Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mount Democrat

 It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month since I got out on my last 14er.  I got sick for a few weeks during some great weather and that was not very nice.  I knew I wanted to get out this week so I originally planned on a superfecta of 14ers that can all be done together. Unfortunately things don’t always go as planned.

The day started with the 2.5hr drive from home to the Kite Lake TH.  I took I-70 over the divide through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  Just as I got through I saw a bunch of emergency vehicles; a moose had been hit by a semi truck.  It was still before 6am, so now I had to really keep my eye out for game on the road.  The drive was nice on the other side of the divide because I haven’t been over there since our move in September, and new scenery is always good.  There were so many amazing mountains to look at; I wish I had more time and money to get over to climb them all.  Driving through Breckenridge I thought it was very similar to the Ketchum/Sun Valley area in Idaho.  I will have to bring Kristi over this way some time for a get-a-way weekend.

Once to the town of Alma (the highest town in the U.S.) the dirt road was 6 miles to Kite Lake.  Not as gnarly as driving to the Grays Peak TH, but it had its own set of obstacles.  I arrived at the trailhead just after 7am, making much faster time than Google Maps said I would.  I was going to meet up with another climber, but since he had done Democrat I thought I would meet him mid-mountain on the way to the other 3 14ers.  That didn’t end up working out due to wind issues, so now I feel bad.  Hopefully we will get together on another. 

I started up the trail about 7:15am, behind about 8 people I saw take off already.  This is already the most populated mountain I have been on in Colorado this year.  Throughout the day I saw well over 20 people heading up or down Democrat.  There is a decent trail leading to a saddle that splits Mount Democrat and Cameron.  I was feeling all of the steps; since I haven’t been out in a while I knew this one might hurt a bit.  The wind was consistently pissing me off.  I was hoping it would die for a bit and give me a break but that never happened.  With my wind meter I measured a consistent wind of 70mph at the saddle.  People couldn’t stand up it was so strong.  I saw a lot of people head back down, but I came to climb today and had gear for the elements. 
The saddle to the summit was the hard part, often called the crux of climbing.  But, it was only hard because of the elements.  There were switchbacks heading up the ridge, if you were going the correct way the wind was nice, it would push you up the mountain.  But, when you turned, you were screwed.  Each step took a significant amount of energy and balance.  I have never been so sore from a 4mile ~2,400ft climb before.  There was a lovely snow crossing just before the summit.  The reason I say lovely is, who doesn’t want to get ice chips blown at you at 70mph?  I just ducked my head and continued.

After 2hrs and 30minutes I was on the summit.  I went to the top raised my arms like Rocky then found a wind block.  On the way up I was able just to wear my micro fleece and not get too chilled; it was cold but while moving it was manageable.  Now in my wind block I got to break out my new down jacket and down mittens.  It was awesome being able to be warm and enjoy the views for a while longer than I typically would in such conditions.

There were 5 others on the summit when I got there.  Three guys that steam rolled by me earlier were on their way to climb all 4 14ers.  The other two were enjoying a wind block and then heading down.  I had my summit beer and a Snickers, took some pictures and was on my way down.  I was going to do a Happy Birthday picture for my nephew, but I couldn’t manage to hold the banner because of the wind.  So, hopefully next week I can get a picture for him.

I went slow going down.  I kept all my down on till I got past the saddle then I stripped a few layers.  It would have been nice to climb the others, but I can come back when the weather is much more pleasing.  There was a nice glissade, steep but enjoyable.  I love dropping 400ft on my ass rather than tear up my knees.  It was great to get back out after a month on the shelf.  Dad will be coming in a couple weeks and we have Elbert on the list.  That will be fun to have a new high point over Mt Rainier, even though it’s a trail walk to the summit.

Date: 5/30/2012
Starting Elevation: 11,900ft
Summit Elevation:  14,148ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,348ft
Distance: 4.42miles
Time: 2.5hr ascent, 30min summit, 1hr 45min descent
Climbing Partner: Solo, but there were at least 20 people on the mountain

Picture Link:


  1. Good job Nick. I especially like the fact that you enjoyed yourself on top even in the extream conditions.
    Unc Frank

  2. Yep, you always have to find the enjoyment in it even in the worst circumstances. Some day we will have to climb something together. Take Care!