Many years ago, I made a pact with myself to climb one 14er (a 14,000 foot peak) a year for as long as I am physically able to. I managed to do this for a few years before life got busy and days in the mountains took a back seat. But now I have more spare time and have been hiking for most of the summer so the timing seemed right to start my goal over again. However, I wanted to do an “easy” one and with the help of a friend (hi Mike!) we chose Quandary Peak as the best possible option. Quandary is a mountain near Breckenridge Colorado, less than a couple of hours from where I live, near Boulder. The only problem with picking an “easy” 14er within driving distance of a major metropolitan city (Denver) is that you can expect a small army of hikers who are thinking exactly the same thing. So this would not be a hike in solitude but rather a hike more closely resembling a conga line to the summit. Foreshadowing?
No matter how fit you are, high elevation has a way of taking you down a notch or two. Even though I had been hiking a lot over the summer, I noticed the lack of oxygen almost immediately after leaving the car at the trailhead, at 10,900 feet above sea level. The mountain introduced itself to us straight away by letting us know that this would be no “easy” climb. I was carrying a simple day pack with a few essentials like Vanilla Coke, trail mix, camera, aspirin, etc. and felt good that I had not overpacked. I was as light as I could hope to be, gear wise anyway. We hiked along pretty well for quite awhile before we ‘really’ started to notice the effects of the higher altitudes. It slowed us down tremendously but we were outside on a crisp late summer day and we were just taking our time getting up the hill, just happy to be up high again.
When I hike or spend time in the outdoors, I prefer solitude over crowds. Today, I had to accept the fact that there would be large numbers of hikers and there most certainly were. Recently, I have been doing a cruiser bike ride on Thursday nights in Boulder with a couple of hundred, mostly college aged cyclists. On these rides, I have noticed that most of the younger crowd is just out to have fun, and that they generally behave in a respectful manner. I have found that I enjoy being around their youthful energy. Unintentionally, this prepared me for being around a bigger crowd of like-minded people just like the ones I would see on the trail today.
We continued to make our way up the mountain step by step and as we did, a rumor of something unheard of began to filter down to us from hikers that had already reached the summit, that some guys had carried a keg of beer to the top and that if we didn’t hurry, we would miss out on having a a cup at the top. At first, I scoffed at the idea that anyone or any group of people would, could, or should carry a keg up a mountain when I could barely carry my light pack with snacks. But the more we passed other hikers with the same news, the more exciting getting to the summit was becoming. The anticipation of confirming the validity of the rumors was actually helping to take my mind off of the trials of the hike.
As we neared the top, we could hear a group of people counting, but we had no idea why. We could also see a fairly big group of people on the summit gathered around in a circle. So what we heard was that some guy set a goal to climb all 53 of Colorado’s 14ers in one summer, and this was his last one to complete what is a very monumental feat. His buddies decided to bring a keg to the top of the last 14er to celebrate his accomplishment. Truth really is stranger than fiction – when we reached the summit, there was said keg on top of said 14er in all of its silver glory, glistening like a trophy. Everyone who made it to the top, strangers alike, were offered a beer. Although it was very foamy and not my beloved Fat Tire (it was PBR I believe), it was the best beer I’ve ever had on a 14er (okay, it’s the only beer I’ve had on a 14er).
Now to the counting we heard from below, as it turns out the millinials were counting off the seconds that a few brave (read crazy) souls were doing ‘keg stands’. So this was to be a special ’14er’ keg stand where the goal was to last 14 seconds. Man after man tried and failed until a woman in her late twenties managed a 16 second keg stand. When they flipped her back up, she had tears rolling down her cheeks. Tears of joy? Beer in her eyes? Lack of oxygen? Tears of sorrow for not making it further than 16 seconds? Realizing there was no hospital nearby?! I have no idea, but whatever the reason…very impressive, and fun to be a part of.
And how did they get the keg up to the top? They made an apparatus out of PVC pipe and plywood with the keg strapped to it so that two people (or even four) could carry it up to the top (they must’ve been Engineering majors). They took turns carrying it up, but comparing their load to the load I carried, it looked much more impressive for them, not so much for me. This may explain though why everyone got a free beer at the top…so they could carry an empty keg back down instead of one with the excess weight of beer they couldn’t finish. Again, impressive!
My first 14er in many years and there was a kegger on the summit! Crazy. Awesome. Fun.