I’m not sure whether we are just optimistic parents or just plain nuts because we decided to take Peter, Emma, Abby, and Madeline on a 14er up to the summit of Mt. Huron. Mike and I hiked this last summer and thought it was one of the easiest 14er's so we figured our kids would have no problems. Emma and Peter really didn’t struggle at all during our hike while Abby and Madeline definitely had their moments of dislike for us on the trail. The weather was a little cooler when we started and since it was the fall with no worry about afternoon thunderstorms, we knew we could leave later in the morning. We were on the trail by 9:30am and started our adventure with Madeline out of the pack and walking right with us. We put her in the backpack to begin with but she was quick to tell us that she wanted to walk. She hiked for the first ¾ of a mile up the trail and just had the best time. We didn’t stop that much the first mile. It was uphill, of course, but the trail was mostly straight. By the time we made it to the switchbacks we put Madeline in the backpack and Mike carried her through the 16+ switchbacks. We did stop a few times for snacks and to remind the kids to be drinking plenty of water and to just rest our legs from the mildly rocky and steep switchbacks. Mike was really good about letting Abby know when we would be done with the switchbacks. It was important to give her updates about the upcoming sections of the trail. Up until this point most everyone was pretty happy and doing quite well on the trail. Madeline had a few moments of sadness, but it was probably because she wasn’t used to sitting in the pack for long periods of time. We tried to entertain her by singing songs and at one point I turned on some kid songs from my iPhone to keep her spirits up. That lasted until we popped out up and onto the meadow area of the hike.
The meadow section is such a fun part of the trail. It’s not steep and it levels out quite a bit. We told Abby it was flat, to which she replied, “This is not flat AT ALL.” I replied, “This is as flat as you get climbing up a mountain.” I’m not sure she loved that response, but it was true. It was flat enough that you didn’t feel like you had to work very hard. Peter, Emma, and Mike went ahead while I walked with Abby across the “flat” meadow trail. We only stopped a few times to rest our legs for only a few seconds before continuing on. We finally made it to the end of the meadow where we met the others at a large rock at the bottom of the next big push up the mountain. We stopped there for a good 10-15 minutes to actually sit down and have some snacks and hunker down out of the wind. We ate grapes, various cheeses and crackers. It felt good to eat and to sit. At this point it was either turn around and head back or push it to the top. We decided to keep on pushing. Mike continued to carry Madeline, for which I was super grateful. The wind started to pick up and so we decided to grab the bigger blanket we had brought in our packs and put it over Madeline’s pack so we could cover up her legs. Her pants kept riding up and so there was a small section of her leg that was exposed. As strong as Mike is, I could tell that this was taking a toll on him. With the extra weight from carrying her coupled with the ridiculous wind it made our journey quite hard. Madeline was not a happy camper by this point. We had her all bundled up in the pack, but I could tell she was tired and a bit cold. At one point we took her out of the pack and took turns just carrying her in our arms. I could literally only do it for 20 ft at a time. It became frustrating that we were not moving very fast. Where once our hands were nice and warm, the wind started to turn our hands numb and cold. I’m not going to lie; this was a much harder ascent this time around. Between Madeline and Abby, Mike and I were struggling to keep their spirits up and our own. We let Peter climb ahead since he is such a fast hiker and Emma even took off. She ended up coming back down the trail several times because she didn’t want to get that far ahead. Other travelers along the way told her, “You will have hiked more than anyone else as you go up and down and up and down the trail.” She got a chuckle out of that. Once we made it to the cathedral spires, it was the last rocky scramble to the summit. With only 400 ft of rocky scramble we were too close to quit. I think we all cried a little bit as we made our way to the top. Abby had several melt downs and Madeline had fallen somewhat asleep from all the trauma from the wind. I kept checking on her and calling her name just to make sure she was conscious. She was ok; just tired and a little cold. At one-point Abby refused to go any further. Another hiker was making his way down and stopped to give her some of his oxygen. She immediately perked right up. She and Mike took turns getting some more oxygen in their lungs before continuing on. That sweet traveler let Abby keep the remainder of the oxygen to use on her way up. It was really sweet. We all did make it to the top and stopped very quickly for a quick photo. Peter had been sitting there for an hour by the time we arrived. He was pretty cold, but he hunkered down behind some rocks to wait for us. He is pretty experienced with climbing 14ers so we knew he would be ok. The views from the top were pretty remarkable. It was too bad it was so windy because we really couldn’t spend very much time up there.
The rocky scramble back down to the cathedral spires was probably the worst part of the hike. It was hard to find the path we had come up and we got a little off the beaten path at the beginning. Tempers flared a bit, but we did make it back to the real trail. All I could think of was poor Mike. He had carried Madeline in a pack with the wind blowing him all around. I couldn’t have done what he did. I wanted to get down this next section back to the meadow fast and the only way to do that was if Abby hiked at the same pace as the rest of us. I linked arms with her, and we just flew down the mountain. Every time we turned on the trail, we switched positions so that she was closer to the mountain. That made her more comfortable and she was able to keep up a good pace. It was so crazy how our hands started to unthaw the further down the trail we climbed. As we neared the last section of this part of the hike, I noticed Mike was slowing down, so I let Abby and Peter go ahead while I waited for Mike. Emma had already made her way into the meadow by that point. Later Mike told me that his legs were starting to shake uncontrollably so he had to stop more. By the time we made it to the meadow we all met up at the same rock as before and ate our lunch. We should have eaten earlier but it was way too cold at the top so this was the first place we could eat. Mike took off the pack and laid down on the ground. Madeline finally perked up but didn’t eat a lot of her sandwich but was happy to eat tons of fruit snacks. After a good period of resting I took the backpack and carried Madeline down most of the way down. She was quite the chatterbox on the way down and her spirits were pretty good. I think she was happy to be warmer and out of the wind. Just when I was about ready to be done carrying Madeline, she wanted to get out and walk. Thank goodness. She walked the last ¾ of a mile back to the trailhead. It was so cute listening to her little conversations with me. She talked about all sorts of funny things. It made the last part of our hike rather enjoyable. By the time we all made it back to the car we were so relieved and proud that we had made it together to the top of Mt. Huron. Did we push ourselves past our limits…maybe? But what could be better than teaching our kids that they can do hard things. Afterall, there are always life lessons when hiking in the mountains together!
Our first adventure on our mountain getaway was going for a hike on the Willis Gulch Trail right next to Twin Lakes. The trail was only a 10 min drive from the cabin. The weather was pretty great and although we started out with coats, we quickly shed those as we warmed up on the beginning of our hike. The most amazing thing about this hike were the views of all the aspen trees and their brightly colored leaves. It was like walking in a wonderland of yellow and orange. We hiked along the Willis Gulch Cutoff trail until for about a mile until it ran right into the main part of the Big Willis Gulch Trail. Madeline walked a good portion of this trail and had the best time in her new hiking shoes. She was quite the chatterbox while she was hiking. It really was quite impressive that she could hold a steady pace while hiking uphill. Along the trail we had great views of the Twin Lakes, a sweet waterfall, and yellow line pathways full of fall aspen leaves. As we neared the junction where our trail met up with the main trail, we had a few options. We could have kept on hiking upward towards Willis Lake, but it was another couple of miles and we thought it was better to keep today’s hike shorter since we planned on doing a bigger hike the next day. That turned out to be the wise choice. We cut down on the main Willis Gulch trail back down the mountain to make one big loop. We found a few good spots to stop and eat lunch but every time we sat down to eat our lunch, a few bees quickly smelled our sweet sandwiches and swarmed us. To say that Madeline is scared of bees, flies and pretty much anything that buzzes is an understatement. She literally freaked out, so we packed up our lunch and ate it on the move. The last beautiful section was 100 yards long of the most beautiful yellow wooded area. It was magical. We could have spent all day playing there.
After getting back to our car we headed up County Road 24 towards Mt. Elbert and found a place to park the van. Then we all piled into Mike’s car to do some off-roading to see more beautiful fall leaves. Abby opted to sit in the trunk so that Madeline could have her own seat in the middle row. We adventured on Colorado Trail Segment 11 and had the best time. We stopped every once in a while to take photos of the trees but then quickly got back in the truck for some more bumpy fun. We made it all the way up to some cool lakes and decided to get out and enjoy the view before heading back down the trail to where the van was parked. We piled into both cars and headed to Leadville to grab some ice-cream and see the cute little town. Everyone fell asleep on the way to Leadville, but the talk of ice-cream quickly woke everyone up. Madeline enjoyed her baby cone. It was jus the right size for a three year old. We ate our ice-cream and then headed onto Country Rd 105 towards Turquoise Lake Rd. We found another good spot for the van and piled once again into Mike’s car to do some more off-roading to Hagerman’s Pass where the Continental Divide is. This ride was much bumpier and definitely only a road for 4-wheel drive. There were a few scary sections where we were somewhat angled against the side of the mountain to get around some deeper ruts, but Mike navigated his way along the road nicely. He didn’t even have to use all the off-road features on his car. It was fairly windy at the top of Hagerman’s Pass. We got out for a quick photo. Luckily there was a truck right behind us that stopped at the same time to take photos at the sign. The look on their faces as we all piled out of the car was priceless. I imagine it was similar to watching a million clowns pile out of a car. I don’t think they expected 4 kids to get out of the car. After a quick pit stop, we headed back down the same way we came all the way to the van. We split ourselves between the two cars and drove into the town of Leadville to order pizza from a local pizza restaurant. Mike ordered it to go and we all enjoyed a yummy dinner back at the cabin. Then it was movie night and making cinnamon rolls for conference weekend.