During the late afternoon hours of July 23rd, we grabbed our camping gear and day hiking packs and loaded up the truck for an overnight adventure to complete the famous “DeCalibron”. The DeCalibron is a 7 mile, high altitude loop trail that allows hikers to tag the summit of three or four of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners (both official and unofficial). Due to the unpredictable weather of 2015 thus far, this was our first 14er attempt of the season. We arrived in Alma, CO, which is about 10 min north of Fairplay on Hwy 9, at about 8:00 pm and slowly proceeded up the old Kite Lake Trailhead road. After 6 miles of rough dirt/rock road we reached the Kite Lake Campground just before dusk. We quickly began to set up camp before the mountains completely covered the remaining glow of the sun. Nestled at 12,000 feet above sea level, this campground offers a truly exquisite alpine camping experience. There are 5 pay campsites each with a fire ring and some with a picnic table (rate: 12 dollars per night, parking 3 dollars). Seen below are photos of the Kite Lake Campground.
We hunkered down around 10:30 pm to get some sleep. There was also a large group of girl scouts from Texas camping at a nearby site and many late night car camper arrivals which made for a somewhat loud evening. We finally drifted off in the cold mountain air, and snuggled up in our sleeping bags until the the soft white light of morning drifted into the tent. The clock read 5:00 am. We were not quite ready to move. At 5:30 am, we braved the cold morning air and began to pack up camp and make some breakfast. At 6:30 am, we were on the trail. Seen below are photos of the trailhead, Kite Lake, and our early morning start.
We planned on summiting Mount Democrat first and then evaluating the weather and our stamina to determine whether to continue the loop route. The trip up Democrat proved to be as easy as a 14er can be. It was a beautiful cool morning hike, and we were greeted with sweeping views of the Sawatch Range and distant high plains. Old mining relics littered parts of the trail. When we reached the last half mile of the trek, the trail turned from Class I to Class II. We enjoyed climbing over some rocks and a little route finding before we reached the false summit. A short jaunt over a remaining snowfield as well as a 50 foot ascent up a well defined trail led us to the summit. Seen below are photographs of our ascent to Mt. Democrat.
We reached the summit at approximately 8:00 am, an hour and a half after we started. From the Kite Lake TH to the summit of Mt. Democrat is only about 2 miles and 2,150 feet of elevation gain. Mt. Democrat is 14,148 feet tall (some sites say 14,154) and ranked 28th in height compared to all official 14ers. Seen below are photographs of our first summit of the day/season!
It was still quite cold on the summit, and after a few photographs we began to descend to the saddle of Mt. Democrat and Mt. Cameron. Once we reached the saddle, we decided it was early enough to continue towards Mt. Cameron. We lost approximately 786 feet in our descent according to our GPS unit. It is roughly 873 feet of elevation gain to reach Mt. Cameron which serves as a mid way point to Mt. Lincoln. Mt. Cameron is approximately 14,238 feet tall, but isn’t classified as an official peak due to its lack of prominence from Mt. Lincoln. (It must rise at least 300 feet from the saddle). The trail is a bit rocky, but quite manageable up to Mt. Cameron. We hiked for a while on the ridgeline above 14,000 feet before actually reaching Cameron. Seen below are photos of the hike up the saddle and ridgeline.
Cameron has a large flat summit that was quite honestly anticlimactic. We shared the summit with only 2 other people, though it was large enough to have a party with over 100. We took a few photographs and continued onward. Seen below are photos of the summit of Mt. Cameron.
We could see the summit of Mt. Lincoln close by, and quickly began a mild descent into the saddle (156 feet) and a short climb back up to her summit (215 feet). Mt. Lincoln has a much smaller, rocky, jagged summit. It was quite different than Cameron and offered amazing views. Unfortunately, as we reached the top it started to sleet. It was 10:05 am. The weather forecast predicted sunshine all day. Another testament to the unpredictability of mountain forecasts. We took a few summit photographs, and a nice couple took our picture. Again we shared the summit with only two other people.
We proceeded down Mt. Lincoln and instead of heading back up Cameron, took the trail that skirted her summit and led toward Mt. Bross. The trail was mostly downhill and flat for much of the saddle between Bross and Cameron. This portion of the loop contained lots of red rock and maintained the look of a mined mountain. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of 14er routes. It should be noted that Mt. Bross, standing at 14,172 feet is a 14er that is currently deemed private property. There are several signs that state attaining her summit is illegal and that a a trail that circumvents the top of the summit is available as part of the loop back to the Kite Lake TH. 14ers.com states that hikers/climbers should respect these signs as officials continue to “work” with owners to allow for open access, and that climbing without permission may jeopardize this effort. Well, we called people with the 14ers initiative and spoke with various park rangers. There is no active effort that we could currently find into helping the public gain legal access to the summit. In fact, part of the problem is that several of the owners of Mt. Bross cannot be located to give permission. For legality reasons, we will not include in this post whether or not we reached the summit of Mt. Bross. Seen below are photographs summarizing our experiences with the Mount Bross portion of the trip.
The descent from the Bross portion of the loop was not a highlight of the hike for us. There was extremely loose rock and scree on very steep terrain. We kept thinking the trail would improve around the corner, but it never did. We saw several people fall on the way down (not off a cliff or anything). It also began to rain on the way down making conditions even more dicey. Seen below are photographs of the horrible descent.
As we got closer to the trailhead, a trail runner sped past us at top speeds down the scree field. These can be very humbling moments on the mountain, and we still have no idea how he managed to navigate that terrain while running. As the lake got closer and our legs got more tired, the trail opened up into a lush wildflower abundant meadow. A waterfall greeted us to our right. There was a silver lining to this portion of the trail after all, and it materialized in the form of a colorful array of botanical beauty. The most amazing part of this was the mind blowing diversity of wildflowers. Seen below are the wildflowers and falls near Kite Lake.
We concluded our trip back in the Kite Lake parking lot. The steady light rain had turned to heavy rain, and we were glad to be back. We reached the truck at about 12:45 pm which made our RT time 6 hours and 15 min. Overall, the route was moderate in our opinion compared to other 14ers. The sustained time above 13,000 feet on the route, and the Mt. Bross scree descent aided in this ranking. Accorrding to the Garmin Forerunner 15 GPS watch, we covered a little over 7 miles and 3,600 feet of net elevation gain. Overall, we highly recommend a visit to Kite Lake Campground and the amazing 14ers that tower behind.
Writing by Allyson Sandifer Checkley
Photography by Thomas Checkley