An appreciation of elevation: Siblings ages 11, 13 might be youngest to ever summit ‘Baldy’

Ed McCarthy and his children Brianna, 11, and Mason, 13, at the peak of Mt. Craig in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Marlo McCarthy / Courtesy photo

Standing at 12,007 feet elevation overlooking Grand Lake, 11-year-old Brianna McCarthy and her 13-year-old brother, Mason, picked stones from the peak of Mt. Craig to add to the stack from previous summiters.

The siblings hiked the iconic mountain, known locally as Mt. Baldy, with their parents, Ed and Marlo, in August, overcoming a steep, trail-less route and potentially setting a record for the youngest climbers ever to reach the top.

“I felt more alive than ever, and I just felt so proud of myself that I made it,” Brianna said. “I felt like if I could climb Mt. Baldy, than I could do anything.”

No official records exist through Rocky Mountain National Park or the Grand Lake Area Historical Society documenting the people who have summited Mt. Craig, so it’s hard to know with certainty that the McCarthy siblings are the youngest to make it all the way to the top. However, after checking in with numerous local groups, the Sky-Hi News was unable to find anyone younger who’s scaled the mountain.

As part-time Grand Lake residents, Ed said the family has always enjoyed outdoor adventures and traveling. Each year for Ed’s birthday, the family celebrates by hiking together and each year, the hike gets slightly more difficult.

“We’re big believers in involving our kids in everything life has to offer because we want them to experience everything first-hand,” he said.

This year, Ed wanted to climb Mt. Craig for his 53rd birthday, which looms just over a mile away from their backyard.

“Frankly, it was exponentially harder than I thought it was going to be, but we got so far into it that we couldn’t look back,” Ed said with a chuckle. “We never had a car. We literally went out our back door and came right back to it.”

Brianna McCarthy, 11, and her brother Mason, 13, camping in Rocky Mountain National Park on their way to climb Mt. Craig.
Ed McCarthy / Courtesy photo

Though the family had hiked and camped together, this was their first backcountry backpacking trip. The McCarthys started out from their back door on Aug. 11 and headed to the East Inlet Trailhead on foot with each family member carrying a pack equal to around one-fourth of their weight.

From the trailhead, the family hiked 7.5 miles to Slickrock Campsite, where they stayed the first night.

The next leg of the trip was a shorter 1.2-mile jaunt to Lake Verna, where the climb to Mt. Craig’s peak begins. However, there isn’t a marked trail to the top, and roughly a third of the journey was made on hands and knees.

“It was really steep all the way to the top and the whole mountain was below you, so you had to grab on to the grass,” Brianna said. “It was really scary because the grass sometimes broke and you’d think you were going to fall off the mountain.”

Ed estimates it took the four family members about four and a half hours to reach the top with an elevation gain of just under 2,000 feet.

Despite the difficulties of the trek, which included a spontaneous hail storm and boulder-covered terrain, Mason said the trip was worth it for the view, including the Grand Lake Golf Course where he plays.

“I was able to see in every directions for miles,” Mason said. “You could see everything to Shadow Mountain Lake. I’m a huge golfer so it was really cool to see the course. It was really awesome at the top.”

The McCarthy family at Adams Falls on their way up to Lake Verna and Mt. Craig in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Ed McCarthy / Courtesy photo

Getting back down Mt. Craig was slightly easier and quicker, taking only three hours. Back at the campsite, the family celebrated with apple cider, hot chocolate and freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream.

“My favorite part was having the quality family time,” Brianna said. “I really enjoyed that we had a lot of good conversations.”

In order to return home, the McCarthys headed past Lake Verna to Spirit Lake and Fifth Lake and finally back around to the North Inlet Trailhead and into town.

Looking back on the trip, Ed said he was beyond proud of his family, not only for achieving their goal of getting to Mt. Craig’s peak, but also for acting as a team throughout the highs and lows.

“We overcame whatever obstacles were thrown at us and we stuck together,” Ed said. “I learned that we humans are physically and mentally tougher than we give ourselves credit for.”

Next up, the McCarthys hope to tackle all 53 of Colorado’s 14ers, including Longs Peak, yet another mountain visible from their backyard.

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