Blog and photos by Annie Lindgren, Sunshine Ink

At the start of 2020, I had plans to cross another five 14ers off the list. This year, where very little went as planned, it wasn’t until September that I would stand upon a summit. By the end of October, I summited eight mountains above 13,000ft elevation, visited lakes, rivers, and hot springs, hiked or 4wheeled countless miles of trails, and spent many nights sleeping under the stars. Weekend after weekend of adventuring through Colorado’s mountains dressed in fall. 

Photo album:

On a quest that started out solo, I soon found friends to join the adventures. I had put off my trip for this long because the more challenging hikes were not great to do alone. After having summited 32 of Colorado’s 58 Fourteeners, the remaining summits were more challenging and riskier.

Scarlet, my new-to-me adventure truck, in the San Juan Range, September 13, 2020.

The first weekend out was September 11 through 14, a long weekend. I set out to bag Mount Sneffels, but it had snowed a few days before, and I went early to scope out the conditions and see more of the area. I met a friend, Stephanie, who had another friend, Travis, join us after other hiking partners bailed.  Since Sneffels seemed too snowy for the route we hoped to take, we decided to summit two 13’ers instead. Jones Mountain, 13,860ft elevation, and Niagara Peak, 13,807ft elevation. They were a snowy fun adventure after a night of camping near the ghost town of Animas Forks.

Niagara Peak, September 13, 2020

I parted ways with my friends, found camp for the night, and then summited Mt Sneffels (14,150ft elevation) on Monday. I took the traditional route up and got stuck near the top where there was ice in a challenging part of the route (the notch), making it very dangerous. I found another way to climb over but was uncertain what was on the other side of it. A fall on either route could have easily ended my life. I met two people who were not far behind me, and we worked together to get through the notch. I then followed them to the summit and back down the other ridge, that I wanted to take with my friends (but was too risky to do alone).  In the end, I was able to do the summit as a Class 3 loop and didn’t have to do it alone. The views were spectacular, the best of the season. 

View from Mt Sneffels, at 14,150ft elevation, September 14, 2020

The following weekend I returned to the San Juan Range area to hike two alpine lake trails calling my name. I started on the Lake City side, camping and 4wheel driving over Cinnamon Pass and down to Silverton. On Saturday, I hiked to Columbine Lake, north of Silverton. Sunday, I left early for the Ice Lake Basin trail after camping at the South Mineral Campground. A few weeks later, a fire would burn 596 acres of this area. All of the lakes were brilliantly colored and unlike anything I had seen. Purple, teal, and blue water. The hikes were challenging, and I ended up covering 17 miles of trail, with 6,000ft of elevation gain, over 24 hours. Was excellent training for the 14ers to come. 

Ice Lake, in the San Juan Range, September 20, 2020

The last weekend of September, I went to the Maroon Bells area south of Aspen, where I would summit my first 14ers in the Elk Range. I met up with three friends, Kathleen, Stephanie, and Travis, who joined me for a Class 2/3 climb of Castle Peak (14,265ft elevation) and Conundrum Peak (14,060ft elevation). We drove the 4wheel drive road as far as we could (after camping along it the night before) and then climbed the two summits, descending the saddle between the two. The route was much more challenging than expected, with a scary descent through a steep scree slope and long snow and ice-covered stretch. This would be my first attempt at glissading with an ice ax, and it did not go well. Lost the ax 10 feet in and slid down another 100 before finally coming to a stop. I banged up a finger on a rock, trying to slow myself, and slid across a sharp rock that cut through 3 layers of clothing and a quarter-inch of butt flesh. The ice numbed things, so it took discovering bloody snow for me to even notice it happened. The gash was four inches long and would take weeks to heal.  

Kathleen, Stephanie, and Travis, along the ridge to Conundrum’s summit, 14, 060ft elevation. September, 26, 2020

Kathleen helped me bandage my wound, which would stay on for another day as the adventure continued. After dinner in Aspen and a parting of ways, Travis and I headed towards the Maroon Bells area’s west side, near Marble, CO. We camped, visited the Crystal Mill and town of Crystal, and did a fun and challenging 4wheel drive loop. Travis, who also has a Tacoma, didn’t get mad when I led the way down a really challenging road, making the loop more adventurous. Such a beautiful time to visit with full fall colors. 

Crystal Mill, near Marble, CO, September 27, 2020

The following weekend, still healing from the glissading incident, I went with Travis to the Sangre de Cristo range. We spent some time exploring the Crestone area and Great Sand Dunes, and then backpacked the Willow Lake trail, where we camped just below the lake. Sunday, we summited 14ers Challenger Peak (14,080ft elevation) and Kit Carson Peak (14,165ft elevation). Challenger was much more challenging than expected, with a relentlessly long steep, scree and loose rock-filled, and sometimes icy, slope. The whole adventure covered over 15 miles, 6,250ft of elevation gain, Class 2 and Class 3 climbs, and 17 hours on the trail. I didn’t get home until 5:00am on Monday, thoroughly exhausted. It was a top 2 most challenging 14er hike. 

Wilow Lake in the Sangre de Cristo range, at sunset, October 4, 2020

On October 10, I summited Mount Lindsey (14,042ft elevation) with Travis and Stephanie. It was an enjoyable loop where we went up the ridge and came down the gully. The Class 3 climb crossed the line into Class 4 in few places, and I enjoyed the experience, preparing for more challenging summits. Mount Lindsey was my 38th 14er summit, and as it turned out, the final summit of 2020. Happy to check six more off the list and grateful to have found friends to climb with. 

Mount Lindsey, 14,042ft Elevation, Sangre de Cristo Range, CO. We took the ridge route to the summit, and came down the gully to the left, for a Class 3 loop. October 10, 2020.

The following weekend, I had hoped to do another 14er in the San Juan Range, Wetterhorn, but the weather interfered. Maverick and I went down anyway camping, exploring fall colors, and scoping out hot springs in the Pagosa Springs area. I met up with friends for a night of camping at Lake San Cristobal in Lake City, CO. On Sunday, Kathleen and I  hiked up to Crystal Lake. It was a better choice for the day than Wetterhorn would have been but still filled with miles, elevation gain, and good conversations. It was another beautiful weekend.

Maverick and a sunset, after playing in Lake San Cristobal, Lake City, CO. October 17, 2020

The last full weekend of October, Travis and I returned to the Pagosa Springs area for camping and hot springs. Saturday, we found Rainbow Hot Springs, and Sunday it was Piedra Hot Springs. All along trails through quiet and beautiful mountain scenery, with fall colors still hanging on, and very few people out. It was a perfect weekend of relaxing and enjoying, well earned after six weeks of hardcore adventuring. 

The trail to Rainbow Hot Springs, in San Juan National Forest, October 24, 2020

As many good things come to an end, so did this season of mountain adventuring. I am grateful for the experiences and memories made along the way. Six more 14er and two more 13er summits under the soles of my shoes (which may need replacing before next season…). During a year where time with other humans was hard to come by, I was happy to have found people to enjoy mountain spaces with. 

Only twenty more 14er summits to go…

Selfie with Challenger Peak, 14,080ft elevation, on the return route from summiting Kit Carson Peak 14,165ft elevation. The most challenging hike of the season made achievable thanks to a blue bird day.

Huge thanks to Travis, Stephanie, Kathleen, and the kind strangers I met atop Mount Sneffels for a great season.

Here is an album of photos that go with this blog:

On the summit of Niagara Peak, 13,807ft elevation, with Stephanie and Travis. The first of 8 summits, all but one done with at least one of these two. So grateful for friends who love climbing mountains as much as I do.
Staying warm on a cold windy summit, with Travis, Annie, Stephanie, and Kathleen. Conundrum Peak, 14,060 ft elevation.
A great camp spot. One of many. San Juan Range, Colorado.