Failure on Mount Princeton in the Sawatch Mountain Range

Mount Princeton is one of the many 53 fourteeners in CO. This 14,196 ft mountain is located just outside Buena Vista, CO. While it’s not one of the tallest peaks in Colorado, Mount Princeton is one of the most difficult, rising nearly 7,000 feet above the Arkansas River valley in only 7 miles.

Every time I visit the small mountain town of Buena Vista I see Mount Princeton in the distance and I just wish I could be on the top of that beautiful mountain. So I brought that idea up to my best friend and we said yes to the adventure. Hanica and I loaded her car up with our hiking and camping gear and headed to Buena Vista. We camped along the banks of the Arkansas River in the back of the Subaru. There was just enough room for us two small girls, it was quite perfect.

Sleeping in and eating breakfast out put us on a really late start up the trail. We’re always told to start at sunrise so you can avoid the chance of being caught in an afternoon storm, but we started around 9am.

Still eager to make it as far as we could and in the hopes of staying clear from any storms we started at the bottom of Mount Princeton. Our second mistake. We were unaware that you could actually drive up this 4wheel drive road most the way up the mountain.

So after hiking for about 2 miles, we met 2 other hikers on their way down. They thought we were crazy for starting at the bottom as late as we did. They admitted that they turned around when they were only a mile from the summit because they were exhausted. They informed us that it’s a difficult hike and starting where we had adds 7 miles. With this in mind we decided to keep hiking and if a car drove by we would hitch hike.

Fortunately for us, not long after we heard a truck coming around the corner. I immediately put my thumb out. The kind gentleman stopped for us and let us in. Without his help we definitely would have never made it to the actual trail head. He saved us so much time and energy.  

I was super excited to finally make it to the trail! By this time it was noon and that’s usually when you want to be leaving the summit. We figured we would continue on anyway. After about half a mile the dirt trail turns into a jumble of rocks that you have to climb over. Constantly watching your step and making sure you are still on the right path.

After hiking for another 2hrs, we were still far from the summit. Dark clouds started to circle around us and we were getting tired. We stopped for a break and ate some snacks. Before we started to hike again the rain came. Hanica saw lightning bolts in the distance and that’s when we realized we couldn’t go any farther. We had to turn around and head back to the tree line to be safe.

It only rained for about 30 minutes, but we knew there would be more coming. The rocks were getting wet and slippery and it could have been worse if we hadn’t turned around when we did.

Once at the tree line, where the trail head started and where we were dropped off, we had no choice but to hike down the road. There was no one in sight who could give us a ride back down.

As we were hiking down slow a couple caught up to us. We asked if they parked at the bottom, and they had said no, that they were just 1 mile more down. We figured we’d get to their car and ask for a ride. Sure enough they were also kind enough to make room and drive us down. Thankful for them as well, we finally made it back to Hanica’s car at 5pm.

It had been a long day of crazy obstacles and not being sure if it was worth it. But at the end of the day it was totally 100% worth it. Maybe we didn’t make it to the top, but we did push ourselves and saw some amazing views. Maybe we didn’t make the right hiking choices, but it all worked out in the end. Maybe it rained on us, but jamming to classic rock and laughing hard turned it into an amazing adventure.

Perfection is usually the opposite of what we are told it is. It’s in those moments when things go sideways. When the rain starts streaming down and the right people are by your side not going anywhere. When no one else thinks it’s worth it.. Is exactly when you should go all in. That’s when you get the rare, irreplaceable experiences. These are the moments I live for.

The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is how you react to it. Keep a positive attitude and you’ll see your perspective change and you’ll enjoy everything more.   

1 thought on “Failure on Mount Princeton in the Sawatch Mountain Range”

  1. Those Colorado Rockies are nothing to play around with! I’ve done a few 14ers in my life and they can be quite unforgiving. As you have probably heard, folks die up there. Thankful that you guys were wise to turn back when you did. And as you said, regardless of the setbacks, the experience is still always rewarding! Thanks for sharing. I absolutely love the Sawatch Range and the Buena Vista area. Spent many vacations there.


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