A “fourteener” is a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet above sea level. At that elevation, air pressure and oxygen concentration is reduced, which can cause headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and lethargy; in other words, altitude sickness. There are 96 fourteeners in the United States: 53 in Colorado, 29 in Alaska, 12 in California and 2 in Washington.
In 2010, my Uncle “In-Law” and I took a trip to Colorado and I summited three fourteeners: Pikes Peak, Blanca Peak and Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado. The top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs is unique for a few reasons. It can be reached by car, cog railway (like a train), or a 13-mile trail, and even has a gift shop at the top that makes its own doughnuts. We summited and descended via the trail for a 26-mile round trip day hike, though I can say we were dreaming of a doughnut-filled train ride on the way back down.
Blanca Peak was considerably more challenging, as it required scrambling up rocks after the main trail disappeared. At the saddle (the lowest point along the ridge) just before the summit, I noticed my fingers had swollen up like sausages due to the altitude. I was close to the top and feeling good, so I pressed on. At the top, there was a canister with a visitor register and a bottle of whiskey left by a previous, generous hiker. I signed my name, took a shot, shot some pictures and headed back to the saddle where my partner was waiting. This was the first time I had ever had my “head in the clouds”. What looked like fog near the top as we were ascending was actually clouds – clouds which would eventually end up hailing on us for a bit on our way back down.
Our latest adventure was in 2015, hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, California.
Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States, or the “Lower 48”, and was a nice feather in our caps after having hiked up Mt. Elbert.
With a group of four on the hike this time, we quickly realized the truth of the age-old saying “your team is only as fast as the slowest person”, while having the slowest hiker at the front of the pack and the fastest hiker at the back is a great way to keep the party moving together. In this way, no one gets left behind, everyone can enjoy taking breaks as frequently as anyone in the group needs, and most of all, morale is easier to keep high, which helps everyone move up the mountain. This frame of thought can be expanded to more than just hiking.
This summer, three of us that hiked Mt. Whitney are planning to head to Colorado to summit Mt. Massive, Mt. Harvard and La Plata Peak, which when added to Blanca Peak and Mt. Elbert, will round out us having summited the top five highest peaks in Colorado.
That leaves only 48 more “fourteeners” to tackle in the Rocky Mountain state. Maybe after this summer, the next adventure will be to go after five more and check off the top ten. It’s definitely a different type of vacation compared to sitting on a beach in Mexico with a pink umbrella drink in your hand, but the sense of adventure, comradery and rewarding mountain top views are second to none.
by: Ben Jourdan – Project Manager, Peters & Associates, Architects, P.C.