Colorado Daily

Experts: Prepare before big climb

Colorado Mountain Club recommends casual hikers wait until July

- By John Meyer Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post

On Colorado’s fourteener­s, the summer transition season is here. Even as eager peak-baggers wonder if the snowpack has receded enough for hiking, ski mountainee­rs are still searching out snowfields for summer turns.

June 20 marked the first day of summer, and while the Colorado Mountain Club recommends that casual four teener hikers wait until July, some are already heading out and up. Some are well informed and experience­d. Others, not so much.

June 12, Betsy Sachs of Denver hiked Mount Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s most popular four teeners, in the Front Range 11 miles south of Georgetown. She was on the trail at 5 a.m. to avoid the potential of afternoon thundersto­rms and the possibilit­y of post-holing on snowfields that might soften later in the warmth of the sun. She finished her hike by 8 a.m.

“There were still people arriving at the parking lot when I was pulling out at 8:30, which in my mind seems crazy for this time of year,” said Sachs, guessing that those people would need five hours to climb the peak and get back down. “That puts you above treeline in a ver y exposed position at a time of day when those thundersto­rms are really common. I would say there were a lot of people who heard it was a good first fourteener, or heard it was a fun party mountain and decided to do it, but on Saturday we were lucky with weather. If conditions had been a little bit more like Sunday, it could have been a different question.”

Sachs said she encountere­d scattered snowfields above 13,000 feet, patches of snow 100 yards or so in length alternatin­g with sections of clear trail. She brought crampons — mountainee­ring traction devices that are strapped to boots to provide sure footing on ice and snow — but she did not need to use them. On her way down, she was struck by how unprepared some of the hikers on their way up appeared to be.

“I didn’t run into any issues with post-holing or anything like that, but if you don’t have the right gear for the top, I can see that being an issue,” said Sachs, 29. “There were people out there with ver y little dogs, and I don’t know how those little dogs were getting all the way up. Same thing with children. There were people with 10- and 12-year-old kids. I don’t know how those kids were going to be getting all the way up, either.”

Last week, Lloyd Athearn, executive director of Colorado Fourteener­s Initiative, was on Mount Sherman, a four teener situated between Fairplay and Leadville. He brought micro spikes, trekking poles and an ice axe in case he needed them on the east-facing summit slope that typically gets and holds lots of snow. None of the 1520 people he saw on the mountain that day had that kind of gear.

“Somewhere along the line, the four teeners went from being mountainee­ring objectives to being hiking destinatio­ns,” Athearn said. “I think there is a big difference between those two terms. From year to year, the mountains can still be ver y much mountainee­ring objectives in June if they’ve got snow. It only takes one small patch of icy snow in the wrong place — you’re tr ying to cross it, you slip and fall and end up in a talus field. Or worse.”

That’s why the Colorado Mountain Club typically recommends casual hikers wait until July, and they’re holding to that advice this year despite Colorado’s recent heat wave and rapid snowmelt.

“Traveling through snow, especially on a steep slope, can be hazardous,” said CMC membership specialist Roger Wendell. “Post-holing — punching your foot and your leg into the snow, sometimes up to your hip — can be exhausting. But if things froze over or were hard-packed, and you’re not prepared — if you don’t have crampons, or you don’t know how to use an ice axe

— you can slide. You could get seriously hur t, if not killed.”

Some high countr y slopes are largely clear, though. Matan Korrub, a visitor from New York City, climbed Mount Elber t earlier this month via the nor theast ridge and found it “almost completely dr y.” Elber t, located 10 miles southwest of Leadville, is Colorado’s highest peak at 14,440 feet and is the second-highest in the contiguous 48 states. Only California’s Mount Whitney (14,505 feet) is higher.

“We really didn’t star t encounteri­ng any snow at all until maybe 14,000 feet, or 13,900,” Korrub said. “Of the 10-mile hike, I would say 98% of it was completely dr y. There were some patches of snow towards the peak (summit), but even those were so small and insignific­ant that they could have been walked around. If you wanted to hike up Elber t and not encounter any snow, you absolutely could.”

On Quandar y Peak near Breckenrid­ge, which typically vies with Bierstadt as Colorado’s busiest four teener, several hikers this week posted trip reports on the AllTrails website indicating there is still some snow up high but nothing to discourage hikers from heading up. Some recommende­d bringing trekking poles and micro spikes. One reported that a couple got married on the summit.

Athearn just hopes climbers do some research before they go.

“It’s always perplexing to me that there is so much informatio­n available — the 14ers.com website, various different forums, trip repor ts, things like that — and yet so many people seem to not really be actively seeking out this informatio­n, nor arriving with the proper gear,” Athearn said. “There’s so much informatio­n available, it’s just shocking to me that people don’t seem to look for it.”

 ??  ?? Hikers head down the trail from Capitol Lake with the massive Capitol Peak behind them in 2017 in the Maroon BellsSnowm­ass Wilderness. Capitol Peak is one of Colorado's Fourteener­s that reaches 14,131 feet at its summit.
Hikers head down the trail from Capitol Lake with the massive Capitol Peak behind them in 2017 in the Maroon BellsSnowm­ass Wilderness. Capitol Peak is one of Colorado's Fourteener­s that reaches 14,131 feet at its summit.
 ?? Betsy Sachs / Courtesy photo ?? Betsy Sachs of Denver climbed Mount Bierstadt, a popular fourteener 11 miles south of Georgetown, on June 12. She said there were scattered snowfields but was able to complete her climb in three hours.
Betsy Sachs / Courtesy photo Betsy Sachs of Denver climbed Mount Bierstadt, a popular fourteener 11 miles south of Georgetown, on June 12. She said there were scattered snowfields but was able to complete her climb in three hours.

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