Let me start off this post by explaining the title. Sometimes, when we head out for adventures, our expectations crash into reality. This weekend my wisdom outweighed my desire– and I’m absolutely ok with that.
About a month and a half ago my friends and I decided that we wanted to attempt “The Quad”; a collection of four 14ers that you hike in succession. The four peaks that make up this elusive menace are Mt Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. Some important things to note: Bross’ summit is currently closed to the public and Cameron is not “technically” considered a 14er because the saddle that connects it to Lincoln, the higher of the two doesn’t dip down the required 300 feet.
Anyhow, the day finally came and my husband and I had our packs ready to go:
Our friends convened at our house at 3am, and we piled into the SUVs and headed for Alma, CO. The drive to the trailhead was about 2 1/2 hours, and we needed to get started around 5:30, in order to make it off of the mountain before the storms started rolling in. Earlier in the week two different people were struck and killed by lightning and we did not want to meet the same conditions.
We made it to the trailhead at about 5:45 and after a quick stop to pose for a photo we headed out.
We decided to head up the loop backwards, to avoid a descent riddled with scree (the tiny rocks that make you slide all over the place.) Our crew organically broke out into a few different pace teams as we began our ascent. The two people who were in front pulled away pretty steadily and before too long I was at the back of the pack. I am pretty used to this and I told my husband and another friend that as long as I could see them and they could see me they should press on and I would be fine.
Higher and higher we went, harder and harder my heart pounded. Before too long I was stopping about every 40 steps to catch my breath, drink some water, and slow my heart rate. For a while, when I would stop the two people in front of me would stop as well, but as they came up over a ridge and were on the other side of the mountain, I found myself alone.
I didn’t worry about it too much until I checked my watch and realized I hadn’t seen or heard another living soul in over 45 minutes. I shouted my husband’s name and heard nothing. All at once the mountain swallowed me. I became so overwhelmed that I started to sob. I looked around a little and realized that I must have wandered off the “path” and that I was all by myself at about 13,000 feet. They say weird things can happen at high altitudes and up until that day I wasn’t so sure that was true. As I stood there, alone, I made peace with God and told Him that he could take me whenever- I was ready. I was paralyzed by fear, lost in my thoughts, and I had a dark looming sadness that was consuming me.
Then, as I hopelessly scanned the horizon, I saw my husband coming back for me. I shouted “Please, wait for me!” and he threw up the thumbs up sign and sat on a rock. Slowly and surely I made my way to him, back onto a recognizable trail and when I got to him I started to sob. He looked at me, shocked, when I told him “I was ready to die.” We sat down for a few minutes while I gained my composure. Once I felt like myself again we stood up and he promised not to leave me.
After hours of hiking into the clouds, we finally summited our first peak of the four:
I felt a little bad because we had tried so hard to get there early to miss the storms, and it took me nearly 45 minutes longer to get to the top. Luckily, my crew didn’t seem upset, and because of our little break during my freak-out, I was well rested and didn’t need to sit more than a couple minutes at the summit. We packed up our things and descended the first peak and made our way to Lincoln.
The saddle over to Lincoln was really nice, a little jaunt across the hill, it felt like. My legs felt strong and my heart wasn’t racing as it had been an hour prior. I was still a little behind the group, but was actually able to keep up with my husband and another teammate easily.
The ascent to Lincoln, after the saddle, reminded me of the Hobbit’s pilgrimage to Mordor- I expected Sauron’s eye to pop up over the summit at any moment. We plodded along tight switchbacks, but it was nice to not be battling all the scree we had with the first peak. Up on the top of Lincoln, we could see not only the Quad in its entirety, but we could see Quandary, another 14er, as well.
We looked around and realized that we were really racing the clock, now, and clouds were starting to pour in. We left our lovely perch on Lincoln and headed over to Cameron, the 14er that “they” don’t count.
The weird thing about Cameron was that it didn’t really feel like there was a trail to follow to get to the top of it. We scrambled up to the peak, and within minutes of leaving Lincoln, we were at the summit of Cameron. The summit of Cameron was uneventful- it felt just like a giant empty field of scree.
As you can tell by the photo, things were getting dark. We decided to not even stop at Cameron, longer than a photo op, or else we would have no chance of reaching the summit of Democrat before the storms. The hike down Cameron was slightly brutal. It was around this time that I started to notice something peculiar with my left leg. Each step down, right before my foot landed it would twitch. The further we went, the more noticeable the twitch was to me. When we hit the saddle between Cameron and Democrat I made the very tough decision to not attempt to continue. I wasn’t sure if I could trust my leg at this point and we didn’t have the luxury of sitting and waiting at the saddle for a half hour to find out if it would stop. I told my husband to go on with the rest of the group- he had been waiting for a year to bag the Quad and I didn’t want to be the one who stood in the way of that. When he and I decided that he would continue and I would stay, two of our other hikers also decided that they were done, due to physical ailments as well.
We watched the rest of our party make their way up Democrat, and I snapped this picture right as my husband’s head reached the skyline (you can’t see him, because he is so far away, just a tiny dot… the picture is deceiving!):
I sat at the saddle with my buddies for about an hour and we felt good enough to start our full descent back to the car. Part of the way down was more of the scree, and each of us fell once or twice, but then we hit a meadow and it was smooth sailing. (This picture is from the car looking back at the trail we just came off of- Cameron is straight ahead and Democrat is to our left.
After a few minutes the rest of our party got back to the parking lot. No one got struck by lightning, no one died, no one is permanently damaged. I don’t regret not reaching the summit of Democrat- like I said, wisdom had to outweigh desire.
We will head back, the three of us who didn’t make it, and we will bag Democrat another day.
For now, we rest 🙂