Roads Rivers and Trails

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Peak Bagging 14ers

By: Ben Shaw

*For more on this story join us February 13th at 7PM at Roads Rivers and Trails in downtown Milford for a more in-depth presentation by the trip participants. (2020)

Going on the first adventure of 2020, only took me a few days…  I’d been planning this one for months though, getting out to Colorado again and climbing some snowy mountains has been in the back of my mind for years now.  The weeks leading up, I obsessed about routes, weather, avalanche conditions and all the other things you actually have very little control over. When the week of the trip hit, I oddly found myself in a funk.  The most experienced climber of the group bailed out on Monday and I started having weird shoulder pains on Tuesday.  I shrugged it off, still excited, celebrated New Years and packed for the trip.  As I got closer to leaving that Saturday I could feel my “funk” start to go away, but unfortunately some of it was still hanging on.


“In the mountaineering parlance of the Western US, a fourteener is a peak with an elevation of at least 14,000′. There are 96 fourteeners in the United States. Colorado has the most (53) of any state”


We left at 3 AM on a Saturday morning with the intent to be in Colorado Springs in the evening. The plan was to spend the night with our friends Olivia and Ike, who would then join us on our trip.  On the car ride out, I started to notice the conditions on Bierstadt were already changing, with high winds, colder temperatures and potentially snow forecast for our prospective first summit day.  Joining me on the trip were friends Dalton and Toren. I tried to put my thoughts to rest with a combination of laughing at shared stories and playing “My Cows”, but that didn’t help much.  I made the call to push our summit day up, our plans were already changing.  On top of that, an hour outside of Colorado Springs I got a fever and almost passed out, the trip was going swimmingly…  After getting to our friend’s house and throwing down a few slices of pizza we all got to bed early for our 4 AM start the next day.

In the morning, the sky was clear, and after a windy, restless night, the air was calm.  Our group quickly covered the two-hour drive to Guanella Pass​ and before I knew it, I was standing at 10,000′ putting on snowshoes and heading up the snow-covered road.  We gradually hiked up, making it to the top of the pass in just under an hour.  Toren, Dalton and I setup camp, planning to stay the night after summiting to acclimate at near 11,500′.

Mt. Bierstadt: After we setup camp, and gathered our summit packs we started into the willows up the west slope.  As you head up Bierstadt in the warmer months, you travel through about a mile of thick willows and mushy marshland.  Luckily, as we headed up, the boggy ground was frozen stiff, and the willows had a clear trench worked in by other climbers.  We quickly progressed up above the swamp to 12,500′.

I could feel the altitude wearing on my body.  My chest was tight, it was hard to breath, the cold winter air bit at my lungs but upward we went.  Gradually we closed in on 13,500′ with a final 500′ vertical push to the summit.  This would be the only semi-exposed part of the climb; the east face was shear and the final pitch was blanketed in two small snow fields.  As we rested behind some rocks before the push, a pair came down and said it was brutally windy up there.  We weren’t discouraged being so close, but we knew it would be a quick up and down.  Toren and I set off, climbing up, I felt like he was sprinting ahead of me, excited for the 14,060′ summit.  After a few short minutes we reached the top and took in the panoramic views of nothing insight but an endless expanse of mountains. Quickly, we were chased down by the wind as our friends made the final push up behind our descent.

We trotted down the mountain.  I could feel the air warm, and my body slowly regaining its posture.  I was still exhausted.  Having not felt well the day before, I was at a major calorie deficit and dehydrated, not good things for being in the mountains.  The lower we descended the more I could feel muscle fatigue and the other effects of the past 48 hours setting in.  I needed a nap…

Eventually we all made it down to 11,500′ where we had setup basecamp.  We traded stories of our somewhat separate trips up and down as we got a much-needed snack.  Eventually Olivia and Ike continued down the mountain, back to their car and headed home to Colorado Springs.  Dalton, Toren and I got that much needed nap.  After brushing off our alarms for close to an hour we finally arose from our slumber.  I sat up, threw up and continued heaving out the tent door…  I either had altitude sickness, or food poisoning or a combination of the two.  Even if it was just food poisoning, being up at 11,500′ was not making it better, both ends of my body felt like they wanted to explode…

We made the smart call to go down.  As we packed camp, I was furious at my body for not keeping up.  Once back at the car, I sank into my seat, defeated and feeling like trash.  We started off towards Colorado Springs.  About halfway down Guanella Pass we ran into some skiers that had locked themselves out of their car and needed a ride to their key.  Dalton and Toren obliged and helped them with a ride.  I like to believe that that was our payment in good karma for the rest of the trip.  After a few hours shuttling and then being stuck in Sunday ski traffic we arrived back in Colorado Springs and I was quickly in bed.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) “The negative health effect of high altitude caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevation. Symptoms may include headaches, vomiting, tiredness, trouble sleeping, and dizziness.”

The next day I had a decision to make, pull it together and head towards DeCaLiBron for our 4 summit day or wimp out and give into my body…  I told my body to shove off.  Dalton and Toren, as they would many more times on this trip, encouraged me to go for it.  By sunset we found ourselves at 12,000′, snuggled up in our 4-season mountaineering tents and 0-degree sleeping bags as the wind whipped off the summits outside.

Around 9 PM Ike arrived at our camp, waking me up from what had been a pretty good nap.  I was happy though, him being there gave me a bit of comfort, after all, he’s been there on most of my biggest trips.  After getting settled in, we again dozed off to sleep to the sound of howling wind outside. ​My watch began to vibrate at 6:30 AM, it was still dark.  I began moving around looking for breakfast and water, knocking frost of the top of the tent.  The wind had settled, but it still kicked up here and there.  As the sun started to rise up through the gulch we reluctantly put on our cold boots and started up the south slope of Mt. Democrat from Kite Lake.

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Mt. Cameron: After losing the saddle back towards Cameron, we grabbed a snack and felt rejuvenated by our speedy pace.  As a group we agreed to push on to the other summits back above us.  Again, we quickly regained the ridge going up to Cameron and bagged the sub-peak at 14,238′.  Dalton and I were beginning to feel the effects of the wind and the day, we were becoming sluggish as Ike and Toren continued to push on.  As we traveled across the flat saddle towards Mt. Lincoln, Dalton and I started to doubt ourselves.  We could see the peak in the distance, but we were worried about getting too fatigued after our long ascent and knew we still had the journey back.  Halfway up the summit push we were deterred by the wind and Toren and Ike carried forward.  We found shelter as they bagged the summit and we were already beating ourselves up.  Dalton was trying to think when he could come back here next when Toren got back to us and said it wasn’t that bad and that we should have gone for it.

Mt. Democrat: Ike had been smart and brought snowshoes, Toren, Dalton and I thought we were better off without the weight.  For the first mile we post-holed up the slope, trying to gain the high ground.  Ike moved like a superhuman and we moved like sloths.  As we progressed up to the ridge between Cameron and Democrat, we crossed a few different avalanche zones.  We always made sure to spread out and take it slowly, one at a time, but the suspense as each one of us would cross was palpable.  Eventually, we made it up onto the saddle and excitedly started up the east ridge of Democrat.  It was a windy push, with strong gusts coming over the north ridge.  We were completely exposed since we didn’t want to go over to the snow-covered south slope.  The wind was punishing and after we would all talk about how this was the first time we all collectively thought to ourselves about abandoning the day.  The group persevered though, and we reached the 14,152′ summit before 10 AM, we still had a full day ahead of us.

Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Bross: Full of excitement, Dalton and I dropped our packs and pushed over to the 14,286′ summit of Lincoln as well.  It was surprisingly easy, and it was also extremely rejuvenating.  We crossed over the furthest part of our route, we had all bagged 3 of the 4 and we were about to be on our way down.  Slowly, we crossed another avalanche zone before continuing on to Bross at 14,172′.  At the top, we sat for a second and celebrated.  Something we had doubted doing that morning had just been completed.  The group began down the summit back towards Kite Lake, all feeling tired, but happy.  We did a combination of rock hopping down the scree slopes and glissading down the couloirs to get back to camp.  After an uneventful descent, we were back.

Our original plan was to do Quandary the following day but I knew I would probably be too tired still and severely wanted some rest.  I convinced Dalton and Toren to go to Leadville that night and stay at the Inn of the Clouds Hostel for the next two nights to rest up before we finished our journey.  Out of all the decisions I made I think this was the only one I regret.

Glissade: “The act of descending a steep snow- or scree-covered slope via a controlled slide on one’s feet or buttocks.  Typically done with the support of an ice axe.”

We spent the night in Leadville getting delicious food at Tennessee Pass Cafe, enjoying a beer at Periodic Brewing (the highest microbrewery in North America) and relaxing at the hostel.  The next day we poked around the local gear shops, played in the snow, had some great pizza from High Mountain Pies and took full advantage of a much needed day off.  On Thursday we were going to be heading up Quandary to bag our 6th peak so we got to sleep and prepared for an early morning.

Quandry Peak: As we woke up in the morning and went out to the car there was a light dusting of snow and the air was bitterly cold.  We had an hour car ride, so I was hoping that as the sun came up it would reveal clear skies, it did. Sitting in the parking lot just before 8 AM, we geared up, and got out and started up the easy but steep slope.  The trail was well packed below treeline, the group made great time.  Before I knew it, we had reached tree-line and were heading up slope with no signs of a trail, everything was windswept.  As we pushed onward, it became a post-hole fest up to 12,500′, but we did it.

We continued to gain the ridge, closing in on 13,000′ and the final summit push.  On the other side of the mountain, we could see a massive cloud blowing in.  The winds were 50-60 mph with higher gusts and the light powder from the night before blew against the smallest bit of exposed skin like shards of glass.  It was a brutal and dangerous slog.  Every time we stopped, I thought about how long we could continue up into the -36°F weather with this kind of wind and what would happen if we found ourselves in a whiteout.

I made the hard call and turned us back.  Dalton understood what the issues were, Toren wanted to go on but reluctantly understood and I felt defeated by my own decision.  I honestly believe the hardest decision you can make when mountaineering is to turn back.  You abandon the summit; you abandon your goal and you go down.  It takes a lot out of you to put in that kind of work and quit. As we drove off, I thought of all of the things that could have gone differently.  Would the conditions have been better the day before?  If we got a later start, would that have helped?  Should I just have kept pushing onward?  It sits on your mind…

We left central Colorado and headed towards Rocky Mountain National Park in the Front Range for an overnight snowshoeing in the backcountry.  When we got there the Rangers said we’d be the only people out, it was the height of the slow season.  It was a fun couple of hours as we headed up to Glacier Gorge, enjoying the winter weather and making the most of the end of our trip.  The snow blanketed everything and made the valleys beautiful.  Longs Peak was socked in by snow, but it loomed above us as the night set in.  It was an enjoyable end to a very memorable trip.

After RMNP we got food, went back to Colorado Springs, visited Garden of the Gods and had one last night in Colorado before heading home.  I was proud of our successes, with 5/6 peaks bagged, and being able to make the smart calls when we needed to make them and keeping the whole group together.  I had dreamt about this trip for so long and then spent months planning it.  It took a lot out of me and definitely didn’t go completely according to plan (but nothing ever does).  I was finally excited to live it though, to get the experience in the mountains and push my limits on what I can do and what I know how to confidently do.


Top Resources for Getting You Outside

By: Ben Shaw

If you’ve ever been in the shop and asked one of us for help when planning a trip, we’ve most likely pulled up some website or resource that you might not have been familiar with.  After years of planning trips and adventuring around you tend to start collecting these resources, but I understand they can be hard to find at first, especially for those who aren’t research oriented.

My goal here is to throw out some of my top resources for getting you outside and trip planning.  The resources that will help for a specific trip are going to vary wildly, but the ones I’m going to cover will hopefully span a vast amount destinations and trip types.

For more trip planning help check out our trip planning services here.

Mountain Forecast

Mountain Forecast is an awesome tool. It gives you the ability to search by range, sub range, and specific mountains.  You can search for the weather on summits all over the world and it can make a trip anywhere from climbing 14ers in Colorado to walking up Mount Rogers more enjoyable.

Mountain Forecast only gives the weather 6 days out; it shows wind forecast, sunset and sunrise, and temperature both at the summit of the mountain and typically at the base.  Some summits will also indicate a halfway up measurement.  I have had fairly good luck using Mountain Forecast for managing expectations on trips as far as weather was concerned.  One heads up, the default for Mountain Forecast is to display in Celsius, so make sure you switch that over to Fahrenheit unless you’re secretly Canadian and understand the Celsius scale…

National Park Service/National Forest Service

For the hiker, biker, climber, backpacker, boater, mountaineer, or really anyone trying to get outside, you’ve at some point found your way into a National Park or a National Forest.  Both services oversee huge swaths of wilderness and land open to recreation.  They all have rules and regulations that vary slightly from one park or forest to another.  Luckily, each one lays the information out fairly the same on their websites.

Say you were going to visit the Smoky Mountains, once you search for the park you would land on a page similar to this for each park with alerts and general information.  From here you can access park maps in the upper right hand corner, as well as reservation links for permits, campgrounds, and other facilities.  On the left, you can click on the “Plan Your Visit” drop down and search for different places to stay, how to get to the park, popular trails, activities such as backpacking, climbing, canyoneering, as well as rules and regulations on those activities.

Again, this is going to vary wildly from park to park so do your research before you go and feel free to get a little lost on the specific park website you’re looking for to make sure you found all the information you need.

Looking for information on the Forest Service websites can be a little more complicated, as their sites are a bit more dated, but once you know the basic layout you can find almost anything you need.  For example, say you were heading down to Red River Gorge and want to backpack, but know nothing about the place.  You can search for the Daniel Boone National Forest and you’ll land on the page above.  From here, you can find information on “Passes & Permits”, “Alerts & Notices”, as well as “Recreation”.  The “Recreation” tab will have information on backpacking, hiking, biking, boating, climbing, and many other activities, that again, will vary from forest to forest.

Note that specific areas in each national forest will be managed by different ranger districts and the rules in each district can vary as well.  Many national forests will offer maps of trails, information such as usage, ease of access and amenities.  National Forests are probably among my favorite places to visit because they are typically less traveled, more rustic and less developed.


This was a resource I debated writing about, but it’s been one of my most useful when it comes to camping on the fly or looking for places to stay on the way to a bigger destination.  Half of the users for this site are RV travelers (nothing against you), so many of the free sites (noted in green) are simply Walmart or Cabela’s parking lots as well as rest areas along the road.  Red indicates pay for camping, and blue indicates permit camping, where you need to acquire a free permit to camp.

In my 3 years using this site I’ve only found 1 yellow, needs to be researched, site.  While, as I said above, many of the free sites are more for car campers, I have found Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sites as well as various state park dispersed camping and private land owners who have opened their unused land up to recreation.  These have mostly been out west and up north along the Canadian Boarder but this has been a great, easy to use resource.

Again, trying to use local destinations: you could search for Stanton, Kentucky as a location and Red River Gorge would pop up as a “Pay” location.  Each campsite page gives GPS coordinates (for dispersed camping these typically just go to a trailhead), as well as the 5 day forecast, user reviews and ratings, trip photos, and phone signal availability.

I’ll reiterate what I said above, this is an extremely useful website but take reviews with a grain of salt.  I’ve been to some sites that had great reviews a few years back and they were terrible, but I’ve also been to ones with terrible reviews and I had the best time and enjoyed the site immensely.

Bureau of Land Management

For BLM’s website I’m just going to throw it out there and let you go down the rabbit hole…  There is a stupid amount of maps and information on this website, you almost need to know where you’re going, but I’ve come on here before and found places to stay as well as new areas open to off trail backpacking, 4-wheeling and mountain biking.

BLM manages 245 million acres of public land, 40% of what the federal government is responsible for.  Most of this land is open to recreation but can be extremely difficult to access as almost none of it contain improved infrastructure.  You will find a lot of dirt roads, beautiful views, pit toilets, lack of people, lack of water, and boundless possibilities for adventure.  If you click on the “Visit” tab, you can start your journey down the rabbit hole.

Summit Post/

Summit Post is probably my favorite route finding website as far as mountaineering and climbing anything Class IV and down.  It shows routes, how to get there, and “red tape” for summits all across the country and the world.

On the other hand, if you find yourself wanting to do any kind of big summit out west, check out  This website lays out information on specific big peaks such as routes, weather, trip reports, maps and other useful details.

Each of these sites will lay out information differently, but I often cross reference them when possible to make sure the information they are giving is solid.  I used Mt. Elbert as an example, for Summit Post, they list everything, so as you scroll down you find more info on routes, and rules.  With, they have various tabs along the left hand of the screen, you can look at routes, trip reports, peak conditions and more information.

I have always found these websites to both be well put together and reliable.  They are managed largely by user posts and both create an environment where knowledge can be passed on to other climbers and hikers.  Keep in mind, simply reading about someone else’s experience doesn’t mean you’re ready to go out and start climbing, make sure you’ve done your research and know what to expect.

All Trails

All Trails and I have a love-hate relationship.  It’s great for finding trails and getting some basic information, but it does have pay for features and requires an account to use many other features.  All Trails is simple, search your destination and you get this:

A list of trails, a small map for the trail, photos, reviews and difficulty rating. Are supplied for each loop.  The mapping software All Trails uses is pretty accurate and all the trails I have use from it have worked out but I typically take the trail location and move to the specific Forest Service website or local state park website for the maps that I use on the trail.

USGS Water Measurements

The US Geological Survey puts out a lot of different information, the most useful of which is probably their river data information.  They have water gauges on almost 3000 bodies of water around the country and can provide you with some look at river conditions, mostly in the way of water levels.  This is something that can take some research in knowing what the normal water level is.  For example, at 30’ on the Ohio River you can paddle up or downstream, but higher water will create currents too strong to easily paddle up river.

On the Little Miami, a Milford level around 6-7’ is a good water level to not bottom out on some of the rockier sections of the river.  Below you can see an example of the water level graph that USGS puts out for these water gauges, this one is for the Little Miami River.

River levels, speed and safety is to be taken very seriously. If you are not familiar with a stretch of river it’s always a good idea to contact a local outfitter or livery for up to date safety information. Read more about Little Miami Safety here.

  1. CalTopo

CalTopo is a freeware gem of a website.  It combines USGS mapping, Google Maps and much more all into a fairly easy to use interface that will let you plan your trip to wherever you need to go.  With this site, it’s not designed for finding trails it’s designed for helping you plan it once you’ve picked a route.

In CalTopo, you can add lines to create your route.  You can either do it overland or via trails and roads, once you’ve created a route you can view the elevation profile and distance as well as taking information along the route and around the route.  Data points include point elevation, forecasts and line distances.

Still Not Finding All the Information Youre Looking For?

Don’t hesitate to pop into the shop or give us a call! RRT has helped plan trips all over the world. Even if we haven’t been there, we’ll enjoy pulling out a map and looking at these online resources with you, to help make it happen.

This are just a small sample of the resources that are available out there to you.  With any resource you find, take it with a grain of salt, research it further, talk to people who have been there, and make sure you know what you’re signing up to go do.  I hope all of these things help you to be a little more prepared next time you get outside and hopefully find new destinations for your adventures.

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