Shortly after summiting our sixth 14er together as a family, following the requisite celebration and pictures, an obnoxious middle schooler arrived to rain on our parade, proclaiming that Mount Sherman is easy and doesn’t even really count as a 14er, since the hike doesn’t gain more than 2,500 feet in elevation. While he was right about the elevation and the fact that Mount Sherman is considered one of the easiest 14ers, it was all we could do to maintain a friendly demeanor with heart rates still elevated from huffing and puffing up the steep final ridge to the summit. His mother made us question why they bothered to climb the mountain in the first place with her complaining about how crowded with tourists “Mount Sherm” usually is and “they’ll probably build a Starbucks up here some day” and her oh-so-casual mention of having climbed Capitol Peak with famed “Knife’s Edge,” one of the hardest 14ers. Fortunately, a mature couple had just then arrived to divert our attention and trumped the dismissive woman and her child with stories of trekking in the Andes and Himalayas at a higher elevation than where we were standing and looking up at 20,000 feet peaks. And yet, despite those exotic experiences, this couple marveled at the view right along with us, asked questions about landmarks, and quickly made friends as fellow climbers on this day.
The classic guidebook by the Colorado Mountain Club, The Colorado 14ers: Standard Routes, states “The climbers who have shared their knowledge of the Colorado Fourteeners and suggested ratings in the book maintain that there are really no “easy” mountains. Slippery cliffs, falling rock, crumbling ledges, heaving talus slopes, and abrupt changes in the weather can change a pleasant hike into a difficult climb. Thus, none of the mountains is rated “easy” to climb.” So what if climbing Mount Sherman involves less than 2,500 feet of elevation gain; it still gains that elevation in less than three miles and at 14,036 feet, the air is just as thin as it is on Capitol Peak. And who cares anyway? Any day in the mountains is a good day. We climbed another 14er together and no know-it-all pre-teen or pretentious woman could ruin this good day.
It started a bit ominously though, with gray clouds overhead and a fierce west wind as we started up the trail past the abandoned Dauntless mine. Our new rescue dog Luna led the way as we worked our way past mine debris. She enjoyed playing in the snow that persisted along the old mining road trail. After zig-zagging up past the Hilltop mine, we arrived at the foot of Mount Sherman’s southwest ridge. Here is where the “not easy” part starts, with a steep climb over loose rock and some traverses over the narrow ridge. It’s no “Knife’s Edge” but neither is it a walk in the park. The weather continued to cooperate, although we added and removed layers of clothing several times as we moved in and out of the wind.
We did have an advantage that made the hike easier: taking turns letting sure-footed Luna pull us up the incline. She did great on her first 14er and added additional joy to the day. Despite the winds on the way up, the top was relatively calm and we enjoyed eating lunch with our new friends, the world-hikers. We discovered that they were from Arlington, Texas, my hometown, which led to further conversation. They expressed appreciation that we were welcoming to them, unlike some other people from Colorado they had encountered. I suppose our living somewhere else for many years and experiencing the state as tourists ourselves has something to do with that. Aside from some mining claims and one notable exception in southern Colorado, nobody “owns” the 14ers and we always feel like we are just visiting ourselves, even though we’re on a day trip and not a week long vacation. The only true Colorado natives are Native Americans and even they migrated here at some point in the past. Only the animals live year-round on top of these mountains and I often wonder what they think about the strange creatures who visit in summer. So a little humility is in order for all of us.
Although we run into disagreeable people from time to time, we find that most people in the mountains are courteous and friendly, bound by shared experiences and the beautiful scenery. Oh, and on the way up, we happened to pass some girls who went to the same high school with our daughters. The hike down was uneventful and the weather continued to hold. The sun even came out briefly as we arrived back at our vehicle. All part of the wonder of this day. Within seconds of jumping into the back of our SUV, Luna was fast asleep, so even with all her energy the hike was challenging. We weren’t as exhausted as we have been on other mountains, but it always feels good to take the hiking boots off after a strenuous outing. Easy or not, Mount Sherman counts as a great hike in our book.
“The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.” Psalm 104:18