Scaling peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains was getting a bit too routine for a couple of fit guys from Holly Springs, North Carolina. Daniel Weeks, a municipal analyst, and Clint Hardin, wilderness EMT, had done Mitchell and Rogers and ventured north to Mount Washington, New Hampshire. But the guys wanted a bigger challenge, so Weeks sniffed out a worthy one after he hit upon a website called 14ers.com: Climb Colorado’s three highest mountains, all above 14,000 feet, in three days. They knew from Weeks’s research that the peaks in question – Elbert, Massive, and Harvard – were close to one another in the Sawatch Range southwest of Leadville. “We didn’t have time for a long trip, so what better way than back-to-back-to-back?” recalls Weeks. Ultimately, thanks to a bit of local beta, they ended up bagging not three, but six 14ers.
First up was Mount Massive, at 14,421 feet the second-highest peak in the Rockies. “It’s a huge mountain,” says Weeks. The 14-mile round-trip and 4,500-foot climb, much of it over talus fields and boulders, proved to be their toughest day. They felt the effect of the altitude at around 13,500 feet – Hardin was light-headed and a bit queasy – but a rest stop and triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwiches fortified an extremely windy summit push. “It was an amazing experience being up there,” says Weeks. “We could see Elbert (next day’s goal) and 360 degrees of snowy peaks. And no one else was there.” Back down in Leadville, the climbers grabbed burritos and, a nightly ritual, a Colorado microbrew, at the Tennessee Pass Cafe, and crashed at the Mountain Peaks Motel Elbert. Mount Elbert (14,433 feet), the highest peak in the Rockies, entails over 4,000 feet of climbing. It was during their descent that they met a climber who told them about an epic route known locally as DeCaLiBron – 14ers so close to one another that all four could be ticked off in one day.
The change of plans required finding a new map, which they did at a Leadville bookstore, and a 4 a.m. departure. After stashing a couple of bottles in a stream near the trailhead, they marched up Democrat, dropped to a saddle, then made a long slog to Cameron. Lincoln took only an extra 15 minutes, and Bross another 45.
“Although our legs wanted a rest, it wasn’t that big a deal to do four in one day,” says Weeks. “Our legs were calling for Gatorade, and we’d been feeding them beer.” To which they returned after a very steep descent across razor-sharp talus: two Alaskan Ales chilled in the stream. No brew ever tasted better.
Getting There:Plan precisely, because efficiency is key in bagging several big mountains with limited time. 14ers.com has route descriptions, maps, trip reports, and updates on conditions for every 14er in Colorado. More important, it lists the other nearest 14ers and groups peaks by difficulty and height.