After some alpine lakes hiking in the Sangre de Cristos, and some town days in Salida, I met hiking buddies Michelle and Matthew for my first 14er.
We camped at one of the nearby FS camps the night before, but Matthew didn't get in until 3:00 am, so we got a very late start, especially after the long, slow ride up the Jeep road as far as we dared.
Once above the treeline, the ascent brought increasingly better views of distant valleys and lakes. The excitement started when we reached the famous aquamarine deposits at a saddle a few hundred feet below the summit. Rock hunters were busy there, and one of them was claimed by somebody we met to often shoot at hikers, since he believed he had a valid mining claim. (I did manage to find a stone with some far-from-gem-quality aquamarines embedded.)
The last 400 feet was pretty tough, but the spectacular view from the top was worth it. It was absurdly late when we got there, but the weather cooperated and there was no threat of lightning.
The real danger turned out to be Matthew's desire to forgo the road-walk and take a questionable trail out over the mine tailings. As I suspected, it turned the corner onto an unstable slope of talus and scree. At one point, I was dislodging a couple hundred pounds of scree with each step, which inspired me to go off toward the talus. That was mostly better going, but a few times I felt many tons of rock shifting under my meager weight. I can't record the phrase I repeated to myself every couple seconds, but I must have said it three hundred times before I reached solid ground. Michelle was waiting there, having had less difficulty, but now suffering from a bad altitude headache.
The remainder of the hike down was uneventful, and Michelle managed to drive us out (she figured riding would be even worse than driving for her head). We got out just at dark and somehow managed to set up camp a few miles away at the Iron City FS campground.
The next morning, Michelle and Matthew went to loaf at the hot spring spa near Mt. Princeton, while I spent the day exploring the semi-ghost town of St. Elmo before heading back to Salida and more hiking in the Sangres.