The 14ers

After a lengthy trip out west and a quick week in New Jersey, it was time to head to Colorado for the great outdoors and my annual visit to one of my best friends.

I began my Saturday morning with a radio interview with the WRAT. Yup. That’s my life. Tom emailed me saying he was featuring Whiskey Bear as New Jersey’s “rock band of the week” from Tuesday-Thursday, in preparation for our upcoming show at Jamian’s on Sunday.

Sitting in my dad’s Honda outside the house, I answered questions about the band, our album, and our tour.

Then it was time to head to Newark Airport. I was retrieved from my parents’ house by an Uber Driver who worked part-time as a George Clooney impersonator. He told me about his time working with celebrity impersonators in Las Vegas, then handed me his business card. I texted him from the airport about my band and our upcoming shows, because why not?

“Your band should have a business card,” he advised me.

In Denver, I was scooped from the airport by Laura, then taken to a zero-waste store in Stanley Marketplace, where we sipped $9 warm self-serve beers and caught up. We needed to get to sleep early that night, given we were hiking a 14er in the morning, but we ended up waiting out a rainstorm with Ryan and Tekla at Cerebral Brewing until 8:30.

At 3:30am, I woke up, grabbed my things, and Laura and I hit the road to go hike a 14er. It seemed cosmic to do it on Sunday, July 14th, even though I’d been in Denver a mere 15 hours. So much for acclimatizing to the altitude.

We found a Starbucks Drive-Thru open at 4:30am and pulled in for coffees and breakfast sandwiches.

“I can’t believe you’re open this early!” Laura told the man.

“You’re our second customer! What are you doing awake right now?” he asked.

“We’re hiking a 14er.”

“Oh! So was the first customer!”

Laura warned me then that I should expect crowds.

“It’s called Colorado Crowded,” she said. “Everyone’s outdoorsy and so you think this hike would be quiet, but there will be tons of people out.”

She was right. We drove up a bumpy forest road to the base of Gray’s Peak, where a line of cars already stretched from the parking lot. We pulled in behind a car and put on our layers. Denver was 90 degrees and sunny, but the base of Gray’s Peak is already a little over 11,000 feet, so it was cold. Laura had packed layers for both of us, Clif bars, sandwiches, and liters of water.

I was nervous about the hike, not because the terrain was especially technical, but because the altitude is killer. Coming from Manila, and then New Jersey, and starting a hike at 11,000 feet is not the most comfortable thing. Plus, someone had told me that his friend had done the same thing and it had not ended well.

“She landed in Denver and then the next day, she biked this 14er and passed out,” he said. “She was brought to a hospital and given oxygen and was bedridden for days.”

Well. That’s promising.

The hike began on a gradual inline through meadows and lush grass stitched up by bright streams. Very Sound of Music. Lupine and columbine and dozens of other colorful wildflowers popped up along the trail as we walked, the sun at our backs and plenty of hikers on either side of us.

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Laura blazes the trail up

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Gorgeous at sunrise.

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Yup. Gorgeous.

We weren’t sure where the trail curved, but the snowcapped peaks of the 14ers loomed ahead of us, behind miles of rocky switchbacks.

Soon, the wide meadow paths narrowed and we were ascending rocky switchbacks. More than once, we slipped our way through slushy snowfields and hopped across streams. If the trail had been at sea level, it would’ve been a cinch. But the altitude rendered every little gain way more difficult.

We paused to catch our breath mid-switchback and looked up to find a handful of bighorn sheep roaming the mountainside. That helps get your breath back.

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I walk awkwardly down a snowfield.

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Laura meets a sheep

Laura was patient with my breathlessness, stopping on occasion and chewing Clif bars to get energy. The last push to the summit of Gray’s was all scree and steep incline. There was not a point where I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I knew it would be tough.

Coming over the peak to summit felt awesome and cold and windy. We reveled in the heights and then eyed the saddle that linked Gray’s Peak to Torrey’s. Everything we’d read suggested hiking the saddle over and getting another 14er in the books. Hikers at the summit of Gray’s said the same.

“You’re already here, so you might as well,” said one guy. Approaching the summit, I was certain I couldn’t do the saddle. But after sitting on the summit for a few minutes, I felt ready.

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We made it!

Laura and I hiked the .8-mile saddle over to Torrey’s, which also featured a steep scree ascent to the peak. It was less windy and had vast views – and a ton of people. Folks were sitting in camping chairs drinking beers and, more surprisingly, a few guys stood surveying the mountainsides holding snowboards. This was baffling. There had been a number of snowfields, but had there really been enough snow to justify making it down the mountain on a board?

We enjoyed the view and watched a few of the snowboarders hike out of view, wondering how they ended up getting down.

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Summit of Torreys, with a sign given to us by a very kind man.

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Summit of Torreys, with lots of people.

Our own route down was complicated. We hiked back down the saddle and descended through four different snowfields that were all slippery and treacherous in their own ways. There were huge patches of snow that stretched the whole mountainside off-trail, and we watched more than one person go down the mountainside on their butts.

“A part of me wants to do that,” Laura said. “But I’m more cautious these days. What if you hit a rock or catch too much speed? It’s too dangerous.”

I agreed, though when we finished the arduous downhill hike an hour later and watched people slide down the mountain in a matter of minutes, it felt enviable.

We ended up back in the parking lot by 1pm, feeling sore and accomplished. Back in Denver, we dined on cheeseburgers and beer at TAG. I’m not normally a meat-eater, but when Laura mentioned it, it suddenly became the only thing I could think of eating after such a grueling hike.

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Laura cuts a path through the snow field.

Denver Elevation: 5,280 feet

Gray’s Peak Elevation: 14,278 feet (10th highest 14er / 10th highest summit of the US Rockies)

Torrey’s Peak Elevation: 14,267 feet

Our hike: 3600-foot elevation gain

14ers.com was a solid reference point for this hike. It was pretty awesome.

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