Matt Mahoney's 2004 Colorado Vacation

I flew from Florida to Colorado Springs on June 22 for a 3 week vacation to run the Hardrock 100. The race is July 9, so I would have 17 days to acclimate to the altitude. First thing I did when I got off the plane was drive my rental van to 13,000 ft. on Pikes Peak and hike 2 miles to the 14,110 ft summit and back. It was the first day of summer and also the first time I saw snow this year. The round trip hike took about 2 hours. It was late afternoon but the weather was OK.

Pikes Peak

Next day I wanted to climb Long's Peak but I was disorganized in starting from a friend's house in Westminster, so I didn't get started up the trail until 11:36 AM. When I got there I found all the routes were technical. Since I had left my ice axe in Florida, I decided instead to try Meeker. I made the Chasm Lake turnoff in 70 minutes, meeting a climber on the way who was climbing Dreamweaver (AI3), which was too technical for me so he suggested the Iron Gate. This was hard enough, involving a 50 foot traverse on a narrow ridge above a cliff on outward facing snow.

Meeker (left) and Longs Peak (right) from the Chasm Lake approach.

Looking back at an exposed traverse above the Iron Gate. You can see my footprints along the top edge of the snow.

I only made it as far as the subpeak east of Meeker before I turned around because it was getting late and I was worried about the weather and I wasn't fully acclimated to the high altitude. It took 4 hours to get this far, and 3 hours to return to the trailhead.

Longs Peak seen from Meeker Ridge.

The next day I drove to Leadville (10,200 ft) and checked into the hostel, but didn't do any climbing until the following morning, June 25. I started up Elbert (Colorado's highest peak) from the normal 4 mile easy trail on Halfmoon Road at 10,050 ft at 8:01 AM, reached the 14,433 ft summit at 10:06, stayed about 5 minutes, and returned at 11:27 AM. It was slower than my best time on Elbert (1:52 up, 0:59 down) but I was happy to do it this fast with 4 days of acclimation.

Me on Mt. Elbert. The trail was actually dry except for this snow patch on the summit.

After I climbed Elbert I drove 5 hours to the Purgatory trailhead south of Silverton. I had been trying to organize a group run to the Needles to break the speed record for Eolus, Sunlight, and Windom, but nobody else showed up, so I went alone. I slept about 3 hours in my van at the trailhead and started at 12:51 AM June 26 with just a 2 bottle hip pack and extra clothes tied around my waist. I reached the Animas River bridge (4.4 mi) at 2:12 AM, the Needle Creek trailhead (11 mi) at 4:30 AM, and the top of Chicago Basin (15 mi) at 6:10 AM, all on good trail up to here (although the trail traverses some 300 ft. cliff edges in places). I got off-route on the steep climb to Twin Lakes and ended up bushwacking through willows and scrambling up rocks to Twin Lakes. The lakes were frozen and the basin was full of snow. Since I was closest to Windom, I decided to climb it first.

Mt. Windom seen from the high basin between it and Sunlight.

I had no trouble walking up frozen snow sloped at 30 deg. to the saddle in the middle of the above photo in my Walsh fell running shoes. The upper ridge is class 2+ but in my opinion has some class 3 boulder scrambling, mostly dry but there were a few patches of exposed snow and ice. I reached the summit at 9:14 AM.

Sunlight Spire seen from Windom.

Sunlight (left) and Sunlight Spire (right).

A rock window on the Sunlight ridge.

I descended into the high basin on snow to climb Sunlight, traversing the solid face to pick up a class 2+ climbers trail to the ridge left of the summit.

Unfortunately dark clouds were building. At 11:10 AM there was thunder and hail about 50 ft below the summit where the class 4 climbing starts, so I retreated. This involved a lot of glissading down 45 deg. snow to get down as quickly as possible in the storm. Below Twin Lakes the sleet turned to rain, which continued lightly for the next 3-4 hours. I reached the Needle Creek trailhead at 2:24 PM, the Animas River bridge at 4:25, and returned at 6:19, a total of about 32 miles.

Part 2, Black Canyon, Huron, La Plata, Leadville Marathon, Sneffels.

Part 3, Hardrock 100.

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