Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mount Democrat 2/18/2011

Total Mileage: ~9 miles
Total Elevation: ~3000 feet
Starting Point: Paris Mill (3 miles south of Kite Lake)

Mount Democrat. This picture was taken from since I didn't get a chance to make many pics.

I had a 4 day weekend and nothing to do so I started to check out if the weather would allow for a jaunt to the top of a mountain. Weather reports for the town of Alma, CO predicted "partly sunny with a high near 17 degrees." That was good enough for me to pack up the gear and head out to the mountains Friday morning.

I left my home in Colorado Springs at 5:20 am and arrived in Alma at around 7:05 am. Kite Lake is the beginning of the trailhead which is 6 miles NW of Alma. With winter conditions, the last 3 miles of the road to Kite Lake is closed. An old dilapidated mill called Paris Mill is as far as I got in my car which stuck me with an additional 6 miles round-trip. I started off from Paris Mill at about 7:20 am. The road was wind swept leaving portions bare and other portions with knee deep snow. No snowshoes for this trip and that was intentional. I haven't convinced myself that I need them yet. The added bulk around my feet doesn't sit well with me. I do wear microspikes and gaiters and that was definitely sufficient for me. So, of course, there are times when I'm walking and drop 12-18 inches into the snow. It just added to the manly-ness of the overall experience.

I arrived at Kite Lake. I only knew this because I saw signs that said so. The basin that Kite Lake sits in was one big blanket of snow. So I should pause and say right now that this hike was only a partial success. I had intended to climb four separate mountains. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. This foursome is commonly referred to as Decalibron. The name is derived from using the first two letters of each peak. I've never known where the "N" comes from on the end though. I just assume it's to make it sound cool. I took too long to get to the top of Democrat and I was quite exhausted so I'll have to go back to climb the other three.

Doesn't do much justice but this is Cameron dead ahead from Kite Lake. I thought I'd be able to take more pictures from up top.

I don't have many pictures because my camera ran out of battery before I got to the summit of Democrat. The route always reminds me of a baseball diamond with Kite Lake being home plate. Doing the standard route you'd run the bases backwards. The saddle between Democrat and Cameron being third base. You'd summit Cameron right before you hit second base which is Lincoln. Bross is first base and then back down to Kite Lake to complete the loop. Not an exact diamond but roughly so.

From Kite Lake I saw no trail into the basin. Every so often I could look ahead and see the upper two feet of a trail marker. I was able to use these to get through most of the basin.

I found this sign particularly useful.
I turned to climb out of the basin a little early and ended up really exerting myself. At times I found myself in some Class 3 situations which led to many more rests than are typical. The snow in the basin was consistently ankle deep and there were times where I would sink to my knees. This also contributed to a very long and arduous day. In spite of this I really enjoyed myself and I've always found that the more difficult a task becomes the more rewarding it becomes to complete it. Once out of the basin (but below the Dem-Cam saddle) winds picked up and cold ensued.

I added the red to show roughly how I manuevered through the basin and then out. The dotted just means I was behind the ridge. I'm just bad at using paint. Democrat actually isn't in this picture.

I'm no expert but I feel that continuous movement, no matter how slow, helps to alleviate the cold weather. So I continued up slowly. On the way up I never really arrived at the saddle. Having deviated from the trail, I ended up on the Democrat ridge about 150 feet above the saddle. From there it was just up and up and up. Winds were at their worst at this point with nowhere to escape them. It is only about 1/2 mile from the saddle to the summit of Democrat but it was a very long 1/2 mile. Mileage isn't as descriptive as knowing the terrain over which that mileage covers. At the summit I sat down and tried to take a picture and that's when I found out my camera had run out of battery. While I was on the summit I had a chance to look down at my boots and I noticed that my microspikes were inside out. I was contemplating not sharing this out of sheer embarrassment. I reversed my spikes and found myself reflecting on how many times I slipped or lost my footing on the way up. The small thermometer I have on my backpack was reading zero degrees but I think the wind made it even colder. I looked at the time and it was 12:30 pm. I could not believe it took me 5 hours to get there. I looked around and the clouds were appearing more and more ominous. I thought to myself that I'd get to the saddle and then decide whether I would climb up to Cameron or not. Secretly I knew that I'd be going back down to Kite Lake though. Arriving at the saddle I could make out a trail going back down to the basin and committed to return home for the day. As I had anticipated, the wind got better and the air got warmer as I dropped in elevation. I was on the standard trail for most of the way down which was nice. There were even a few parts that I could slide down on the ice/snow. Going down went by fast and I was back at Kite Lake before I knew it. My thermometer read a toasty 20 degrees. Then it was a three mile hike back to the car. It started to snow on my way back to the car and I turned around to see Mount Cameron obscured by copious amounts of fog. I was glad I wasn't up there. Reached the car at 3:40 pm and I was back home before six. I never saw a single person from the time I left Alma until I drove back into town.

I really hate turning around without accomplishing my goal. I think I made the right choice and I'm looking forward to going back. It will be nice to be able to cut out the Democrat leg of the hike for next time. I hiked Humboldt back in November but I consider Democrat to be my first real winter 14er summit. I was wearing trail runners on Humboldt for crying out loud. No way a winter hike should count as a winter hike if I was wearing trail runners.

Notes to Self:
-  consider snowshoes
-  hiking takes much longer in snow
-  because I will likely be hiking as long as I'm physically capable there is never a rush to "go for it" when I get that feeling that I should call it a day