The almost, but not quite 14’er!

Workout Wanda: Ran 1.5 miles in 11:48…that’s a 7:52 pace! Boom!

Last week was a big week for us. After the Fargo Marathon {which I may never stop talking about…} my Mom was in town for a few days and we drug her all around the country side. As soon as she left we decided to buy out REI for all sorts of camping gear. And not just any camping gear – the stuff required for Colorado style camping which is apparently a bit different than what goes down in Wisconsin. No fishing pole, no big fancy tent, no air mattress, no campground fees…just a tiny tent, sleeping bags, 4×4 road and hiking boots!

Thanks to the blog world and Twitter Chris and I were about to go on our first legit Colorado camping trip and if all went well we would summit our first 14’er. And just to clarify a “14’er” is a mountain with a summit at 14,000 feet or higher, there are roughly 55 in Colorado and it’s a “Colorado thing” to summit all of them. I think it would be cool to do all of them, Chris just has his heart set on Longs.

Anyway, we were going camping with Paula, Heather and a few of Heather’s friends. After about sixteen hundred emails and silly questions we were ready to go. I seriously asked some of the most ridiculous questions and am kind of surprised Heather didn’t call off the trip last minute. Kidding, kind of! Part of me felt foolish, the other part of me was just happy we figured it all out before we made our way into the middle of no where…


…we put the durability of Chris’s poor WRX to a very solid test. You see, most trailheads for 14’ers are out in the middle of no where down roads that are made for 4×4 vehicles and ATVs, not his pretty little Subaru. I think it is safe to say that we will no longer be driving down the road hands-free without some veering as the alignment is a bit jacked but we did leave with an intact muffler and oil pan so I’d call that success!


We arrived at what we deemed a reasonable campsite just before sunset. And by “deemed reasonable” I really mean that up ahead there was some intense road that Chris’s car would not have survived. Thankfully everyone was cool with settling in and setting up camp.

Before long the campfire was roaring, the tents were set up and the steak fajitas were in the works. Yes, steak fajitas. Heather’s friend Cindy might be a veggie but she knows how to cook her meat, it was delicious! Better than most food that makes it way into my own kitchen…

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After a rather fitful sleep – courtesy of high winds and the slight hill we had pitched the tent on – we woke to a completely gorgeous morning. This here is exactly why I want a house out in the middle of no where. It was calm, beautiful and made me fall in love with mountains all over again!


…and almost better than the gorgeous scenery was breakfast. Once again Cindy was working her magic with a grill and whipped us up some banana protein pancakes with some of the most amazing bacon I’ve ever had.

We eventually set out on our way to the summit of La Plata. We drove the SUVs a ways up the road and took off on what we thought was the right trail – there was a bridge and the description said something about a bridge…


Both Heather and Craig had books/maps/descriptions of the mountain and trail but somehow we ended up completely confused. The descriptions were not matching up with what we were seeing. That combined with our late start had us thinking a 14’er summit may not happen. Regardless, the scenery was beautiful, the forest was silent and the dogs were making themselves crazy trying to catch marmots.

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…it felt like we were walking through the hills you see in the Sound of Music. The pictures don’t do it justice and I can’t find the words to describe it but I think its safe to say there is more backpacking in our near future, whether Chris likes it or not!

We finally came to the conclusion that we were not on the right trail or not going in the right direction or…not going to make it up La Plata. I’ll admit, I was a little bummed. I wanted my first 14’er summit. But I had survived a night of Colorado camping, was hanging out with some pretty cool people and getting the butterfly in my stomach love feeling for the mountains all over again…I got over my disappointment real quick.

…I swear it feels much steeper…
{photo cred: Heather’s recap}

At some point we decided to pick the closest mountain and bush whack our way to the top. Sure, why not. Looked like fun. And it was…except for the burning in my legs. Let’s just say there were a lot of little breathers on the way up. Paula was booking it. I think I need to take up trail running – she rocked on the mountain side!

…Chris, me, Heather, Craig, Cindy…
{photo cred: Paula’s recap}

To make it more interesting the mountain side was steep. Imagine that, a mountain side being steep. Whodathunk. At one point the inclinometer on our phone’s said we were on an 80* slope, but I’m not sure how accurate it was considering it put us at a 30* slope later when it all looked/felt the same.

Let’s just say if this were a run on a ski resort it would have been a double black, putting the slope around 50-60*. It was freaking steep! We hiked something of 2,000 feet straight up over the course of 1 mile…intense!

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…bottom photo: look at the middle – that person-looking thing is Paula!…

With a little work we made our way above the tree line. This is when things got windy. Well, maybe a better term would be breezy with massive gusts of wind. For the most part it was bearable but every once in a while a massive gust would come along and have your grabbing for the nearest rock to keep from toppling over!

…that mountain in the leftward background? probably La Plata…

As we made our way beyond the tree line and toward a little boulder field it became pretty obvious we were not going to get near 14,000 feet. Even 13,000 feet didn’t seem plausible. I had my Garmin with and we kept checking the elevation…at about 12,200 we grouped up to discuss our plan.

This is when a major head-slapping realization was made…not only were we on the wrong mountain we could see what we *think* is the right mountain off on the horizon…behind us. The mountain looked a lot like the photos and a nice, comfortable, easy-ish trail was snaking up the side of it. Awesome.

…hunkered down for lunch and our hike down…
{second photo cred: Heather’s recap}

No, really. It was kind of cool. At least we knew we were way off and that La Plata wasn’t just a mountain over from where we were. We could see the mountain from afar and we knew that the hike up was relatively snow free. And we had hiked a far more strenuous mountain side and weren’t dying.

Maybe it wasn’t the right mountain but it was a mountain and we had hiked our butts directly up the side of it without a trail. Heck, for all we know we were the only people who had touched this mountain side – that felt pretty cool!


We stopped at about 12,500 feet, ate lunch and then made our way back to the campsite. Luckily we had amazing weather, no major storms rolling in, cooler but not freezing temperatures and a relatively clear day.

On our hike back to the campsite we detoured through the woods as per the “man plan” in hopes of cutting out some distance. That didn’t quite work as planned but we manage to fine tune our log hopping skills…

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Once we made it down to the main ATV/4×4 trail the cars and cars seemed eons away. Like, forever. There is something about the hike back to the car that seems to take forever. The excitement is gone, the body is tired, the stomach is hungry…but the mountains were still being their gorgeous selves!

We spent our time discussing how we ended up on the wrong mountain, where the correct trailhead was, what trail we were on and which freaking mountain was actually La Plata. Every tall mountain kinda sorta looked like the photos, different angles made different mountains look more likely, we had absolutely no idea where the correct trail head was…it was the hike of a thousand La Plata’s.

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In the end we all concluded that the hike was worth it. Sure, we didn’t make it up a 14’er but we did spend the day out in the middle of no where and at least now we had a story to tell! People are always hiking 14’ers…not everyone randomly hikes directly up the side of a mountain! Besides, they all reassured Chris and I that this hike was far more difficult than most 14’ers they have ever been on so the idea of hiking 14’ers is no longer terrifying.

When we got back to the campsite Chris and I had to pack up. Our weekends might start on Thursday but they also end on Saturday. Memorial Day weekend or not, we both had work on Sunday. On our drive out to the main road another major realization occurred…we found the correct trail head! Less than a half mile from the road we saw the metal gates, a big ol’ sign…all of which fit the description perfectly. Ha. Now we know!

Also, check out Heather’s side of the story and Paula’s take on our not-so-14’er hike! Prior to this camping trip/hike I’d met both of them before but only for a short time. They are both big outdoorsy people and made the trip a ton of fun! It was also great to meet Craig and Cindy – not only is Cindy a great cook she also used to live and work in Central Wisconsin! And Craig…well he is kind of famous too, even won an awesome trip from the Ford Explorer adventure contest dealio!

And to make us feel a little bit better about our inability to properly navigate this trip, have you ever gotten completely and utterly disoriented? How did you make the most of it?! Do you look back and laugh now that its all done and over with?


The almost, but not quite 14’er! — 13 Comments

  1. I don’t care if I sound like a broken record, it’s sooooooo beautiful out there and I am jealous of your adventures! Thanks for posting the pictures and your journey out there!
    steena recently posted..43 DaysMy Profile

    • Sometimes I feel like a broken record constantly posting mountain photos but I can’t help myself – it really is awesome out here! You are welcome, I’ll keep it up too! :)

  2. Pingback: Learning From Backcountry Mistakes // Heidi Kumm

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