Flophouses and Fourteeners

Every year for the past seventeen years since I’ve lived in Colorado, I have climbed at least one Fourteener, or 14,000-ft peak in the state. I’ve summited all 54 of them, so now I’m going back to do some of my favorites, climbing from different sides.

This year, I set my sights on Mt. Lincoln, 14, 236 ft, highest peak in Park C0unty and 11th highest peak in the continental US. It’s an impressive-looking peak as seen from Hoosier Pass, just south of Breckinridge. I had climbed it before, but this time I wanted to climb from a different side, on a little used trail.

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In order to get an early start on the trail, and thus avoid early-afternoon thunderstorms, I decided to stay overnight near the trailhead. On previous drives through the area, I had been intrigued by a tiny town right at the foot of Mount Lincoln, Alma CO, population Not Many, with a handful of buildings … something I called a “zombie town”—a ghost town that won’t admit it’s dead.  I was charmed by the handful of “necessary businesses”—general store, feed store, liquor store, and a most intriguing little place called (this is its exact name) Alma’s Only Bar and Hotel.  Of course I had to stay there.

I called ahead, but they didn’t take reservations. “Just come in, we’ll find a room for ya, don’t worry.”  $50 per night. So I drove in, arrived in the middle of the afternoon to find a sign on the closed door of the hotel “See bartender for room.”  I found the bartender, and she rummaged among a tray of keys behind the bar, took my credit card, and said “You have room number one.”  Then gave me set of complicated directions through a maze of doors and staircases to get to my room.  Fortunately, she had two kids out of school who were very excited to have a lodger, and they went off on a great adventure with me to find my room.  Up at the top of the stairs, we found #1.

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It was a real flophouse, a room not much larger than the bed and a little dresser, torn bedspread, one lamp, creaky floors, and a communal bath.  Even a little more rustic than my usual “off the beaten path discoveries.” But I had my laptop, a cooler with a growler of microbrew IPA, and a place to work. I edited a few chapters in BLOOD OF THE COSMOS that afternoon before wandering off to the saloon to get a burrito for dinner, made a call to Rebecca (with very poor cell reception). When I made my way out of the hotel, one of the other lodgers bumped into me in the hall, a single man who was sharing the room with his two dogs.  He said, “Oh, you’re in room number one–you know that’s the haunted room!  I stayed there for ten days, but I never heard anything.”

After dinner I came back to the room (mind you, it was not much bigger than the bed and the dresser), crawled onto the bed, took out my laptop…and my screen was going crazy. Menus going down and up, random characters scrolling across the screen, cursor blinking.  Huh?  I managed to shut down and restart, but the screen was still going haywire. Haunted room, indeed!  How was I supposed to get editing done?  Of course, I discovered that I had left my bluetooth remote keyboard in my computer case, which was on its side pressing against the keys, hence creating the mayhem on the screen. So much for ghosts. I got another several chapters edited then went to bed—I had a Fourteener to climb the next morning, ghosts or no ghosts.

Next morning, alarm set for 5:30 AM, I got up, took a shower in the shared bath, used the Keurig I had brought along for a cup of coffee (good thing, because nothing in Alma was open), ate a granola bar, filled my backpack with water, and hauled everything out of the haunted room. I drove off through a maze of dirt roads, winding up into the foothills around Mount Lincoln in search of the trailhead. Part of the road was a real horror, the type where you have to stop the car, walk ten feet ahead and figure out the best spots for the tires to go, then drive ten feet, and do the whole thing again. But I got to the trailhead, parked off the road, and started heading uphill.

It was a beautiful hike. Now this was worth it! On the way up I reveled in the scenery, didn’t even do any writing (I saved that for the hike down).  Up winding rugged roads, past mining ruins, higher and higher. This was not at all the standard route up Mt Lincoln, and I had the trail ALL to myself.

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By the time I reached the summit, however, it was an entirely different story. Crowds had come from the popular Kite Lake Trail, and I shared the top with 28 people.  I didn’t stay long after I got my picture taken.

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I trudged back down (hard on the knees!), got back to my car, toiled and struggled my way—driving ten carefully assessed feet at a time—back to the main road…and home!  I did manage to write two new inserted chapters in BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, tying up loose threads, all with another Fourteener under my belt.

 

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