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July 15, 2005 — Climbers, like artists, seem to adhere to an unwritten rule that in order to excel at one’s craft a certain amount of suffering is required.
Indeed, in Colorado, where 54 mountains surpass 14,000 feet, peak baggers are fond of saying there are no easy Fourteeners, just lesser degrees of suffering.
A quick survey of professional guide services revealed there is no shame in sleeping beneath Frette linens the night before a climb or indulging in a deep-tissue massage the night after. Pain and pampering, it seems, easily go hand in hand.
But before and after climbing a Fourteener, where is it written that the pain must march on?
Blessed to live in the nation’s highest state in terms of average elevation (6,800 feet), Coloradans also can pick and choose from among the world’s most luxurious high-altitude resort retreats – several of which are at or near the base of some of the state’s most classic climbs.
And as the monsoon season gives way to clear, crisp autumn weather – often the best time of year to climb the high peaks – high-end hotels begin to offer off-season deals to attract in-state guests.
The climb: Pikes Peak (14,110 feet)
The guides: Pikes Peak Alpine School at www.pikes-peak.com/alpine or (800) 358-6867.
The hotel: The Broadmoor at www.broadmoor.com or (800) 634-7711.
The treatment: The Spa at The Broadmoor added Ashiatsu Deep Therapy massage to its menu this year. Therapists suspended from bars on the ceiling use their feet for this intense 70-minute massage.
The St. Regis Resort Aspen
The climb: Castle Peak, the highest in the Elk Range (14,265 feet) and also the least technical.
The guides: Aspen Expeditions at www.aspenexpeditions.com or (970) 925-7625.
The hotel: The St. Regis Resort Aspen at www.stregisaspen.com or (888) 454-9005.
The treatment: The Remede Spa offers a 60-minute deep-tissue massage for overwrought muscles.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch
The climb: Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet the highest point in the state and 14th highest mountain in the United States.
The guides: The Beaver Creek Hiking Center at www.beavercreek.com or (800) 404-3535.
The hotel: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch at www.ritzcarlton.com or (800) 241-3333.
The treatment: The Bachelor Gulch Spa’s Muscle Strain Treatment and Soak is 75 minutes of bliss for battered muscles.
Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions since 1976, points out that few places on the planet have such luxurious accommodations in such close proximity to high-alpine wilderness opportunities.
“Year-round Aspen is a pretty attractive place for people who want it all - the five-star amenities and access to one of the most dramatic small mountain ranges in the state,” said Jackson, an acclaimed technical climber with several first ascents in Colorado and Chamonix, France, to his credit.
By small, Jackson is referring to the geographical area (45 by 30 miles) of the Elk Range, not its vertical relief. Home to some of the state’s most daunting climbs (Capitol Peak and the Maroon Bells), the range also towers over a few of its best hotels, such as the St. Regis Resort Aspen.
Jackson guides technical routes as well as “walk-ups” such as Castle Peak – the highest point in the range at 14,265 – and 12,953-foot Mount Sopris, which has the highest vertical relief of any mountain in the state.
And while the climbing might not be quite as epic, few resort hotels in the world can approach the grandeur of the massive and historical Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, its lush 3,000-acre grounds sprawling in the shadow of “America’s Mountain,” Pikes Peak.
The inspiration for “America the Beautiful” and a beacon for western settlers, Pikes Peak has an automobile road and a railway to its summit, but it remains an imposing force of nature at 14,110 feet, and can offer perhaps the widest range of alpine experiences of any mountain in Colorado.
As Bruce Hamilton, senior guide for Pikes Peak Alpine School, points out, the road can be both a boon and a bane. It offers access to people who would not normally be able to attain such heights, and for climbers in trouble it can be a means of escape. “It’s an asset because it’s a way to bail out,” he said.
Hamilton’s company only has a winter permit for the classic Barr Trail route, a grueling 12-mile, 7,500-vertical-foot trudge up the mountain’s east face, but in the summer they guide climbers up the lesser-known Devil’s Playground Trail on the west side.
“It’s not as famous so there’s much less traffic,” Hamilton said. “If you want more of a solitude kind of experience, that’s a good trail to do.” Along the Barr Trail, Hamilton also offers four technical climbing routes at 11,500 feet with fixed ropes for everyone from beginners to more experience rock jocks.
Then the Mobil Five-Star Broadmoor and its critically acclaimed spa can take over after a day of pushing muscles to their limits above timberline, offering everything from deep tissue massage to the Ashiatsu technique, in which therapists use their feet to apply maximum pressure.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, in the Vail Valley near Beaver Creek, actively caters to active guests as well, teaming up with the Beaver Creek Hiking Center to offer a 20-percent lodging discount with the purchase of the Adventure Passport, which includes two days of guided hiking.
The hiking center has permits for seven Fourteeners in the nearby Sawatch Range, from the arduous Mount of the Holy Cross to the comparatively benign but highest in the state Mount Elbert.
“It’s a great feeling to get somebody up on top of their first Fourteener - to get them up and then back down safely - because were dealing with so many variables,” said Beaver Creek Hiking Center director Nate Goldberg, emphasizing that climbing a Fourteener is not for everyone and that sometimes just the attempt brings the biggest smiles. “It’s the journey, not just the accomplishment.”
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