8.03.2009

My First 14er



This was an experience I didn't expect: driving to the top of a 14,000+ foot mountain. Mt. Evans is one of many 14,000+ foot mountains in Colorado, but usually lands on top of the list because the road to the top is the highest paved road in America.

Suzie told me that this was one of her mom's favorite places, and she could have come up here every day without getting tired of it.

This was only my second day at mile-high altitude, so climbing another 8,000 feet was faintly disturbing. But oh so worth it! Even on a partly cloudy day, the views were amazing. At the first stop there's a small lake at the foot of a scree slope, hiking trails, and an old stone mountaineering hut. A crew is busy building two new structures, which will be stone like the older one. Construction is tough here--everything has to be lugged up the mountain, tools run by generator, and the weather can change in a heartbeat.

When Suzie thought I was acclimated a bit, we tackled the last part of the road, which switchbacks through tundra to the summit. Just up the first slope, she spotted a big herd of goats, and we stopped for photos. And just down from the summit, we saw another herd. Both groups had pristine white kids, and adults that looked a bit worse for wear! (We also saw clumps of shedding goat hair everywhere, on buildings and guardrails, and on the ground.)

Finally at the top, small parking area, the remnants of the restaurant that burned, and the standing walls reconfigured to create an obervatory of sorts, with openings toward the views. And what views they were! You can look east to Denver and beyond, southeast to New Mexico, and northwest to the peaks of the central Rockies. There are signboards that explain the natural history here, and the old restaurant provides a handy shelter from the gusting winds. It's wide open and bare up here, true tundra landscape. And, it was snowing.

We stuck it out long enough to enjoy the views, took some photos (including this inquisitive little guy who climbed the mountain of boulders to spy on us), then headed down. I was fairly out of breath after an hour at elevations you can't drive to in Washington State, but loved every minute of this day!




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