Harry R. Schwartz

Code writer, sometime Internet enthusiast, attractive nuisance.

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British Columbia



Hiking the Decalibron


Published .
Tags: colorado, outdoors, personal.

Update: Note that Mt. Bross is technically on private property which forbids trespassing. Whoops! To stay legal, just follow the usual trail to summit Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln, then return to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron and descend from there.

Sadly, “the Decalin” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

A few days ago I hiked the Decalibron, a classic Colorado trail. It’s a loop visiting the summits of four 14,000’ mountains: Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron,1 Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross (hence De-Ca-Li-Bron).

Map of the Decalibron

The views are spectacular, and it’s an easy way to bag three fourteeners in one day.

The standard route is to park at the Kite Lake campground, hike up to the saddle between Mt. Democrat and Mt. Cameron, summit Democrat, circle around clockwise to Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross, and finally head down Bross back to the trailhead. The trail between the lake and the summit of Bross is covered in scree, and folks usually argue that it’s easier coming down than coming up, so it’s less common (but certainly possible) to do the loop in reverse.

The trail is well marked, popular, and easy to follow. I may have used my hands once or twice, and the scree on Bross got kinda old after a while, but despite the dramatic scenery there’s no significant exposure. Class 2 hiking, at worst.

Hiking up Mt Democrat

I expected a real workout, but it’s actually not that hard of a hike! If you can comfortably run a 5K and are a bit acclimated to the altitude, you’ll probably be fine.

Mt Arkansas viewed from the summit of Mt Democrat

The last five miles of the road to the trailhead are dirt, but it’s in good shape and doesn’t require 4WD or high clearance—I drive a subcompact hatchback and didn’t have any trouble. There’s plenty of parking along the road, and there’s an outhouse at the trailhead. There’s also plenty of space to camp (for $12/night) if you’d rather sleep at altitude and get an earlier start.

Mt Cameron viewed from the summit of Mt Democrat

I didn’t take many breaks, aside from a sandwich on Lincoln, but I also wasn’t in any particular rush. For the more obsessive planners like myself, my timeline was:

8:00   Left trailhead
9:30   Summitted Democrat
10:40   Summitted Cameron
11:05   Summitted Lincoln
12:00   Summitted Bross
1:10   Returned to trailhead

I started a bit later than I would’ve preferred, but the forecast was clear and I didn’t run into any thunderstorms. The little cumulus clouds were starting to gather by the time I got back to my car, though, and there aren’t a lot of convenient bailouts midway through the hike if conditions deteriorate, so hitting the trail by 7:00 would probably be best.

Mt Lincoln viewed from the summit of Mt Cameron

Bring the ten essentials. It’s fairly cool, even in August, so you’ll want a fleece or light jacket. Conversely, there’s no shade, so I’d suggest a broad-brimmed hat, plenty of sunscreen, and 2-3 liters of water. I didn’t bring my trekking poles and spent the whole slippery trail down Bross kicking myself. If you’ve got ‘em, take ‘em.

Buckskin Creek from the summit of Mt Democrat

  1. While Mt. Cameron is indeed over fourteen thousand feet, it’s quite close to the slightly higher Mt. Lincoln and the saddle between the two mountains is less than three hundred vertical feet from the summits, so it’s usually not included on the official list of Colorado 14ers

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