Why Climb a Mountain? Tackling Colorado's 14ers
Why Climb a Mountain? How a simple challenge became the month of a lifetime. Part One.
By Joshua Mendrala
This question came to me as I rested for water, chuckling at mountain goats prancing across the saddle of Quandary Peak. It returned to me atop Grays Peak while my mind wandered over green hillsides and arrowhead mountaintops. And I found solace in it as my hand reached up to grasp a hold in the beautiful conglomerate wall which pointed me upwards to the top of Kit Carson Peak. This question came to haunt me on my journey, growing from between rocks and pouring from glassy glacial lakes. The great question was whether I would find its answer.
The month of June arrived without warning, a warm signal that it had already been over a month since I had made the trek back from college, and that time moved quickly. I was taken rapidly by fear, fear that I would spend my summer in darkness, spending the days in an office typing away at a keyboard, and the late afternoons wasting away on a couch. I needed something, a drive, a challenge, a commendable purpose. And such it came to me: I would climb a 14er every weekend for the month of June.
Part 1: Quandary (14,265’), Grays (14,270’), and Torreys (14,267’) Peaks.
There is no logical reason to climb a mountain. A mountain’s peaks are barren and desert, baring no substantial source of food, supply, or water.
In putting together my journey, I decided I wanted each weekend to provide a more difficult challenge in its mountain. This brought me to my original plan of hiking Grays and Torreys Peaks the first weekend, Quandary Peak the next weekend, Mount Massive the following, then Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak as my finale. As do most Colorado adventure plans, this is not remotely how it occured. For safety, and personal reasons, I had to acquire company for my adventures, leading me to reorder to doing Quandary Peak, Grays and Torreys, then Challenger Point and Kit Carson. Unfortunately I had to take Mount Massive’s weekend off due to all-day thunderstorms. Nonetheless, I found the challenge wild, fun, and deeply awakening.
The air at 14,000 feet contains around 8% less oxygen than at sea level, causing your lungs to strain, starve, and expand to get enough oxygen for your body to function properly.
Quandary Peak is a beautiful knife edge overlooking Breckenridge, Colorado. Standing tall in Colorado’s Tenmile range, it is a wondrous, straightforward 14er. I took on this mountain beginning at about 9 AM the first weekend of June, inviting my family to join me so that my mother and father could achieve the summit of their first 14er. The trail began as a well-trod dirt serpent, winding through pine and fir trees, opening up occasionally to provide views of verdant hills, framing the white peak between their crests. Once tree line broke, the dirt gave way to mostly crushed rock, shale, and pebbles, climbing steeply up toward the summit. Adorable mountain goats scampered around the mountainside, walking about in families on the trail, looking up at the line of humans walking up the steep final ascent. The summit approached slowly during the final mile, finally coming close enough to touch, accompanied by a path of stubborn snow.
The peak of Quandary was an incredibly friendly area. I sat down and enjoyed a 14,000-foot lunch with a few strangers, chatting and laughing about the joys of climbing such mountains. I then got to enjoy the sight of my family cresting the peak, accomplishing their first 14er. This was the first of two mountains I took first-timers on, and I highly recommend it if you have not yet conquered one of Colorado’s giants. However, please ensure you are prepared both mentally, and physically. These peaks are incredibly doable and can bring immense accomplishment, however, they do not permit stupidity. Please bring appropriate water, rations, friends, and make sure to clean up after yourself.
Logically, there is no other reason to climb a mountain than for the act in itself.
Not far from I-70 stands the conjoined twins of Grays and Torreys Peaks. Myself and my party gazed at them from our campsite the night before, strumming guitars and cooking burgers over our petite camp stove, thankful that the fire ban permitted it during our stay. The next day, we awoke politely acclimated to the altitude and began the ascent. Taking the North Slopes route, we found the trail to be incredibly popular, full of hikers of all ability types. Slightly deceiving at first, the trail is fairly timid, running a beeline toward the mountain through fields of wildflowers beside a glassy stream of clear snowmelt. Slowly the trail becomes steeper, turning to switchbacks on rocks, pebbles, and coarse dirt. The summit became quickly visible to us, as it had a fair group of people at the top, some smiling, some suffering, and some with too much food in their mouths to spare emotion. As the last member of our party reached the top, we gazed out over the valley below, in its ridgelines, pools, and streams, pointing toward the route up Torreys Peak.
There is something unexplainable about looking at the peak of a mountain from its base and finding yourself there hours later. A strange conundrum occurs that causes the memory of suffering to fade into the oblivion of nature’s beauty.
My challenge took unto itself its first class 2 with the climb up Torreys Peak. Though not too long of a hike from Grays, it was a beast of its own, providing a final climb to its summit that left many of its conquerors winded and exhausted at the top. Yet, the top of Torreys steals away the memories of pain, of tired breaths, and the sound of your heartbeat pounding in your head. It simply provides beauty, a panoramic view of mountains that stretches out to the horizon, a reminder of how wonderfully and delightfully small we all are.
Pain leads to smiles and sweat gives a spring to your step when it brings with it the knowledge that you will find yourself looking out at the very curvature of the Earth, a view achieved by the works of your own two feet.
Part two coming soon.