Mount Democrat (14,148 feet), Mount Cameron (14,238 feet), and Mount Lincoln (14,286 feet) — A Review for Hikers with Joint Disease, Joint Replacements, or Neuromuscular Deficiencies

© 2012 Peter Free


26 August 2012


Panoramic of view from Mount Lincoln, Colorado. 

View from the summit of Mount Lincoln, taken 22 August 2012.


Who this review is for


This mini-review is for hikers with joint disease, joint replacements, or neuromuscular deficiencies.  I have all three.


Before you waste your time reading on, compare your limitations to mine.  I have recorded those in a review of hiking Blodgett Peak.


Briefly, my osteoarthritic inflammatory processes begin to flare up within the first two hours of any hike.  By un-medicated hours number four to six, I am in literal danger of not being able to walk at all, even on smooth and nearly flat terrain.  This presents obvious hiking range considerations.


Most aggravating are the mild neuromuscular impairments that appear to originate in my arthritic spine.  Inflammation there aggravates mild nerve root (and possibly cord) compressions.


Once an arthritic flare-up is in full swing, these neural effects combine to make maintaining my balance on anything but smooth, essentially flat terrain challenging.  And they conspire to make losing my balance even worse, by sending my legs into unhelpful quasi-spasmodic responses to falls.


Unlike many arthritics, I am no longer able to use anti-inflammatory medications, due to probably life-threatening hypersensitivities.  I wrote about my third go-round with these allergies in an account of a recent hike to the summit of Mount Shavano.


Keep in mind that, even if you are able to use NSAIDs, your symptoms will probably worsen toward the upper mile/kilometer (or time) limits of your own hiking range.  On Colorado’s higher peaks, this threshold can arrive sooner than one anticipates.


Hence this review.



What are Mounts Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln?


These are Colorado peaks with summits that are over 14,000 feet.  That makes them “14ers.”


These particular three are special because, once you make the comparatively short ascent to a “saddle” between them, you can hike all three within just a handful of hours.  That makes the group attractive to “peak baggers.” 


High return for low effort.




Mount Bross (14,172 feet) is usually included in this group.  However, it is privately owned and closed to the public.  Many people hike it anyway, but I did not.



For people with even mild physical limitations, Mount Democrat is not as easy a hike as route guides make it sound


Admittedly, Colorado’s 14ers are not exactly a walk down the block, even for fit and able people.  But some peaks are certainly easier to hike or “scramble” — meaning climbing over and between rocks — than others.


Mount Democrat has a reputation for being relatively easy, due to its trailhead being already above timberline.  Beginning at Kite Lake, many (perhaps most) 14er type people can make it to the summit in under 2 hours.


The problem with Democrat, for people with arthritis or mild physical impairments, is the fact that the mountain’s approach trail — from the Kite Lake parking area and trailhead — is quite rocky and the summit approach consists of a long route upward on a massive pile of jagged-edged large rocks and boulders.


Able people will not have trouble negotiating this route.  But those with limited ability to adjust and/or recover their balance may.  The effort will speed up inflammatory processes for those prone to them.


In my case, I had no trouble summiting Democrat under 2 hours.  But I had a heck of a time, even with trekking poles (which I was using for the first time) descending over these boulders back down to the saddle.


The effort-filled descent at least doubled my usual rate of inflammation, leaving me wondering whether trying to get to Mounts Cameron and Lincoln was wise.


I went on, anyway, but I paid the price for summiting the other two peaks with an excruciatingly slow and painful descent back to the parking lot at Kite Lake.



Why the rock pile and rocky trail on Democrat (and Cameron) can be difficult


Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the fractured granite, rocky approach to Democrat.  And most of the people who post on Bill Middlebrook’s very helpful don’t either.


However, I did find two helpful pictures there:


skiingrock,  Combo: Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, (07 August 2011) (at second picture down the page) (showing an easier segment of the Democrat summit trail)


CinciKid, Fantastic Four!, (25 August 2011) (at seventh picture down the page) (showing Democrat’s false and real summits, as well as the saddle, from a position on the trail to Cameron’s summit)


Fractured rock is always a pain (for me) to navigate for long distances.  Here’s why:


(i) First, some of the boulders and rocks between them are not stably positioned.


They move, when you step on them.  When your own dynamic balance is a problem, navigating these presents a challenge.  For people with joint replacements, falls can be more disastrous than for those without.


(ii) Next, larger boulders generally make for noticeably high steps, up or down.


Going down means that people, who can no longer jump, either:


(a) have to squat and extend a leg to descend




(b) have to use trekking poles to support themselves in a forward weighted, descending position.


In regard to first, the squat-extend-and-downstep sequence gets tiring quickly.  And it further aggravates arthritic inflammation.


In regard to second, trekking pole tips have a tendency to get stuck in the spaces between rocks.  When they do, you find yourself getting yanked backward, as the rest of your body attempts to keep going forward.  That’s a nice prescription for twisting falls.


(iii) On paths covered with smaller rocks, there are always some that decide to roll under your feet, taking you for a short ride.  Easy to cope with, for the able.  Not so much, for the less capable.



In short, I did not like Democrat


The view atop Democrat is very fine.  And the summit is broad and comfortable.


But I disliked Democrat in the same way that I disliked navigating the bouldery summit on Pikes Peak (reviewed here).


Getting down, especially, took a lot out of me.  With raging arthritic inflammation by the time I got back down to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, I had guaranteed myself a painful and geezer-like rest of the day.



How about Mount Cameron?


The rocky trail to Cameron was mildly annoying, too.  Again, it was worse on the way down.


The rocks, however, are significantly smaller than the bigger stuff on Democrat.  And, for the most part, the approach to Cameron is not as steep.  If you find the trail from Kite Lake to the saddle easy enough, Cameron will not be any more challenging.


Getting to Cameron’s summit was painful mostly because Democrat’s rocks had already stirred all my joints into protest.  And neural effects were beginning to impact my step-to-step balance.  That meant the stability of each pace was uncertain enough to remind me how much I did not want to pitch forward, sideways, or backward and crack my head or replaced hip’s femur open.


On the very positive side, Cameron’s peak is pleasurably broad, flatly rounded, and mostly annoying-rock free.  Finding its high point can be difficult.  On the day that I was there, there was a very low cairn in the right spot.


The view from Cameron is great.  As a result, I see no need to do Democrat, if a view is what you’re after.



Mount Lincoln — my favorite of the three


The approach to Lincoln from Cameron is relatively easy. The trail has the fewest rocks and the best footing.


But there are a couple of places in which the terrain pitches very steeply down, on both sides, from narrow portions of the route.


Able hikers will have no trouble with these.  People like me, however, are guaranteed to think about what would happen, if they succumbed to a sudden neuromuscular twitch, while trying to navigate these short segments.


If you do pitch off the trail in these spots, the sliding fall is going to be considerable.  And getting back up is probably going to be less than fun.


That said, Lincoln is a delight.  Its summit is relatively small and cozy.  The view is fabulous.



Conclusion — I do not recommend Democrat for arthritics — but Cameron and Lincoln are doable and worth the effort (for people who are no more impaired than I am)


I won’t go up Democrat again.  It’s simply not worth the inflammatory effort or the risk of nasty falls.


I found Cameron and Lincoln to be much more aesthetically pleasing and somewhat easier, though farther, to get to.


My recommendation would be for hikers, who do have mild impairments, to go to the saddle from the Kite Lake trailhead and turn right (east-northeast) toward Cameron and Lincoln.  The to-the-saddle trail accurately forecasts what the approach to Cameron is going to be like.  So, by the time you get to the saddle, you will probably know whether you want to continue on to Cameron.


If summiting Cameron and Lincoln proves to be easy, you can always go up Democrat, before going back to your car.


On the other hand, arthritics need to be warned that the trail back to Kite Lake, from any of these peaks, seems a whole lot longer (and more painful) than it did on the way up.


Most of us are accustomed to the increased sense of effort toward the end of a hike.  But I mention it in this case because the effect seemed more extreme for me, on these three peaks, than it usually does.  The hike’s mostly non-stop rock-negotiating is probably what contributed to my perception.