Decalibron – Mt. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross 08.13.2008

Decalibron camp above Kite LakeThe Decalibron is the name given to the attempt to bag the three (Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bros) 14ers closely bundled around Kite Lake near Alma Colorado. It also includes the opportunity to bag Mt. Cameron, which is not considered a “true” 14er because it does not rise up enough on its own from the saddle between Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Bros. This year the Decalibron was opened back up after the US Forest service came to an agreement with the mine owners allowing access to the public. I had wanted to do this for a few years but it had been closed previously. None of my mountain friends wanted or could go along this time so I decided to go solo and check it out in August.

I had all my gear packed and ready to go and left work in Boulder a couple hours early to get to Kite Lake Campground by dusk. Drove up I70 to the Breckenridge exit, then route 9 past Breck to Alma. Traffic co-operated and I happened to stop to ask for “where’s the turn off to Kite Lake?” at a coffee shop that was right at the turn off, and soon enough I was there. There are paid campsites at Kite Lake right at the end of the road and I took a quick survey to see if I would use one. There are all close in to the parking, which is good or bad depending on your point of view. I was on my own and did not want company or the chance of noisy neighbors So I paid for my day-use parking, left the slip in the box and packed up my gear to head up with the idea I could plant my shelter up near where the alpine terrain ended and get a mile or two off the route.
Being August the high valley was in full glory, carpeted with all manner of lush flora and flowers in bloom. The weather was just right – clear but with mixed clouds, not clearly showing what was coming which is how an adventure should go. After making my way up a mile or so as if I was going up Mt. Democrat, I turned off the trail and followed a small stream till the alpine terrain ended at the scree fields below Mt Democrat. In the shelter of some large boulders I pitched my Sierra Designs Assailant shelter and settled in for a restful night. A series of thunderstorms rolled through but I felt secure down in my boulder field and the lightening sounded not-too-close.
When my alarm went off around 4am it was raining lightly, so I decided to stay warm and cozy for another hour to see if it would lift. I saw some headlamps making there way up from the lot but I didn’t want to deal with the wet since it looked like the clouds were lifting away. Sure enough, in another hour it was barely sprinkling so I looked over my gear and decided the strategy for the day. Super light was going to work. My understanding was that in 6 hours or continuous hiking could complete the circuit so after drinking a liter of water I filtered one more liter and brought that with no water filter thinking there would be no opportunity to filter more. I did not even bring a small pack. Being the liter of water fit in my breast pocket. Some power bars, small camera, GPS, trekking poles, headlamp, and my North Face layers, and paper map with the route info completed my gear. I had never attempted a multiple 14er route so light. I could see a few sets of headlamps on the route I was going to take which was to go up Democrat first, then double back to the saddle between Democrat and Lincoln/Cameron, up Cameron, then Lincoln, then across the backside to Bross dropping down at the first opportunity to my high camp leaving my pack and the rest of my gear in my shelter.

The trail was easy to follow and I found myself gaining on the first party ahead of me. They were carrying large packs and I was not so encumbered so I passed them before the first saddle. The dawn light lit up Democrat with its red hues and the sky continued to clear. The first party up Democrat that morning passed me coming down from the summit and spoke of the fine sunrise they had witnessed on its summit. Closing in on the summit it was incredible to see the former high mine/ shelter just a few hundred feet off the summit of Democrat. Completely obliterated by multiple lightening strikes one can only imagine what it was like for those intrepid miners up around 14,000 feet. At the summit I asked another visitor to take a snap as the sun started its rise. I didn’t stay long and started bounding my way back down to the saddle.

On my way down I saw more headlamp parties making there way, clearly there were many others who had been wanting to try this as well and were taking advantage of the good weather. I passed another group on my way up Cameron, which raised enough up from the saddle that I felt it was worthy of being a mountain in its own right by the standard it actually is not. From Cameron’s’ summit you can see Lincoln and Bross with Lincoln being the more distinctive of the two. My Bross is smooth and rounded while Lincoln has some jaggedness to it. Just before the summit of Lincoln I passed the last group that had been in from of me. They also were burdened by larger packs and I was down to a half liter of water as the only real weight I was carrying. I also realized that as long as the weather held my super light approach was indeed wise for I had not seen any opportunity to filter more water so it would have been a waste to carry a filter.
From Lincoln the trail to Mt Bross crosses the backside of the ridge between, and it’s a gradual nice hike. The truly bizarre thing was that I came across a pickup truck that some idiot had driven from one of the Mt. Bross access roads as if the thought they could drive it across this scree-trail to? The top of My Lincoln? Who knows, it was stuck in the scree, off the main trail, just about ready to roll. Idiots. I though about how many hikers who pass the abandoned vehicle would consider giving it a shove to see it roll down to complete and utter ruin, but that would only take more of a toll on this incredible place. I only hope the fool was fined appropriately and make the laughing stock. Mt Bross is the most indistinct 14er I have been on and the mining toll on its form has been heavy. It was a challenge to find the summit marker and I didn’t stay longer than a minute or two on top.
I continued North East from the summit of Mt. Bross with the hopes that I could descend one of the scree fields and manage a short cut back to my camp for a post Decalibron Brunch. I got to survey a few chutes and decided on a route down that looked promising from up top. I boot-skied some late summer snowfields and then scree-skied down down down and made really good time down to the valley below without turning an ankle or taking a fall. I found myself back at my camp before noon very pleased with the route and plan. After a nice long relaxing lunch I packed my gear, hiked back to my Jeep, and drove back toward Boulder dreaming of the next trip to the high country I love.