Last Mountain Climbs of the Season

A few weeks ago, the weather turned here in Colorado. When I look out the window at Pike’s Peak, the glorious mountain is covered with a blanket of snow.  After the frost, the aspens on the mountainsides are suddenly golden. Fortunately, I managed to wrap up two more epic climbs, the best of the season.

A few days before we departed to DragonCon in Atlanta, I drove off for a 2-day camping/hiking trip in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with the goal of completing a 13-mile loop hike, up on spectacular valley, then summiting two high 13,000-ft peaks—Venable Peak and Comanche Peak—then down an adjacent valley.  On the hike I dictated four chapters in UNNATURAL ACTS, the second “Dan Shamble, Zombie PI” novel. Back at the campsite, I relaxed with my laptop and edited the Seven Suns prequel VEILED ALLIANCES.

Campsite and editing office for VEILED ALLIANCES

Hiking up the valley toward Venable Peak

Venable Peak

The Phantom Terrace, a narrow path along a cliffside on final approach to the pass below Venable Peak

Reaching the top of the pass below Venable Peak

From the pass, looking back down the valley I just climbed

The summit of Venable Peak

Leaving Venable, hiking across the ridge toward Comanche Peak

View from the summit of Comanche: the awesome Sangre de Cristo mountains

Looking down the adjacent Comanche Valley, the route back home. (Note the lakes in the distance.)

At the lake, halfway down the valley (see previous photo), Comanche Peak in the background. I was just on the summit of that an hour earlier.

On the weekend after coming home from DragonCon, I went out to do one more very difficult hike, truly the grand finale of the climbing season—summiting three major peaks in a single day, Missouri Mountain (14,067′), Iowa (13,831′) and Emerald Peak (13,904′). I was trying to earn my chops as a “mountain god,” as the hiking books call it.

I got up at 4:30 AM and drove off in the (much-needed) SUV. After I left the paved road, it was 9.5 miles down a dirt road, then across two wide streams (which are too deep to ford earlier in the season), then 2.5 miles up a truly nasty jeep road to reach the trailhead. Missouri Mountain is one of Colorado’s famed Fourteeners, and I had climbed it earlier, but from the opposite side.  This time I trudged up the back slopes, walked the long and winding final ridge, to reach the top where I encountered a crowd of other climbers (who, fortunately, were hiking back down the other side and the standard trail).  From Missouri’s summit, I called Rebecca with the cell phone, told her I was off to Iowa and would call her from that summit.

I worked my way across the ridge, much less traveled than the trail to Missouri, but I did still see two climbers on top of Iowa.  No cell reception, though, so I couldn’t check in.  I headed off across the high plateau and made my way over to Emerald, getting bombarded by snow and hail (but it passed briefly). On the summit of Emerald, with very tired legs, I still couldn’t get cell reception, so I could not call home.  I was sure Rebecca would be worried (she does that), but I had no way to get in touch.  So I continued the hike, descending the back side of Emerald to a high hanging valley. No trails at all on this side of the mountain; I just had to use my route-finding skills and geography to navigate my way down to the bottom of the valley and the creek, then follow it to a lake, where the trail picked up and back to my car.  A full nerve-wracking hour on the bouncy and rough jeep roads to get to a paved road and cell reception…Rebecca was within 45 minutes of calling search & rescue. I told her she should go with me on these climbs so she can see Im all right (I don’t think she’s convinced).

Now that the weather’s turning colder, I probably won’t be able to get up to the high country again until next year, but there are still plenty of lower-altitude hikes to work on.

On the long, high ridge toward Missouri’s summit

Final approach to Missouri; if you enlarge the photo, you can see the crowd on the peak

From the summit of Missouri, looking across at second peak of the day, Iowa (center) and third peak, Emerald (behind Iowa and to the left)

From the summit of Iowa, looking across at the last, long hike to Emerald Peak

Descending the opposite side of Emerald, picking my way across rocks and meadows

Following the drainage to the creek, to the lake, to the trail, and to the car took me along the opposite side of Iowa Peak. I was on the summit of that a few hours earlier.