If you’re looking for a quick, easy climb with spectacular views and full bragging rights, Mt. Democrat is the hike for you.
If I look like I haven’t slept in nine days in this picture, it’s because I haven’t. Well-a bit of an exaggeration there; I slept for at least a good three hours the night before, crammed in a tiny tent on rocky terrain with my husband and 70 pound pitbull, trying to keep my face from freezing off all night. However, the view was completely worth it.
When you first arrive at the Kite Lake Trailhead, after bumping and bouncing over 5 miles of gravel, you will find yourself in a lush, green valley surrounded by steep mountain walls: Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross. There is a small campsite there that offers picnic tables, grills, and a flat surface for your tent for a small fee of 12$, so you can get a good night’s rest before making the 7+ mile trek the next morning. Jake and I, however, decided to do some disbursed camping. After making use of the bathroom facilities the campsite offers, we took a trail found to the far left as you’re facing the mountains.
Ah, look at pre-dispersed-camping me! So young and full of life! Niave and carefree! Unaware of the unimaginable horrors awaiting me!
We trekked for around 45 minutes, at a slower pace than usual as we were carrying 40 pound bags on our backs for all of our gear. The trail was well marked at first, and beside it ran a bubbling stream carrying crystal clear water.
This picture gives a pretty clear picture of where we ultimately ended up camping out that night. The trail was harder to follow as it turned into rockier terrain, and we ended up bouldering and climbing up the ledge you see to your right and camping on that flat area directly above Jake’s head in the picture. There was only a few sketchy parts with loose rock; besides that, the climb wasn’t bad. Just a little exhausting with our heavy packs. At the top, I expected to find nothing but a flat, hard, rock top, unfit for pitching a tent. Instead, we found a hidden lake with crystal clear water and ground soft enough to sleep on.
Almost immediately after pitching our tent, the wind started picking up. Our little guy stood firm and strong, though, even as those violent gusts threatened to tear off our trusty rain fly, it refused to give in. We were safe and sound. After heating up a couple of cans of stew on our propane stove (which I would definitely not recommend trying inside the tent) we snuggled up in our mummy sleeping bags and tried to sleep. We did run into some issues here, as it got steadily colder and soon our poor pup was shivering, and he didn’t want to crawl in our sleeping bags with us, as much as we tried to coax him in. My face and hands were cold only because I was trying to cuddle Seger to keep him warm, and so they were not in the bag. Eventually, we found a sleeping arrangement that worked for everyone; with Seger snuggled in between Jake and I, he warmed up quickly and I was able to dive deep into my sleeping bag and get a couple hours of shut-eye before my alarm went off at 3am.
We allowed ourself an extra hour of sleep due to our rough night. Around four, we packed up camp and started back down the cliff side, which seemed much longer and steeper in the pitch dark. It took us a few wrong turns to get back on the proper trail, but using the sound of the stream as our guide, we eventually made it back to solid footing and trekked back to the campsite, where we exchanged our heavy packs for day packs containing just food and water. Finally, around 5:30-6, we were on the trail up Mt. Democrat.
The climb wasn’t terrible, but I just have a terrible stamina and had to stop to breath every 20 feet once we got above vegetation line. Still, we were surrounded by gorgeous views and I was able to enjoy myself by going slowly. Jake, on the other hand, probably could have darted up the mountain in an hour or two. We hit the saddle around 7:30.
To our left was the towering climb up Democrat, and to our left was intimidating trail leading to the top of Cameron. We continued up Democrat, making sure to drink lots of water, and made it to the final push around 8:00.
The last half hour was mainly bouldering, which wasn’t too intense judging by the fact that our little four legged friend was able to do it with ease. At long last, our tired, aching bodies (I speak mostly for myself here) climbed the last daunting rock and we found ourselves looking over the other side, flooded with relief that there was no longer an ‘up’, only a ‘down’. And yet again, the view was completely worth the climb.
Time to summit was 3-3.5 hours. We had an uneventful hike down, with more beautiful views:
And reached our car around 11. Yes, we did decide mid-hike to forgo Cameron and Lincoln, as our pup was feeling pretty tired and we realized we didn’t bring enough food for all of us.
Which brings me to to some tips and tricks you may want to consider if you want to make this hike:
Bring plenty of food. I did the math, and the lose it! app estimates that we each burnt around 2800 calories on this hike. However, we (very stupidly) ate a mere cliff bar at 240 calories for breakfast, and throughout our hike ate one more clif bar and a PBJ. The day before, we did stock up on calories through roasted chicken, potatoes, and mac and cheese from our local grocery store deli, and a giant sandwich from a whole foods we stopped at in Frisco:
The substantial amount of carbs, fat, and sodium we ingested the day before was what got us far as it did with Democrat, but in order to do the complete hike, we should have stocked up on more calories to eat throughout the climb. My advice is through PBJ’s, as the peanut butter provides protein, the bread is your carb, and the jelly is the essential sugar needed to give you the energy for the hike. Bananas are also good, because they are high in fiber, protein, and calories. Bring protein bars with as high a calorie and protein count as you can find. If you’re bringing a doggie, make sure to pack some treats for him as well!
Make use of the campground, or try dispersed camping. Since we live in Denver, it’s usually about an hour to two hours of drive time before arriving at the trailhead of any mountain. In the past, we’ve tried pulling all nighters, leaving as soon as he gets out of work around 12:30 and hitting the trail about 3am. This is not recommended. A good night’s rest is essential. By camping at the foot of the mountain the night before, you can drive up the previous afternoon with enough time to pitch a tent and cook a good dinner, get to bed around 8-9 and be ready to go by 4.
Make sure you have the right gear. There’s not a whole lot of necessary gear in late summer/fall before the snow hits, but you will want to invest in a good pair of hiking boots. I saw a good amount of people hiking up with their Nikes on, so I won’t say it isn’t possible; however, I can’t tell you how many times I nearly tripped, lost footing or rolled my ankle, and my Salomons were there to save me from the fall. Get boots for your pup too! We didn’t have any for Seger, and although he was fine, he did get some cuts and scratches and we definitely don’t want to go again until he has some protection for his little paws. The only other gear you’ll really want, besides a pack, is a couple walking sticks. Jake and I only had one between the two of us, which I was hogging most of the time. He only wants one stick because he likes to have a free hand, but personally, I think it would have been much easier with two.
When all was said and done, Mt. Democrat was certainly challenging, but on the easier and shorter side of fourteeners. There was a decent amount of traffic, but when we summited we had a good 5-10 minutes to ourselves up top before we were joined by a couple of guys. Finding the trail head was extremely easy from 70, although the last 5 miles to the campsite is a rough gravel road that will put your sedan to the test. If it’s your first time in Colorado and you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is doable and enjoyable for a beginner, I would highly recommend the hike up Mt. Democrat. If you think you’re up for it, try to hit the other two peaks. Even though we didn’t complete the entire 7.8 mile trek, I still consider this hike a success and look forward to conquering Cameron and Lincoln sometime in the near future!