Last summer, I had the chance to visit Denver for the first time – a fantastic city in itself – but this trip also allowed me to explore the Rocky Mountains and the 14ers of Colorado.
I scoped out the Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross hike (also known as the Decalibron) a month before my trip, knowing that it allows the hiker to reach four fourteeners in one trip.
The only time I doubted this decision was when I was an hour into the hike, and my hiking partner and I could barely breathe and were getting knocked over by the fierce wind.
Hiking the 14ers of Colorado – A trip to Decalibron
What you need to know before hiking Decalibron
Decalibron Trailhead Location: Kite Lake – about two hours from Denver
Total Decalibron Distance: 7 miles
Total Decalibron Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Hike Difficulty: This is a challenging hike, but also not strenuous if you’re acclimated. Additionally, I would strongly suggest going clockwise as it’s a better trail, and it’ll be easier going down the Bross scree than up it.
Weather: Always check the weather before going, but aim to be off the final summit by lunch. The last thing you want is to be in a thunderstorm halfway through the hike.
A Section-by-Section Guide to Decalibron
Getting to the start of the Decalibron hike
With a two-plus hour drive ahead of us, we left downtown Denver around 6:30 am with enough podcasts to satisfy even a presidential candidate hopping from state to state. As we drove, we continually checked the skies and weather radar, worried that our trip would get rained out before the adrenaline could begin flowing.
But we knew, even if the skies looked clear then, the weather could change at any time when you’re surrounded by the towering peaks we were headed towards.
With our vehicle being small and low clearance, the road forced us to park what we could only assume to be a mile or so below the trailhead. Now, this isn’t your typical ‘oh, we parked a little distance from the trailhead, and it’ll be a nice warm-up before the hike.’
A trailhead higher than most
The trailhead for Decalibron is 12,000 feet, so we parked at something over 11,000 feet, which means that the initial steps were chilly and a wake-up call to our lungs. No easy starts are allowed on this trip!
Whether it helped acclimate us or not before the climb could probably be debated; we were on our way into nature with little knowledge of the experience ahead.
*EDIT: This Decalibron hike was done before Bross was deemed off-limits due to private land. Please research the new route, which I believe goes to the saddle.*
Counter Clockwise up Decalibron
When we arrived at the trailhead, the scenery was amazing. Steep slopes, a beautiful alpine lake, lush green grass that then transitions to rock, snow, and granite that had been stripped of anything living due to the wind.
It was the classic 14ers of Colorado that you expect.
With the skies over Mount Democrat gloomy, we decided to hike backward, going up the traditionally downhill route under Mount Bross to avoid the weather for as long as possible.
Looking back on this… it was a lousy decision. Though, we didn’t have much choice due to the weather. For the Arizona folk, it’s like going up South Kaibab in the Grand Canyon, not Bright Angel.
They made this the downhill route for a reason.
Heading to Mt Bross
The route up was steep and full of loose rocks. I mean, that’s not exactly great going downhill either, but coming up, at 12,000 feet and climbing, our lungs were tight, our faces cold, and stops were as frequent as traffic in New York City.
This was probably the most brutal uphill I’ve ever done. We gained just over 2,000 feet in 1.5 to two miles – as arduous a climb as most will ever do.
However, once we got up to the top, we didn’t have much time to celebrate as the hail began, and we scrambled to the rock wall, which had been built to give hikers a break from the wind.
As we crouched behind this four-foot tall wall, other hikers began diving in for a brief respite from the incoming weather. The only difference was that we were just one summit in as opposed to these hikers having just completed four out of four.
Heading to Mount Lincoln
With the significant ascent behind us, we set our sights on Mt. Lincoln, the crown jewel of the hike, sitting at 14,293 feet.
The hike across, about a mile and a half, was brisk and straightforward as we had become acclimated to life above 14,000 feet. The weather had also begun to clear up, and Lincoln’s peak had nothing but the sun’s rays on it.
We were good to explore more 14ers of Colorado.
While the weather was golden, the wind was still howling as we began our ascent up to Lincoln’s peak, leaving the peace and quiet that Mt. Cameron had sheltered us with.
Summiting Mt Lincoln
Fifteen minutes later, we were standing on the top of the eighth tallest mountain in Colorado and the 23rd highest point in the United States (top 12 when you take out the Alaska peaks).
The ability to see 360 degrees and take in the beauty around us was striking. Alpine lakes and a mountain range to our left, a grassy valley below us, Mt. Bross to our right, and Mt. Democrat and Kite Lake behind us, there wasn’t a poor view insight.
Breathtaking would fit perfectly for this situation.
And thanks to technology, I could call my parents in Arizona and live video on Snapchat with my brother who was in Europe – all at 14,300 feet! I think I’m still blown away this was possible. *Fist bump to Verizon*
As we headed down, we noticed Mt. Democrat had clouds forming above it and more clouds forming to the west. We made a mental note to keep an eye on it as we summited Mt. Cameron (more of a bump than anything else).
Like Bross and Lincoln, the wind at this height, 14,238, was roaring. After a quick photo and snack, we headed down to the saddle between Mt. Democrat and Cameron and, with it, a break from the rip-roaring wind.
Back to the Car after the Decalibron 14ers
At this point, however, Mt. Democrat was concealed in ominous-looking clouds, making our decision to head down relatively easy. While my love of adventure longed to complete the fourth and final mountain, the sensible thing was to head down before the weather changed for the worst.
As we made our way through the snow and down what seemed like never-ending switchbacks, the ominous clouds turned dark, solidifying our decision not to risk it.
When we hit the parking lot, we were exhausted, our legs ached, and all we wanted to do was lay down. But our car was still a mile away, and with rain nearly upon us, we only had time for a few pictures before the march began again. Once we got to the car, we both exhaled a sigh of relief and amazement at what we had just accomplished.
Exhaustion after the hike
Once we got to the car, we both exhaled a sigh of relief and amazement at what we had just accomplished. It was humbling to experience life away from the hustle and bustle of the city and to do it above 14,000 feet, a point greater than nearly every state in the United States.
Plus, to say, “I’ve hiked not one, but three fourteeners,” puts us in an exclusive class compared to the average American or even global citizen.
This Decalibron 14ers trek, adventure, and exploration opportunity gave credence to the fact that nature is where I belong, and few things can top a good mountain with an even better friend.
This was my first time hiking a fourteener, and while we made a poor choice in not bringing gloves or warm headwear, it was an overall success with Decalibron!
I highly recommend doing this hike if you’ve got the itch to be outdoors and want to put a fourteener under your belt. Plus, if you take it slow and give yourself enough time, most people in decent shape can do this in under eight hours.
You can learn more here.
Recommendations for the Decalibron 14ers
1. Bring around two gallons of liquid for Decalibron (be it water or Gatorade).
I had an 85oz water pouch, two 32oz Gatorade, and two Nalgene’s of water. While you won’t think you’re getting dehydrated at that altitude, you’re breathing out a lot of water, and your muscles will start to cramp up.
2. Bring enough food with carbs and protein
Energy bars, salty foods, trail mix, there’s a lot out there that will work. I’d also say bring some fruit as the natural sugars will do wonders for your body. The 14ers of Colorado will drain your energy really fast.
3. Warm clothes.
This will vary depending on when you do this, but I did it in July, and I think I had five layers on and felt great. However, I didn’t bring gloves or a beanie/hood; I would’ve been perfect if I had. I’d also suggest bringing ski goggles to keep your eyes from getting dried out, protect them from the sun, and keep your face warm.
4. Start early.
As I said, we arrived around 9:30 or so, which was too late. One option is you can camp up there, so if that works for you. This way, you’d be able to get an early start. If you plan on driving from Denver, leaving at 5 am and starting the hike early before afternoon storms can build should allow you to summit all four peaks.
As the years go on, I aim to summit as many 14ers of Colorado as possible while also knocking off Mt. Whitney in California (the highest peak in the continental United States).
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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