This past summer, I embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign for the Larimer Humane Society. The idea for “14ers For Furry Friends” was to raise $1,014 for climbing fourteen of Colorado’s 14ers (14,000-foot peaks) in 14 weeks during the summer of 2014…say THAT three times fast! I found out fairly quickly that raising the money was the easy part.
There were some minor logistical concerns involved with this undertaking, such as the fact that the high altitude hiking season directly overlaps the height of my summer wedding season. And also, most of these mountains are a solid 3 to 5 hour drive from my home base of Fort Collins. I devised a plan to minimize travel time while not affecting any of the weddings and wedding clients that hired me. I grouped the fourteen peaks into geographical regions and hiked up to three per trip over a couple of days at a time every two to three weeks, usually leaving early on a Monday and getting home on Wednesday evening.
Other than putting an extra 2,000 miles on my brand new Subaru XV Crosstrek and breaking in the shocks and struts on some of the roughest roads in the state, the plan worked perfectly. July’s hikes generally featured great weather, little wind, and dry trails. During August, the seasonal monsoon rains made their annual appearance and there was a marked increase in cloudiness and storms. September featured changeable conditions, changing fall colors, cooler temperatures, and a surprise snowstorm on the final day of hiking on Gray’s Peak (see bottom photo).
As luck would have it, I rarely hiked solo. I invited anyone to join in on any of the hikes. I was joined on a few hikes by ultramarathoner Doug Nash who was an invaluable resource of information. Doug and his wife run the Twin Lakes Inn south of Leadville, which I stayed overnight at a few times this summer (cozy rooms, gourmet restaurant). I also made sure a few of the hikes were relatively easy, so first-timers could also join me. Aside from raising money for one of my favorite charities, the goal of the project was to introduce people to the adventure of backcountry hiking in Colorado, and more specifically, hiking 14ers, which I’ve been doing for almost 20 years now. Over the course of the summer, I was fortunate enough to be joined by eight people who have never hiked a 14er before.
They included a couple who’s wedding I’ll be DJing next summer (Jeff & Lindsey), a DJ friend that flew out all the way from New Jersey to hike the state’s highest peak with me (Mt. Elbert – above), and a super-fit 73 year old named Jim who hadn’t hiked in a few years but was in exceptional shape. Jim got a bit more than he bargained for as he was one of the folks that joined me on that snowy day on Gray’s a couple of weeks ago. Though it was a relatively easy hike under dry conditions, Mother Nature decided to add some drama on the final day of September and battered us with winds and sideways snow. Jim never stopped smiling though out the hike and had a great positive attitude all day. I’m sure he’ll have some awesome stories to tell his grandchildren in the coming weeks.
Stay tuned for next summer’s adventure fundraiser to celebrate Rocky Mountain National Park’s 100th anniversary!