We get up around 5 am and quickly pack our gear. It’s customary to start a hike up a 14er as early as possible to avoid running into afternoon thunderstorms in exposed areas near the top of the mountains. We drive over to the closer trailhead with Dustin meeting us there too. He has a big van that he’s using as an adventure vehicle. It’s filled with climbing gear and a place to sleep. He is trying to climb the 100 highest summits in Colorado in just a season. Hitting several peaks a day for the next several weeks.
We walk out to a magnificent sight I know I’ve seen before in calendars and post cards. The sight of the maroon bells with a lake and aspens in the front ground. Even though it’s twilight there are several photographers with tripods set up to capture the scene. We walk on past them and into a hiking trail. We pass another lake and a sign warning of the dangerous bear and moose activity in the area. The hiking trail continues next to a creek but Twinkle and Dustin say they see the route up a pile of rocks. Looking closely a more worn part of the rocks appears trail like and we take it. We eat a quick snack and then continue on the rocky trail until it gives way to a clearly visible dirt track that goes right up the side of the mountain, and very very steeply. I’ve never been on a trail that steep in my entire life. I guess because it’s not a hiking trail but a climbing trail. Makes sense. We trip and scramble up it and occasionally have to climb up some rock formations. I get a little bit worried I’ll have trouble getting back down by myself if the others continue on.
After the trail gives way to a large scree field with rocks the size and shape of car batteries, it gets kinda fun and kinda scary. We all walk parallel to each other because we knock lots of these rocks loose and they go sliding down the mountain. Getting hit in the face by one of these would be game over. After an exhausting scramble up this we make it to the ridge and get an out of this world view of the surrounding area. Towering mountain passes are below us, red, orange, green and white painted mountains all around, it’s so beautiful. I’m pleased to have made it this far. If I don’t make it to the top that’s okay. I have all the views at least.
After a break at the ridge we need to follow the spine of the mountain towards the top. The trail is gone and now it’s a “route.” There are some cairns that loosely mark which way to go but you can really go up anyway you want. We climb up some rocks that make me rather uncomfortable. A slip would become a very serious injury or send you tumbling down the mountain to oblivion. The whole mountain seems to be made of crumbly rocks that give way when stepped on. It doesn’t help that Twinkle was telling us a story about how he heard of a couple that got married and climbed these mountains for their honeymoon and the wife slipped and fell to her death some years ago. Anyway I decided to push on with growing anxiety that getting down is going to be the real challenge. There are mountain goat footprints and wool all around these craggy rocks. It’s crazy that they happily come up here with no worries.
After hours of climbing this dang scary mountain and following Twinkle and Dustin’s advice, Chance and even I make it to the very top of Maroon Peak. 14,163 feet up. My first Colorado 14er. The view from up here is probably the best I’ve ever had in my life. There is color and mountains everywhere. You can see the lakes where we started the hike this morning and see many other nearby 14ers. We eat a snack and catch our breathe.
Now for the really scary part. Going back down those steep, crumbly scrambles. Chance is visibly nervous like I am about getting down, but at least now we know what we have to go down. We’ve already seen it and now it doesn’t seem too bad when I think about it. As it turns out, I liked going down a lot more. I wasn’t exhausted by the climb and have the advantage of being tall and flexible. I start to love it. My knee doesn’t hurt either. I guess it could just be because I’m so in the zone and high on adrenaline.
One more obstacle awaited us once we reached the ridge we came up. That big rocky scree field. It was okay going up, but for some reason, the rocks seemed much more inclined to give way and slide down the mountain with you on them on the descent. Lots of ankle twisting, you can’t trust any rock. A few times I took a step and all the rocks in a 5 foot radius of me started shifting down the mountain. I just jumped off them as quickly as I could and finally we got to the solid ground with dirt and plants. From here there is a visible trail, though extremely steep, down all the way to the creek where the hiking trail is. We slip and fall frequently down this steep track. One time I fall right in my ass so hard I see a flash of blue on impact. I have little blood blisters where I’ve caught myself falling on sharp rocks.
We finally reach the hiking trail and Dustin splits off to go hike another nearby 14er. The guy is a mountain goat! We run into dozens and dozens of people now as we walk back towards the lakes. Lots of families and for some reason old men with young Asian ladies. Like a lot of old me with young Asian ladies. Enough that it becomes a conversion between all of us. Why? Anyway we hike past everyone and by the time we reach the first photogenic lake, about a hundred people are there taking pictures, fishing, etc.
We hop in Twinkles car, exhausted and drive to the closest Wendy’s to feast. Then we drive towards Vail where Chance and I will be staying at Twinkle’s bachelor house where other wedding guests are staying. We get there and take showers, eat food and relax/recover from today’s adventure. Later we meet a bunch of Twinkle’s friends and play euchre with them. Yay Midwesterners and the great card game! Twinkle’s sister and some more people show up and we start playing drinking games until we pass out from exhaustion.