Fourteeners, shorthand for peaks that are fourteen thousand feet above sea level. Colorado has 53 of them. The remaining Lower 48 states have fifteen. Sure, climbing Mt. Whitney in California, or Mt. Rainier in Washington, is a tougher task, because you start near sea level. Nonetheless, the sheer number of high points in Colorado makes climbing them a popular pastime. A recent Internet piece, a map illustrating the most unique word or phrase in every state (The United Slang of America), chose “fourteener” as Colorado’s singular word. Yes, America – Colorado is known for something more than legalized pot, the Broncos, and South Park.
Speaking of South Park, its’ elevated platform serves as a jumping-off point for a truly unusual experience – the DECALIBRON. Stands for Mt. DEmocrat, Mt. CAmeron, Mt. LIncoln, and Mt. BROss. The Decalibron is four 14ers in one day. You get a boost by starting at an elevation of 12,000 feet. But you are still spending a day ascending and descending steep slopes at taxing altitudes.
The Wulff pack recently made the Decalibron our end-of-summer outing. Per our usual operating procedure, the Wulff pack arrived
late (7 PM) at the Kite Lake campground, nestled at bottom of a bowl ringed with 14,000-foot peaks. Miraculously, we found a decent spot for two tents and a campfire (the campground is above tree-line so you must bring your own firewood). Another small miracle: the skies were overcast, trapping the day’s heat, making almost-tropical conditions (mid-40’s) for sitting around the fire at night.
We hit the trail at 7 AM, which sounds early, but is about an hour off the commonly-recommended start time of 6 AM. We did the trail counter-clockwise, starting with Bross instead of Democrat. Thus, for the Wulff pack, it was a Brolicade rather than a Decalibron. Sounds more like an escapade than an endurance test. But it wasn’t any easier.
We enjoyed the views, snapped photos, and, of course logged geocaches on three of the four peaks. We found the caches on Bross and Lincoln without much difficulty and logged the virtual on Cameron with a photo. Then a steep descent to the saddle between Cameron and Democrat. The skies looked threatening by the time we had to make a decision on whether to bail out, or summit Democrat and complete the tour.
We decided to summit, so we picked our way through a near-vertical rock garden, passing a few stragglers coming down. “I’d get up there in a hurry, skies are getting dark,” one of them said. Just a month earlier, a newlywed couple were struck and killed by lightning at 1030 AM on Mt. Yale, so with the clock ticking toward noon, we were understandably concerned.
Once we cleared a steep scree slope, we practically jogged the final ¼-mile across the tundra to the small knoll that is the actual summit. There were not one but two geocaches on top of Democrat, but our searches were fleeting and distracted, with one eye to the sky. After 5 minutes, we started back, unleashing Loki for the first time all day, so we could scramble down the scree and not have to worry about the dog causing a fall. Of course, once we made it safely back to the saddle, the sun was out again. Nonetheless, the episode taught me the importance of an early start.
As I arrived back at base camp, I thought, “Do I climb Democrat all over again next summer, just to get those two caches?” After all, geocachers and 14er-hikers are similar in one important respect: both groups are counters, whether they admit it or not. Geocachers count how many caches they’ve done, egged on by the statistics kept on geocaching.com. People who aim to do all the 14ers, check the mountains off their list as they count down to zero. They rarely do the same one twice, at least until they do them all. So another trip up the steep boulder-strewn face of Mt. Democrat is a tough sell. A week or so later, I found I had a new reason for a do-over.
On August 8, the Wulff pack attended a planning session for next year’s big geocaching event – GeoWoodstock 14er (named, in part, because it will be the 14th annual GeoWoodstock). It will be the first time it has been held in Colorado and the natives are psyched. The event committee expects at least 3,000, and possibly as many as 5,000, geocachers from all over the country to attend. It will be held at Chatfield Lake, southwest of Denver, on July 3rd, 2016.
During the week leading up to this Mega-event, groups and individuals will be hosting smaller events associated with it. There will tours of breweries as well as events at Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, other Colorado landmarks. Some are even talking about organizing a dispensary tour (we will be the first to put the “Woodstock” into GeoWoodstock).
So for my contribution, I plan to put the 14er in GeoWoodstock 14er. And what better way to do that then host a Decalibron hike? This time, I will do it clockwise and get an earlier start (6AM instead of 7AM). I would be willing to bet some of our out-of-state guests (and maybe some native Coloradans) would love to bag a 14er. I’ll provide an opportunity to bag four! And I’ll finally get the two caches that eluded me this year (one is a 5/5).
Stay tuned. I’ll post additional details on this site as we get closer to the event.