Alison’s last words were “Don’t forget to hydrate” so at 3:10 AM I had a beer.
Dialogs Unlimited, Inc. is a group of men who have met annually for over twenty years to renew their friendship and test their physical prowess by climbing mountains. Colorado 14ers (Over 14,000 feet in elevation) being their favorites. September 14 10:00 PM I jumped in a car with some of them at the Denver Airport and headed east towards the Collegiate Mountain Range.
Way past midnight I found myself two and half miles up a forest service road, one that looked like a washed out creek bed, we’re still looking for that stunning mountain home we saw in the pictures on the internet. We literally had to move boulders to find it.
The other car had left 2 hours earlier so we thought we were following them but we weren’t. Thoroughly disgusted we met them coming up as we were coming down. They had dinner, they got lost. Facing each other, neither car having enough room to pass the other, we all decided that the house we rented was an Internet scam.
House on a creek, big enough to sleep 12, free wifi, cable, washer and dryer, only ten minutes to town: It all seemed too good to be true and maybe it was. The $2,000 plus rental fee that was wired upfront was gone and we were standing around freezing in the middle of nowhere.
At 3:10 AM, on the way to Buena Vista, I had a beer. The first thing I had eaten or drunk in 8 hours. By around 4:00 I pulled the covers over my head in a dumpy little motel room with no heat. No plush mountain home for us. Mid morning wake up and I looked around to see the ugliest surroundings that I’ve been in since, maybe, that first trip to New Orleans when I was nineteen.
Some may be polite and call it funky but imagine a room furnished with stuff purchased from a flea market. About half the light fixtures were merely empty sockets; the ceiling in the bathroom had flakes the size of silver dollars and black mildew creeping from the edges. My bed stand light was actually a canning jar filled with buttons with a metal top holding a light bulb, it didn’t work.
Crud aside at least I had a hot shower before a late morning breakfast. With the help of the chipper waitress we were directed to a rental agency and looked at a condo to rent for the remainder of our stay. We met up with the other half of our group at the Rooster’s Crow Restaurant. Just so happened the local police captain and county sheriff were there and we reiterated our tale of woe to them. They were friendly but not much help, however, it got me to thinking how we might as well see if we could gather more information about the people behind the internet scam. Also in the back of my mind I just didn’t want to believe that it was all a hoax.
I went outside of the restaurant and called the two numbers listed on the Internet site. No answer but I left a message telling them my name was Robert Lee, that I happened to be in Buena Vista and wanted to rent their cabin as soon as possible.
Not long after that I received a call back from a woman named Elizabeth who told me I couldn’t go see the rental because it was being occupied until Sunday. I told her it was OK, would she please give me directions and I could at least drive by. The directions she gave me were quite different than the ones we followed the previous night.
So off we went. The directions lead us to an area much closer to town and as we turned a corner, there it was, a most beautiful mountain home, near a creek with a fantastic view of the Chalk Cliffs – not a fake Internet scam at all.
I called Elizabeth back, identifying myself as to who I really was and explained why I had resorted to such a subterfuge. She was put out that we would even think she was involved in something fraudulent.
The place was everything the Internet ad said it was and more. Beautifully appointed, roomy, craftsman built. She even called back to tell us she would refund the previous night’s rent or let us stay another day. We opted to stay another day.
So it wasn’t until the second day we packed up our gear to go climb a mountain. Like many of the 14teeners, Mt Belford was a relatively benign climb with little technical climbing. We did miss a stream crossing and had to bushwhack a bit, but it was the elevation that wore me down.
Mt Baker Ski Area near home, along with other climbs nearby, had only put me up to about 4,000 feet. Mt Belford started us out at roughly 10,000 and then added another 4,200 feet to the top. I wasn’t used to the thin air and my progress was eventually reduced to a few hundred steps before I had to stop and catch my breath.
Along the way we saw mountain goats and broad mountain vistas, very dissimilar to the forested mountainous views of Washington State. The marmots and picas were out gathering their final goodies before winter’s onset and much of the short vegetation had begun to turn to autumns’ colors.
The ultra running training helped me a lot on the climb and based on Alison’s admonition I packed a lot of water laced with an energy powder, I had some Shot Blocks and I saved my solid food till we were about two thirds up. I was going slowly but I was ready to summit with energy to spare. About 600 feet from the top the weather turned nasty. Wind and icy snow pellets blanketed the summit and visibility was reduced to a few feet. We decided to turn back.
At the upper elevation we had climbed switchbacks composed of rocky steps, they seemed much taller and steeper on the way down. I was grateful for my recent purchase of trekking poles. Overall we hiked about seven hours and I was pretty spent by the time we returned to the car. I hadn’t bagged a 14teener by reaching the summit but it was close and a real accomplishment for me. A beer or two and a great dinner with a bunch of good guys was my reward.