I had been watching the forecasts for Colorado, and saw that the snow level was down below 12000ft in pretty much every mountainous forecast zone, so I knew my planned tour of the Lincoln group was going to be interesting. At 3:30am when I left Laramie it was overcast and 58 degrees. That may not be a big deal to you, but a temperature that warm at that time of night only happens a couple times a year here, yet another indication that something interesting was happening with the weather.
The trailhead at Kite Lake is reached on a forest road off highway 9 and you can reach 9 from I-70, but I decided that it might be quicker to take US 285 once I got west of Denver. As I got closer to the Continental Divide, the mountain tops were obscurred by low clouds and there were patchy cloud bands on the moutainsides. I almost made it all the way to the parking lot near Kite Lake. Unfortunately, just before this, there is a stream that you have to cross. My car doesn't have high clearence and when I tried crossing the stream, the car stalled while climbing out the other side. Great. The car settled back into the middle of the stream which was about 9" deep. I was right in the middle, so only trucks could pass me. I put on my hiking boots, which fortunately have Gore-Tex, and managed to solicit some help to push me backwards out of the stream. However, after about five minutes the car started and I backed out. Phew. Other passenger cars made it through, and I suspect I could have if I would been more careful. Anyway, I ended up parking about a quarter mile below the parking area at a switchback in the road, which is why I added a half-mile to the guidebook distance and 100 feet. (BTW, on the way down I measured this switchback as being 5.1 miles from highway 9, and the creek is about another 0.2 miles or so.) [The good news is that they have subsequently built the roadway up and run all the streams through culverts, although this last section to the $3 parking area is still too rough for many normal cars. See my Mount Buckskin report for more thoughts on this road.]
At this point I could see the fresh snow on the mountains, and the cloud base was at about 13000ft, so I was wondering if I was ever going to get a good look at the mountains. I finally left my car at 8:15, with damp boots and socks and a very light rain falling (which quit shortly after). I had an extra pair of socks but I decided to wait until I really needed them. Along the trail, I first saw snow on the ground at 12500ft. The clouds were slowly lifting all the while, which was a good sign, but it was windy in places and only in the 30s. Above 13000 feet, most of the trail was covered in snow. It had mostly melted off the rocks, but some parts of the trail had 6-8" and I almost felt sorry for people who weren't wearing boots. I had assumed that the snowstorm had occurred the previous night and that morning, but I talked to someone who said that the storm was on Thursday night/Friday morning, and the top halves of the mountains were white on Friday.
By the time I reached the summit of Democrat at 10am, the clouds had lifted quite a bit and you could finally see the other mountains. It was around freezing with a 20mph wind, but the views down Platte Gulch were nice. I was prepared for the cold, except that my feet were getting really cold from being damp and from hiking through snow. My right foot was much more damp than the left, so I changed my right sock, saving the other dry sock. However, I was starting to think about the wisdom of continuing under these circumstances. I headed back down to the Democrat-Cameron saddle knowing that the only good escape from the route would be here. Forunately, my feet started warming up on the downward hike, so kept walking past the saddle and ascended Cameron.
Although Cameron is not considered a separate 14er because the saddle between it and higher Mount Lincoln is too shallow, most of the gain between Democrat and Lincoln occurs while climbing Cameron. Even though you still have two more mountains to climb, you've done almost all of the climbing. The conditions on Cameron were the worst of the four mountains, with temps still in the 30s and 25mph winds.
Another group reached Cameron about the same time I did and they were comtemplating whether to go to Lincoln or not. We descended east a little over a hundred feet to the trail between Lincoln and Bross. They headed right to Bross and I headed left to Lincoln. The traverse between Cameron and Lincoln really fooled me (and that other group as well). It looks like its a long way, but the saddle is only about 200ft below Lincoln and it's only a half-mile away, and I was on Lincoln in about 20 minutes. I saw a few flurries on this trail which was the only falling snow during the whole trip. Lincoln has the most interesting finish of any of these mountains with a relatively steep, rocky summit, but there's a trail all the way to the top.
It was just before noon at this point and still 35 degrees, but the wind here was only about 10-15mph so it felt practically balmy. There was another group up here, so after taking pictures of each other, I let them get a five minute head start, so I had the summit all to myself for this time. It was beginning to look like the weather was going to get worse, and by the time I made it back to that decision point below Cameron, the clouds had completely swallowed Lincoln. It's a gentle mile to Bross' summit, where it was windy again. Fortunately there's a rock windbreak at the summit and although it contained a lot of snow it still served it's purpose. I had started with 1.5 quarts of water and two 250ml pouches of juice but I dumped almost a quart of water on Bross that I wasn't going to need; you don't sweat much in this weather. [In retrospect, that was amazingly weird micro-managing; like an extra 2 pounds was going to make a difference. I'm sure the other people on the summit thought it was pretty weird, too.]
I followed a group down the west slopes of Bross, and this was almost zero fun. Most of the descent was on really unpleasant dirt/scree. There was all of about 100 feet of good scree running. [Roach's guidebook indicated that there was good scree running here, which in retrospect was a rather stupid recommendation in the first place. Later editions are a little more savvy.] There must be a better way to descend than this, but the situation was never desparate, just uncomfortable in spots, and since there were people below me, I had to be more careful than normal. Once off the real slope, I hiked for a short distance across grass to the trail and then down to my car, which I reached at about 1:45, 5 1/2 hours after starting. By this time, it had warmed up into the 40s in the valley, but was still overcast as it had been all day, with the sun very dimly visible.
I was around the 10th or less person to reach the summits on this day and only Democrat was a little crowded, pretty good for being Labor Day weekend. The snow and cold didn't really make things much more difficult except that the trail on Democrat got slick in places, but it certainly gave the trip a nice mountaineering flavor. I was a little disappointed that I was never in any of the cloud banks that occasionally obscurred the mountains; although they looked bad I think they were pretty innocuous and it would have been neat to have been on a summit and not be able to see the other summits.
To the chronological trip index
To the Mount Democrat page
To the Mount Cameron page
To the Mount Lincoln page
To the Mount Bross page
File last modified: 18 December 2004