Fifty-some fourteeners stretch to the heavens throughout Colorado. Elbert. Lincoln. Quandary. Bierstadt. The list goes on. People come from all over to conquer these peaks. Some even set out to summit them all. And some choose to do something a little different.
Three or four years ago, Brad Cole, who says he was probably sitting around a campfire sipping whiskey somewhere in the Rockies, thought it would be worthwhile to grab a set of backcountry skis and a mountain bike, proceed to the base of a fourteener and ski and bike it in one day. That’s right. Ski and bike a fourteener in one day.
Time passed. The campfire had burned out a few summers ago, but the idea kept sparking. The Rockies, along with their pesky fourteeners, kept sending up smoke signals.
And then, one Sunday in June of 2017, Brad woke with the sun, dragged his trusted friend, Kyle Leto into his 1998 Toyota pickup truck and headed up Highway 285 out of Denver. Their destination? Kite Lake with a quick stop before at Montgomery Reservoir to stash their bikes and biking gear.
There are a lot of fourteeners in Colorado. Many, however are in designated wilderness areas which rules them out. Others are too remote and have limited access.
Some face the wrong way which means one of two things. They would still have too much snow so biking would be out of the question or it would all have melted and skiing would be out of the question. What was needed, to be able to do both sports, were peaks that had access for skiing as well as bikes and conditions for both. Ultimately, after taking all of these things into account and doing a bit of research, Democrat, along with its neighbors Lincoln and Cameron fit the bill best.
WHY SKI FIRST?
Late spring ski conditions can be a bit sketchy and even sketchier as the sun heats the snow and the day grows older. Cole said, “The snow gets wet and heavy which can lead to wet slab avalanches. We wanted none of that so we chose to ski first while the snow was still frozen and in good shape.”
Upon arrival at Kite Lake around 8 a.m., Cole and Leto geared up and headed up. The roughly 2.2 mile ascent went without any hiccups. They summited around 10 a.m. The next 20 minutes the spent assessing the terrain, finding the right place to ski from and down climbing.
They then strapped on their skis, gave each other thumbs up and headed down. For nearly 50 minutes they carved glorious turns dropping 2300 feet in elevation. Cole said, “That was some of the best skiing I’ve ever done. It was so much fun.”
TOO MANY WILLOWS AND A CREEK
As the snow ran out, Cole and Leto turned their attention to the bikes. They knew it was going to be a hike to get back to where they had stashed them by Montgomery Reservoir. What they didn’t know was how difficult it would be. For the next two hours, they trudged and bushwacked along as they ran into thick stands of impassable willows. Finally, after changing directions again and running into more willows, they chose to use a flowing creek bed, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, as their way through the willows and their trail out.
After about four miles, and two hours later, the duo arrived at their bike stash. Shedding their ski gear, they grabbed a bite to eat and hopped on the bikes heading for the top of Mount Lincoln.
FOUR HOURS LATER
The bike portion started out smoothly enough, or so they thought. The map they were relying on offered directions, clear directions. But the directions assumed there were coming from the other direction. At one intersection, they hung a left and down they went, away from Mt. Wilson. After dropping roughly a mile, they realized their mistake, hauled it in, grumbled a bit and headed back up the hill.
And then they ground it out. Starting at the turnaround point at just under 12,000 feet they climbed. And they climbed and they climbed some more. Not far from the summit, a snowfield reared mightily in front of them. Extra tired from the willows, the hike out and the wrong turn, Cole and Leto thought they might have to cash it in. The summit of Mount Lincoln seemed unattainable. Cole said, “There were maybe four or five times during the day that I thought we weren’t going to be able to finish. And when we ran into this snowfield and we could see the summit, we hit a pretty low point. We were tired, really f*%king tired.”
Gathering their resolve and talking through it, they figured a way over the snowfield. After roughly 8.5 hours and nearly 18 miles since they had begun the mission, they summited Mount Lincoln. Relief settled in when they looked across to Mount Cameron and the path was clear. After taking in the views and snapping some pics, they pointed their bikes at Cameron and 15 minutes later were standing atop its peak too. Easy, right?
2400 FEET DOWN
With the downhill in front of them, the two cyclists didn’t know what to expect. They did know they had about 2400 feet to drop. They only hoped it would go
smoothly. And then it did. And about one-third of the way down it didn’t. Rocks became the order of the day. Slowing down and taking care not to crash, they picked their way through this rough and tumble section until, much to their relief and delight, the trail opened back up and they could roll. And roll they did thankful to be at the end of their day’s long journey.
DO IT ALL AGAIN?
One of Cole’s friends, who had wanted to go with them but was unable, called after and asked how it went. Eager to go do it with them at another time, he asked if they’d do it again. “Hell no”, responded Cole.
Elapsed time: 9:59:34
THE BIKE THAT TOOK BRAD TO THE TOPS