Colorado’s 13ers, by Gerry Roach & Jennifer Roach

Review by Columbine Quillen

Outdoor Recreation – September 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado’s Thirteeners: 13,800 to 13,999 feet – From Hikes to Climbs
by Gerry Roach & Jennifer Roach
Published in 2001 by Fulcrom
ISBN 1-55591-419-5

THERE ARE TWO WAYS to find a route up a mountain. One is to get a map and find a drainage or valley that leads to timberline and then walk to what is obviously the highest point around. Or you can buy a guidebook.

Gerry Roach is famous for being the second man to climb the Seven Summits (the highest point on each continent). He has put out numerous books about hiking and climbing in Colorado, and his Colorado’s Fourteeners is one of his most popular books. If you see Roach speak, he will make it no secret that he wants to make money off of writing guides, and therefore it is no surprise that Fulcrum Publishing has published another book by him, this one co-written by his wife, Jennifer.

The Roaches have discovered that if you clump all of Colorado’s peaks from 13,800 to the highest mountain at 14,433 you will have a list of Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, which they label the Centennial Peaks. Therefore, this guide only includes those 13ers which have a name and are over 13,800 feet.

I used the book to climb 13,870-foot North Carbonate Peak in the Sawatch Range. I decided to climb from the Cyclone Creek Trailhead.

Anyone familiar with the format of Roach’s Fourteener book will understand the format of the Roaches’ Thirteener book. For those not familiar with the previous book, it’s a pretty simple format. After listing the name of the mountain and its height, the authors give a short description of the mountain, which includes where it sits in comparison to other mountains and the difficulty of climbing it. Then they list maps that they consider required and optional. Afterwards they list the trailheads and how to get to them by car, and finally they name the routes that can be accessed from those trailheads.

Not only is it an easy format to use, it also keeps information from getting too clumped together.

But even though the instructions to get to Cyclone Creek Trailhead sounded simple and precise, I still spent a couple of minutes truly confused. The first thing that confused me is how they could claim that Chaffee County Road 240 is passable to tough passenger cars past the Angel of Shavano Campground.

I have a gigantic spewt which I put into 4-low. After I reached the campground, I traveled at the pace of four miles per hour, and I hardly call that passenger vehicle terrain — no matter how tough the vehicle is. Although the road may be passable in some passenger cars, it shouldn’t be recommended.

Then the book told me to: “Park near the old townsite of Shavano on Cyclone Creek’s east side.”

At this point I didn’t know north from east, so I would have preferred a simpler left or right direction, especially since I was on a road.

And furthermore, the book doesn’t say where the trail starts. It happens to start right where there is a sign marking the site of the old ghost town of Shavano, so it would have been nice to have one more sentence that said, “The trailhead starts at the historic marker that identifies the townsite of Shavano.”

I left very early in the morning as all good alpinists should. I always wear my running shoes to hike up local peaks, perhaps not strongly advised by some, but I have never had any problems and doing so enables me to go a lot faster.

On this peak, though, the light shoes caused me absolute misery, along with the fact that I did not have rain pants on. The Sawatch peaks sit in a desert and although I always bring a rain jacket, it hardly ever rains hard enough to require hauling around Gor-Tex pants. The Roaches know this and I am surprised that there was not a note stating that the beginning of the trail goes through a high alpine meadow with lush grasses and shrubs that are extremely wet in the morning.

Within twenty minutes my feet were soaked all the way through, and my pants were so wet that the elastic on the tops did not want to keep them up due to the excess water weight. For six miles, I literally had to hold my sopping wet pants up while I hiked. This torture made me consider turning back at least 100 times, but I kept going.

The Roaches tell you to hike 0.9 mile to 11,180 feet and then cross Cyclone Creek. I don’t have an odometer on my feet, so I cannot tell when I have hiked exactly 0.9 mile. I can estimate the distance by noting the time, but varied and unfamiliar terrain makes it difficult to maintain a sure, steady and exact four-mile-per-hour pace so that I can look at my watch and know exactly how far I have gone. I also do not have an altimeter. But even if I did, it wouldn’t be exact, either. Therefore, it would be nice to have a description of the landscape at this point.

Right when you need to cross the creek there is a gigantic rockslide, and this fact would be more helpful to any hiker than the 0.9 mile notation. Instead, I hiked along the bottom of the rockslide until I reached some ruins which the Roaches did not mention in their book. So I was fairly sure that I was not in the right place. Therefore I waded my way through pussy willows and the stream to get to the other side.

The Roaches then tell you to go 0.9 miles more to a small pond. Considering that I was already off mileage-wise, it was no help when I reached a pond sooner than expected. Then I found a half-mile-long string of ponds. It made me start to wonder if either of the Roaches had ever even climbed this peak.

I could see Carbonate Peak, which I decided I should go up. It is an extremely steep climb up a scree field. I found that using my hands and feet was much more helpful than just walking on my legs. After reaching the top, you must cross a saddle to North Carbonate Peak.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to get over there. I needed to be home by 2 p.m. to get to work. The way back was pleasant and dry.

So the Roaches’ guide is very useful in finding peaks that you might be interested in climbing (and that you may not have even known existed), and it is somewhat useful in finding the trailhead and the summit of the peak. The book also contains some decent maps showing some of the routes and some great color photos of the peaks.

But is it better than just looking at a map, and seeing a peak, then finding your way to the top?

For less technical peaks, it probably doesn’t make that much difference. But in the case of more technical peaks or peaks that you don’t know the difficulty of, Colorado’s Thirteeners is a nice thing to have. And to maintain our mountains as reasonably pristine getaways, it is imperative to own the book so that you only tread on ground that has already been tramped on. With that in mind, I especially recommend reading the Roaches’ statement on low impact usage.

–Columbine Quillen