Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 12 (September 8, 1999)

On day 12 I would need to climb 5 mountains.  I would start with Shavano and Tabeguache, traverse over to Antero, and meet mom at the bottom of Antero.  Then she would drive me to Mt. Princeton, and after that I would climb Mt. Yale to finish off the Sawatch.

I woke up because I was getting bounced around in the back of the truck.  I opened my eyes surprised to be looking through spokes, as my bike had fallen on top of me.  Mom was driving like a crazed lunatic.  Of course it always seems like the driver was a crazed lunatic when you were in the back of the truck.  Several times as I was getting bounced around I would hear a huge bonk as the bottom of the truck slammed into some rock.  Finally, mom reached the Jennings Creek trailhead.  I pleaded for another hour of sleep, and while I lay there mom made some food for me.  Around 9:00am I sat up and starting looking over my feet.  I covered some heel blisters with the last of my compeed, and used athletic tape to wrap my toes.  I did not want to start but as it was getting late, I crawled out of the back of the truck.  Then I noticed the bumper on my truck was totally bent and half of it was twisted upward.  I told mom she was a crazy driver and as she went on about how bad the road had been, I prepared to begin the hike.  At 9:30am I got a very late start.

A sign at the trailhead asks climbers not to use the Jennings Creek approach, as the number of hikers was causing a great deal of erosion on this steep route.  But I certainly didn’t have the time to drive to another trailhead, and this was the quickest route so I had to ignore the sign.  I maintained a slow but consistent pace.  My legs were tired, sore, and even sunburned from the previous days.  The route was short and steep so even though I wasn’t hiking all that fast I still made the summit of Tabeguache in a reasonable amount of time.

At 12:00pm sharp I made the summit of Tabeguache, I looked around but didn’t see a summit register, then began the mile long traverse over to Shavano.  The traverse to Shavano is very enjoyable after the saddle between the mountains.  Shavano’s South Ridge isn’t like most Sawatch and was a combination of big, solid rocks and grass.

I made the summit of Shavano by 12:45pm, and quickly found the summit register.  I was too weak to unscrew the lid.  I was embarrassed because there was a couple relaxing on the top of the summit, and I am sure they were thinking I was a serious wimp! I asked them if they wouldn’t mind opening it for me, and the guy easily removed the lid.  He apologized and said he hadn’t thought he had screwed it on too tight.  I signed the summit register and began the hike back over Tabeguache.

On Tabeguache, I picked up my pack and began the long hike over to Antero.  I was already out of water, and once again I had no iodine tablets with me.  When I made it down to a small valley on my way north to Antero, I filled my water from a relatively clean looking stream and continued on my way.  The route down to tree line involved a little bit of willow bushwacking and some muddy swamps to get the feet wet, but the difficulty was mild compared to what I was used to.  The worst part about the bushwacking was having the branches scratching my sunburnt legs.

Soon I made it to a 4 wheel drive road.  The road continued and eventually would take me almost to the top of Antero.  I made the summit of Antero at 4:15pm.  On the summit there was a mountain goat who seemed pretty friendly, although he made sure to keep at least ten feet away from me.  I stank, and now even animals couldn’t stand my presence.

I made my way down relatively quickly by taking a scree slope, although it wasn’t very good so I almost regretted it.  I finally made it down to another four wheel drive road, and when I got to the big stream crossing at about 10,800 feet, I found my mountain bike waiting for me.  I rode down the jarring road and eventually came to the Baldwin Gulch trailhead at about 6:15pm.

During the day, realizing how late it was getting, I understood that to set the record, I would have to hike straight through the night without stopping for the next three nights.  I would have to make the most of the only time I had to sleep, when we were driving from one trailhead to another.

Since I felt pretty comfortable that I could climb Mt. Princeton in the dark, I asked mom to drive me to the trailhead for Mt. Yale, which I hadn’t climbed for a long time.  I didn’t want to get lost again and hoped that the hour of sunlight would be enough time to get me on a good trail to the summit.  I also swapped the low power bulb with the halogen bulb on my headlamp, and took an extra set of batteries with me.

I started limping away from the trailhead at 7:15pm,  and it didn’t take me long to get lost.  I was trying so hard to follow the directions in the guide book, when I should have paid more attention to the map.  The directions were to look sharp for a trail to the right of the main trail, near the junction of Delaney Creek and Denny Creek at 10,400 feet.  I crossed Denny creek at about 10,500 feet, and thinking I must have already gone too far, took the first thing that even resembled a trail.  I quickly crossed to the east side of Delaney Creek.  I figured I would catch the trail I was looking for if I kept heading upstream, because according to the map, the trail I was trying to find crossed the creek at about 10,800 feet.  I bushwacked along the stream (this brought back my memories of the previous night on Huron) until when my altimeter read 10,800 feet, I found a little trail.  It was heading in the right direction, and so happily I followed the trail, thinking I was on my way.  My happiness quickly turned to frustration as the trail petered out.

I knew where my mountain was, and I knew where the South Ridge was (the ridge I needed to ascend) so I pointed myself straight up the slopes of the South Ridge and bushwacked through some thick trees in the darkness until I reached tree line.  I continued up to the top of the ridge, then followed the ridge north towards Mt. Yale until I finally found the trail.  The thing was a superhighway, how could I have gone astray?  I was surprised at how big the trail was and was able to make pretty good time all the way to the summit ridge and then to the summit of Mt. Yale, which I reached at 10:30pm.

As I came down I was able to see where I went wrong.  The Mt. Yale trail leaves the main trail at 10,600 feet.  This was clearly marked on the map, and I was stupid for messing up.  However, the description of the trail was a little out of date, there was now a big wooden sign that says Mt. Yale and points to the right.  I hiked on down the trail and made it back to the trailhead at 1:10pm.

I didn’t sleep much on the way to Mt. Princeton, but was able to rest by abused little body and eat some food.  Mom’s driving had me scared again as she drove up the Mt Princeton road.  She drove a little too high up the road, so I had to have her turn around and drive back down to about 11,100 feet.  I didn’t waste any time and was hiking by 3:15am.

I felt right at home on Princeton as I have climbed it many times (due to it’s close proximity when I was a raft guide in Buena Vista), including one moonlight ascent, so I made excellent time and was on the summit by 4:50am.  My knee prevented a fast descent though, and I didn’t make it back to the truck until 6:45am.  I happily crawled into the back of the truck and was looking forward to the long drive to Pikes Peak so I could get some sleep.