Coolest thru-hike of the year? Interview with Colorado 14′ers thru-hikers, Junaid & Luke

Last week, Junaid Duwad and Luke DeMuth completed a 1300+ mile thru-hike that entailed summits of all of the Colorado 14′ers. In a stroke of serendipity, Andrew and I ran into Junaid and Luke on Guanella Pass, just after they had bagged Evans and Bierstadt, and Andrew saw them again on his way into Rocky Mountain National Park for a recent guided trip. Having met Junaid a few years ago when he was working at GoLite, Andrew had known about his trip, so it was fun to see him and Luke out there, getting it done, and from the smiles on their faces, having a blast doing so. For more information on Junaid and Luke, and their thru-hike, visit their website at:¬†http://14ersthruhike.com/

Junaid (left) and Luke (right) outside of Granby on their way to Longs Peak, their final summit.

Junaid (left) and Luke (right) outside of Granby on their way to Longs Peak, their final summit.

Q. ¬†Please provide the stats on the trip, e.g. mileage, days, vertical, number of peaks (for folks not in CO or aware of how many 14′ers we have), weight of pack?

The Garmin GPS that we were using puts the mileage at about 1,350 by the time it was all said and done. Though that includes our 15ish mile exit from Longs Peak. Our route “officially” started at the summit of Culebra and ended at the summit of Longs, so the exit mileage doesn’t really count, they were a “victory lap”. Our biggest day was about 33 miles, and the trip included three 4-peak days (The Eolus Group, Huron/Missouri/Belford/Oxford, and the Lincoln Group), and two 3-peak days (Blanca Group & Handies Group), and several 2-peak days.

The elevation gain was somewhere approaching 300,000 feet. We don’t know for sure though since we maxed out the elevation gain read out on the GPS. We know it is more than 285,000 ft and we think it’s close to, or maybe above 300,000 ft. We’ve got some mapping to do to get a better handle on it. So that’s 58 peaks over 72 days.

We carried about 30 lbs max of gear, food, and water in our ULA Equipment backpacks. We never really weighed them though, and there were some gear swap outs and additions that affected weight as well. But about 30 lbs fully loaded.

Luke on the way up to Triangle pass after lunch at Conundrum Hot Springs.

Luke on the way up to Triangle pass after lunch at Conundrum Hot Springs.

Q. Did you have any concerns about the end of the trip being affected by the closure of RMNP due to the flooding? What about the government shut down of the parks?

Luke: Upon hearing of RMNP closing due to the floods we were very concerned that it may interfere with the Longs Peak finish. We refused to let it get us down, though the closure was always looming in the back of my head. Fortunately all of our concern was for not, as RMNP fully opened the day before we were to enter for our approach on the North Inlet Trail. We seemed to have ‘threaded the needle’ with the finale as the government shutdown would have affected us as well. (We had no idea that there was going to be a shutdown.)

Junaid: The closure from the floods was definitely a concern for the last couple of weeks of the hike. We just kept walking though, hopeful that things would work out at the end, and that for the time our job was just to get there. Since we didn’t know about the impending shutdown of the government, we never lost any sleep over it. The trip really ended up being blessed with great timing, especially at the end.

Q. How many miles of roads were walked, and to what extent did you try to make the route more aesthetically-pleasing?

There was definitely a strong preference hierarchy, as follows: trail, Forest Service or other dirt road, cross country, paved roadway. We probably had 15-20 percent of pavement-pounding. We tried to do some of the longer road walks, like out to Pike’s Peak, at night to avoid the traffic. Around half the distance was on trail, though at times, “trail” was more like bushwhacking on something that was once a trail. The remainder was dirt roads of varying quality, some were “good” others saw no repair and were more like double wide hiking trails. I’d say less than 5 percent was cross country or true bushwhacking, though there were definitely a few memorable stretches of that as well.

This is Snowmass Lake at sunrise, on the way up to Snowmass Peak.

This is Snowmass Lake at sunrise, on the way up to Snowmass Peak.

Q. Favorite stretch of 14er’s — i.e., best string, consistently good travel, scenery, fewest roads?

Luke: Hands down the San Juans. From the time we entered after crossing the San Luis Valley we had nothing but trail until our exit to Gunnison along Blue Mesa Reservoir. For a good chunk of the travel in the San Juan’s we were on the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail, and the hiking was fantastic, and certainly the range with the least amount of road miles and incredibly scenic trail miles!

Junaid: I’d say the San Juan Range. We had a few days of climbing in there that were among the best of the trip, we had amazing people encounters, the scenery was unbeatable, the trail was almost all in superb shape, there was no real road walking. We had a lot of weather in there, sure, but it was a fantastic section.

Q. How many bad situations did you find yourselves in — particularly related to stormy summits and exposed campsites?

Luke: Considering how many peaks we climbed, 58 in 72 days, we had few close calls with weather. The most notable were descending the south ridge off of Blanca, when hail and lightning moved in forcing us to wait it out just below ridge line. And on Sunlight when we summited, the poles on our packs were buzzing and the rocks were alive with the crackle and pop of electricity– certainly a hurried summit! When camped in Chihuahua Gulch and we woke up to several inches of snow and ice encrusting camp and all of our gear.

Junaid: We were really lucky with electricity. Only twice did we really have to contend with it. The first, early in the trip, was the day we did Little Bear, Ellingwood, and Blanca. We were going down the south ridge when it started hailing and getting pretty electric. We dropped down from the ridge, got away from our packs and waited. We had to do it twice. The second was just as we reached the last bit of Sunlight Peak. The trekking poles on my pack started to buzz and the rocks were crackling. It was a tag-and-turn summit. Our only really exposed campsite was at the Bears Playground, just north of Crestone Peak. It’s high and open, And the night we spent there was very, very windy.

This is on the CDT north of James Peak. It was on of our last days out, and it was gorgeous.

This is on the CDT north of James Peak. It was on of our last days out, and it was gorgeous.

Q. How long did it take to plan the trip, and what were some challenges in the planning process or unique things you did that others may not have?

The planning was done using Garmin Basecamp which made it easy to drag the route around and snap it to trails and roads that we wanted to use. It was basically a big game of connect the dots. First I had to figure out the best sequence to connect them in, then I had to determine the best approach and departure for each peak or group, then find the shortest/best route connecting each peak and group.

Then there was the challenge of trying to keep as much of the route on public lands as possible. And identifying where public lands were wasn’t always straight forward either. Once the route was nailed down, the resupply was pretty straight forward, though obviously there was no town guide or anything like that.

The finish on Longs Peak.

The finish on Longs Peak.

Q. Any tried and true favorites among your gear?

Luke: For me the most important piece of gear was my ULA pack; a comfortable pack is the first step of many to being happy and prepared on the trail. If you can’t carry your gear, you don’t get very far… My original shelter was hands down the worst piece of equipment I carried for the first half of the hike — it was too small, cumbersome, and did a poor job of actually “sheltering” me from weather. The replacement that I got from YAMA Mountain Gear was far superior and let me sleep comfortably at night knowing that whatever nature threw at me, I would stay warm and dry.

Junaid: My best pieces of gear were my ULA Ohm 2.0, my massive tarp that I built from a kit I got from YAMA Mountain Gear, and my Marmot Plasma sleeping bag. The pack was comfy, easy to use and adjust, and rock solid. It barely even looks used after 1300 miles. The huge Cuben fiber tarp that I built was key. It had various tie out points that allowed us to do some quick set ups for lunch and the occasional emergency bivy. It was also a rock solid, spacious shelter. The sleeping bag was always comfy and warm, and did a good job not soaking up condensation.

6 Responses to Coolest thru-hike of the year? Interview with Colorado 14′ers thru-hikers, Junaid & Luke

  1. Bailey October 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    What an incredible trip and experience – and I am very happy that both of them made it through safely! It was a hard year for Colorado, which makes this accomplishment even cooler. Congratulations!

  2. Karl Schmidt October 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    This is wonderful accomplishment. Thanks for the great interview Andrew, you ask questions that outdoors people are truly interested in the answers to. The questions I would have for Junaid and Luke are:

    What was the variety of the climbing they did?

    What reflections do they have after being at the top of so many tall mountains in such continuous fashion?

    • Michael R January 28, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Thanks to *Amanda* for the interview!

  3. blisterfree October 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Hey, good for them! On a related note, I’d attempted to hike all of New Mexico’s 12k and higher summits as a thru-hike this spring, partly on the premise that the rewards would be commensurate with the challenges – all of these peaks lay in the Sangres, ergo a relatively small geographic area with lots of good trail connections and few slogs. What I discovered, though, is that I didn’t enjoy peakbagging enough to maintain the daily routine of both tagging summits and making forward progress. I thought it would be a wonderful melding of the two disciplines, but for me it felt contrived, an exercise for its own sake, lacking in spontaneity, and rife with what became petty obligations to either bag all of the peaks “on the list” or else find the end result diminished (by mere statistics, no less). There was a predetermined definition of success and failure that was very different from standard long-distance hiking, and frankly one that became alien, unbearable after a while. Or so it went for me! I’m nonetheless happy to hear that Junaid and Luke were under no such burdens or misgivings, apparently, and that they went for, and ultimately succeeded at, a much bigger version of this game, just over the state line in the land of fourteeners. Congratulations guys.

  4. eddy de wilde October 22, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    Congratulations Junaid and Luke That was a huge efort, glad it worked out for you.’ Love that pic ofSnowmass lake. Best wishes

  5. Timothy Nye January 4, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    I’m proud to know Speshul from the PCT; he is a standup guy who gives back to the community.

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