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Peak Fulfillment: Colorado's 54 Highest Peaks in One Fine Summer

Peak Fulfillment: Colorado's 54 Highest Peaks in One Fine Summer

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Peak Fulfillment: Colorado's 54 Highest Peaks in One Fine Summer

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Apr 27, 2014


From verdant valleys leading up through meadows of wildflowers that give way to tundra and talus, husband and wife team Phil and Suzanne Brink keep climbing to reach the top of every fourteen-thousand feet tall peak in Colorado, aka "the Fourteeners." But first, they meet, fall in love, quit their jobs in Kansas and come west driving a pickup truck that will be their makeshift summer home, with a cantankerous little motorcycle - dubbed the little red devil - strapped on the back. There are 54 Fourteeners in Colorado, and they must reach the top of # 54 before the snow flies! Join them as they climb through a summer of peaks, dodging rockfall and lightning strikes, encountering friendly campers and aloof mountain goats, and taking in some of the most breathtaking vistas in America.

Apr 27, 2014

Sobre el autor

Phil Brink's adolescent summer job working on trail rides in Colorado's high country instilled an enduring love and appreciation for the state's high and rugged out-of-the way places. But setting out to climb all the fourteeners - in a summer - might never have happened absent a seemingly serendipitous encounter with a cute blonde named Suzanne! Phil and Suzanne continue to climb mountains - usually with their kids and a few other people - and ski, bike, and rollerblade as often as they can.

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Peak Fulfillment - Phil Brink


Colorado's 54 Highest Peaks in One Fine Summer

By Phil Brink

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2014 Phil Brink

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover Photo: Longs Peak, Brian Beyer


Chapter 1 - Inspiration

Chapter 2 - The Adventure Begins

Chapter 3 - Range Sampling

Chapter 4 - Persistence

Chapter 5 - The Strange Tale of Bill

Chapter 6 - The Thrilling Lesson of Longs'

Chapter 7 - All Aboard!

Chapter 8 - The Wilson Group

Chapter 9 - The Elk Range

Chapter 10 - Rocks and Snakes

Chapter 11 - The Crestone Wrap-up

Chapter 12 - Big and Tough

Chapter 13 - The Blanca Massif

Chapter 14 - Peak Fulfillment




"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." – Lao-tzu

It began on a warm spring evening with a pretty blonde named Suzanne. She wore a cream-colored cable sweater and powder blue jeans, ankle socks and petite white canvas shoes. She was seated next to the only open chair at a meeting in the basement of a church in Lawrence, Kansas. I arrived late and silently eased into the chair next to her, snatching furtive glances at her whenever she looked the other way.

When I finally had a chance to talk with her, we soon discovered that we shared a mutual goal of climbing all of Colorado’s fourteeners. You want to climb ALL fifty-four of them? she excitedly asked.

Wow! Meeting an attractive woman in Lawrence, Kansas, who is even aware that there are mountains in Colorado that rise to fourteen thousand feet, much less knows how many there are, and wants to climb them all, seemed a trifle more than coincidental. Suzanne also liked the outdoors, owned a sail board and a mountain bike, held a master's degree in exercise physiology, and enjoyed cooking! She was also quite smart, I observed.

She was, it seemed, too good to be true. But, as time passed, I realized that this energetic, fun-loving woman was for real. She was every man’s dream - or at least mine!

A year and a half later, Suzanne and I exchanged wedding vows, and my whole family breathed a loud and collective sigh of relief when she said I do. My family had made it plain when we first began dating that they approved of Suzanne, offering such confidence-building encouragement as you better not let that girl get away and she really upgrades ol’ Phil.

Another year and a half later and we were vacationing in Colorado, sitting on the wooden porch of a coffee shop in Buena Vista. The floorboards creaked as we leaned back in our chairs to study a giant mountain whose shadow was spreading eastward across the valley. Most anyone that has visited Buena Vista knows the majestic prince named Mount Princeton, a broad-shouldered behemoth rising from the western edge of the Arkansas River Valley. The big fourteener crests at 14,197 feet above sea level, and resides among several other distinguished members of the Sawatch Range - including Mount Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado.

Suzanne turned to me, and with a pained sort of look, kindly demanded, tell me again why we live in Kansas? You're asking me? I replied. There were logical answers to that question, of course, but not one of them seemed especially important. And so began our plan to climb Colorado’s fourteeners and start a new life with a mountain view.

I had begun dreaming of climbing Colorado's fourteeners, ironically enough, when I was fourteen years old, while working summers for my uncle Jim – an outfitter. Uncle Jim led groups of wide-eyed city dwellers on wilderness riding and camping excursions through some of Colorado’s most beautiful back country. The rides lasted a week or more, and from my teenage perspective, they mainly involved tearing down camps, packing horses, and riding to a new camp where we reversed the whole laborious process. But, it offered a cool and exciting escape from my home out on the simmering plains of Kansas.

One day, as we were resting our horses on a grassy promontory in the Rawah Wilderness of the Medicine Bow Range, I spied a big mountain to the south - bigger than any I had seen. It towered over a jumble of peers, and clouds obscured its summit, adding an element of mystery as to its exact size. The mountain was some forty miles distant, my uncle explained, and inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It was, he said, one of Colorado’s fourteeners, a title given exclusively to mountains that rise at least 14,000 feet above sea level. Longs Peak was its name. Squinting under a bright sun, an idea occurred to me that I might climb that giant peak someday, and soon another idea took hold - I would climb all of the fourteeners – however many there were.

Time marched on, but the dream of climbing the fourteeners remained unfulfilled. And it might have remained that way forever, but for that warm spring evening when I met Suzanne.

The concept of quitting our jobs and living an unfettered life of mountain climbing was thrilling! But, executing all of the details necessary to make it happen? Not so much. We prepared a list of all the things that had to occur before we could skip out of Kansas -jettison unneeded possessions, stash some money in savings, gather the necessary equipment together, quit our jobs – those kinds of things. As more items got checked off of our peak fulfillment list, Suzanne and I grew more thoughtful about how we would go about achieving our ultimate goal. We decided on a timetable for climbing the fourteeners – exactly one summer. This timeframe seemed challenging yet viable. It also eliminated the prospect of holding jobs of any sort, which increased its appeal. We would settle down and find employment after we finished.

Next we focused on supplies that would be needed. Gear and guide books were acquired, and I noticed while reviewing climbing routes that many included long walks along flat roads before any actual climbing began. What we needed was a motorcycle! Something to whisk us along those boring double tracks to the trailhead where the real fun started.

A decent-sized motorcycle would require a trailer, which would be a pain to maneuver in tight spots, and would add yet another item of transport that would have to be tagged, secured, maintained and managed. What we needed, I explained to Suzanne, was a motorcycle that was both small and light enough to haul around on a hitch-mounted carrier, which would ride just off the back bumper of the truck.

One day while perusing the local classifieds, I saw an ad for a small Honda motorcycle. It was a Honda CT Trail bike, which had some unique, some might say peculiar, qualities. This particular model sported a 90cc engine. I thought back to my junior high school days, when I had a 90cc dirt bike. It had seemed powerful enough. Of course, I hadn’t ridden anything quite that small since, but surely a well-tuned 90cc engine would be adequate for our purposes. After all, I reasoned, Suzanne and I were both on the slim side.

I was familiar with the Honda CT 90 from my days helping another Colorado uncle, my great Uncle Earl. Earl and his wife Belle lived in the village of Gould, situated on Colorado Highway 14 between Walden and Cameron Pass. Earl and Belle ran a ‘trading post,’ which was essentially an early version of today’s convenience store. They sold gas, ice, pop, beer and sandwiches, and, in an adjacent woodshop, rustic picture frames and other hand-crafted wood creations. In the corner of their store sat a big pot-bellied wood stove, with benches and simple folding chairs crowded around it. On rainy days and cool mornings, the stove was invariably surrounded by customers and locals, soaking up its warmth and glancing out the window to see if the sun was showing signs of an appearance.

Across the road south from the store, unseen through a finger of forest, flowed Michigan River. South of the river was a collection of modest summer vacation cabins. A retired banker and his wife from Fort Lupton owned one of those cabins and came up to recreate on weekends. They were well acquainted with Earl and Belle and came over to the store most every day, usually riding their Honda CT 90s. Each bike had a plastic milk crate strapped to its chrome-plated, rear luggage rack, so they could grab an armful of groceries and fishing supplies, toss them into their crates, and zip back to their cabin. On Sunday afternoon, when it was time to go back down the mountain to Fort Lupton, they simply strapped the bikes to bumper racks mounted on the front and back of their pickup and left. No cumbersome trailers were needed.

I had ample time to study their little bikes as they sat out front of Earl and Belle’s store. Their CT 90’s seemed like a cross between a motorcycle and a lady’s bicycle. One was red, the other yellow. Instead of having a big, bulbous gas tank in front of the seat, these had a flat, rectangular tank hidden under the seat, on top of the engine. The frame sloped down from the front forks like a lady’s bike, and it had no external clutch handle. It had knobby trail tires, but was otherwise completely lacking in masculinity. The bike was really just a small step above a moped. A very small step.

I could still picture the old banker and his wife, buzzing up the gravel road toward the store in a staggered formation, sitting straight-backed and smiling. Wearing sensible windbreakers and matching helmets. They both looked ridiculous to my adolescent eyes, and I thought how embarrassing it would be to show up at school driving one of those things. Might as well wear a shirt that says kick me, I’m a geek. Still, the little bikes did look fun to ride, as long as nobody saw you.

And now here I was, an adult, thinking of buying the very same kind of motorcycle, no longer remotely concerned that we might look un-cool on it. I met with the owner, who said he had intended to use the Honda to commute back and forth to his job, but now that he had finished building his electric kit car, he drove the car instead. I could only look away and stifle a smile at this news. Electric car owners possess two unfailing qualities - they are gadget freaks and they maintain their vehicles. This bike had spent most of its life in a garage he said, which was obvious. The red paint was as bright as a fire truck. I took it for a test spin up and down nearby side streets and alleys. It ran great. I paid him and hauled the bike home, parking it between my 650cc street bike and our mountain bikes, which created a sort of diorama illustrating the evolution of the motorcycle. Suzanne came out to give the new expenditure a once-over, arms folded. She examined the Honda, then cast her gaze toward me and with a forced smile and raised eyebrows said are you sure we need this? Once again I went over the benefits of having a supplemental mode of transportation for the rough roads, along with the distinct advantages inherent in this particular model of motorcycle. Suzanne looked back at the bike and then to me, and with an exaggerated eye roll said patronizingly OOOh-kay and went back into the house.

Now we had wheels to get us up to those rough roads to the trailhead. It met both of the stipulations of small size and light weight, but was perhaps a little lacking in the power department.

We still needed a reliable truck. One day a solution presented itself in the form of a brown Ford F-150. The truck was a standard cab, long bed, with 2 wheel drive, sliding back window, dual gas tanks, with an aluminum topper. We had been hoping to find a four-wheel drive with a crew cab, but the deal was too good to pass up. Besides, it fit with our summer climbing motto, keep it simple. I fixed a few odds and ends on the truck, serviced it, and replaced the solid front window of the topper with a sliding glass model so we could reach back from the cab into the topper, or crawl back and forth if needed.

We now had a truck and motorcycle. We would also need a trailer to hold our extra gear. A camper trailer would be nice, but in the spirit of minimalism, we had already decided we’d be sleeping in the back of the truck or in a tent. We would haul only the bare essentials in the truck, so the trailer would serve as a storage and exchange depot, where we would swap gear depending on what equipment was needed for the next jaunt. I soon acquired an enclosed utility trailer, and we were set.

By the third week of June all of the boxes on our list had been checked off and we said goodbye to friends and family, and on the bright morning of June 21st, almost a year after our epiphany on the coffee shop porch in Buena Vista, we climbed into our truck and pulled out onto the highway headed west, trailer in tow. Colorado or Bust!

On a clear day on the eastern plains of Colorado, a westward bound traveler might notice a faint band of uneven clouds floating just above the horizon. Following the line of clouds southward, the traveler sees, as one early explorer put it, something that appears like a small blue cloud. After going a few miles further the cloud reveals itself as a solid mass, with a mottled white top crowning a deep indigo base. A few more miles and the Rocky Mountain Range presents itself, still barely hinting at its size and splendor.

The small blue cloud described by the early explorer turned out to be a rather famous landmark. The young explorer and Army Lieutenant who penned his distant impression in November, 1806, was Zebulon Pike, the namesake of the mountain. After Pike chronicled his first glimpse of Pike’s Peak, which he called Grande Peak, he and his exploration party spent considerable time in the saddle trying to reach it. When they arrived, of course, there were no towns or forts around in which one might resupply or inquire about the mountains’ climbability. Pike’s journal indicates he and part of his crew did try to climb the mountain, though there is now some question among history buffs as to whether he actually tried to climb Pike’s Peak or another smaller mountain next to it. In any case, they were turned back by deep snow, and that was the end of Pike’s mountain climbing diversion. Having failed in his attempt to scale the big mountain, the intrepid explorer estimated its height at more than 15,000 feet, deemed it unclimbable, and headed southwest, where he was promptly captured and taken prisoner by Spanish forces.

We arrived at the base of Pike’s mountain a day after leaving Kansas to find the city of Colorado Springs, which offered lodging, shopping, and a seemingly endless variety of eateries from which to choose. From a campground out on the plains, Suzanne and I had traveled a few hours in air conditioned comfort to get here. It took Pike and his crew many days.

We searched the local phone book for campgrounds and settled on a place called Fountain Creek RV Park, which provided a pleasant respite from the city’s hustle-bustle, even though the city completely engulfs it. The little haven was packed with campers by the time we arrived, and tent spots were long gone. There was one open parking spot left next to the creek, and we eagerly paid the elderly cashier, jockeyed the truck and trailer into our slot, and set off on foot to find a place to eat in nearby Colorado City.

The next morning, we climbed out of the Springs and into the high country, and rolled down the windows to welcome a cool pine-scented breeze into the cab. Up and over Wilkerson Pass we went, then down across South Park, over Trout Creek Pass, and down into the Arkansas River Valley to our summer headquarters – Buena Vista.


The Adventure Begins

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

Put your finger right in the center of a Colorado map and it will point to somewhere near Buena Vista, which is why we chose it as our summer headquarters. It is central to all the fourteeners, and in the shadow of the most populous fourteener range - the Sawatch. The Sawatch Range stretches for some ninety miles from stem to stern, beginning south of Mount Shavano near Monarch Pass and running generally north past the Mount of the Holy Cross on the north end. The range includes fifteen Fourteeners, and possesses the three highest; Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, and Mount Harvard.

Locals call the Arkansas River Valley, in which Buena Vista is situated, the Banana Belt for the relatively mild climate it sports despite its altitude which is about 8,000 feet around Buena Vista. Still, its a stretch to imagine a banana plant growing anywhere

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