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Sport: Vertical Vacation

Kim Fredericks

Four miles and 4,000 vertical feet from the beginning of our journey, we reach the summit of Mount Huron only to discover that we have company. Meandering along the narrow summit crest, among boulder shards split by lightning, is a lone mountain goat, and he is not pleased with the intrusion. He lingers long enough for us to snap a few photographs, and then he drops from the horizon, gracefully descending a much steeper incline than the one we struggled to climb on all fours.

Reaching the top proves to be worth enduring the 5 am wake-up call and the brutal switchbacks that tried my lungs and calves. Besides the thrill of seeing a mountain goat, I savor a panorama of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. This strip of the Continental Divide contains 15 of Colorado’s 54 mountains that tower above 14,000 feet, and I have just climbed my first “14er,” the colloquial name for these peaks.

The trek to the top of 14,003-foot Mount Huron grew more difficult as it progressed, culminating with a punishing 800-foot scramble over boulders and across loose gravel to reach the summit. While not extreme, hiking Huron and other 14ers near Beaver Creek, Colo., is akin to skiing the backcountry at one of the region’s ski resorts: It is difficult, addictive, and within reach of the necessary après-sport activities. Here, the choices include a barefoot Ashiatsu massage at Allegria Spa (where a therapist walks across your back and legs), sunset dinners at the Grouse Mountain Grill at nearby Pines Lodge, and restful nights beneath a goose-down duvet at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.
 
The hotel’s Hike Weeks, which were inspired by its successful Technique Weeks skiing program, draw adrenaline-starved big-mountain enthusiasts during the summer. The program, which will be expanded into the fall in 2004, encourages participants to push their limits on the mountain and later enjoy the resort’s amenities. Included are six nights’ accommodation, four guided hikes, cocktail receptions, meals, and spa treatments. The Hiking Center at Beaver Creek provides everything from boots to granola bars to rain gear.

The Hike Week adventure begins with a two-hour trek along the Spruce Saddle Loop on Beaver Creek Mountain to help us acclimatize. The next day we set out on a six-hour hike to Missouri Lakes, following a trail that winds through high alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers, passes cascading waterfalls, and finally ends in the Missouri Valley. After arriving at our destination under sunny skies and braving a quick dip in an icy mountain lake, we discover how quickly mountain weather can change. Within minutes, storm clouds block the sun, the temperature drops, lightning flashes, and pea-sized hail begins pelting us. Feeling uneasy holding metal hiking poles in a storm, we quicken our pace to reach safety below the tree line. Thirty minutes later, the sunshine returns.

Another moderate hike is scheduled for day three, followed by a day off to explore nearby Vail and participate in other activities such as golfing, nighttime river rafting, and relaxing poolside. The culmination of our trip, the 14er, is hiked on a storm-free, Colorado bluebird day. From the top of Mount Huron, our guide points out other 14,000-foot peaks—Holy Cross, Mount Belford, Mount Yale, Mount Princeton—as I begin planning my next vacation. One down, 53 to go.
 
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, 970.949.1234, 800.55.HYATT, www.beavercreek.hyatt.com

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