Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 11 (September 7, 1999)

Starting today, I had only four days of hiking left and 22 mountains to go.  Today I was climbing 6 mountains.  However, it was a reasonable day because there was no driving time to take into consideration.  I would be able to traverse from mountain to mountain, without ever having to drop back below 10,800 feet.

Dad and I started up Columbia.  He was going to carry my pack up Columbia, then come back down and return to Salt Lake City.  We started late because of my demand for 4 hours of sleep and didn’t start hiking until 7:30am.  Mom was going to drive to South Winfield trailhead, a trailhead for Huron Peak, and hike my bike up to the end of the 4 wheel drive road at 10,700 feet.

We made good time up the long trail through the forest.  I was happy to not have the weight of a pack.  My dad had no problem keeping up with me on the flat trails or downhill trails or even the slightly uphill trails.  After an hour, however, the trail steepened and dad’s pace slowed so he was slightly slower that me.  At that point I asked for my backpack so we could continue at the faster pace.  While we were stopped I was surprised to see a guy pass us up and continue up the trail.  That was the only time anyone would pass me up in my 2 week adventure.  We got moving again and due to my competitive nature quickly caught up to the guy just as we came to the point where we needed to leave the main trail so we could head up Columbia’s steep West Slopes.

Dad and I realized that I would go to fast for him to keep up, so he decided to head over to Mt. Harvard and wait for me.  I tried to talk him out of it, and wanted him to just head down, but he is a stubborn one.

The steep slopes  of Columbia were just to my liking and I was able to maintain a solid 70 feet per minute pace up the slope on some of the steeper sections.  I felt so good going up that at one point I was going 87 feet per minute (according to my altimeter).  [However that was just for a short section, still it felt good to be able to move that fast for any amount of time].

I reached the summit at 10:00am.  A half an hour faster than I had expected.  Then I started the dreaded traverse over to Harvard.  It is not dreaded because it is extremely difficult, only because it takes so long.  Although I was moving slowly on the downhills again, I still made good time and as I neared the summit I could hear my dad yelling in support.  I made the top at 12:10pm, well ahead of my projected time of 1:30pm.

My goal all day long had been to summit Missouri Mountain before nightfall.  Missouri’s East Ridge contained the last class 4 climbing of my remaining 14ers, and I did not want to do it in the dark.  I was optimistic about my ability to do it.  That would allow me to ascend Huron, one of the Sawatch’s easiest 14ers, in the dark and finish between 10:00pm and midnight, allowing me some good sleep for the next day.  I was well ahead of schedule.

Dad gave my legs a rub down, and gave me the rest of his water.  Dad had told another hiker up there about the record I was trying to set, and he wanted to get his picture taken with me, just in case I set the record.  I have never had that happen before. I looked north over at Oxford and Belford and tried to figure out my route.  I was doing an uncommon route by traversing over to Oxford but I was convinced it was going to save me time.  As I looked at the map I realized I was going to have to drop all the way down to 11,000 feet, 1000 feet more that I had hoped, but I still thought it was a good idea.  I said goodbye to Dad, and headed down Harvard’s grassy North Ridge.

After a gentle beginning, the ridge steepened.  I saw the entrance to a gully that appeared to have some scree so I entered it.  It wasn’t the best scree in the world, as it was intermixed with many areas of loose big rocks, which can be hard to ascend, but it was still a relatively quick descent.  After a few painful falls, I made it to tree line.  Then the bushwacking began.  At first it wasn’t too bad as I was able to follow some game trails.  Then I thought I saw a clearing and ending up making my way through the debris of an old avalanche – large downed trees.  Finally, I made it to Pine Creek and found the trail that heads up the valley.  I immediately crossed the trail and continued north.  I had been hoping to pick up a trail but didn’t see anything so I headed straight up through the trees and thick bushes.  It was so thick that at times I would close my eyes, grab whatever I could and pull myself through the bushes.  I aimed myself at some boulder fields and was able to find a good route all the way to tree line.

I continued north and reached the summit of Oxford at 4:10pm.  The traverse from Harvard had only taken three and a half hours, much faster than I had expected.  I headed north and made the summit of Belford at 4:56pm.  I had plenty of time to make it up Missouri by darkness.  I used the cell phone to leave a message for my mom, and tried to call Natalie, but she wasn’t home.

I headed to Missouri wondering what the East Ridge had in store for me.  I had descended the East Ridge once, but had almost no memory of what it was like.  Before long I was at Elkhead pass at 13,220 feet.  I picked up the climber’s trail and followed it to the south side of the ridge.  Becoming impatient,  I started climbing up the ridge a little too soon, and realized the climbing was difficult so I turned back.  I continued on the climber’s trail and followed a loose ledge as it made its way up the ridge.  I thought the route I chose was easier than class 4 and was happy to make the summit by 6:30pm.  I took a good look at Huron to the West and began working my way down to Missouri’s West Ridge.

I followed the ridge until I saw a little drainage with some good scree, and made good time to tree line.  However, once in the trees I had to bushwack through a thick forest.  The going was slow until I finally reached the four wheel drive road at about 7:40pm.  I had about a half hour of light to find the trail that heads up the east side of Huron.  The trail I was looking for began at a parking lot on this road.  The parking lot was supposed to be right where the road was closed to motor vehicles.  I guessed that I had to descend the road to the parking lot, and that I would be able to pick up the trail from there.  I quickly came upon a gate that was blocking the road, but I couldn’t find any trail.  I started bushwacking west, thinking that I would intersect the trail and after some bushwacking I found a trail that took me too far south, all the way to Clohese lake, about a half mile south of where I wanted to be.  I was out of water and did not have any iodine tablets with me.  So when I saw a cabin near the lake I thought I might be able to get in and get some treated water.  It was all locked up and since I didn’t want to break anything, I gave up that idea.

Now it was dark, I strapped on my headlamp and tried to figure out what to do.  I found a trail that headed north along the lake and figured that it might follow the stream north and cross the trail I was trying to find.  So I followed it through the darkness.  Soon it headed east, and not wanting to go east, I followed what I thought was a faint trail north.  Soon I was bushwacking again and was very frustrated.  The river that I was supposed to cross was well below me as it flows down a ravine with steep banks approximately 100 feet high.

Eventually, I stumbled on another trail, and when this trail headed east I stayed on it until I reached a trailhead, and what appeared to be a parking lot.  I had finally reached the parking lot and had actually been on the trail I wanted.  But the trail I was on didn’t cross the river, like it was supposed to.  Now I was thoroughly frustrated.  I decided to throw in the towel.  According the map I could follow the road out for a few miles to Rockdale, and from there I could walk a few more miles to the South Winfield trailhead, where mom would be waiting for me.  From there I could get some sleep and then take the normal route up Huron.  I started walking down the road.  Then a feeling came over me, I somehow felt that if I didn’t climb Huron tonight, I would not have enough time to set the record.

I turned around, looked up in the darkness at Huron, and started walking towards the mountain.  I found a decent place to cross the stream, then tried to find a good place to head up the mountain.  According to the map, the trail was just north of a stream that I should be able to find.  I began heading up the steep slope, and the bushwacking was thick.  I couldn’t see much since it was so dark so I pretty much just headed straight up.  When I came to some cliffs, I veered south and heard the sound of water.  I headed for that sound and came to a narrow band of boulders that headed straight up the mountain, right over the water.  I figured the boulder field was better that bushwacking so I followed it up until it ended in a thick bunch of willows.  After I made my way through the willows (easier said than done), I continued on until the forest thinned out a bit and I was able to follow some game trails.  When I made it to tree line, I was very tired and very thirsty.  I figured I would just have to take my chances with the water and filled up my water bladder with water from the stream.

I decided to take a nap, and fell asleep for 15 minutes.  I set my watch alarm so I wouldn’t oversleep, and it rudely awakened me when it was time to go.  I was now at about 12,000 feet and the fifteen minutes wasn’t enough for me.  I decided to try to make the summit by gaining five hundred feet at a time, and after every increment I would take another rest.  By the time I was at 12,200 feet I was too tired to continue, so I decided to rest every two hundred feet.  I dozed and some time later woke up with a desperate breath, like when you are holding your breath underwater and finally come to the surface for air.  I had been dreaming and I don’t think I was fully awake because as I was hiking I was hallucinating.

I was climbing with someone else, and there were some elf like creatures who were talking to me.  They were small and were sort of like my conscience, sort of like in cartoons when you have a little angel whispering in your ear.  I was being punished because I had not called into my mom and she was worried.  I couldn’t call in though because I only had the cell phone and it couldn’t get a signal except from the top of the mountains.  But they thought that was irrelevant, and punished me by sabotaging my altimeter.  They fixed it so it wouldn’t register changes in elevation.  I was frustrated because I was hiking up and my altimeter wasn’t changing.  My climbing partner headed in a different direction, and disappeared.  The elves disappeared.  I continued up the slope, finally I reached 12,400 feet and sat down for another nap.  I awoke again with a desperate breath and continued, almost like in a dream world.  I wasn’t heading directly up the slope, but more at an angle so I was half contouring, half moving up as I tried to maintain a west heading.  I couldn’t keep my balance, and seemed to be leaning too far into the slope and fell often.  Soon there was no grass and just big boulders, many of them loose.

Somehow, I pushed on and after many more falls and a few more naps, I reached a ridge at about 13,200 feet.  I didn’t know where I was but was pretty sure Huron was to my left, so I headed in that direction.  I was a lot further from Huron than I had thought, and still had about a mile to go along that ridge (I attained the ridge on the saddle between Browns Peak and Point 13,462).  After a long ridge walk I crossed the Colorado 14ers Initiative trail, the standard route up Huron.

At 1:38am I reached the summit of Huron.  I took a nap on the summit.  Coming down was almost as difficult as going up.  The batteries in my headlamp were running out of power, so my technique of walking backward was difficult.  I had to crank my head around so I could see where I was going, and my neck was sore.  Even though the trail is a great trail, I was yelling obscenities at it.  It switchbacked all the way down the mountain.  All I wanted was to be down, and I wanted a short, steep trail.  This trail was so long, it kept dragging and dragging.  I had to stop for naps, but I kept getting up and continued stumbling down the hill.  My knee and blisters were all hurting, I could not wait to get to my mountain bike.

I hated that trail with every part of my body, it just would not end.  I pushed on through the agony and I was a desperate man when I came to my bike.  I got to my bike and to my dismay, no bike light.  Mom had asked me how to hook up the light and I was too lazy to deal with it so I had told her not to worry about it.  Now my headlamp was practically dead, it produced a tiny yellow orb that was almost not worth it.  Mom had also forgotten my helmet, but at that point, I didn’t care.

Fortunately, I had kept in my pack a little handheld maglight flashlight.  I got it out and turned it on.  I rode down the bumpy four wheel drive road with the maglight either in my mouth, or in my left hand.  Riding down one handed was hard, and the light shook around to much in my teeth so I had to go slow, and soon I couldn’t believe how never-ending the bike ride was.

At 4:30am I rolled up next to the truck.  I yelled out for my mom, and lay down on the ground.  She fed me, and I ate, chewing with my eyes closed. Then I hopped in the back of the truck and went to sleep while she hurried to get me to the Jennings Creek trailhead.

Mom had her own adventure that night.  When she hiked my bike up the road for me, she had taken the wrong road.  She had traveled far and left my bike miles away on the wrong mountain.  Later, while she was trying to sleep, she realized her mistake.  She wouldn’t have been able to retrieve it except that at that very moment some men driving ATVs were coming down the road.  They had been hunting in the dark and were coming back empty handed.  She flagged them down and they selflessly agreed to drive her all the way up to the bike.  They not only drove her to the bike, but also took it to the correct location.  On the way to the right place, my helmet had fallen off, which is why it hadn’t been with the bike.  They had dropped the bike off only a half an hour before I had reached it.

I don’t even remember trying to fall asleep.