The alarm wakes me at 2 am. It’s going to be a good day. Coffee and packs in hand, my daughter Charlotte and I are on the road shortly after 2:30. Our destination is Mt. Sherman, one of Colorado’s many fourteeners. I'm super excited to do this with Charlotte. It is considered “easy,” which is fine by both of us. It’s our first one, we’re short on seasoned navigational skills, and since it is right next to Mt. Sheridan (a peak just 250 feet short of being a fourteener), we’ll do both and call it a day.
Eyes gritty from lack of shuteye and peeled for deer on the periphery of the highway, maneuvering rain-slicked roads, and my copilot snoozing beside me, I’m driving through the Twilight Zone. Just west of Fairplay Charlotte regains consciousness as we hit washboard on the dirt road the last ten miles to the trailhead.
We are lucky to still find parking at the top, part of the reason for arriving so early. The other, more important motivation: to summit prior to any potential thunderstorms. Just before 6:00 we’re hoofing it up the trail, my pack loaded for bear with food, water, extra clothes, hand sanitizer, and first aid. I don’t like to be hungry, thirsty, or cold, or apparently, unprepared.
Right off the bat my breathing is embarrassingly noticeable. Perhaps starting our hike at 12,000 feet has something to do with that. Luckily Charlotte is both kind and patient, and refrains from making comments about waiting for her slow mom.
Looking toward the peak, we can see headlamps of groups making their way up the mountain. Looking back down the valley, a procession of cars dots the road to the trailhead like a string of fairy lights, dust softening the high beams to a warm glow.
Mt. Sherman is named for Union General William T. Sherman, who practiced a scorched earth policy on his march to Atlanta. Mt. Sheridan is named for Union General Philip Sheridan, who succeeded Sherman as general in chief of the US army in 1883. The slopes of Sherman and Sheridan bear evidence of their zinc, gold and silver mining history. With names like Dauntless, Hilltop and Last Chance, the mining ruins lay across this bleak landscape like ghost towns. Once stalwart structures are collapsed and scattered, giant steel cables strewn across the dirt, and mine entrances blocked by sturdy bars.
The sunrise takes its sweet time, gentle peachy pink light hovering over a quilt of dove-gray clouds. We keep stopping to take pictures, so enamored with the views we can’t restrain ourselves. Closer to the summit the trail morphs to footpaths through the talus, slopes with larger rocks and boulders, compared with scree which is smaller loose rock. The sections with steep drop offs demand singular focus on the trail, at least for a heights-challenged person such as myself.
Reaching the summit of Mt. Sherman is a little like walking into a party with stellar 360’ views. I’m initially inclined to wallflower it, but Charlotte suggests a more social policy, and I’m glad she did. Tail-wagging dogs say their hellos with cold noses and big tongue-lolling grins. Friendly people trade glad-we-made-it banter. My favorites are the family from Florida. From sea level to the top of Mt. Sherman: they are happy and proud, the life of the party. They let us borrow their cardboard sign and offer to take our picture. But what really wins me over is that they’d packed enough food to be up there for a week - my kind of people.
From the saddle between the two peaks we ascend Mt. Sheridan. Summiting Sheridan is more like stepping onto an island in a sea of mist. There to greet us is an apparent cairn gone rogue, which has transformed into low stone walls making up three sides of a square. It is other-worldly, and silent. It feels like we are the only people on earth.
As we descend, I think about the people we've seen making the trek to this summit, some fit and some struggling a bit, to see the world from a high place. I'm struck by how Charlotte takes in everything around us, and her fascination with the alpine plants, reds and greens growing low to the ground in little rock gardens. I love how we've conversed on many topics, and the smiles she gives me along the trail.
We take some time to explore the mining ruins - no thunderstorms threatening today. The sky is blue and the sun is warm. We look down the valley to see the tail ends of the cars driving away. It seems we are among the last to leave, which makes us laugh. We've turned this short, "easy" trip into a five-hour adventure.
We feel spent and satisfied. A day of new perspectives - a unique and fun experience for our first fourteener. Looking forward to the next one.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT