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I inhaled a few short puffs from my recreational oxygen canister and took a long sip of my electrolyte-powder-laced water. As I leaned against my trekking poles and caught my breath, a marmot ran by, scrambling up a nearly vertical wall of jagged rocks and causing scree to careen downward. I readjusted my helmet, tightened my harness, glanced backward into the valley that was now far below me, and trudged on.
This wasn’t a distant planet I was traversing, but it may as well have been. I had begun hiking Wilson Peak, located just outside Telluride, Colo., when the sky was still pitch-black and the Milky Way was out in full force — a rare sighting for an Angeleno. Now, it was sunny and warm, and my hiking group was making its way to the 14,017-foot summit.
As one of Colorado’s 58 mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet — known as fourteeners — Wilson Peak is popular with “peak baggers,” mountaineer types who aim to summit a collection of peaks. While I can’t name myself among them, I was determined to make it to at least this one apex — altitude, fatigue and risk of injury be damned.
What I didn’t count on was my escalating anxiety as we scrambled over loose, sharp rocks that clattered down startlingly vertical drops. Thankfully, I had an expert leader to quell my unease: the calm and ever-patient Josh Butson, owner of San Juan Outdoor Adventures.
In addition to their everyday guiding, Butson and his staff lead novice and expert hikers up the mountain each summer as part of The Hotel Telluride’s “Crack a Coors on Wilson Peak” package. The offering includes a three-night stay, breakfast, a guided tour to the summit and much-needed post-hike spa services. (Rates begin at $2,159, based on double occupancy.) And, of course, to celebrate their journey, clients sip on a Coors Banquet or a Coors Light — both beers feature the iconic peak on their labels.
The annual package is available from July 1 to Sept. 15 (dates are weather-dependent), but it’s never too early to start booking. As the trek encompasses Class 3 and 4 climbing grades — which means scrambling and lots of exposure — clients must be in good physical (and mental) shape.
Indeed, the hike benched some members of our group at various points before the summit (myself included thanks to my fear of heights). But after enjoying hours of stunning panoramas at nearly every turn, I still felt as though I had finished on a high note.
Wilson Peak is one of Colorado’s “14ers,” with a summit that sits at 14,017 feet, and it’s also the mountain on the Coors Light and Coors Banquet labels. // © 2017 Telluride Tourism Board/Ryan Bonneau
The Hotel Telluride offers the “Crack a Coors on Wilson Peak” package every year from July through mid-September. // © 2017 Telluride Tourism Board/Ryan Bonneau
As part of the package, hotel guests will ascend the peak alongside guides from San Juan Outdoor Adventures. // © 2017 Michelle Juergen
The hike begins around 5 a.m., but the sunrise views are well worth the early rise time. // © 2017 Michelle Juergen
The writer (far right) with members of her hiking group. // © 2017 Josh Butson
Climbers will get a look at varying landscapes as they make their way to the summit. // © 2017 Michelle Juergen
Even at a high altitude, there’s always time for goofy photo ops. // © 2017 Meg Spenchian
The writer takes in her surroundings. // © 2017 Michelle Juergen
Hiking Wilson Peak requires some scrambling over loose rocks. // © 2017 Meg Spenchian
Gladstone Saddle is the last saddle before the steep ascent to Wilson Peak’s summit. // © 2017 Michelle Juergen