The Routt to Adventure: Conquering a 14er
There’s no better time to get out and explore Routt County and the Yampa Valley than summer. The Routt to Adventure is a series of short guides to popular and maybe some not-so popular activities and destinations around Steamboat Springs. I love to be prepared, so I’ll offer a breakdown of what to bring, what not to bring, things to remember and any tips to get the most out of your day. If you have any suggestions for places or activities for me to explore, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com.
BRECKENRIDGE — Goats, muffin, views. Goats, muffin, views. Goats. Muffin. Views.
That was my mantra through the last mile of the treacherous climb up the east ridge of Quandary Peak. I was looking forward to seeing a mountain goat, eating my chocolate chip muffin and taking in the views.
All I had to do was climb 1,200 feet over the final mile over the rocky exposed ridge. I got this.
Ten minutes earlier, I was struggling, but after taking a break to eat, drink and let my heart rate slow, I was ready to finish strong.
I slowly marched up the steep slope, lifting my feet to the next step, pressing into the ground and using my shaking thighs to propel my body upward and forward. My boyfriend was a bit ahead of me, but I liked my pace. I was hurting, for sure, but I felt good. I was getting tired, of course, but I felt strong.
Goats. Muffin. Views.
I huffed and puffed, keeping my eyes on my feet, so I didn’t misstep. As the final ascent appeared, so did a crowd of people and a tuft of white. A goat! If I had the energy, I would have jumped for joy.
The goat was munching on something on the trail, so hikers had to detour around him. Admittedly, it wasn’t quite far enough away from an animal with small spears attached to its face. I took a few videos and then pushed my way up the remainder of the mountain.
After the steepest section, the incline tapered off. For a moment, I thought it was just a break in the action, but then I realized that this was it. That was it? I laughed at myself. In a split second, I went from practically wheezing and pressing my knees to saying, “That was it?”
That was it, though. I did it. I was at the top. I conquered my first 14er!
There were Alpine lakes and dramatic ridges in sight. A biplane flew low and circled the peak. I wanted to snap as many photos as I could because I know my groggy brain would need help remembering it, but I also just wanted to sit there and remember how I felt.
Mostly I was hungry. I got my goat, I got my views, and now, all I wanted was my damn muffin.
The summit was gorgeous, not windy, and the right amount of sunny, so we stayed for half an hour. We took the classic photos with a Quandary Peak sign that I made (please pack these out — they don’t have a home on the top of the mountain).
To this day, we are still debating whether the climb or the descent was more difficult. The descent certainly has a strong case. It’s steep and slippery with dry dirt and rocks that seem to be on a mission to get to the bottom faster than everyone else. My problem knee screamed with every step as the impact tested its weakened anatomy.
I hauled down that mountain, though, motivated with a vision of wings, a burger and a beer — a vision that came true in the form of a Frisco sports bar an hour later.
That day was one of the longest of my life, and bagging a 14er was certainly the most difficult physical feat I’ve ever accomplished. We were spent, relying on afternoon coffees to get us through the drive home. Still, as we sat there complaining about our throbbing thighs, we started planning our next 14er.
Things to bring
So many snacks: When you’re pushing your body like this, fuel, and good fuel, is a must. So is a big breakfast, even if it comes at 3 a.m.
Water, water, water: Bring more than you need. I finished one bottle in the car before starting, drained both bottles in my bag and made a serious dent in the fourth water waiting for me in the car.
Layers: It might be August, and it might hit 80 every day but wear layers on a 14er. I didn’t end up using my warmest layer, but I did slip on thin gloves and a beanie at the summit to stay comfortable. If you’re going to hike to a summit, you might as well be able to enjoy your time up there and stay warm.
A friend: Bagging a 14er feels good even if you’re alone, but it is so much better to have someone there. You suffer together, and you celebrate together.
Things to leave at home
A stopwatch: This isn’t a race. Find a pace that suits you and stick with it. Take breaks. Give your legs and heart a break. It’s not supposed to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be a quick feat.
Sneakers: I’m sure there are people out there who are confident in their balance and ankle strength. I am not one of those people. I was thankful to be wearing high ankle hiking shoes with excellent tread on Quandary.
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