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Google Earth View of Colorado's Highest 100 Mountains

Two amazing summits; 11,060 ft. elevation gain, 21.5 miles... and a whole lotta' fun.

Introduction

Last year, I had plans to complete my long quest to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers. I had the calendar all lined up, trips planned, gear ready and my legs were in great shape. If all went to plan, I was to finish on Windom Peak after a long summer of knocking out some of Colorado’s toughest peaks. Unfortunately, as is so common in this sport of mountaineering and peak-bagging, those plans were interrupted. An unsuccessful attempt on Snowmass Mountain in June left me with one less weekend available. A complete re-arrangement of the calendar ensued and for the third straight year, my plans of climbing Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak were delayed. However, this worked out to my advantage – as I had always dreamed of completing the 14ers on Maroon Peak and then on Pyramid Peak, which purportedly is one of the most difficult mountains as well as one of the most rewarding summits. Finally, my time had come to complete this incredible journey that started when I was six-years-old – the completion of the 14ers. Lots of hard work over the past 3 years have culminated in this moment.

My first 14er at age 6

My first 14er - Mount Sherman - at age 6.

Ever since I was a child, I recall being mesmerized by the Maroon Bells, for both their scenic wonder and beauty and their dangerous mystique. My dad, Ray Payne, climbed the Bells back in August 1987 and returned home regaling his conquest with stories of incredible mountaineering feats (it must have sounded insane to my then 9-year-old ears) and near-death encounters with “The Deadly Bells.” Here's an old-school shot of my dad (yellow helmet) asending Pyramid Peak, rope in tow.

Ray Payne on Pyramid Peak

Per Wikipedia (and per my own witness of the sign), the term “Deadly Bells” refers to a U.S. Forest Service sign on the Maroon Lake access trail which calls the mountains "The Deadly Bells" and warns would-be climbers of "downsloping, loose, rotten and unstable" rock that "kills without warning". Sounds like my kind of mountain! Unlike other mountains in Colorado, the Maroon Bells are composed of metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that has hardened into rock over millions of years. This mudstone is weak and fractures readily, giving rise to dangerously loose rock along almost any route. This same mudstone is responsible for the Bells' famous and distinctive maroon color. The Bells got their "deadly" name in 1965 when eight people died in five separate accidents. Since then, many climbers have perished while attempting these dangerous peaks, including Spencer James Nelson in 2010.

 

In fact, just before leaving for this trip, I had learned that there was a missing hiker on the Maroon Bells. This news had cast a shadow on the trip and I had hoped he was found safely. The hiker was a New York City Paramedic named Lenny and had not reported to work. It later turned out that he took a fall and perished on North Maroon and was found the very same day we arrived.

 

Given the danger factor and overall awesome factor surrounding the fact that I was planning to complete the 14ers on these deadly mountains, I was quite nervous the week leading up to this trip. I think I had started packing four or five days before the trip, which is uncommon for even me and my neurotic trip planning. To make matters even worse, the trip had quite a few loose ends on the logistics side of things – originally I had planned to head-out Tuesday night with my climbing partner, Sarah, we’d climb some mountains, and then our other climbing partner, Ethan, would join us at Crater Lake on either Saturday or Sunday. Then a few wrenches got thrown into the mix – Sarah found out she had to work a cycling event on Sunday, and Ethan would be unable to join us on Friday. To make matters even more interesting, my Jeep Wrangler came up with some mechanical issues the day before we were supposed to leave. It was not looking good for team Payne. I called Sarah and we finally worked out all the details. Ethan would not be joining us after-all, and Sarah could drive. Crisis averted.

 

I decided to backpack using my Osprey Talon 44 instead of my regular backpacking pack – the huge and insane discontinued Dana Design Terraplane - a monstrous 95 Liter pack. Instead, I opted for the smaller 44 Liter pack so that I would force myself to take less gear and food and hopefully save some damage to my knees, which were still recovering from the massive 45 mile trip Sarah and I took last year to the Chicago Basin. To round things out, I opted to also purchase a knee brace, in hopes of preventing pain and further damage on this trip.

 

Choosing camera equipment for a trip such as this was a challenge, especially given the fact that I wanted to keep my over-all weight low without sacrificing my ability to take great photos. So, I opted to bring my Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod (which is quite solid and somewhat heavy despite being crafted out of carbon-fiber), Nikon D7000, a few filters, a shutter release cable (for long exposures), and two lenses – the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 and the Nikkor 18-105 VR f/3.5-5.6. This would give me the ability to shoot very wide shots and some versatility with a zoom in the 18-105.

Day 1: The drive in

Loaded-up and ready to rock – Sarah picked me up from my house in Colorado Springs at 7 PM. We departed for our speedy adventure up Highway 24, which afforded us some pretty gruesome views of the damage caused by the Waldo Canyon Fire just the month prior. We stopped at the top of Wilkerson Pass to check-out the remnants of a thunderstorm there, hoping to capture some of that footage on film; however, all I was able to get was a long exposure of the cars driving through South Park below.

Long exposure on Wilkerson Pass

Thanks to some recon data provided by 14ers.com member Bill Wood, I knew our goal was to find the over-night parking lot just below the Maroon Lake trailhead. We found that lot at around midnight and prepared for what would become a very short 4-hour nap in the back of Sarah’s skinny pick-up truck.

Day 2: The backpack in to Crater Lake and an attempt on Maroon Peak

We were rudely awoken at around 3:45 AM by some guys next to us prepping for their hike, who were loud and even making jokes about how we were probably not too happy about how loud they were. Such is life at popular 14er trailheads, even on a Wednesday morning. We debated the night before about our intents and goals for this first day in the area, and decided to wake-up at a reasonable time (4:30 AM) to begin backpacking up into the basin to find a campsite, with the option to attempt Maroon Peak (weather dependent). We rose groggily from the truck and prepared our backpacks, which for me is always an interesting challenge with a large tripod attached. We began the hike in the dark and were passed quickly by a solo hiker looking to tackle Pyramid Peak by himself. Best of luck to that guy. The hike up towards Crater Lake was quite uneventful, and after a quick 1.5 miles, we stopped shortly before sunrise so I could quickly bushwhack up a hillside to photograph the Maroon Bells while the light was good. I did several versions at various focal lengths and lighting.

Maroon Bells at sunrise

During this photo shoot, I made a nearly dire mistake when I switched lenses. I put my Tokina in my camera bag, which was attached to my chest. I forgot to zip it up, so when I leaned over, the lens rolled out onto the rocks. Fortunately, absolutely no damage was done. Close call!

Maroon Bells at sunrise

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells

After shooting sunrise at the Maroon Bells, we made our way up the rest of the way to Crater Lake, where we would try to locate a campsite. Upon first arrival at the lake, the reflections of the Maroon Bells in the very still water and post-sunrise light were absolutely fantastic.

Maroon Bells from Crater Lake

A wider view, including the Pyramid Peak massif:

Maroon Bells at Crater Lake - Panorama

The search for a campsite was on, and I had been given some good tips from Bill Wood that we should shoot for campsites 6-11. We finally landed on campsite 9, slightly south and west of Crater Lake on a large hillside. Sarah later joked it was no wonder the campsite was open, because you have to hike up a hill away from the water to reach it.

 

We quickly made camp, setting-up the tent and all of our stuff, and finally had summit packs ready by 8 AM. Not exactly the best start time for a 14er of Maroon’s caliber, but we thought we’d give it a shot either way, so off we went. We followed the trail quite a long ways up the valley to the south and reached the oh-so recognizable warped tree described by the 14ers.com guide.

Heading up the Maroon Peak trail

After the tree, the real work was before us, and the Maroon Peak southeast slopes trail lay before us in all of its steep glory. The trail started quite steeply, much like the Manitou Incline.

Looking north from the Maroon Peak trail

We reached well above tree-line before my stomach started to really give me issues. I could not figure out why I was not feeling well, so we stopped at around 12,400 ft. This turned out to work out just fine, because weather was starting to build above, the clouds that were hanging low all morning had never really left. I later figured out that the culprit to my stomach issue was the Cliff Bar Builder’s Bar I had ate.

Maroon Peak trail - one steep bastard

Sarah and I sat around for a bit, contemplating our options.

Sarah and Pyramid Peak

We had picked a pretty great place to stop. The views in all directions were great. We did not feel rushed at all.

Maroon Peak trail

Even though my stomach was in pain, we found ourselves near a large meadow of wildflowers, which made for some fun photography.

MaroonandPyramid-12

It was a really cool spot, and since it seemed were not going to do any more climbing, I took the liberty of taking a ton of shots.

MaroonandPyramid-13

Pyramid Peak and wildflowers

We headed on down and later ran into a group of three guys coming down as well. They were attempting Maroon as well and were turned back due to the weather just short of the ridge. These three guys were very cool, and we had a nice conversation about the area and climbing the Centennials. We all headed on down to the main trail, where we intersected two more hikers coming up to investigate the location of the Maroon Peak trail turn-off. This would not be our last encounter with these two guys, as we would later run into them twice more the following day.

 

Sarah and I hiked back to camp and took naps. After our short naps, we cooked up some food and I prepared my camera equipment for a walk down to Crater Lake for sunset shots and later night photography.

Pyramid massif reflected in Crater Lake

Upon arriving at the lake, I was immediately in my happy place, having many quite interesting landscape shots to attempt. I waited for the sun to set and the magic started to happen, lighting up the tips of the surrounding mountains to our East, which were part of the Pyramid Peak massif. I also tried out my ND filter and did some longer exposures of the clouds and Maroon Peak.

Maroon Peak long exposure with ND filter

Sarah was able to sneak a shot of me geeking out on my camera.

Matt Payne Photography

Composing the shot...

Matt Payne Photography

The sun was setting and the light started doing its thing.

Pyramid Peak massif at sunset

Reflections at Crater Lake

After the sun went down, Sarah went back to the tent to get some sleep. I stayed out and set-up for something I had been planning for a long time - star trails over the Maroon Bells, reflected in Crater Lake. This worked out pretty nicely, there was a group hiking in the dark up the trail and so my long exposures got their head lamps in the shot too, which I opted to keep in. The "break" in the trails is from my intervalometer stopping unexpectedly on me and me having to restart the sequence. Bummer! Still turned out great though, I think. You can see where the moon had just set over Maroon Peak's upper left cliff bands.

Star Trails over the Maroon Bells and Crater Lake

While photographing the star trails using the intervalometer on my camera, two sets of eyes appeared near me at the lake. I rose and walked closer to find two deer, one a quite large buck. I was both relieved and amazed. I’m not really sure how well I could defend myself against a mountain lion.

 

After shooting star trails above the Maroon Bells, I took advantage of the scene and clear night and took some fantastic shots of the Milky Way. My two favorite was this single shot of the Milky Way reflected in the lake, and the next one, which is a 9-shot panoramic of the Milky Way above the Pyramid Peak massif. Click on the single shot if you'd like to learn more or purchase it.

Milky Way over Crater Lake

I just could not get over how clear the sky was!Milky Way Panoramic over Crater Lake and the Pyramid Peak massif

After capturing what I felt at the time were some great photos, I decided it was time to hit the sack, since our departure time for Maroon Peak was looming just a few hours away. I came back to the tent, where I found Sarah wide awake still. Apparently a field mouse had managed to find our tent and was crawling over the top of it, which kept freaking Sarah out. In fact, about 30 minutes later, the mouse bumped past the side of the tent next to Sarah’s face, which caused her to freak out and elbow me like she was trying to win a Karate match. It was awesome.

Day 3: Early start and successful summit of Maroon Peak - 14,156 ft.

Sarah’s iPhone alarm sounded off and sounded just like a self-destruct sequence, in fact, it was just like this YouTube video.

Mixed with my dream that President Obama had confiscated the valley we were in for national security reasons, and my head was all kinds of whacked out – too much, too early.

 

Nonetheless, we rose like zombies and hit the trail at a brisk pace at a quarter past 4 AM and head back up the valley to the Maroon Peak turn-off, in the dark. By the time we were working our way up the steep trail, the sun had begun to illuminate the mountainside and we were moving at a very steady pace.

Maroon Peak trail

Two of the three climbers from the prior day passed us quickly, having a deadline to meet – they were extremely fast – good on them! We kept our pace going at a good rate and eventually caught up with the two gentleman from the day before that were looking for the trail.

Maroon Creek valley at sunrise

They were moving very slowly and had mentioned that there was only two others ahead of them other than the two we knew about – a photographer and their friend.

A photographer you say? This piqued my interest instantly. Who was ahead of me? Did I know them or of them?

The trail was one of the steepest I could remember. Exhausting, but a wonderful workout all the same.

Matt nearing the ridge of Maroon Peak

Before long at all, Sarah and I crested the ridge after 2,800 feet of grueling non-stop high angle grinding. As Bill Middlebrook describes on the 14ers.com route description, “Conquering the East Slope is a major achievement, but now the more technical terrain remains.” Indeed. Time to refuel.

Honey Stinger

Sarah had maintained an excellent pace up Maroon Peak so far and was kicking my butt. Did I mention that while I'm at home editing photos, she's out racing single speed mountain bikes? Yeah. Wonder who's in better shape?

Sarah takes a break to goof off

The remaining section of the ridge was more of the same; however, we had much better views of the surrounding area.

Sun rising over Pyramid Peak

Once we reached the ridge, it was only a short section of maybe 400 feet to tackle before reaching the hard part.

Matt ascends the Maroon Peak ridge

The ridge section was still fairly steep, but the excitement of seeing the rest of Maroon Peak's impressive face kept us moving quickly.

The Maroon Peak ridge

Reaching the crest of the final ridge was exhilarating as always, made especially sweet by the awesome visage of Maroon Peak, which loomed in front of us like a giant sentinel.

Sarah peers at Maroon Peak

Sarah and I followed the rest of the route religiously, having had a bad experience off-route last year on Snowmass. We took a break for food, and I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle which was delicious – these things are the real deal. The fun begins.

Sarah begins the hard stuff on Maroon

From the ridge crest, the route went very easily, much to my surprise and partial disappointment. I was expecting an epic class 3 adventure; however, Maroon Peak is more like class 2 with a sprinkle of class 3 in some lame locations. It looked intimidating as hell though.

Maroon Peak

The trail is very obvious most of the route and there are actually only a few spots you need to actually make a decision and “climb.” That being said, the terrain was still quite dangerous and we were vigilant. The views... oh man. So amazing. Intense.

Maroon Peak and the Elk Mountains

Shortly after entering the more dangerous terrain, we ran into the other companion of the two guys we had passed earlier. He wanted to know how far behind they were. He was not very thrilled to learn about their slow pace, but the weather seemed to be holding so I felt like they still had a shot.

Sarah and an expansive view of Maroon Creek

For the most part, the first section after the ridge involves following the trail up and over a bunch of small gendarmes near the ridgetop. As predicted, we found ourselves having to climb a small gully into a small and secluded alcove, which offered great views to the west.

Climbing the first gully

Just at the top of this gully rested our next problem - a small gully with great hand and foot holds heading up.

Second gully on Maroon Peak

On the other side of this gully, parts of Maroon Peak were back in view. The route certainly did not look obvious from here, but it worked out.

Maroon Peak

The most dangerous section was probably the set of gullies you can choose to ascend about 2/3 of the way through the route as pictured here.

Gully choice on Maroon Peak

We chose to climb the second gully and then follow a ledge system to the left. I feel that under the right circumstances and a lot of climbers, this section could be quite dangerous due to rockfall. Most of the rest of the route seemed quite safe with the occasional ledge area that was exposed. It looks worse than it is, trust me. Here's a view from the top of the gully, looking back across where we had come from.

Views from the side of Maroon Peak

At this point it felt like a great time to stop and soak in the views. It does not get much better than this.

Panoramic from the middle of the Maroon Peak climb

The rock features on Maroon Peak were quite remarkable and made for a wonderful hiking experience. There were many times where I kept saying to myself, "I'm really here, this is one awesome place!"

Maroon Peak

Looking up or down made you feel so small. The sheer ruggedness and steepness of these peaks is easy to appreciate.

The final stretch of the climb includes a large boring dirt and rock section that reminded me of Columbia Peak, meaning, it was fairly awful – the kind of stuff that goes two steps up and you slide one step down.

Maroon Peak views

Once at the top of this area, you climb a really short but interesting ledge system onto the flank of the peak and follow a long series of quite solid and fun-to-explore ledges before reaching the final summit ridge.

The last summit ridge of Maroon Peak

Pyramid Peak dwarfed Sarah.

Pyramid Peak and Sarah Musick

Sarah, while only equipped with an iPhone, took some awesome shots on this trip as well. One of my favorites was this one she took of my near the summit.

Maroon Peak Silhoutte

Upon reaching the final summit ridge, I saw a man with a yellow helmet on the summit, in fact, the same yellow Edelrid helmet my dad handed down to me and seen in the photos of him in this report. He yelled down at me that it “was a great photo” and to “stay put if I didn’t mind.” This must be the photographer we learned about. While I waited for the light to get right for him to take my shot, I took a high contrast shot of him and Sarah on the summit.  

Sarah and our new friend on Maroon Peak

He then snapped off this cool shot of me climbing the final section to the summit.

Matt cresting the summit of Maroon Peak

We got up to join him and he pulled out his business card. It was none other than the legendary Glenn Randall. Readers may recall Glenn’s name from an article I wrote earlier this year where I shared my thoughts on the twenty best Colorado landscape photographers. In fact, Glenn’s revered in the mountaineering-photography community as a pioneer, for, as he later explained to me, he has photographed sunrise from thirty-eight 14ers. This is a most impressive feat. Glenn explained that he was just on a recon mission today, because he was going to be doing Maroon Peak tomorrow as well to photograph sunrise from there. He was setting waypoints and familiarizing himself with the route. He had just done sunrise at Pyramid Peak the day before. Glenn’s dedication to this sub-set of photography is most impressive – in order to achieve sunrise on a peak like Maroon Peak – he would need to begin hiking at midnight and carry over 20 pounds of photography equipment with him to the summit. I was humbled to have met such a great photographer that I had modeled a great deal of my own personal work after.

Glenn gladly took our photo with Sarah's phone.

Matt and Sarah on Maroon Peak

Glenn and I talked shop for quite awhile and he decided to head down. Shortly after though, two mountain goats came strolling up the side of the mountain from the descending route area with none other than Glenn behind them.

Glenn Randall photographing mountain goats

It was such a fun day on the summit, sharing the photographic experience with a true pro. I had fun composing images of the goats and of Glenn. I might be geeking-out a little, but it really was an incredible experience.

Sarah was able to get some incredible shots of all of the action too. Some of my favorites.

Matt Payne photographing goats

These were quite friendly goats, often coming within feet of me.

Mountain goats on Maroon Peak

Pyramid Peak made for a killer backdrop for the goat.

Mountain Goat peers towards Pyramid

I bet Glenn got some really great shots of the goats... he was sporting a quite nice Canon Fx camera and a 70-200 lens.

Glenn and the goats

Glenn Randall

I took so many fun shots of the goats, and I hesitated to post so many here, but they turned out so great, I had to share.

Glenn and a mountain goat

My favorite shot of the mix was this shot of this goat peering out towards Pyramid Peak, foreshadowing the day to come, where I would complete the 14ers.

Pyramid Peak and a lonely mountain goat

Through all the excitement, I had to stop and take some shots of Sarah and a couple panoramics.

Sarah on Maroon Peak

The traverse over to N. Maroon looked like a lot of fun, but it was not on the agenda.

North Maroon and Pyramid Peak

The obligatory 360 panoramic... which demonstrated how large of a summit Maroon Peak really had... and how amazing the views around us were.

360 panoramic from Maroon Peak

The white coilour for Thunder Pyramid stuck out like a sore thumb above Len Shoemaker ridge.

Sarah Musick prepares for the descent

The weather began to look a little shaky after a long time spent at the summit, so we all decided to head down together. On the way down, Glenn was a really great mountaineer, concerned with safety and route selection in many of the same ways Sarah and I were. It was such an honor to spend the afternoon chatting about photography methods, gear and stories while down-climbing. I felt kind of bad for Sarah but she rolled with it and contributed a great deal to the conversation, having many stories of our mountaineering adventures to convey.

On the way down, at the earlier described gullies, we opted to go with Glenn down a different gully. I think the original gully we took on the up-climb was sturdier (the second of the two when coming up, the first of the two when coming down). Other than this small section, we sailed down the mountain’s route, eventually running into the lone guy we had encountered earlier that was waiting for his friends. Indeed, he was again waiting for his friends and explained that they were very slow and he was concerned because he said they were very set on doing the traverse between Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, which is very dangerous and requires a great deal of time. He asked that we try to convince his partners not to attempt the traverse based on the weather and their slow speed.

Shortly after this, we ran into the ambiguously odd duo again as Glenn tried to convey the seriousness of the traverse given their speed and the weather. They did not seem convinced this was problem for them and so I hoped that I would not be reading about them on 14ers.com in the Memoriam section (if you guys are reading, I hope you got down safely). We continued on and eventually reached the ridge safely without any issues.

Maroon Peak descent

The hike down was relaxing. No threat of weather to worry about.

Mountain goat herd

From here, we casually followed the steep trail back down from the summit, stopping occasionally to take photos of flowers and a small group of mountain goats, which consisted of two adults and two tiny baby goats (so adorable). This prompted me to wonder about the breeding habits of mountain goats and the herd consistency, so I made a mental note to read about that when I got home. I did learn that it was likely that we saw two females (nannies) with their two kids (babies) – as I learned from this almighty Wikipedia article.

Mountain goat kid

The wildflowers were so fantastic on this hike, it reminded me a little bit of the wildflowers we saw the prior year on our hike up into Lead King Basin.

Wildflowers in the Maroon Bells basin

Glenn left us about halfway down to move a little faster so that he could get some rest before his epic sunrise hike. Sarah and I continued down at a decent pace and found ourselves back at camp at approximately 1:45 PM. The weather was holding quite well for the Elk Mountains, and we were starving. We cooked some food and took naps that lasted well into the late evening and eventually the night. We were certainly well rested for the next climb. 

Day 4: Early start and successful summit of Pyramid Peak - 14,018 ft.

The alarm went off and we climbed out of the tent and started hiking at 4:15 for Pyramid Peak. The hike down to the lake and to the trail split off in the darkness was a fun experience as always. Once we found the turn off for Pyramid Peak, we were greeted by a couple that was heading up to do Pyramid as well. They were moving quite quickly and left us in their dust in no time at all. We were both thankful to have a really well-constructed trail to start the day on - the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative built an absolutely bomber trail up the first section of Pyramid in 2006 and it does not disappoint. The trail climbs steeply out of the valley over large boulders and is very well-maintained. Before we knew it, we were starting to get the first sunlight of the day at pre-dawn. 

Sunrise below the Maroon Creek valley

After switching back and forth up the steep slopes, the trail deposited us at the base of a giant boulder field, nick-named the "Ampitheater" due to the fact that it has three of its four sides surrounded by steep sections of Pyramid Peak. 

The Ampitheater of Pyramid Peak

As we rose up the Ampitheater, the views to the north became better and better, with the soft light of sunrise illuminating the surrounding peaks.

Maroon Creek valley at sunrise

Eventually, we reached the top of the Ampitheater and were greeted with our next task, climbing up a very steep scree and dirt gully to the ridge. We were both overcome with glee over the prospect of such fun hiking (just kidding). Fortunately, the views behind us were starting to get good, with Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak poking above the ridgeline in the Ampitheater. 

Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak

In addition to this, the clouds above were looking phenomenal, and the Maroon Bells were beginning to poke up above the ridge too.

Clouds above the Elk Mountains

The hike up this section was gruelling to say the least. It was steep, loose and unrelenting. The occasional break to look back was worth the climb though.

Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak Black and White

At last, we reached the top of this devilish section of climbing and our day's objective finally came into view for the first time. Pyramid Peak erupted above us like some freakish volcano. Here's a groovy photo with all of the mighty Elk 14ers in view - Pyramid, Maroon, North Maroon, Snowmass and Capitol. 
Pyramid Peak 

Sarah and I stopped for a bit at the top of this section to rest, eat and study up on the route. Sarah enjoyed what had become her signature staple food of the trip - PB&J on a hot dog bun. Yep. 
Pyramid Peak and Sarah Musick 

The clouds continued to provide a very dramatic feel for the whole morning.

Pyramid Peak Black and White

After a short rest, two climbers joined us on the saddle - they were named Doug and Martin and asked to join us for the rest of the climb so that we would not kick rocks down on each other. This seemed like a great plan to us; although at first glance, Sarah and I were both a little taken back by Doug's bicycle helmet. Fortunately, it turned out he would be one of the safest climbers I've been with.

Doug snapped off a group photo for Sarah and I and we departed for the difficult section of the climb.

Matt and Sarah in front of Pyramid Peak

The route was quite obvious for most of the remaining part of the climb, with several cairns and a clear trail in many sections. At one point, we found ourselves at a section that was a huge crevasse in the trail, which totally reminded me a photo I remembered seeing of my dad when he climbed Pyramid Peak. Indeed, the crevasse was jumped by me both up and down. Here's a photo from the 1980s of my dad jumping a similar crevasse.

Ray on Pyramid Peak

We reached the infamous "ledge" which proved to be a challenge with my camera bag affixed to my chest. Sarah captured this photo of me being quite relaxed while crossing, with camera in hand.

Pyramid Peak ledges

I had the camera out for a reason though, as I wanted to get a closer shot of Doug and Martin crossing this awesome section.

Pyramid Peak ledges

At last, we reached the infamous green gully, which turned to be the most enjoyable section to upclimb. It was quite solid and easy going, with little to no loose rocks to contend with. It was very steep though, and a miscalculation would prove fatal. Climbing to the top of this section was quite a lot of fun.

Pyramid Peak green gully

We then reached what many consider to be the crux of this route up Pyramid Peak, a section where you can choose between a very exposed class 3 section or an unexposed but more dangerous class 5 section. Coming down from this area were the two climbers we met earlier in the morning near the lake - they had already summited and were coming down, so we waited for them before continuing. As a group, we had a nice discussion about the route and the other two climbers departed.

Decision time - which move on Pyramid Peak 

The crux move was spicy but nothing too hard. I thought the summit block on Mt. Wilson was harder and more exposed for sure. The rest of the climb was as simple as weaving our way up cairned sections of ledges. Before we knew it, we were on the summit. Sarah was up first and captured a photo of me summiting my last 14er.

Summitting Pyramid Peak

As I reached the top, I took one last look back behind me at the east Elks - they looked so good.

East Elk Mountains

The feeling was surreal, exciting, sad, happy and relieving, all at the same time. It was a flood of feelings for sure, but they were all welcome feelings. I felt like I had accomplished something quite remarkable (even though thousands have done it before me). Perhaps it had something to do with the length of the time it took to finish, or the length of the time I had had the goal. Either way - it was pretty darn awesome! Sarah gave me a big hug and then dropped a huge surprise on me. She prefaced the surprise with the something like the following words, "Angela wanted me to give this to you when you got to the top... I ensured it was not a divorce letter or anything like that, but don't shoot the messenger!"

 

She then handed me a white folded envelope with my name on it. Inside was the most thoughtful, humorous and loving message I could ever ask for from my wife. Sarah said, "she said you might cry." Which of course, I did a little.

Matt reads Angela's letter

Sarah and I celebrated the amazing day and basked in all of the glory that I knew would come from the views from Pyramid Peak. It was the perfect mountain to finish on. The views of the Maroon Bells, Len Shoemaker ridge, Snowmass Mountain, Capitol, Castle, Conundrum, Cathedral and the rest of the killer Elk Mountains were absolutely surreal and wonderful.

Matt and Sarah on Pyramid Peak

The famous Pyramid Peak diving board was a very inviting spot for photos, and Sarah decided to go surfing. I did an HDR and a non-HDR of this, for fun. You can mouse-over or click to see the non-HDR version.

Pyramid Peak diving board and Sarah Musick

...and my celebratory pose!

Matt Payne on Pyramid Peak

It felt like a small little party up there, spirits were high, weather was looking good, and the views were to die for. 

Matt and Sarah on Pyramid Peak

After some food, I fired off a 360 degree panoramic from the summit. One of my favorites to date.

Pyramid Peak 360 degree panoramic

The same 360 degree pano made for a wonderful planet too... for more on those see this article...

Planet Pyramid Peak

One of Sarah's more awesome traditions is that every Friday she wears a tie and takes a photo of it. This Friday would be no exception!

Tie Friday

Weather was starting to build to the west, so we decided to start to pack up our stuff. I still was in awe of the sheer nature of the valley below - how steep the walls were, how amazing the features of the rock were. I'm not religious at all, but this is as close as you can get to a religious experience.

Pyramid Peak views

Before we left, I wanted one more parting shot from Pyramid with the USGS marker.

Pyramid Peak USGS marker

Downclimbing Pyramid Peak was slow going. It always feels much more awkward to downclimb the steeper terrain and Pyramid was no exception. Our group took special care not to dislodge any rocks onto each other and we staggered our decents and ensured we were each clear of a run-out section before the next person started. It was pretty fun climbing though.

Downclimbing Pyramid Peak

Pyramid was one steep mountain, with lots of loose rock to beware of.

Downclimbing Pyramid

I was still amazed at how rugged the terrain was on Pyramid - it looks so unclimbable from all directions, and even when you're up there it feels quite surreal.

Pyramid Peak's rugged terrain

The slowest and most challenging part of the downclimb was the green gully. We took turns decending into sections and just as we reached the bottom of it, small rain drops started to slowly fall. We had made it through the hard sections just in time.

Sarah downclimbs the green gully

Luckily for us, the rain lasted only a short time and we were able to reach the saddle quickly and safely. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lone mountain goat, who was probably licking up the urine others had deposited there earlier in the day...

Mountain goat on the Pyramid saddle

This mountain goat was quite photogenic and decided to pose just for me on the rocks above.

Awesome mountain goat on Pyramid

After enjoying the company of the goat, we decided to head on down the most wonderfully exciting and enjoyable dirt and scree fest that was the descent off of the ridge back into the Ampitheater. We both ran out of water at this point and decided to hoof it down as fast as we could, with plans of heading on out of the valley that evening. The thought of a celebratory meal in Aspen was too much to pass up. Once out of the ampitheater, the CFI trail down was quite solid. I could not really imagine how awful this trail would be before this work was done. I took one final parting shot of the Maroon Bells on the way down Pyramid.

Maroon Bells parting shot

Sarah snapped off one last shot of me hiking back to camp. This is one happy dude.

One Happy Dude

We got back to our campsite and packed up after refilling our water. Our legs were tired. Our souls were refreshed. It was time for beer and pizza. We headed out and I took one final "classic" shot of the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake with the "Deadly Bells" sign. "DO NOT ATTEMPT IF NOT QUALIFIED."

I'm not sure if I was qualified or not, but I felt greatly accomplished and quite humbled to have experienced them either way.

The Deadly Bells

A final look at the route map. Click on it for a larger version.

Maroon Bells and Pyramid route topo map

We decided on a restaraunt called Mezzaluna in Aspen for our celebration dinner. I had a vegetarian pizza (did I mention I'm a vegetarian) with truffle oil and Sarah had a sausage pizza. Two margaritas were served and congratulations were in order.

Celebration Pizza at Mezzaluna in Aspen

After leaving Aspen and dropping off of Independence Pass towards Buena Vista, we were greeted with a rare double rainbow, which capped off our most excellent trip in fine order. I could not have asked for a better trip, partner, or experience to finish the 14ers.

Double rainbow over the railroad

Conclusion and acknowledgements

A goal that takes 27 years to complete is one worthy of relishing, reflection and sincere acknowledgements to those that helped make it possible.

 

After fracturing my L5 vertabrae in 1995, I was not sure if I would ever be able to realize some of my goals. Fortunately, through hard work and incredible support from my family, I fully recovered from that and learned a great deal about work ethic. This quest for the mountains has tought me so many valuable lessons about life, about people, about myself...

 

Most importantly, it has taught me that despite people having severe differences of opinion on matters such as religion, politics or otherwise, something like the great mountains of Colorado can bring those people together to share in life-changing experiences that bind people unlike any other force. I hope to build on those lessons and continue to better myself as a person - my friends and family know there is plenty of room for growth.

 

To Sarah Musick: Thank you so much Sarah! It was such an honor to share those last two summits with you - you have been a true inspiration to me and my quest to finish. Your support over this past year has been fantastic. You are truly an amazing human being.

 

Of course, an achievment like this is never possible without the support of others, who are for sure some of the finest people I've had the pleasure to meet.

1. 1st - to my wife, Angela Payne (one fine Vegan chef with a killer sense of humor) - who has given me more support than I ever could have asked for - allowing me to chase my dreams is the best gift a person can give!

2. To my parents, they have been an inspiration for this life-long goal and I would have never have started without them introducing me to the mountains of Colorado at such a young age. My dad's goal to complete the highest 100 began in the 1970's and it quickly became my own goal as well.

3. To my family’s close friend – Dave LeShane – who also was on the quest for the highest 100 when I was a child – and inspired me to dream for the stars while climbing various 13ers with me as a child. Your wisdom, guidance and support over the years was like having a super-awesome uncle with bad-ass climbing stories.

 

4. To my regular climbing partners - Sarah Musick, Ethan Beute, Jeremy Park, and Regina Primavera (Yalegirl09) - you guys have been absolutely awesome to climb with! Your support, humor, talks, patience, insight and overall awesomeness has grounded me and reaffirmed my faith in mankind's future.

Sarah - you are one of the most amazing people I've ever met - our short but fantastic friendship has been such a blessing for me.

Ethan - our talks and hikes are always some of my most enjoyable days and most memorable experiences - I hope we can continue what I believe to be an incredible friendship!

Jeremy – while we have not done any 14ers together, we’ve known each other since high school and have been amazing friends ever since. Our epic adventure on Vestal’s Wham ridge will always be one of my fondest moments in my life!

Regina - you are one crazy, amazing and true friend! Our hikes are always a great time and I have enjoyed our talks!

5. To my other climbing partners, mostly from 14ers.com –

Terry Mathews (tmathews) - it was so great getting back into climbing with you back in 2009. Our adventures and introductions to class 3 on Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Blanca, Ellingwood, Kit Carson and Challenger were fantastic.

Micah (mountainmicah83)- dude – our epic day on Harvard and Columbia will never be forgotten - while I had hoped we could get out more – it was still awesome to learn rope/climbing skills from you and Matt!

Mike Vetter and Travis Arment - what can I say Mike - anyone who would drive all the way from South Dakota to climb Huron Peak with me is one awesome dude. Our adventure up Capitol Peak with the accomplished Travis Arment was unforgettable. You guys are fantastic people.

Barry Johnson (Johnson) – our climb of Shavano in 2009 was my re-introduction to the 14ers after a long hiatus – thank you for joining me on that fantastic day!

Mike (fiemus) and Bob Hay – our hike up Yale was great – learning about all of Mike's SAR stories was one of my favorite days in the hills.

Kara Bauman, Will (WillV), Alli Kolega and Tom Shaar – our climb of Mt. Wilson was absolutely wonderful! Thank you for allowing me to join you guys on such a fabulous adventure!

6. To Bill Middlebrook for creating and maintaining 14ers.com – it has been very helpful for me in this crazy pursuit.

7. All the other awesome mountaineers, climbers and hikers in this community - we need to continue to focus on our common goals and dreams.

 

Thank you for all for the inspiration to write these, and thank you for reading...

Originally, my friend Ethan and I had made plans to climb the Three Apostles - three great 13ers over near Leadville; however, the Waldo Canyon Fire started the weekend prior and by Tuesday had burned out of control - 346 homes were burned to the ground in Mountain Shadows and Highway 24 was closed. The main access to the mountains was Highway 24, so we were pretty much stuck on the Front Range. Additionally, the whole week had been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone - my parents evacuated their house and stayed with us for a couple of nights. Ethan covered the fire quite a bit with video and social media throughout the week (by the way, if you have a chance, you really should check out his incredible blog post about social media, traditional media and the Waldo Canyon Fire - a fabulous read). The Waldo Canyon Fire had presented Ethan and I another opportunity - to hike a closer-to-home peak with the hopes of getting a birds-eye-view of the fire's extent. 

So - we set off early on Sunday morning to do just that - I picked Ethan up at 3:30 AM from his house and we head up Gold Camp Road to tackle Almagre Mountain - a 12,367 ft. gently-sloped peak just South of Pikes Peak. Indeed, most Colorado Springs residents will recognize Almagre as a very plain looking set of mountains above tree-line to the left (south) of Pikes Peak. I'd always wanted to climb Almagre, and Ethan had already done it twice, so it seemed a great fit for our objectives. 

We opted for the western approach from near the gate that Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has erected to keep people out of the city's water supply, which seemed to us to be quite low. To reach this spot, we drove quite a ways up Gold Camp Road, about 2/3 of the way to Cripple Creek, and turned right on Forest Road 376 to the CSU dead-end.

We arrived at the gate at approximately 4:15 AM and began in a wild rush up the steep 4WD road by foot towards McReynolds Reservoir. The air was quite cold this early and this high up, a stark contrast to the record-setting 100+ degree heat we had been experiencing in the scorched and dry urban setting of Colorado Springs. Eventually, the road leveled off and opened up into a large meadow, giving us a clue to begin to head west on a very faint trail, which crossed the CSU fence-line and connected to a more solid trail leading up towards Almagre Mountain. After a couple of miles of fairly steep climbing, we reached a great stopping point, giving us a wonderful vantage of Pikes Peak and the various reservoirs below - Mason Reservoir and McReynolds Reservoir - also known as the Seven Lakes area. 

Almagre Mountain-1

We stopped here to take in the great light hitting Pikes Peak, and I took advantage to take many photos from here as the sun continued to change the colors of the clouds and Pikes Peak. 

Almagre Mountain-18

The lighting was fantastic, and it was such a rare view of Pikes Peak, I really loved it. This particular shot is also available on my photography website for sale. 

Almagre Mountain-2

Eventually, Ethan and I packed up our tripods and continued up to the ridge for Almagre Mountain. Once on the ridge, we could see Stratton Reservoir, which looked more like Stratton pond. Additonally, we made lots of jokes about the "Weather Control Satellite" on top of Almagre Mountain South (which is really a microwave repeater). This was based on a very funny press conference earlier that week about the Waldo Canyon Fire where someone in the crowd actually seriously suggested that the government just use its weather control satellites to create rain to put out the fire. For more on the weather control satellite joke, check out this hilarious post

Almagre Mountain-6

The terrain on the ridge was classic Pikes Peak granite - much of the same material found in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area.

Almagre Mountain-5

There were funky rock outcroppings all over the place. Nature sure does have a great sense of humor!

Almagre Mountain-7

Ethan and I were both really loving the light and the color - somewhat tainted by the smoke from the huge fire that raged on to the north of us.

Almagre Mountain-8

Ethan and I made several stops on the way up to take shots of the lakes and of Pikes Peak.

Almagre Mountain-10

Before long, we had reached the summit without any problems. We had a great viewpoint of the fire burn area and the current burning zone. The smoke had settled into the valleys below us and made for quite the fantastic scene. 

Almagre Mountain-9

We both set-up tripods to take some time-lapse photos and video.

Almagre Mountain-11

I was able to put together a 300 shot time-lapse video out of still images over a two-hour period from the summit. While it was pretty borning up there, I could not complain about the view. 

I was able to get some pretty great zoomed-in shots of Rampart Range Reservoir about Highway 24, where the fire was most active at this point. A zoomed in view shows quite a bit of destruction in that area, but as bad Ias I had thought would / could happen.

Almagre Mountain-12

The 360 degree view was fantastic as well - with Pikes Peak anchoring the center of this peice. 

Almagre Mountain summit panorama

I was even able to get a super zoomed in view of the Pikea Peak summit, where I could make out people and the Cog Railway.

Almagre Mountain-13

We both decided that after spending two hours on the summit that it was time to head-out. So we did just that. Right beforehand I was able to get a sweet shot of Ethan way up on the summit taking shots.

Almagre Mountain-14

On the way back, I was able to get a better shot of Stratton Reservoir (with Mount Rosa in the background), now reduced to almost nothing.

Almagre Mountain-15

And of course, our down-climb would not be complete without another shot of the Weather Control Satellite...

Almagre Mountain-16

The hike back down to the car was quite uneventful. We noticed there were a lot of butterflys out and so we were able to follow one to this huge thistle plant, where countless other insects were hanging out, drinking nector from these hearty flowers. 

Almagre Mountain-17

All in all, I would rate Almagre Mountain as very easy - a mountain for all ages and skill levels. The rare views of Pikes Peak alone were worth the drive and hike for me.

Mount Oklahoma is often forgotten by many, including myself, for a variety of reasons. There's nothing very remarkable about the look or feel of Oklahoma or the route to climb it. As Gerry Roach explains in his guidebook for 13ers, Mount Oklahoma is dwarfed by its neighbor to the east, Mount Massive, which is the 2nd highest mountain in Colorado. Despite this fact, Mount Oklahoma is more than OK - it offers solitude, unique views of mountains in all directions, and a fresh perspective on the art of "peakbagging." 

Mount Oklahoma is not a mighty mountain, nor is it meek - rather, it is fairly average in stature for the Northern Sawatch Range - rising 13,845 ft. in a valley full of giants. Indeed, Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft.), Colorado's highest mountain, towers over Oklahoma to the south and east. Other higher Centennial peaks also adorn the skies nearby, including French Mountain (13,940 ft.), Casco Peak (13,908 ft.) and of course the Mount Massive massif (14,421 ft.) right next door. 

Knowing that Mount Oklahoma is a fairly straight-forward and relatively safe climb, lacking anything harder than class 2 and with one of the easier levels of access for a 13er, I opted to head-out to climb it solo. While this is something I generally discourage, I felt the risk was manageable, plus my wife knew where I was going to be. Indeed, it did turn out that I did not run into a single other soul during the whole hike until well on the way back to the Jeep on the Mount Massive leg of the trail. So there it was, I left my house in Colorado Springs at about 6:30 PM on Friday evening and found myself at the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead at 9:15 PM. There was an abundance of people up in the valley camping. Despite campsites being quite ubiquitous in the valley, I was left with no other option but to park at the trailhead and find a flat and comfy campsite within the trees. I set-up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag only and went to sleep right away. 

The alarm sounded promptly at 3:30 AM and I rose quickly to get a start for the day, as I knew my wife wanted me home relatively early so that we could go to my parent's house for a father's day dinner that night. The first thing I did was take a shot of the Milky Way above the trees and above the 13,221 ft. northern sub-peak of Mount Elbert. 

Click on the photo to see a larger version or to purchase a print.

The Milky Way over Mount Elbert

I had been on this trail once before in 2009, having been here in the cold month of October to climb Mount Massive. What I remembered of this trail was that it was very straight and easy to follow below tree-line before the turn-off for Mount Massive, so I was very confident that I could make my way in the darkness with the aid of a headlamp. Adorned with my Ipod and my favorite Celtic tunes, including Solas and Altan, I began my journey in the dark.

I also decided to bring my Gitzo tripod - which is basically an older, heavier version of THIS one, with an Arca Swiss monoball affixed so that I could get some sweet sunrise shots and summit shots along the way. While this adds a great deal of weight to my pack, the effort is worthwhile and increases the types of shots I can get significantly. I've fallen in love with this tripod and monoball combination since acquiring them both on the cheap a few months ago on Craigslist. They are hands-down the highest quality photography gear in the business. I highly recommend both for anyone looking to upgrade. 

The plan was to follow the route as described by Roach, which is close to what actually happened - here is the map of my route - click on it to see a larger version.

Mount Oklahoma Route Map Small

I found the trail very easy to follow, even in the darkness, minus one section where the trail meets up with a very large rock formation and crosses it. I just kept my eye out for the trail and ensured I was on track at all times. The route description for Mount Oklahoma is pretty straight-forward according to Roach. After passing the Mount Massive trail junction, continue west-northwest until the trail begins to gain elevation and head north, at which point you are to leave the trail and continue west. That's just what I did, but it was somewhat sketchy in the dark - bushwhacking through trees and logs is a great time. I quickly reached the two large stream crossings described by Roach - they were quite fast streams on a steep incline - I was very careful to cross, finding dry-ish rocks in narrow passage-ways. At this point - I began up a steep hillside per Roach's description for going up a tree-filled ridge to the northwest. Before I knew it, I had reached treeline and could make out my surroundings.

Mount-Oklahoma route at treeline

I encountered a deer at this point, which quickly ran off into the trees below. I could also make out a series of waterfalls in the Halfmoon Lakes basin below Mount Massive to my right - this was quite impressive and I made a mental note to return to those lakes someday - they seem to hold quite a bit of promise. I also was revelling in the fact that I was hiking solo in the Mount Massive Wilderness Area, off-route, while listening to great tunes and taking pictures of fantastic vistas. I really do love Colorado! Mount Oklahoma was clear as day above me, and the route seemed quite obvious from this point - go up.

Mount Oklahoma

Before  long, I found myself high above most of the trees just in time to witness the first light kiss the tops of Deer Mountain and UN 13,535 to the south and west. Moments like this made hauling the tripod up worth the effort.

Sawatch Range at Sunrise from North Halfmoon Creek

I left my pack and wandered up a little way and found an area covered with really cool looking flowers. Turns out the flowers are known as Alpine Primrose - a really quite lovely looking purple and pink flower. I took quite a few shots from this spot and processed each a little differently.

Mount-Oklahoma-6

Another version from the same vantage point...

Sunrise in Mount Massive Wilderness Area

I was even able to put together an 360 degree HDR panorama, which I've not tried in a few months. I was not overly impressed with the results of this one, but I'll share it anyways.

North Halfmoon Creek HDR Panorama

Having filled my soul with a dose of alpine sunrise, I was ready to continue on up the mountain. I followed what seemed to be a slight trail or drainage up the mountain and was aiming for an area to upclimb a grassy screefield.

Mount Oklahoma

At this point I stumbled upon a small pond at the base of a small snowfield below Mount Oklahoma. It made for a very interesting reflection in the water with the sun just hitting the tops of the southern ridge of Oklahoma.

Mount-Oklahoma-11

I played with a few versions of this shot, and I think I liked the HDR horizontal version the best. I know HDR is a technique with many detractors; however, I like to play with it - it keeps me entertained and thinking.

Mount Oklahoma reflection

At this point, I found the grassy screefield, and it was mighty steep. I was not sure if this was the right way to go, but it looked like the easiest way up to the ridge. I plowed ahead slowly, reaching the ridge after several long minutes of gruelling climbing up this nasty section. Once up, the views were splendid.

Mount-Oklahoma-14

I continued to plow ahead slowly on the obvious route up Oklahoma to the north and west. As I climbed, the views improved dramatically.

Monochrome Sawatch Range

It was at this point that I began to feel sick to my stomach just like I did back in 2009 when I climbed Harvard and Columbia. I was beginning to wonder if my lack of food intake or the water I was drinking were to blame. Perhaps I did not clean out my camelbak adequately? Perhaps I was eating too dense a food (Larabars) for my stomach to handle? Or, perhaps I was just suffering from a mild case of Acute Mountain Sickness? Who knows? All I knew was that I was moving far slower than I wanted to and making progress quite sluggishly. I worked my way slowly up the boulderfield until my eye was caught by some blooming flowers which happened to be quite near the summit. I took off my pack and prepared my tripod for some photos of some flowers. Also, I could finally make out the Elk Mountains to the west, including Snowmass, Maroon Bells, Cathedral and Castle - they were all quite impressive to be sure. I fixated on small field containing  a variety of colorful wildflowers and took some shots.

Wildflowers near the summit of Oklahoma

After taking my fair share of photos in this patch of flowers, I decided to move upwards. It took about 4 more minutes from here to reach the summit, which was a relief given my stomach issues, which had actually subsided significantly since I stopped to photograph the flowers. On the summit, I noticed that clouds were hitting the Elks with some light showers and that those clouds were headed this way. I had no intention of getting stuck in a storm, so my lofty goal to traverse to North Massive was out of the question. I set-up my tripod and set the timer so I could get a few shots of myself signing the summit register for Centennial #76 - only 24 more mountains to go!

Mount-Oklahoma-17

The register was quite intact and filled with many familiar names. I was happy to add mine to the list.

Mount-Oklahoma-18

At this point I used the tripod to take some photos to later be used in my 360 degree summit panorama.

Mount Oklahoma Summit Panorama

I also toyed with a black and white shot from here, framing Mount Massive on the left part of the shot.

Mount Oklahoma summit black and white

After a quick phone call to the wife to let her know I made it safely, I took an assessment of the weather. The storms rolling in over the Elk Mountains to the west did not give me a good feeling, so I decided to pack-up and head down. I decided this time to see about the small ridge that rolls down to the east of Oklahoma. Instead of going back down the grassy talus, I went down the long ridge.

Mount Oklahoma and Mount Massive

Once down, I found a great spot at the end of the ridge to take a sweet pano from - Mount Oklahoma at center with Mount Massive at right with a small storm over it.

Mount Oklahoma and Mount Massive

At this point, I saw a ton of cairns leading down the mountain towards the cliffs Roach warned to avoid in his guidebook. I decided to take the challenge and see where the breadcrumbs could lead me. Sure enough, they led me down the mountain's steep slopes, but it was not a terrible route, albeit harder than my ascent route (loose rock, etc).

Small storms were hitting the areas peaks, and it started snowing a little bit, but nothing too scary.

Downclimbing Mount Oklahoma

On the way down the steep terrain, I ran into some really nice flowers in a very strange spot amongst the rocks. Nature never ceases to surprise me...

Wildflowers in an unlikely spot

Once down the nasty part, I was back on the grassy ledges near treeline. I decided to angle my decent more northeasterly so I could hit the trail coming down from Halfmoon Lakes sooner. This turned into a pleasant bushwhack into the forest, where I stumbled upon a small stream leading down from the lakes.

 Mount-Oklahoma-21

I found the trail again with no issues and found myself flying down the trail at a rapid pace. I reached the turn-off for Mount Massive in short order and took one last look back at Mount Oklahoma.

Mount Oklahoma

I was also pleased to see the large monument cross at the trailhead that was placed after the Blackhawk Helicopter crash in 2009 on Mount Massive.

Mount Massive Blackhawk Helicopter Memorial Cross

In closing, I highly recommend Mount Oklahoma as a hike that gets you away from the crowds on 14ers and still allows for wonderful views and a decent work-out. I am certainly not usually a fan of the Sawatch Range; however, the northern Sawatch Range really separates itself vis-a-vis grand views of the Elk Mountains and a seemingly more rugged feeling than the Southern Sawatch Range. I'll leave this trip report with a creative rendition of my 360 pano from the ridge - Planet Oklahoma. I wrote a tutorial on how to make these if anyone is interested.

Planet Oklahoma - 360 degree pano

UN 13,832 and UN 13,811 (UN = Unnamed) have been on my radar for quite a few years now. My dad and I were hoping to tackle them both back in 2009 but weather steered us elsewhere. I've also eyed them as a potentially fantastic winter climb from the Williams Creek TH, but have not had the ability to string together the time to pull that off either. So, when I figured I had the opportunity to take a vacation day and do some climbing, I quickly picked out these two gems. I coached my son's first t-ball game and then afterwards drove to Lake City for an estimated 1 AM arrival at the trailhead. I planned to meet my friend Regina there (she was coming down from Denver via Highway 285) and get a few hours of sleep before we set off to climb early Friday, June 1st.

Interestingly enough, UN 13,832 and UN 13,811 are the only two mountains of the highest hundred peaks in Colorado (Centennials) with neither an official nor unofficial name. These two fantastic thirteeners (ranked #90 & #99 respectively) are located just east of the 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine near Lake City, Colorado. If you're like me, you are wondering why these two mountains in the highest 100 are unnamed. These unnamed mountains are located within a large section of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, specifically, BLM's Redcloud Wilderness Study Area. According to Summitpost, "in 2004, these two mountains were "protected" from being named when the USGS turned down a proposal to christen them after two of Colorado's mountaineering pioneers, Carl Blaurock and Bill Ervin. Apparently the policy is to not approve new names of mountains within wilderness or wilderness study lands, and a competing Blaurock/Ervin naming proposal was selected for a pair of peaks in the central Sawatch Range."

With all that being said, I needed something to do to keep me awake on my drive down to Lake City... so I focused on trying to think of clever names for these two mountains. With the close proximity to Sunshine and Redcloud, I figured it might be fitting to name UN 13,832 something to do with the moon. The sun shines, then it sets... the clouds get red (Redcloud), then the moon rises. How about "Moonrise" for UN 13,832 and "Not Last" for UN 13,811 (since it's ranked #99 / 100)? Let's see if they stick anywhere.

Speaking of the moon, on the way down to Lake City, I decided that it would be pretty awesome to stop near Lake San Cristobal and get a shot of the stars and moon, so that's just what I did. I stopped right off the road heading towards the trailhead and took a 5-shot vertical pano (my camera was vertically orientated vs. horizontally oriented) of the Milky Way, moon, and Lake San Cristobal. I think it worked fabulously! Please click to see a larger version or to purchase on my photography website.

The Milky Way and Lake San Cristobal

With the shot I had envisioned complete, I continued on up the road towards the trailhead. I finally reached my destination at around 12:45 AM and decided it was suitable to sleep under the stars in my sleeping bag, so I set out to do just that. Shorly after I settled in, Regina arrived and set-up her gear to do the same. I took the time to take one last set of photos (why not). This one turned out even more magical, I think. It is 7 veritical shots as a panoramic of the Milky Way over "Sundog," the 13,432 ft. mountain connected to Sunshine Peak's north ridge. The moon had just set and allowed for a great scene. I was actually inspired by another photographer's (David Kingham) photo from last month and wanted to give this a shot. Click on it to see a larger version on my photography website.

Milky Way Arch Panorama Over Sundog 

We crashed at 1:45 AM and decided to set the alarm for 5:45 AM, which came all-too quickly. There was one other hiker at the TH that started before us (and did wake me a few times by starting his car), so solitude was looking to be guaranteed. I promptly threw down some coffee soymilk (which was surprisingly good and filling) and we departed! I knew from the get-go that I wanted to do what Roach calls "Point Fever," which is to say, combining UN 13,832, UN 13,632 and UN 13,811. The route is a long but easy 12.8 miles and gains 4,727 ft. in elevation. A nice leg burner. [Colorado's Thirteeners - Roach & Roach, pg. 222]

Here is a map of the route we took from the Silver Creek TH (click for larger version):

UN 13832 Route Map

So, that's just what we set-out to accomplish. The semi-early start granted us a nice view of Handies Peak and Whitecross Mountain across the valley. It was really great seeing them from this side since my climb of them with my dad in 2010 on Father's Day. 

Handies Peak

As we climbed on the trail, we stumbled upon an open area with boulders. I was immediately struck with a rush of nostalgia, remembering vividly coming through that part of the trail and seeing a marmot during my climb of Redcloud and Sunshine in 1987 at the age of 9. Crazy! 

Nostalgia

Before long, we were gaining altitude and came across a nice stream. It seemed the perfect spot to test out my 9-stop ND filter, so I put it on my Tokina 11-16 lens and did a very long exposure. I liked how it turned out.

Long Exposure Stream with ND Filter

As we gained elevation, parts of Redcloud came into view to our right. It was immediately taken aback by how little snow was left. It was truly remarkable. Indeed, Colorado's state-wide snowpack levels are at 2% of normal. Very dry.

Redcloud Peak

Regina was setting a nice pace for us and the weather was holding up quite nicely. I had no worries about my chances of summiting both 13ers.

UN13832-5

Before we knew it, we found ourselves gaining the ridge between UN 13,832 and Redcloud. We had also caught up from the guy that left before us that morning.

Up to the Saddle for Redcloud

Gaining the saddle was no problem, and the views were great from there. As expected, the other hiker turned up to climb Redcloud. Solitude was guaranteed at this point. Here's a 360 degree view from the saddle, with Redcloud at far right and UN 13,832 just under the sun.

Panoramic from the saddle of Redcloud

The hike from here was just long and gentle - easy class 1 / 2 stuff. Here's a view of UN 13,832 as we approached from the ridge.

UN13832

Looking back at Redcloud, with Sunshine barely peaking up over the ridge.

Looking back at Redcloud

And finally, Uncompahgre Peak came into view for us!

Uncompahgre Peak comes into view

Heading up towards the next saddle made for easy and fun trail / ridge walking.

Up we go

I was impressed by how far apart Sunshine was from Redcloud - much further than I remember.

Redcloud and Sunshine

We finally topped out on UN 13,832 at around 10:30 AM. Regina was loving the view of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, no doubt. 

Topping out on UN 13832

Also awesome was the view of the Grenadiers and the Needles. Eolus, Sunlight, Windom, Silex, Guardian and others all stuck out quite prominantly. This perspective really shows you how far part Eolus is from Sunlight. Pretty amazing.

Grenadiers and Needles

I also did not mind the great view of Wetterhorn from here. Such a cool looking mountain!

Matt eyes Wetterhorn

Regina decided she was not going to continue over to UN 13,811, so I fired off a few more shots, including the below panoramas, and headed off for UN 13,811. Regina was going to wait for me below the saddle of Redcloud and UN 13,832. 

UN13832-28

The San Juans are truly great.

UN13832-29

UN 13,811 was still quite a ways off, as seen from this next shot.

UN13811

I began my hike over and was constantly drawn to the view of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre. I just loved those two mountains.

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Panoramic

UN 13,632 was one obstacle in the path to UN 13,811, so I needed to go up and over it as well.

UN13832-17

All while still enjoying my view...

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre naturally framed

Within about an hour, I finally made it over to UN 13,811 to complete my 75th Centennial. Pretty impressive and almost there!

Topping out on 13811

I snapped off a few shots for a panorama from 13,811 also , still in shock over how little snow was truly left.

UN13832-30

The view back over to 13,832 was sobering to say the least. I was starting to feel a little tired in the legs, so I was not really looking forward to the hike back. I did however, really enjoy the surprising view of 13,832 from here.

Looking back at UN 13832

I headed back over to UN 13,832, which was quite the demoralizing slog. I reached the saddle of Redcloud and UN 13,832 in quick order and met up with Regina at a small tarn below Redcloud Peak. THe view of Whitecross was very cool from there.

UN13832-21

And of course Handies and Whitecross were our guides for the duration.

Handies and Whitecross

Regina led the way while I snapped off this super great shot of her hiking out. I think this was one of my favorites from the hike.

Regina and Handies and Whitecross

We crossed over a small stream that had some wildflowers growing at it. I thought it was a nice looking scene to stop and enjoy.

Running stream down from UN 13832

Before long, we had reached treeline again and Handies was all that we could make out above the trees.

Trail into the trees below Handies

The remainder of the hike went without incident. I will say that these two mountains are pretty fun. The hike is very long, but affords welcoming views of very recognizable 14ers and 13ers in the area. Solitude is almost a given, since most people in the area are there to tackle the more famous 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine. I think you will also enjoy the hike if you choose to take it. 

We stopped in Gunnison on our way home for some much needed sustanance at our favorite Mexican food place on Main St. Until next time... I hope you enjoyed this trip report!

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