. If it looks like an awful long way away, believe me, it was longer still!

20) The goal is in sight. Yes, it's a sharp ascent through a lot of rocks and still quite a long distance off...but I can at least see it. However, for some time already, I've been praying for strength just to make it a little further, then a little bit further, get the idea. Tackling 14ers as a 66-year old Clydesdale (I'll explain the reference when you ask me) is a tough go.

21) Looking across the rocks of Mt. Quandary towards the northeast towards Gray's Peak and Mt. Evans.

22) Here's a loooong look down the south face of Mt. Quandary towards the Blue Lakes Reservoir. What a crazy place for a guy with vertigo to be hanging out, huh? The reservoir is at 11,700 feet while where I'm standing (nervously holding my camera out) is somewhere around 13, 500 feet

23) I've been climbing for almost three hours but there's still quite a way to go. And every time I look up, it seems farther away! (The truth is that I know it's farther away than even what it looks -- because the actual summit is a little ways past this “false summit” that you can see from the trail.) 

24) Talk about a tough job! There were four young people (2 guys, 2 gals) scraping away rocks, shoving big rocks into place to make “stairsteps,” and filling in the worst of the snowmelt ruts.

25) A breathtaking view to the southwest.

26) The final snow field is ahead. Just past it is the way to the top.

27) Atop Mt. Quandary looking west. I'm almost moved to tears with the beauty, the immense relief of finally making it, and the deep sense of gratitude to my Lord in giving me this amazing gift.

28) It's a party atmosphere at the summit yet, at the same time, there is a shared sense of solemn awe. Here is a 360 degree video clip.

29) The highlight of my birthday? I guess so!

30) I hang out at the summit for quite awhile -- resting, eating a bit, taking more water, and being almost overwhelmed by all elements of the experience. I also take a few more photos including some, like the one below, that again begs the question, “What in the world is a guy with vertigo doing up here?”

31) Okay, on the way down now, I occasionally look back and wonder how on earth I just managed to get up there!

32) It was a hard and slow climb down. It took two hours just to get back to timberline and, with my legs going “all noodly” on me, it took even longer for me to make it back to the car. Thank You, Lord, for bearing me up through the ordeal and for giving giving me patience, hope, and encouraging friends like these to cheer me up on the way down.

Because we had several things going this weekend (including a wedding reception for Jake and Tricia Malek on Saturday, teaching a Sunday School class and preaching the sermon at Lighthouse Baptist Church on Sunday morning, writing the monthly letter of Vital Signs Ministries, etc.), we left Breckenridge early Thursday morning and got into Omaha in the early evening. Our way home was helped by listening to an audio copy of Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs by the incomparable Michelle Malkin. Terrific.

To all of you who prayed for my protection and for success in this venture, I express my deepest thanks.