Colorado 14er: Mount Of The Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is barely a 14er, with its summit reaching 14,005′, but it is not Mt. Holy Cross it is “Mount of…” which I find sort of pompous but I digress. I’d heard that Holy Cross was a beautiful mountain and I was kinda skeptical since it’s listed on 14ers.com as part of the Sawatch Range which never quite does it for me. (I have become a mountain snob, I won’t lie to you.) I was wrong. Holy Cross was a great mountain to climb. It is, however, the highpoint of Eagle County, and it was my 49th county highpoint in Colorado, bringing me to just over 78% completion!

Famed western photographer William Henry Jackson, photographed the mountain in 1873 from the flanks of neighboring Notch Mountain (Notch actually obscures Holy Cross from US 24 so it cannot be seen) while traveling with the Hayden Party. Some questions exist as to whether Jackson doctored the photo so that the cross was more distinct.

The National Museum of American History
In 1874, another famous artist of the American West, painter Thomas Moran climbed to the flanks of Notch Mountain to make some sketches of Mount of The Holy Cross for a painting. Moran’s inspiration by Jackson in turn inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to write a poem “The Cross Of Snow.”

Anyway, in addition to being Mount of the Holy Cross, there’s a lake named Bowl of Tears and another snowfield called the “Supplicating Virgin.” This also finally explains to me the name of “Shrine Pass” leading from Red Cliff to I-70 near Copper Mountain (no joke this always made me think of the Shriners…). In the 1920s there was a large push to develop the area around the mountain, as well as the mountain itself, as a place for “devotion” and worship. The Colorado Mountain Club pushed back, advertising a 1923 outing as an opportunity to “see it BEFORE it is desecrated in the name of religion. It is a glorious mountain, in a splendid and so-far inaccessible setting of ragged ridges and sparkling lakes.” After their trip, they were clear to note in their report that the cross was barely visible as a result of it being late summer.

As a result of all the interest surrounding Holy Cross, President Hoover declared the area a National Monument in 1929 leading to the construction of Tigiwan Road in 1932 and 1933. The Tigiwan Community House, spotted on the drive to the Half Moon Trailhead, was built to house pilgrims and the CCC built the stone house visible on Notch Mountain from the summit of Holy Cross was built to shelter them as they viewed the cross.

Then, as quickly as it had grown, the pilgrimage movement ended in the late 1930s. In addition to economic hardships followed by World War II (and the heavy usage of the Leadville area by the 10th Mountain Division for training), for various possible reasons the cross always seemed to be less impressive than promised. (One suggestion is that rockfall happened in the right arm to make it less apparent.) In 1950, the National Monument was decomissioned by Congress.

Okay, giant historical aside is over but I owe a huge thanks to Kevin Blake’s article “Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado” for allowing me to really geek out on this.

As a hike, Holy Cross is a bit of a bear because the standard route from Half Moon Trailhead climbs about 1000′ to Half Moon Pass before descending 1000′ to East Cross Creek and only then can you make the 3200′ ascent to the summit. This, of course, means that one must also climb 1000′ on the “descent” of the mountain to get out of East Cross Creek’s canyon.

I’d given a half-hearted effort to climbing Holy Cross back in fall 2015 so I knew it’d be nice to get the climb to the Pass out of the way before going for a summit and decided to camp at East Cross Creek. I arrived at the trailhead about 2pm and really hoped that I wouldn’t wind up just getting drenched on my way to camp since the clouds were looking somewhat ominous.

Although a few drops fell on me as I started to pitch my tent, it never actually rained overnight. I had hoped to crawl into the tent and do some reading but I lasted about 30 minutes before I promptly fell asleep… at 5pm.

My headlamp appears to have jumped from my daypack, which I discovered when I woke up about 11pm, so I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 since hiking before that without a light source would be rather silly. I hit the snooze button once and started climbing up the ridge of Holy Cross about 5:45.

Notch Mountain in the background
It never ceases to feel magical to be in the mountains as the sun makes its way over neighboring ridges. This one was no exception. Suddenly, as the sun crested Notch Mountain, Holy Cross started to shine.

There’s a great stairstep-y path leading a good chunk of the way up the talus slopes before you cross a somewhat flat section of the ridge and then tackle the final steep, 500′ easy scramble to the summit.

I’d been worried the last 800′ to the summit that the weather was going to take a turn significantly before the 10am predicted by the National Weather Service but it actually seemed to get better while I was lounging at the top. By this point, I was basically dreading the ascent back to Half Moon Pass with my pack. It wasn’t particularly heavy but it was enough to just not want to do.

It was only after grinding the first 500′ of the climb out of the way that I had a chance to really appreciate that I’d gotten my 49th Colorado County Highpoint (of 64) and my 14th 14er (using the CMC list).

 

Sources:

Blake, Kevin (2008) ‘Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the
Holy Cross, Colorado’, Journal of Cultural Geography, 25:1, 1 – 30. DOI:10.1080/08873630701822588.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth. “The Cross of Snow.” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44629/the-cross-of-snow.

“Mountain of the Holy Cross.” National Museum of American History, National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1276028.

Pikes Peak & Devils Playground: El Paso & Teller County Highpoints

The main goal of our roadtrip was to start checking off some peaks on the County Highpoint list again. I hadn’t gotten one since summiting Bushnell back in March so it was high time to make progress on the goal. Since this time of year is a little tough in terms of access, I had limited peaks to choose from and decided to go ahead and drive up Pikes Peak since I would not only grab the El Paso County Highpoint on the summit but also the Teller County Highpoint, Devils Playground along the way.

Pikes Peak Toll Booth

We arrived at the toll booth quite awhile before they opened but happily passed the time chatting with some other people in line. I even made some coffee on the stove in the back of the XJ for the drive. I snapped a couple of shots of the mountain going down the road but most of them turned out really well framed just like this one:

Pikes Peak

When we left the toll booth, they’d said that because of high winds on the summit, the road was closed at mile 16 although they were fairly confident that wind speeds would drop and we could continue up at some point. I wasn’t too upset since mile 16 is where Devils Playground was located. We arrived and immediately started up the small slope. Sprocket was delighted to be playing in the snow. He ran right up to the summit and stood on the rocks and waited for me. Clearly, my dog knows what’s up. Teller County marked my 46th Colorado County Highpoint!

Devils Playground from the road

Devils Playground Summit

View from Devils Playground

With perfect timing, the road opened all the way to the Pikes summit when we were just below the Devils Playground summit. I had so many good laughs watching SP frolic his way back down to the Jeep. He definitely knows how to have fun.

Sprocket on Devils Playground

Just a couple minutes up the road, we reached the summit, my 47th county highpoint in Colorado! It was pretty windy so we didn’t stick around too long before heading back down the mountain.

Pikes Peak Summit

 

 

Colorado 14ers: Democrat, Lincoln, Bross

A few weeks ago, I was planning on going to the Flat Tops to get a couple of county highpoints. My friend Heather was thinking about joining me but nothing was set in stone so when Heidi mentioned she was getting some friends together to tackle “Decalibron” I started pushing Heather to commit to joining us! Once I convinced her that yes she could do four 14ers in a day, she agreed.

As it turned out, she was dog sitting for a friend so Meadow joined us for the trip as well. We were quite the crew setting out for the trailhead! The pups were pretty darn adorable:

Sprocket and Meadow

Road trip

We were the first ones to reach the trailhead so we snagged a pretty good sized spot, took a little mini-hike to stretch our legs after the drive, and made some dinner. Heidi and company pulled in just after dark and we were totally to discover that Heidi’s friend Kami and Heather’s friend Kami were the same person! Sometimes this is a small small world.

Once everyone arrived, we had a little pow-wow to decide who was leaving camp at what time. When it was all settled, we’d decided to leave camp at 4am which meant people were setting alarms for 3:30am. Lovely. Being in love with sleep, my sleeping bag, and cuddling with my puppy, I asked Heather to make sure I was awake at 3:50.

As is normal with a group, we didn’t get moving until almost 4:20(ha) and then started making our way up the Democrat-Cameron saddle. Just as the sky began to lighten, we arrived at the saddle and started up Democrat. A couple hikers who had already summited Mt. Democrat earlier in the summer declined going to the peak but the summit crew arrived the peak (14,148′) in time to see the sun crest over Cameron and Lincoln, peaks we’d climb later in the morning.

Summit of Mount Democrat

Summit of Mount Democrat at sunrise

Sunrise on Mount Democrat

We all scarfed down some food, we took some photos, and then we headed down the mountain.

Group photo, Mt. Democrat
Photo H. Platte
Descent off Mount Democrat
Photo B. Langton

The ascent up unranked Mount Cameron (14,238′) seemed to go quickly. Heidi and Kami had planned snacks for all the summits (except for Democrat) so we enjoyed “cab” on Cameron (yes, at about 8am).

Mount Cameron

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

From Cameron over to Mount Lincoln (14,286′) was a really quick jaunt. This was the peak I was most excited about summiting for the day because Lincoln is the highpoint of Park County. Reunited as a whole group, we enjoyed “lagers on Lincoln” before moving on to Mount Bross.

Summit of Mount Lincoln

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

Traverse to Mount Bross

At our next stop we had “brownies on Bross” (14,172′) before somehow I kinda convinced everyone to hike out to unranked South Bross (14,000′) with me. Heather had already promised to come with me but I was totally pumped that we had a whole crew!

Heidi and Beth

South Bross

The descent was really lose in places and not all that much fun. I can totally see why everyone does the loop the way we did! Logan (plus her pup Indy), Barret, Sprocket, and I alternated jogging and hiking down the slope. Sometimes for me that’s the most comfortable way to get down and I was happy to follow Logan’s lead!

Descent from Bross

 

Finally, we got back to the tents, packed up, waited for the rest of the group and headed out. It had been a fantastic day in the mountains with great people, perfect weather, and tons of fun. I had a blast hiking with everyone.

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Photo B. Langton

Heather and I stopped for lunch at Backcountry Brewing in Frisco before driving back to De Beque (there may have also been a stop at Sonic in Rifle for HUGE ice cream treats for us both). We had a couple of pretty tired pups in our car and we were both excited to get back to showers. 🙂

Sprocket and Meadow

 

Colorado 14ers: Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Last Saturday night, Sprocket and I headed up Castle Creek and then up into Montezuma Basin. I got tired at about 12,000′ and I decided the best thing to do was to stop and go to sleep. Navigating steep 4WD roads by your vehicles headlights isn’t the most fun thing in the world. I woke up at about 5:45, fifteen minutes before my alarm, to a couple of hiker mocking the cars “dropping like flies.” I won’t lie, I was happy to fire up the Jeep and cruise past them to the very end of the road at 12,800′.

FSJ at the top of Montezuma Rd

From the end of the road, we headed up the mountain. sprocket was so excited. He started by swimming in the creek and rolling in the snow. Who wouldn’t want to start the day like that?!

Hiking Castle and Conundrum

We made our way up the slope, happy for the toeholds already kicked in the snow next to the glisade track.

Sprocket on Castle and Conundrum

The slope on the ridge was fairly gentle and we made pretty decent time on the way up. I was eyeing the saddle between Castle and Conundrum trying to decide if I was willing to chance the descent into the basin (ultimately, because I hadn’t brought an ice axe I declined that option…).

Castle-Conundrum Traverse

Sprocket made friends with a guy who, along with his friend, was taking his sister up her 2nd 14er. They made for great trail company and totally tolerated my fuzzy adopting them for the hike to the summit.

Sprocket on ridge to Castle

We took a quick selfie on the summit of Castle Peak (14,265′) before continuing on to Conundrum. The weather wasn’t looking exactly sketchy yet (it was only 8:15) but there was clearly moisture in the air so we got to getting on over to the next peak…

Selfie on Castle Peak

It was a surprisingly quick traverse to Conundrum (14,040′) where I got a good look back at Castle Peak that I was going to reascend because I’d decided not to glisade from the saddle.

Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

Sprocket was, once again, the best hiking partner I could ever ask for. He attacked the trail with gusto, politely made friends, and proved himself once again to be an awesome mountain dog.

Conundrum Peak

We briefly enjoyed the views and then headed back downhill.

View from Conundrum Peak

Elks from Conundrum Peak

At the Jeep, we paused for some water and snacks before driving back down Montezuma Basin road. I headed up Pearl Pass about a mile or so and chickened out where a stream ran down through some cut up rock that also happened to be the road. I’m pretty sure I could have made it up that way but there was a log placed to divert water that was slippery and the ass-end of the Jeep wanted to slide towards the edge of the road and I just decided to throw in the towel.

Jeep at the top of Montezuma Road

My pup snuggled in on the pillows and looked pretty darn contented on the way down the hill. His face might look slightly worried here but that’s mostly because he doesn’t like his photo being taken…

image

Colorado 14ers: Grays Peak & Torreys Peak

I decided last fall to start chasing the Colorado county highpoints and since I found myself headed to the Front Range to meet up with some friends, I decided to knock at least one more off the list. Grays Peak, high point of Summit and Clear Creek counties, had the benefit of being a dual county high point as well as being a 14er. I left Ridgway at about 6pm and drove straight to the trailhead.

I set an alarm for 5:30am but it was rendered unnecessary by the influx of cars into the parking lot about that time. This was my first experience with a 14er in the Front Range and I was absolutely astounded at the traffic on the mountain. Fortunately, Sprocket was very not concerned; the only thing that seemed to change was that he didn’t visit much with anyone because he was mostly focused on keeping track of me and passing slower people (which was pretty much everyone, I guess).

Summit of Grays Peak

I made really great time up until the climb actually started and then started grinding along. Sprocket was loving the cool temperatures and was rather impatient for his mommy to get going. (It was pretty chilly with a dusting of fresh snow just at the summits!) I hadn’t totally decided whether to summit Torreys as well because it was clear by the speed at which clouds were passing over the summits that it was windy.

Sprocket battling the wind

We only spent a couple of minutes at the Grays summit admiring the view and then I decided that it was cold but not TOO cold plus it was barely 8am so over to Torreys it was!

Views from Grays Peak

Views from Grays Peak

Grays Peak Views

I’d gotten a glimpse of a mountain goat on the shoulder of the mountain on our way up so we took a few pictures and headed back down. I’m almost a 100% certain Sprocket would consider a mountain goat to fall under the deer/elk/moose/cow rules but I didn’t much feel like finding out and we headed down the mountain.

Sprocket on Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak

Torreys Peak

Sprocket descending Torreys

I took more photos on the way down the mountain than on the way up for a change since the mass of humanity seemed to have spread out a bit and made the hiking a little more pleasant. (I also got a kick out of watching Sprocket strategically walk up to people figuring out how to duck through their group.)

Torreys Peak

Grays Peak

Grays and Torreys Peaks

All in all, it was a good hike: a little busy for my taste but ultimately I got some awesome views of an area of Colorado that’s pretty new to me! I have a lot of hiking to do on some more remote 13ers in the area to work on my mental map that I like building of places.

Colorado 14ers: Uncompahgre Peak

After the wild weather the night before, I wasn’t sure what Sprocket and I were going to wake up to. I shouldn’t have worried. We had the most gorgeous fall day for hiking! I had left home unsure if I’d take Sprocket on the hike but he quickly decided for me: this dog knows what sleeping at a trailhead is all about and he was not about to stay behind.

Below Uncompahgre Peak
Nellie Creek Basin
Uncompahgre PeakSprocket and I made decent time heading up the trail, enjoying the views. Considering that we were on a 14er, we hardly ran into anyone at all!

Trail selfieSprocket seemed to be soaking up every minute of the hike. He’s been quite the summit dog this fall—he definitely always seems to feel that the correct direction is up! (He also totally impressed me on this hike when he was able to pretty much ignore another off leash dog that wanted to play. Sprocket instead was focused on the hike.)

Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak Trail
Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak
Sprocket on the Uncompahgre Peak Trail
Just in case there were any worries about Sprocket handling the short scramble section on Uncompahgre, let me lay that to rest by saying he definitely lead me through this section:

Uncompahgre Peak Scramble
Celebrating Sprocket’s first 14er!

Summit of Uncompahgre Peak
Sprocket on Uncompahgre Peak
Summit Selfie
I feel so lucky to call this place home:

San Juan Mountains
Uncompahgre Wilderness

14er: Wilson Peak

For my birthday weekend peak I decided to take on Wilson Peak (14,017′) the third of the 14ers in the San Miguel range. In addition to being a 14er, Wilson Peak is the San Miguel county high point.

I got a bit of a late start on Saturday but fall promised a high likelihood of a thunderstorm free day so I hit the trail from the Rock of the Ages TH at 9am enjoying the last of the morning chill.

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Wilson Peak from Rock of Ages Trail:

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Lower Silver Pick Basin:

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Selfie time!

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Upper Silver Pick Basin:

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Approaching Rock of Ages Saddle:

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From left to right, Gladstone Peak, Mt. Wilson, and El Diente.

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Wilson Peak summit:

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This short snowy section turned several parties in front of me around. I found that when I took it slow and careful it was pretty much a piece of cake. The snow wasn’t slicked out by the big guided group in front of me; instead, they’d made really nice flat foot spots to pair with pretty sold hand holds the whole way across.

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Final scramble towards the top:

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Summit of Wilson Peak!

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Looking down on Silver Pick Basin and the trail:

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Hello Lizard Head, some day I will climb well enough to summit you…

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It felt so good to be out on such a beautiful fall day! The day seemed so leisurely since I wasn’t getting chased out of the high country by lightning—fall hiking in the San Juans might just be the best!

Mileage: About 10mi RT
Elevation Gain: About 4000′
Time: 5.5 hours

14ers: El Diente & Mount Wilson

Thursday at 2am, we got up and headed out for another try at El Diente (and Mt. Wilson). This time we headed up via the Kilpacker trail and started our hike at about 3:45am. We arrived in Kilpacker basin just as the sun was coming up and were treated to this view of “The Tooth” catching the first rays of light:

El Diente at sunrise

Kilpacker Basin

Our timing was great. We did the easy trail hiking in the dark and started our scramble up the south slopes of El Diente while watching the sun creep along the ridges and valley floors.

F

Kilpacker Basin3UpAdventures.com. El Diente-Mt. Wilson Traverse.

Reaching the summit of El Diente was awesome. There was just the right amount of difficult third class scrambling to make it fun without being intimidating. Since we still wanted to do the traverse to Mt. Wilson, we didn’t spend too long on the summit, taking just enough time to share a Good2Go bar and drink some water.

F on the summit of El Diente

From El Diente, we finally got a glimpse of Mt. Wilson:

Mt. Wilson from El Diente

From the left: Wilson Peak, Mt. Gladstone, and Mt. Wilson:

Wilson Peak, Gladstone from El Diente

We started across the traverse. While parts of it were lots of fun, there was lots of crumbly, tippy, loose rocks with plenty of exposure. It demanded a lot of attention as we moved slowly towards Mt. Wilson.

El Diente from Wilson Peak Traverse

The last pitch up the summit block of Mt. Wilson was quite the climax to the day. The last few moves are definitely class 4 with plenty of exposure. Finally, though, we were on top. It was almost noon so we didn’t linger very long on the summit and started our decent down into Navajo Basin via the northeastern slopes.

Marmot Navajo Basin

Decent route

When we finally reached the basin floor, it was time to get walking. The clouds were gathering and we knew that it wouldn’t be long before we got wet. Fortunately, we got to see Navajo Lake from above before packing the camera away from the rain that was almost upon us. The six mile hike out was really wet but we’d made it!

Navajo Lake

Mushrooms near Navajo Lake

Trail Stats:

Miles hiked: 16
Feet of elevation gain: ~5,200′
Time: 12 hours 45 minutes
14ers summited: TWO (Mt. Wilson and El Diente plus West Wilson)

Nature 1, Us 0

Wednesday morning, we hit the road at 3:45 am to climb El Diente and Mount Wilson. We arrived at the Navajo Lake trail and began the first few miles of our hike in the dark. As we reached the meadows below the lake, the sky began to lighten and we got our first glimpse of El Diente (and South Wilson).

Sunrise on the Navajo Peak Trail

Finally we climbed the trail over the headwall of Navajo Basin and got to see the slopes of El Diente. We enjoyed a snack on the shores of the lake before starting the long scramble up to the West Ridge.

Navajo Lake

Navajo Lake

Our chosen route was steep. The going up the scree was slow but our views got better and better as we moved up in elevation. Mostly it was just a lot of two steps up, one step back but there were a few places we got to do some scrambling.

F on the slopes of El Diente

Up El Diente

Climbing the chutes

Climbing the chutes

Finally, we popped out on the ridge and we saw El Diente for the first time since leaving the meadows. Wow.

First glimpse of El Diente

Our views out to the west weren’t too bad either:

To the West

Traversing the west ridge was a lot of fun. We weren’t making awesome time because there were plenty of places where we had to cross some sketchy areas like this: (Yes, it’s a long ways down)

Knife's Edge

To the North

Ridge hiking

Ridge Hiking

Just as we started to feel within reach of the summit, the infamous Colorado summer thunderstorms began to develop. We watched as the clouds began to get more and more ominous. As we watched the clouds began to move to our south so we began moving again.

Ominous clouds

Within minutes, things went from sketchy to very bad. As my hair stood straight up and we got a fuzzy sensation, F sternly instructed me to get down and the two of us hit the rocks and rolled down the ridge 20ft. BOOM, lightning struck over head. Luckily it was cloud to cloud that time.

As we regrouped, we realized 1) that we needed to GET OFF THE RIDGE, 2) that we’d put holes in several hundred dollars worth of clothing, that F had 3) bent his thumbnail back ripping some flesh and 4) sliced 3″ of his hand open on the rocks.  We bandaged his hand with my t-shirt and hair tie (my free tshirt from S2V met a bloody death and I doubt my coworker wants her hair tie back…).

Two miles of ridge top traversing did not sound like a good idea but we weren’t sure we had much of a choice. The alternate routes on El Diente were on the other side of the summit and the sides of the ridge were full of cliffs. As we scrambled our way along the ridge F spotted a chute that appeared be decendable to Kilpacker basin and we both agreed it was worth a shot to get ourselves out of a sketchy situation. So we “skied” down 1000ft of scree while trying to avoid going over the cliff.

When we arrived in the basin the imminent threat of severe weather seemed to have been replaced with a slight summer drizzle and we were treated to a side view of How Close We Were.

Hand gash on El Diente's slopes

Instead of following our tracks out to the Navajo trail, we decided to hike out Kilpacker trail to see if trying the South Slopes approach would be a better idea next time. Just shy of the trail head we met a father and son who had made it to the top of El Diente before the storm but had to abandon the traverse to Mount Wilson. They kindly agreed to drive us back to the Navajo trailhead to pick up the Jeep.

Bummed about not making it to the summit, we took Last Dollar Road from Telluride back to Dallas Divide. Along the way, we saw elk herds, some Aspen and pine groves, and lots of trails to explore.

Elk on Last Dollar Road

The Jeep even got to have some muddy fun:

Green Jeep.

Back in Ridgway over pizza and beer, we began to make plans to give the climb another shot. We’re on a mission now!

Hike by the numbers:
Miles hiked: 11.8
Feet of elevation gain: 3800′
High point: 13,600′
Stitches needed: 9
Summits reached: 0
Dollars worth of clothing torn: a lot 😥