Westword Reporter Tackles Colorado's Decalibron Loop After it Finally Opens | Westword

Like a Bross: Westword Reporter Tackles the DeCaLiBron Loop — Which Is Finally Open

Hikers have been champing at the bit to get back on Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross after the Decalibron loop was closed over lawsuit concerns.
The elevation sign at Mt. Bross overlooking its fellow DeCaLiBron peak, Mt. Democrat.
The elevation sign at Mt. Bross overlooking its fellow DeCaLiBron peak, Mt. Democrat. Bennito Kelty
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Standing nearly 14,000 feet up on Mount Democrat — exhausted, with my legs feeling like Jell-O and lungs pleading for oxygen — I wondered if I really even wanted to summit the fourteener's menacing mountain face.

My old high school buddy, Kadin Rivas, was feeling the same way.

"Are you sure?" Kadin asked me about our last leg of climbing as he stood at the saddle between Democrat and its slightly taller neighbor, Mount Cameron. Turning back would mean failing to complete Colorado's famous DeCaLiBron loop, which finally reopened on Friday, July 28, after months of being shuttered.

Hikers have been champing at the bit to get back on top of Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross (hence the name DeCaLiBron) ever since the challenging and scenic quartet of climbs was shut down by property owner John Reiber back in March. The decision came after Colorado lawmakers rejected a bill that would have protected landowners from potential lawsuits being filed by adventurers who get hurt while trekking in dangerous areas, such as those with abandoned mines.

Reiber was worried that the mine shafts on his private property — including ones he possibly didn't know about — would leave him vulnerable to legal buzzards looking to bankrupt him.

When Kadin and I went to check out the newly reopened DeCaLiBron loop on Saturday, July 29, one of the first things we noticed were the wooden mouths of old mine shafts dotting the faces of each fourteener. We had only planned to reach one summit that day, but knowing that access to the trail could be cut off again at some point — and that it might be more crowded if we returned at a later date — gave us some extra motivation.

"Yeah, let's do it," I said. To which Kadin replied, "Shit," before continuing our ascent.

The DeCaLiBron loop — located near the Town of Alma, just about two hours of driving from Denver — is a seven-mile trail that was tied with Mount Elbert, the state's tallest peak, for the third-most-hiked trail of 2022. Around 21,000 people hiked to one of the four peaks that year.

That was a 200 percent surge from what the loop saw in 2021, according to an annual report from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

Signs, discolored runoff and collapsed wooden beams are what currently give away the location of many of the mines that concern Reiber, a retired business executive who bought the peaks knowing that they were once rich in gold and silver, according to the Washington Post.
click to enlarge A hike walking up the face of Mt. Bross near the Town of Alma, Colorado.
Hiker Kadin Rivas ascending the fourteener Mt. Bross via the DeCaLiBron loop.
Bennito Kelty
Closer to the summit of Mount Bross, which is still off limits because of the danger threat, the mine shafts look as if they are still open. But the rest of what we found on the ridges and faces of the mountain had red and white signs that read "No trespassing."

Kadin and I had been settling for shorter hikes up the smaller Hoosier Ridge — across State Highway 9 from the DeCaLiBron peaks — when we couldn't summit the best peaks of the Mosquito Range. Then there was the fact that we had to reserve parking to hike the nearby Quandary Peak. 

But Saturday was different.

At around 13,000 feet, on our way up the face of Bross, we began seeing hikers who started to pass us on their way down. We greeted each of the adventurers and asked them how the trip to the top was.

Once five of them passed — including one woman coming down from the summit of Mount Bross — Kadin and I had seen enough.

"I think fourteneers should be open to the public," the woman commented, giving us renegades the spark and motivation we needed to tackle Mount Bross, despite the closure.

The Bross shutdown also stems from Reiber's response to the failed lawsuit protection bid, which came about after bicyclist James Nelson won a $7.3 million lawsuit in 2019.

Nelson had fought for eleven years against the military branch after riding into a sinkhole at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The verdict would ultimately scare other landowners of popular recreation destinations — including the owner of Mount Lindsey, near the Great Sand Dunes — into limiting access to their private property to avoid costly liability.

DeCaLiBron hikers are required to start their journey at the Kite Lake Trailhead, which sits at 12,000 feet in a verdant valley that opens to the south to let waters run down a clear, quiet creek toward Alma. The parking lot at Kite Lake was full with a few dozen cars as Kadin and I prepared to make our climb.

We showed up a few minutes before 7:30 a.m., paid the $8 fee (Kadin only had a $20 bill on him, but he happily made a donation to the U.S. Forest Service) and found a lucky lone parking spot near the trailhead.

Hikers start off by crossing the creek and walking to an area that offers two paths: one that takes you up to the saddle between Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron, and another that takes you along the western face of Mount Bross.

A sign at the entrance stated clearly that the way toward Mount Democrat and Mount Lincoln — which also takes you to Mount Cameron — was open, but that Mount Bross was still closed. We took the way up to Bross with the intention of swinging left toward Lincoln instead of summiting the forbidden peak. The hike was smooth for the first three or four hundred feet, with a stream and small waterfall accompanying us along our way until we were at about 13,000 feet up, where the real fun begins.

The ground in this area is mostly loose rocks and occasional wildflowers.

When we left Bross to hit Mount Lincoln, we saw other hikers who looked to be about college age coming up in the opposite direction. From the peak of Mount Lincoln, we saw lines of hikers who looked like ants marching on Bross's wide-open summit.
click to enlarge Bennito Kelty dips his hand in a stream along the DeCaLiBron loop near Alma, Colorado.
Bennito Kelty dips his hand in a small stream along the DeCaLiBron loop after completing the seven-mile trail up four fourteeners.
Kadin Rivas
Mount Lincoln appeared to be the most popular attraction over the weekend, despite its peak offering the least amount of hikeable space compared with the other three mountains. Once we had summited Mount Bross and Lincoln, Kadin and I felt we had gone high enough that Mount Cameron would be a straight shot of walking, without having to climb much more.

After chewing down some energy bars, we arrived on the almost flat, reddish-orange summit of Mount Cameron just before noon. We peered out at the descent toward Mount Democrat and the steep rise to its peak, and pondered the hell we were about to put ourselves through.

After passing by the closed mine on the saddle between Mount Cameron and Mount Democrat, we encountered a couple with two ferrets who asked if I could take their photo — which I did, obviously. Then, with almost no energy left, we proceeded to hike up the rocky face of Mount Democrat.

At its peak, Kadin and I looked around and saw rain clouds on all sides of us. Their wisps danced over the peaks on other ranges around us, and we sat there for a moment, regaining our strength for the way down and enjoying the sights of curious marmots, along with a deep silence far from the city.

"We did it," I told Kadin. "Now we can tell everyone about it."

As we limped back down, I splashed my sunburned face with water from a stream and tried bringing myself back to reality. The prospect of cold beers and cheesesteaks at Crossroads Pub & Grill in Pine Junction weighed heavily on my mind.

A male hiker, who chatted us up on his descent, summed up our day — and decision to ignore the Mount Bross closure signs and body fatigue — perfectly.

"They can fine me or whatever — I don't care," he said. "It's just so beautiful up here."

Read a rebuttal from Lloyd Athearn, the executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and Anneliese Steel, the chair of the Fix CRUS Coalition.
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