Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turning 40 Over 14,000 Feet

In an effort to recreate some of my blog entries from my previous blog site, I offer this entry report of how I celebrated my 40th birthday in September 2007.

I have always been fascinated by Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks but I had never wanted to give up a day of fishing to climb one. I wasn't (and still) getting any younger so in August of 2007, on the 10-hour car ride home from the family vacation, I made my sales pitch to the wife. I told her I only turn 40 once and I would really like to celebrate on top of one of those 14,000-foot peaks. In my mind it was a pipe dream when I made the pitch as I had already spent two weeks in the Rockies in July. To my surprise she said "go ahead". WOW!
I made my last minute airline and rental car reservations and scoped out which 14er would be my goal - I wanted short and easy. I also scoped out an acclimation hike in Rocky Mountain National Park and I would also try to catch the elusive Colorado River cutthroat. I had yet to catch the Colorado River species in Colorado, so hopefully I could kill two birds with one stone.
On Friday September 7, 2007 I was on my way to Denver and my younger brother's place in Westminster.
Before dawn on September 8, I was headed to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Timber Lake trailhead.
I was relatively new to the alpine lake trout fishing, but how hard could it be as they're easy quarry in the streams. The 5.3-mile hike to the Timber Lake, just above the 11,000 foot barrier, was more difficult than what I had imagined. After I passed the intersection with Long Meadows trail, Timber Lake trail turned straight up for about the next half mile.
I made the hike in just under two hours and when I crested the cirque, this was my view.

I was expecting crystal blue but what I found was a pale green. Apparently the lake had just "turned over". I am not exactly sure what happens, physically, when a lake turns but what I do know is the only fish I saw was a dead cutthroat - and I walked completely around the lake.
I thought the Colorado River cutt was going to elude me again. I had a bite to eat and decided to lick my wounds and head out. As I dropped out of the lake cirque, the stream that drains from the lake runs through a nice little meadow...what the heck, I'm here.
The stream was about two feet wide and about two feet deep, so getting a fly on the water was like threading a needle. The first pocket I placed the little caddis in produced exactly what I was looking for. My first Colorado, Colorado River cutthroat!

Every little pocket I could "thread the needle" produced one of these little beauties.

I fished this little meadow section for about an hour and nearly every pocket produced. These little guys were nearly as beautiful as their Greenback cousins on the east side of the park.

Considering the size of the water I was fishing some of these little guys had decent size.

I fished through the small meadow to where the stream entered the tree line and gradient increased significantly (along with the trail).

Once the trail returned to the stream at the intersection of Long Meadows trail, I decided to make a few more drifts before I packed up the rod to hit the trail out. The cutts were still there and they were still just as colorful.

With 3.5 miles of hiking and two hours of driving ahead of me, I pushed the pace on the way out. My younger brother had a great birthday prize lined up for me!

We were going to see my first Colorado Rockies baseball game. It just so happened that they were playing the San Diego Padres and it just so happened the starting pitcher for the Padres was none other than future first-ballot Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

I also got to watch another first ballot Hall of Famer and all time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. What a great birthday present from my younger brother!

I couldn't celebrate long because I had to be at the Gray's Peak trailhead the next morning shortly after dawn. So, in the early AM of Sunday September 9, 2007 (my 40th birthday) I was sitting at 11,200 feet of elevation at the trailhead of my first 14er...and my younger brother was going to join me.

The trail started in a series of stair steps for about the first half-mile. The first half-mile would be about all my brother could handle. The elevation was already getting the best of him, he was already bent over sucking air. With over 3 miles remaining, I made the decision to send him home as there was no way he could make this hike. I told him to just come back later and pick me up in a few hours - I figured four hours to the top and three more to get back down.

This was my first view of my goal, Gray's Peak (14,270 feet), the ninth highest peak in Colorado.

At about 12,000 feet you can see Grays and it's twin brother to the right, fellow 14er Torreys Peak (14,267 feet).

Shortly after gaining the ridge above the small summit in the forefront of that photo, the pace slowed drastically as the incline increased proportionately. The last 1.5 miles would be completed in increments of 50-100 yards at a time.

For perspective of the incline, I took this shot within sight of the summit, looking back down on where I had traveled. From about 13,000 feet to the summit, it is a series of switchbacks.

I gained the summit in just under three hours! Celebrating 40 years over 14,000 feet!

I rested, had a bite to eat, and snapped some shots of the incredible views. I wished I had brought a cell phone as the other hikers were making celebratory phone calls from the summit.

A shot looking across the saddle to Torreys Peak to the north.

Looking down to the northwest at this beautiful crystal blue alpine lake.

Another wonderful view, looking down at the clouds to the southwest.

After about thirty minutes on the summit the crowd started to grow, so I made the decision to head down. I did meet another climber who was celebrating his birthday on the peak.

Most of the other hikers were headed down the saddle to bag Torrey's in the same trip. Not me, the single 14er was all I wanted! I ran distance all throughout junior high, high school, and college. I have also completed 3 half-marathons and to that date that was the most physically challenging task I had ever completed.

I passed several other hikers heading up as I was heading down. All told, there were probably 50 people climbing on this beautiful September day.

I reached the trailhead about two hours before I told my brother to pick me up. I had summitted in an hour sooner than I had anticipated and descended another hour quicker. With two hours to kill, I found a nice pine tree to curl up under and I took a nice nap.

Early the next morning I would again be on a plane, but I had a few more "notches on my belt" than when I had flown out. First Colorado River cutthroat in Colorado, watch 2 first ballot Hall of Famers, and my first 14er!


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