Ouray & Silverton: does sleeping in your truck make you feel like a badass?

Last year I started a new tradition of mountaining for my birthday, continuing this year in the beautiful (and relatively remote) towns of Silverton and Ouray, Colorado. Of course, in true Sarah’s birthday tradition, there was snow. And mountains! And coffee.

trail to ice lakes, near Silverton

trail to ice lakes, near Silverton

I had been dreaming this trip up for months; I hadn’t yet been to Silverton (my planned trip was postponed in favor of going to Lake City to meet up with my badass runner friend Trish) and basically I’ve been wanting to get back to Ouray ever since the last time I was there in March. In sharp contrast to my usual running trips, I had wild designs to stock up on all sorts of pre-made food from Whole Foods, so I might eat like a queen on the road. With a full cooler, piles of sleeping bags and blankets, and a new playlist, I + dogs left Leadville on the morning of my birthday for the 4.5 hour drive to Silverton.

I make a lot of jokes about how I live in the middle of nowhere, but the truth is Silverton is the middle of nowhere. It’s a tiny, ragged town (both tinier AND more ragged than Leadville, which is apparently possible) situated so deep in the middle of the mountains that it’s only accessible by gnarly mountain passes. Red Mountain Pass, from Ouray, is so gnarly in fact that it’s closed nearly every day now for construction because the outer lane is falling off and they’re trying to blast deeper into the mountain so the future pass can be more than one single lane. Red Mountain Pass (also called the Million Dollar Highway, which is great because I think at this point they’ve spent WELL over a million dollars on this road and it makes me think of Dr. Evil saying “one MILLION dollars”) is named for the iron oxide in the slopes of the surrounding San Juans (it’s true, they’re really red, the San Juans of Silverton and Lake City are extremely large piles of red dirt). I just found an amazing article (http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20140624/NEWS01/140629751/Highway-to-hell-) that says not only is Highway 550 one of the 12 most dangerous roads in the world, but also that it is notorious for having the highest avalanche danger per mile, and this beautiful piece of prose “the narrow road winds through the mountains like a drunk crazily stumbling, and there’s no guardrail to protect cars attempting hairpin turns from hurtling into the jagged ravines that lie, stunning and ominous, hundreds of feet below.” In fact, there are no guardrails because it would be too hard to push the snow off, and let me tell you, the stories of snowplow driver deaths are so harrowing that I can’t even fathom how much that job pays at this point.

the red mountains of this area of San Juans, from Red Cloud

the red mountains of this area of San Juans, from Red Cloud

Anyway, I rolled into Silverton, was amazed by the decrepit and tiny town I found, then promptly drove up a Jeep road looking for a campsite. What I stumbled upon was EPIC. Up on a hillside, miles into the wilderness, waterfall in proximity, spectacular mountain views. “Welcome to Silverton, Sarah, please enjoy this, the best campsite of all time, in honor of your birthday.” I almost considered setting up a tent and making a campfire, but chose instead to bunk down in the back of Hooptie in a cozy, warm nest, and read until I fell asleep.

the view from the best campsite of all time.  Not pictured is the waterfall to the right of this view, best night of sleep ever!

the view from the best campsite of all time. Not pictured is the waterfall to the right of this view, best night of sleep ever!

Waking up in the morning in your truck in the middle of nowhere, there’s not a lot to distract you. You get your chameleon cold brew out of the cooler, throw some nutella on a tortilla, and put your running shoes on. I’m not gonna lie, you guys, I rarely even change clothes for the duration of a running trip. Who’s going to care? The mountain? Then you run all day, sleep all night. You’re limited to the food you brought with you (plus the Snickers and Coke you’ll inevitably buy when you go into town later), so I pretty much eat Nutella and tortillas, pb&j’s, and on this particular trip chips and (fancy) buffalo fake chicken wraps (for the two days they lasted). And I don’t even care. At home I wouldn’t touch a pb&j at this point I’m so sick of them, but sitting on the tailgate between trails it’s pb&j mow time. Read by headlamp, fall asleep. The next day is much the same: wake up, drink cold brew, eat Nutella and tortilla, put on yer shoes. Run mountains, come back for lunch, run more mountains, go into town. Snickers and Coke. Find a new camping spot.

flannel lined nest in the back of Hooptie

flannel lined nest in the back of Hooptie

Then I was in OURAY. I fucking love Ouray. Headed up to Mt. Sneffels (I know.) it’s immediately obvious that there’s a whole lot of snow above 12k. Sneffels, from Ridgeway to the West, actually has incredible vertical prominence (7,200) for the Colorado Rockies, and as this section of the San Juans have very distinct jaggedness and striped ridges, she was named for a volcano in Iceland, Snaefell, that appears in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Apart from some silly Kansas tourists who don’t know the number one rule of Jeep roads (if you can’t drive faster than you can walk, then you or your car don’t belong) the drive in to Yankee Boy Basin was absolutely spectacular and fully otherworldly. I parked a ways below the basin for the extra mileage and headed out, woefully under prepared (while I suspected I would come across snow, I didn’t manage to bring spikes, wool socks, or gaiters). The trail up Sneffels crosses the basin, heading to Blue Lake Pass, then you take a sharp right to climb a crazy steep gully all the way to the ridge. It was actively snowing pretty good, and near the sharp right I ran into a guy hiking with his dog. “I was heading to Blue Lake Pass but there’s blizzard conditions! Where are you going?” I smiled awkwardly and lied through my teeth, “Oh, just hiking until I feel like turning around.” He accepted my terrible lies and went on his way, and I took the sharp right and started climbing the gully full of two feet of wet snow.

this was taken in the basin.  up the gully and on the ridge we gained FEET of snow!  and as you can see, I was woefully underprepared

this was taken in the basin. up the gully and on the ridge we gained FEET of snow! and as you can see, I was woefully underprepared

The climb made me question my sanity, as usual, because when you’re climbing so steep that you can barely ascend in the snow, how do you think you’re going to get down? And as usual, I relegated that question for later thought and powered up. The ridge boasted stupidly hard gusts of wind, and I thought about the TH sign that warned of the wildly high winds (up to 200 MPH!!) one might find on the Sneffels ridge. I pulled my buff over my face and carried on. By the time we made it to the summit, Lu was coated in wet snow (and a little pissed) and I was trying to remember how long it had been since I felt my feet. We paused long enough to turn my phone on and hope that it would stay on despite the cold for the 15 seconds to take this selfie:

the black at the bottom is Lu

the black at the bottom is Lu

then turned around. Tramping through the thigh deep snow on the ridge was cold but fine, and an excellent preview of winter. Descending the gully was about as I expected (not possible without spikes) so I took advantage of the lack of exposure and excellently slippery wet snow and glissaded almost the entire way. When we were back in the basin, Lu gave me the familiar “you can’t be serious, we’re going back already?!?” look and I wish you could argue with dogs sometimes because it was very different than the “you can’t be serious, why the fuck are we up here!?!” look that she had on no less than an hour ago. The basin offered stunning Northerly-ish views that I hadn’t noticed on the way in:

an entirely different world

an entirely different world

Descending to where we parked took us below snow altitude and apparently out of the storm going on in and around the basin; it was sunny and hot and I had to strip all the winter gear in a hurry. Back in Ouray it was nearly summer again. We ran the Ouray Perimeter trail and it further and further cemented my mad love for this teeny tiny town. Also, this is great, I found a campground on the edge of the city

really.

really.

My speculation is that because you can drive your rv’s and trailers into Ouray from the North, but to camp anywhere you’d have to take them up on Red Mountain Pass or on one of the various Jeep roads (towards Sneffels or Imogene Pass or off of Auditorium), the alternative is to park in town I guess. Get a Coke in town, pb&j, find a place to camp, read by headlamp until you fall asleep. Wake up, drink cold brew, nutella on a tortilla, put on yer running shoes. Find a mountain, run up it. Pb&j. Repeat. Coke in town, find a place to camp, read by headlamp, fall asleep.

Ouray

Ouray

What all of this means is: I love the simplicity. There’s no distractions. I always bring my journal but I almost never write in it, unless it’s to record one of my profound breakthroughs during a run (here’s one from Silverton, it’s fucking gold: we’re not looking for anything, we’re trying to find ways to sacrifice more and pay the price of freedom-for it is steep. Sometimes you have to break the things you love, and sometimes you have to love the things you fear; most often both). I run all day, I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat, it’s just fuel. I don’t have to do work around the house, or go to work. I rarely talk to anybody, and I never, ever feel lonely on these trips, despite that I spend all of my time completely alone. I come back glowing, and it’s because I’m completely rejuvenated. When people say “no worries or cares” I think what worries most people isn’t even the worries-it’s the constant process of making the 3,000 decisions that go into your daily life. Those constant decisions are there in most vacations, too. The simplicity of a running trip…I think I’m onto something.

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Nolan’s 14 (can you ever be ready?)

All this week I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I know it’s because I’m so scared of what’s coming. I’ve spent the last 8 months or so fully dedicated to training for Nolan’s. I don’t know that there’s anything that can fully prepare you for real adventure.

Here’s two words that I think are constantly misused:

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You know I just read that feeling AWE strengthens your immune system? I’ll never get sick again!

Fear is a big part of this game. I’m starting to understand what a big role it plays. My boss said it sounds like Nolan’s is “type 3 fun”- it’s not fun to talk about before, it’s not fun to do, but maybe’s it’s fun to talk about after” but I don’t think that is true to what it means to me either. It is the hardest, scariest, most brutal, riskiest thing I have ever tried to do. When I finish, it will be my moment- not because it’s fun, but because overcoming all of that will be the highest of highs. Rising above fear-that’s the triumph of the human spirit. The ladder to the stars.

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This weekend is my first ultra distance race. I didn’t think I was going to race this year, but I suddenly wanted to get one in before the season’s over. I’m worried about it, I’ve never raced more than 8 miles. I am hoping that it will be a kind of fun. Then Sunday I’m heading out for my practice run of the Nolan’s route. Doing it backwards because it makes the most sense ride-wise to get dropped off by Salida so I’m closer to home when I finish. Last week’s bushwacking was just a little peek at how wild it’s going to be. I’ve got 4.5 days to do it, cross your fingers for me. If I’m strong enough and brave enough, I’ll touch the sky.

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BUSHWACKING (if you feel lost, get lost)

Off trail is great for getting sticks in your hair, falling in rivers, discovering knee deep bogs, generally being terrified of fauna and the potential for never getting home, and adventuring in new ways that requires so much of your faculties that you can’t think about your other problems.

I’ve been having a lot of problems lately; feeling isolated, being incredibly stressed out by and generally hating my job, trying to manage my training schedule and upcoming trips, and a variety of smaller things. I’m finally doing the Nolan’s 14 un-official run through the first week of August and I have just realized how terrified I am to face such a big adventure when I really haven’t done much big and scary stuff all year. The two things that scare me the most about Nolan’s are navigating off trail and running through the night. I decided to tackle bushwacking today.

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In the winter, I did tons of backcountry snowshoeing and skiing with no apparent trails, but with 5 feet of snow everything is different. I discovered today that I have a totally unfounded fear of stepping on a rattlesnake. Plus, I apparently have decided that I’m relatively safe from bears and mountain lions only on trails (because why would bears and mountain lions hang out near trails? I don’t know, but thats when I’ve seen the most bears so nobody knows where the illusion of safety came from!)

The biggest thing I noticed about bushwacking back from Mt Massive was my heightened senses and focus. There was no time of effort left over worrying or stressing or thinking. Adventuring should always be like this, and was for me last year but now most of my day trips are kind of same old and I’m not so focused.

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Other perks included: finding all sorts of wildflowers I’ve never seen before, crossing the same river 5 times (only falling in it once!), climbing a veritable jungle gym of fallen trees, and seeing the unexpected. At one point we were wading through a bog in the willows and I stumbled upon what looked almost like a trail. There were many fresh footprints in the mud- none of them human. Game trail! Also, piles of poop EVERYWHERE. Clearly the animals of the wilderness poop a lot and they’re not doing it near trails.

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Finally, there’s the distinct fear of not knowing where you are. Yeah, you can get lost on trails. But it is a world of difference being lost in the wild. Because at least the trail goes somewhere. And that, I’m pretty sure, is that magical feeling of exploration. Once you’ve mastered it, you can go anywhere.

We stumbled across the Colorado trail quite suddenly and by accident, and at first I was relieved. 30 seconds later, I was almost disappointed, and I bet Luna that we could find a more interesting way home. (And we did)

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Winter Camping (taking misery to new heights)

If you’ve ever wanted to do extensive research on hypothermia and frostbite, not to mention crunching the numbers on temperatures, the gear you’re bringing, and the length of exposure, you should probably go winter camping.

If you’ve ever wanted to see icicles grow off of your dog’s coat, you should go winter camping.

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If you’ve ever wanted to restrict your meals to 4 minutes or less because standing still or sitting for longer will freeze you to death, you should go winter camping.

If you’re curious about game trails and very clear large animal prints, or if you’d like to know how easy it is to wake a bear up out of torpor (because their hibernation is SO LIGHT it’s not actually considered hibernation by most scientists), you should go winter camping.

I’m not going to mention going to the bathroom. Or the large frozen blood chunks in the snow. Okay, maybe we’ll talk about one of those. What I’m really not going to talk about is the LYNX tracks.

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So I told you, internet, that I had been fantasizing a lot about Nolan’s 14 and I briefly considered what it might be like to attempt a winter FKT, which as far as I know hasn’t been done. I also had high hopes for several day backcountry snowboarding trips this winter. Mark had some vacation time coming up and I was high off of the very exciting Capitol trip, and I wildly suggested a 3-day foray into winter camping to test the waters. And by waters, I mean several feet of frozen water.

Day one: We didn't hate our lives or the universe yet here

Day one: We didn’t hate our lives or the universe yet here

The day before I managed to use my excellent new knot tying skills and several feet of paracord to attach not one, but TWO sleeping bags to my pack. A nice 15 degree bag and an outrageously heavy outer bag made of flannel, some kind of vinyl or something, and probably filled with lead that I lovingly named BIG MAMA and cursed about 90 times during the trip, except while we were sleeping of course because Big Mama stood between me and death. Packed full of food and in every piece of winter gear I own, we drove 6ish miles west of Aspen on one of many “creek” roads where we parked and headed out into the wild.

And this is what my "pack" looked like.  By the end of the trip, I very strongly considered dumping most of my gear.  Upon arrival to the truck at the end, I dropped everything, laid down on top of it, and cried harder than I have in a very long time.

And this is what my “pack” looked like. By the end of the trip, I very strongly considered dumping most of my gear. Upon arrival to the truck at the end, I dropped everything, laid down on top of it, and cried harder than I have in a very long time.

Lu on her way in, just after we arrived

Lu on her way in, just after we arrived

So there were some foot tracks in just a little ways, the mystery of that is why would you bother to get there and start hiking in only for about 400 feet…but to each his own. What was worse was amongst these tracks was not just a little, but an incredible amount of frozen blood underneath a foot or so of snow. We speculated a bit but not that much…there wasn’t really an answer that’s not terribly disturbing I think.

Lu breaks trail

Lu breaks trail

Hypothermia. The body must maintain 97.7-99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. As the limbs decrease in temperature, heat from the core goes outward to replenish and if the core can’t keep it up from there things start going downhill. There are four stages:

Stage 1: awake and shivering 90-95 degrees
Stage 2: drowsy and not shivering 82-90 degrees
Stage 3: unconscious, not shivering 68-82 degrees
Stage 4: no vital signs less than 68 degrees

1500 people die in the US every year of hypothermia. Then, there’s the other cold related problems, frostbite and frostnip. I don’t really even want to talk about Chillblains. You know a little girl in Sweden was revived after a body temperature of 54 degrees!? Did you see that movie about the mountaineer ice climbers that made the first ascent of some giant mountain in Peru or somewhere and there was an accident and anyway they were out there for a couple days and their skin was made up with all sorts of creepy sores? I’m thinking they were supposed to be Chillblains now that I know about them, and that’s all I have to say about Chillblains.

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I had a pretty interesting moment while climbing through extensive brush in order to fill up Nalgenes from the river (and btw, did you know that backcountry mountain water in the winter is THE MOST refreshing water that exists in the world? true story, it tastes nothing like the bottled water that is claimed to come from mountain springs either) because I realized that if *I* were a bear, I would most definitely hibernate in very thick brush by the river and since bears don’t officially hibernate they can be woken up at the drop of a hat (or by the brush breaking over them). I’m unsure how they can just pop up and attack you, since their body temperature drops to 5 degrees fahrenheit and their heart rate to 8-12 beats per minute. But what’s impressive is that mama bears go under pregnant and pop out cubs during. Also, by some miracle of supposed science their muscles don’t atrophy.

Getting water- a wonderful high point, especially since I wasn't mauled by 5 degree bears

Getting water- a wonderful high point, especially since I wasn’t mauled by 5 degree bears

I’m not really sure what else to say about the fateful trip. You don’t sleep, then after hours of not sleeping you get suddenly warm enough to sleep for 30 minutes and you wake up freezing again. The forecasted high temperature does not apply to the mountains, even if it’s forecasted for the mountains. Even worse, there’s hardly any sun (it’s obscured by MOUNTAINS). Baked beans that were boiling are amazingly cold in less than three minutes. We still don’t know if it’s better or much worse to clear the snow below the tent (don’t worry, before winter’s out I will be able to build a snow cave and I’ll tell you about it). You can’t put up a tent in your giant snow mittens so you have to do it with bare hands and they FREEZE, so bring a second pair of less-warm-but-more-workable gloves. I thought I was a bigger badass for some reason, but the backcountry reminded me what hardcore means. What is miserable suddenly becomes less miserable once you admit you’re miserable.

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Oh- and snow covered mountains and icy rivers are gorgeous and epic.

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Capitol Peak (and I discovered I will risk my life)

As you know, Capitol was planned to be the piece de la resistance, the 28th summit over 14,000ft of my 28th year, and we were to summit on the morning of my birthday. It is occasionally referred to as the most technically difficult 14er in Colorado, and it certainly makes the top 5 for most dangerous and most deadly due to its long ridge ascent that is sometimes class 4, very exposed, includes challenging route finding, and, of course, the crossing of the famous “knife edge” ridge.

Capitol Peak (14,130ft) 17miles, 5300ft gain

thar she is, so far in the distance, to the left

thar she is, so far in the distance, to the left

Dan and I at the TH

Dan and I at the TH

We had the game plan of hiking in to the lake (5.5miles from the TH) on Thursday so we could be ascending to the ridge early in the day on Friday, giving us the best possible chance to summit. We left later than we had planned, and then there was the snow. Oh, did I forget to mention? It’s been snowing ALL WEEK in the Elk Range and there is now FEET of snow. So in order to set up before nightfall, and because we assumed the temperatures would be even lower near the lake, we made camp a mile or so out from the lake in a relatively flat area beneath some trees.

This was taken not very far into the hike, as you can tell because we're not dragging ourselves through snow yet

This was taken not very far into the hike, as you can tell because we’re not dragging ourselves through snow yet

I crawled immediately into my sleeping bag, hoping to get warm, because as darkness fell shit was getting cold. To no avail. I did my best to eat my frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drink some water because I knew I needed to, but it’s hard when you’re cold. That might be the biggest struggle, is that you don’t want to eat or drink. Dan brought me a bottle of boiling hot water to put in my sleeping bag with me and that was a real game changer. Not to imply that I slept more than about 45min total over the course of that horrible night. This was my first experience in winter camping. Don’t let the horribleness of the situation fool you, now I’m hooked on winter camping. It was 15 degrees that night.

This was taken on my birthday morning.  It's what it looks like to camp in January.  But it was October.

This was taken on my birthday morning. It’s what it looks like to camp in January. But it was October.

Waking up in the morning, you have to surrender your sleeping bag and put your shoes back on, that have frozen completely solid. You know that when you get moving, there’s a better chance of being warm again, but that seems very far in the future. Dan said, “Happy Birthday, Sarah.” Yep.

During a river crossing, I slipped off the snow covered log I was on and ended up directly in the river. We also refilled water bottles here, and let me tell you that ice cold mountain river water is the freshest water I’ve ever tasted. Up until just before the lake we were fortunate enough to be following a trail that a man with two horses and a dog had made (I suppose he was an actual cowboy), but his trail disappeared and we were left to break trail through knee deep snow on our own. Breaking trail is so much work. At the lake, you turn and head up the ascent to the saddle that will bring you to the ridge.

Here's the ridge.  We'd be hiking up to the saddle on the left just out of the picture.  The right is Capitol Peak.

Here’s the ridge. We’d be hiking up to the saddle on the left just out of the picture. The right is Capitol Peak.

This part was arduous. I imagine when it’s not covered by feet of snow, the trail switchbacks because it’s so steep. You do a lot of sliding back down, and some parts I couldn’t even bring myself back up to standing and ended up crawling to a less slippery place. My feet were freezing but my torso was burning up and sweating. It’s that weird feeling like you’re warm again, but that’s a very tenuous moment. Dan and I sat on the saddle for a few minutes, eating frozen clif bars and speculating about the upcoming ridge.

Up until this moment, we had been thinking that the ridge looked rocky, like the snow had mostly blown off of it. We could see now that most of the ridge was covered in several feet of snow, including terrifying cornices that obscured the actual location of the ridge itself. Heading out, Dan tested traversing through a cornice and it was successful. Each success doesn’t really make you less afraid, I think. But it does make you more likely to go on to the next dangerous decision and choose to keep going. There was a bit of steep scree scrambling that was unsettling as it was mired with ice, then some technical climbing. Dan waiting for me at the top of this bit and once I stepped onto the rock above and he turned to take a step forward, the cornice beside us, one foot away, broke off suddenly and avalanched down the side of the mountain. I think that moment was the hardest my heart has ever beaten. [I’m unsure if it’s acceptable to use avalanche as a verb…I’ll look into that in the future]

We kept going.

This was the steep scree bit followed by the technical bit.

This was the steep scree bit followed by the technical bit.

Before each increasingly dangerous obstacle, Dan would turn around and say “you okay?” and I’d say “I’m okay if you’re okay” and we’d trudge on. There was another technical bit that made it apparently exactly what class 4 is-it’s complete vertical climbing with very obvious ledges and handholds, kind of like 5-.2. Another interesting section as most of the good foot ledges were covered in ice and snow. The best part of this bit was, directly underneath it is a slide into a gully that would likely result in 100’s of feet. Do you remember the first time I climbed, and I was fascinated that each time you make a move and take a risk, it feels very much like you’re risking your life, but you’re really not because someone at the other end of the rope will catch you. In this moment, the risk was very much your life, and you don’t think you’ll make a mistake but you don’t know. This was a pivotal moment, I realized I will without flinching risk my life to touch the sky. Before you judge me for that, is it so much better to waste it?

As we began the traverse around K2, the snow got increasingly deeper and it seemed we were not only casually walking into the complete unknown (wtf is under 3-4ft of snow? we don’t have any idea what we’re stepping on) but also putting ourselves right in the middle of what could later be a big old snow slide. After a decent amount of this waist deep trail breaking, we stopped and looked at each other. We agreed it was time to go back. The truth was, we had long since passed any idea of “safety” and although successfully crossing various obstacles made us believe it was okay to attempt increasingly harder ones, the second half of the ridge promised to be much more terrifying, much more technical, more exposed, etc and when we reached those obstacles it was going to become more and more likely that we really wouldn’t be able to cross them at all. The danger we could see, too, was that even if we kept going, made it past the knife edge and other terrifying ice and snow covered feats, by the time we got back we might not be able to cross snowy traverse we were standing in without a snow slide that would certainly be fatal, due to the perfect sunshine that would’ve beaten on it for hours.

It just gets deeper from here.

It just gets deeper from here.

I knew when I chose the most epic of peaks that there was a risk of not making the summit on my birthday. Even before the early-season snow. I knew I would be bummed if we didn’t make it. But, attempting that ridge in January conditions was the most epic thing I’ve tried. At the point where we decided to turn around, I was not upset at all. I knew I’d get my 28th summit. Last year on my birthday, I went shopping at the second hand store, got ice cream for Lu and I, and had dinner with my girlfriend at the time (and she was late). This could not have been a more perfect way to cap off a year of doing epic shit, of blazing, of adventuring.

28 fourteeners did not actually seem possible when I considered the idea. But, I’m not the type to let such little things stop me. I didn’t finish today, but I will. And it will be epic.

Side note: coming back across the ridge and downclimbing the technical sections might have been even more terrifying. We drank my summit beer on the hike out.

27 (all systems go)

I headed to Buena Vista on Monday with certainty that this time, the Sawatch Range was going to get wrapped up. With just Antero and Princeton on the docket, what could go wrong? Well, the weather was forecasted to be terrible. But I wasn’t overstretching myself this time, I planned Monday and Tuesday for this trip so there was basically 98% chance that I’d make both summits.

Planned (and actual): Mt Antero (14,269) 16mi, 5200ft gain and Mt Princeton (14,197) 14mi, 5400ft gain

Antero.  I took this the next day from Princeton.

Antero. I took this the next day from Princeton.

As I mentioned before, Mt Antero is a part of the “highest network of ATV trails in the country” (congratulations, whoever thought wilderness was a good place for that) so you hike up the ATV road pretty much the whole way (and btw, whoever is in charge of trail building, I will learn how to build trails just to build a real trial up Antero; it is insane that nobody’s done it). And it’s just mileage and gain. Mileage and gain. There was some rain on the way in, but not by any means the worst thing that’s ever happened. Because of all the water, though, the rivers were wildly flooded. The first river crossing is so wide that it spread out the extra water and I could still cross at the designated crossing. The second crossing, however, was well above the rocks to cross it. I ended up taking off my shoes and pants to wade across. It was one of the coldest moments of my life (spoiler alert-things get much colder next week). It was maybe 40 degrees and I wasn’t up high yet, I wasn’t about to spend the rest of the mileage in wet pants.

Needs no caption.

Needs no caption.

The rest of the way up was pretty uneventful. When you finally reach the top of the road, you’ve got maybe less than two miles left climbing up the talus field to the summit. It was actually partly sunny for this part.

On the way up the talus field

On the way up the talus field

Arriving on the summit, the view was epic and the clouds, with all the crazy wind, felt like they were on some kind of turbodrive. You know how people build forts on the summits for protection? Someone had built one like a throne looking out to the west. Lu and I stayed there about ten minutes, snacking on trail mix (you know, Whole Foods apparently discontinued my favorite trail mix!? Even more reason to finally make my own. Some day.)

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

then, it looked more like this.  Taken from my THRONE atop Mt. Antero while I snacked gloriously on trail mix.

then, it looked more like this. Taken from my THRONE atop Mt. Antero while I snacked gloriously on trail mix.

Then, suddenly, the temperature dropped about ten degrees and the wind picked up. I packed up the trail mix and Lu and I ran off the summit as fast as we could. We made it back to the road, where a nearby smaller peak offered marginal protection, before the storm rolled in. It got dark and wild fast, the wind picked up so much I could lean most of my body weight into it and it took an incredible amount of energy to continue. The precip was what I like to call RAILS. Rain/hail/snow. It was hard and sharp but wet and frozen all at the same time. Things were pretty iffy until we got back to treeline, but honestly the experience (though miserable) made me wonder why I worry so much about storms.

Back below treeline, the precip mostly stopped and the wind was broken by the environment. I saw a herd of mountain goats (picture turned out AWFUL even though they were SO CLOSE) then the sun actually came out eventually for the last bit. I passed a guy on an ATV headed in and he stopped to ask me if I’d been caught in the storm and if I’d seen any mountain goats. He confirmed that he’d seen the same herd the day before, then shared with me that he’s an archer and has a permit for hunting mountain goats. Insert horror/crying here. Hunting mountain goats. Is a thing. Have I mentioned lately how I sometimes question humanity?

Tuesday was serving up Mt. Princeton and I woke up in good spirits, ready to rock. For what I’m pretty sure is the very first time, I was on the trail early enough to see the sunrise.

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

Princeton is another sob that has no trail of its own until you hike up an insane ATV/Jeep road for miles and miles and miles. (again, who do I talk to about this? I will build the damn trail myself.) Not surprisingly, no traffic on this mountain either. I eventually saw a car pass me with an older couple in it that stopped, got out, and got back in and drove back. They were the only people I’d see for the whole day.

and after the sunrise.  still awfully nice.

and after the sunrise. still awfully nice.

So you finally get on a trail for the last couple miles and it’s all talus from there. I mean miles, and miles, and miles of talus. When you finally see Princeton for the first time, it looks so big and so very, very far away.

so. far. from here.

so. far. from here.


And the thing about talus is, it takes so long to pick through it that it doesn’t feel like you get any closer. This was the theme of the trip. It’s taking forever and the summit is not getting any closer. The weather was turning slowly but surely as I headed up, but after the two storms I’ve been in in the last week or so, I’m honestly not that worried. Unless there’s lightning. The final ascent was a real practice in triumph of the human spirit. Definitely one where I thought I’d rather be doing anything else but this. Just slogging and dragging and misery all the way up. Didn’t spend long up on the summit, the view was…lacking.

check that view!  of...clouds.

check that view! of…clouds.

The talus field on the way down and out didn’t go any faster. It was maybe even slower. Needless to say, I wasn’t in high spirits anymore at this point. However, the trail mix I had with me had peanut butter cups in it. So I had that going for me, which was nice. Making it out of the talus field though….now that was an epic moment. Maybe even better than summiting? Although if I hadn’t summited I wouldn’t have felt so good right then. The whole way down the road I daydreamed about attempting Nolan’s. (if you’re curious…http://www.mattmahoney.net/nolans14/)

On Wednesday, Mark and I were scheduled to go back for the 2 Mosquito Range summits that we had missed back in like May (Lincoln, due to dangerous icy ridge and Democrat due to a cut on Luna’s foot), and back Sherman while were out there. Sherman is the most depressing 14,000ft mountain I’ve ever been on. The trail is an old mining road, the mountain itself is unappealing, and there are no good surrounding views either.

the one and only picture we took on #25, Mt. Sherman

the one and only picture we took on #25, Mt. Sherman

Lincoln and Democrat, however, offered epic views and a little bit of fun.

Summit of Democrat.  I ran up it, collapsed on that rock until mark got up there, and posed like a badass for this picture.

Summit of Democrat. I ran up it, collapsed on that rock until mark got up there, and posed like a badass for this picture.


I'm totally up there.  That's the summit of Mt. lincoln

I’m totally up there. That’s the summit of Mt. lincoln

It had been a long day with the driving, Mt Sherman, more driving, and two more peaks to bag, but we were still keeping it together. There was much discussion of 80’s movies, which made the elevation gain pass faster than anything ever. There were a lot of people out, including a couple different groups of stoners (again, hiking fourteeners is what stoners do in Colorado?! Amazing. I only played the sims back when I smoked pot.) Summiting Democrat felt especially good since it was NUMBER 27.

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

20141007-095907.jpg

In anticipation of my birthday next week, and my 28th peak in my 28th year, without further adieu here is the list:

Quandary
Pike’s Peak
Gray’s Peak
Torrey’s Peak
Mt. Evans
Mt. Bierstadt
Mt. of the Holy Cross
La Plata Peak
Mt. Massive
Mt. Elbert
Mt. Oxford
Mt. Belford
Missouri
Huron Peak
Mt. Harvard
Mt. Columbia
Mt. Yale
Mt. Princeton
Mt. Antero
Shavano
Tabegauche
Long’s Peak
Mt. Sherman
Mt. Lincoln
Mt. Democrat
Mt. Cameron
Mt. Bross

#28: CAPITOL PEAK, coming up next week

Collegiates: pt 4 (finish the Sawatch range?)

I had this trip planned since Columbia, hoping to finish the Sawatch Range in one fell two day swoop.

Planned for Monday: 28 miles, 11,000ft gain, 3 summits: Shavano 14,229, Tabegauche 14,155, and Antero 14,269

Actual: 22 miles, 9,000ft gain, 2 summits: Shavana, Tabegauche and one attempted (DNS): Antero

BAM!

BAM!

I raced home after class on Sunday night, picked up Luna and my bags, stopped at Jimmy John’s, and headed for Salida. Rolled into the TH parking lot at 11p, I figured no one would notice or care if I slept in the car in the parking lot so I did. Set my alarm for 6a.

My alarm never went off, it turned out my phone got too cold overnight and killed the battery. I didn’t bother to turn on the car to see what time it was, but I’d guess based on the sun that it was 8am ish. There were two other groups of two on the trail to Shavano, as I passed them both told me they were going to head to Tabegauche. As of yet, I still did not know how to pronounce Tabegauche, and neither did anybody else. Oh the other downside to my phone dying overnight was that I had no camera…another reminder that I NEED TO GET MY CAMERA FIXED so I don’t rely on my phone.

So I was sick last week, just a regular cold but I realized while I was trying to burn up Shavano greasy-fast that I was not back to 100% (what doesn’t kill you…makes you weaker?). There’s a pretty fair amount of my snot all over that mountain, and I was hacking up my lungs pretty good. I made decent time but not good by any means; taking way longer than I thought.

I summited Shavano and headed down the North ridge as quickly as I could negotiating the rocks. The Tabegauche ascent was mildly grueling in my already tired state. I passed two more guys on their way back to Shavano, they commented on my “speedy” pace (it’s all relative).

No filter.  Looking back on Shav and Tab on my way to Antero

No filter. Looking back on Shav and Tab on my way to Antero

Tabegauche was my 20th fourteener this year. When Abby and I were sitting in the Snug in January talking about 20 14ers, the idea seemed possible but far fetched. When I just recently amended it to 28 14ers, the idea seemed ridiculous. Standing on that 20th summit, I could see how far I’ve come. How much I’ve changed. The mountains don’t change you. YOU change you. Every choice you make, every step, every breath. A year ago on Gray’s and Torrey’s I was dying and we watched a woman run right up Gray’s. I never thought that would be me. You don’t learn new things, these experiences strip away the things that aren’t really you.

Back on the summit of Shavano, I caught up to the boys and we met up with an older gentleman hiking by himself. He told us the two groups of two had both turned back. AND he told us that it’s pronounced TAB-A-WASH. The descent was normal, but the whole thing took longer than I expected, as I mentioned. We got to the Antero TH at 2pm-looking at a 16 mile round trip. If you do the math, I’d have to avg almost 3mph to make it down before nightfall. I started up Antero as fast as I could (let’s be honest, my pace was barely even a “wog” at this point). Antero’s fun because instead of building a trail, you use ATV/Jeep roads. So you’ve got the lingering exhaust and smell of gasoline to deal with, not to mention the actual silly little trucks getting in your way all the time.

The good news was, I charged my phone (PICTURES!) and the views were gorgeous.

I'm pretty sure we're looking at Princeton through a grove of fall color Aspens.  And that little speck is Lu

I’m pretty sure we’re looking at Princeton through a grove of fall color Aspens. And that little speck is Lu

The bad news was, it started raining off and on. The other bad news was, I was exhausted. The even worse news was, I was keeping track of my time and mileage and I was not making 3mph average, in fact by mile 4 or so I’d downgrade “wog” to “staggering”. I was fully determined to make this summit when I started out, even if I had to come back in the dark. Now, I kept thinking mountain lions. Bears. Things were getting a little twisted up in my head. Exhaustion really messes with you. To be honest, I actually considered calling it but saying that I did it. Which is not a thought I’d ever have in my right mind. Nobody cares about 28 14ers other than me, and if I was sane I would’ve known that a fake summit would be worthless to me. But I absolutely wasn’t sane. Right after mile 5, I turned a corner and realized that what I had been thinking was the summit was a false, and absolutely horror is the best way to describe my reaction. I looked at the time, and realized that it was going to be a long time to the summit, and if I carried on I’d be making pretty much the entire 8 mile descent in the dark. The forest at night is now my number one fear, apparently [but guess what’s still not-I actually RESCUED a SPIDER from drowning in my tub while it was filling for my bath]. I turned back.

Seriously.  This is a real picture.

Seriously. This is a real picture.

The descent was long and painful, my knees were already a little crushed from the day I’d had. I did get to dream of picking up some snacks and a Coke in BV before I headed to the TH for tomorrow. I don’t like the decision that I made giving up on Antero, it makes me feel weak, inadequate; but, being recently sick and obviously feeling the effects from it, I don’t remember the last time I’ve been so exhausted. I know it was a good call, and I can’t change it so I don’t regret it.

From our way back down.  Miraculously, the weather cleared up (jerky weather, only looking ominous when I'm still headed to the summit).  This mountain (that I have yet to look up on a map, Antero is behind us) actually was rainbow colored.  And that light magic just happened on its own.

From our way back down. Miraculously, the weather cleared up (jerky weather, only looking ominous when I’m still headed to the summit). This mountain (that I have yet to look up on a map, Antero is behind us) actually was rainbow colored. And that light magic just happened on its own.

Coming up: tomorrow holds in store Yale & Princeton, but there are two problems: I’m exhausted, and I really have to push if I’m going to make 21 miles before I have to be back in Denver to teach my Tuesday night class.

Collegiates pt 3 (no sleep till Columbia)

If you’ve been following along, on my quest to summit 28 mountains over 14,000 feet this year before my 28th birthday, I just bagged 5 summits last week in two days-my biggest trip yet. However, it was planned for 6, but in the last moments I had to make a decision that was disappointing but necessary-to call it before traversing the ridge to Columbia.

This meant I’d have to go back for Columbia. And I’ll tell you now, it was not a good day.

On Sunday I realized I hadn’t made any Labor Day plans, and my schedule the way that it is allows me to head to the mountains after my Monday morning class if I can be back for my Tuesday late night class-that’s *almost* two full days! So very last minute, I started copying down TH and route directions loosely for my next 6 peaks that would finish off the Sawatch Range- Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Antero, Shavano, and Tabagauche. Obviously, I wasn’t going to make those 6 in this trip (especially since there are no link ups, and the roads to several of these TH are sketchy at best, which means my mileage walking in to get these peaks is going to increase exponentially). I was hoping for 3: Columbia and Princeton on Monday, Yale on Tuesday.

yeah I only took pictures from the summit on this trip.  So.  I'll just spread them out through the post.

yeah I only took pictures from the summit on this trip. So. I’ll just spread them out through the post.

I started out at the Cottonwood Creek TH to hike in 3-4 miles towards Harvard before I veered East for Columbia. This was actually quite pleasant. The weather was excellent-warm and sunny, with no forecasted storms whatsoever. The trail wasn’t even crowded. We hit treeline and approached a gully. This is where my “loose” copying down of route directions failed me. When I’m taking a standard route, I copy down turns that must be made in case there are no signs, and anything that’s out of the ordinary (“the route is hard to find through the talus, go SE”, or “turn at the rabbit eared rock formation”). There wasn’t really much of note in the Columbia directions, but I had a recollection of reading about the route being hard to find “but follow the cairns” and something about a gully. So as the trail headed up a gully, I followed right along with it. It got lost but was vaguely findable the whole time. The problem was, it was EPICALLY steep and all loose dirt and tiny scree. About 20 minutes in, I was bear walking on hands and feet. We were in a west-facing gully, and the wind was just whipping us around. It literally knocked me over several times. The ascent up this gully was slow going, and I’ve never felt like I made so little progress in so much time. I was frustrated, even angry. If this route were alive, I wanted to kill it. It was a different type of the “I’d rather die than keep going” mentality. I wasn’t really tired, just miserable. I kept thinking “this isn’t that big of a deal, calm down!” but I couldn’t calm down.

We reached the summit ridge, FINALLY, and not only was the wind relentless, but we had a ways to go before the summit. At one point I actually leaned into the wind and it held me up. It was approaching 50mph. The only people we’d seen so far were beginning their descent, so we had the summit to ourselves. Now this was a satisfying summit to make, and we spent about 5 minutes feeling awesome about it and taking excellent pictures (I know, I should be a professional photographer). We also shared a banana-my last bit of food (I’ve been packing light. Damn. Fail.)

yep.  Really good photographer.  Plus, the wind blown hair makes me look like a professional model.  So.

yep. Really good photographer. Plus, the wind blown hair makes me look like a professional model. So.

We headed to the descent fast and dirty, I was so ready to be off this mountain. I didn’t bring wind protection either, expecting excellent weather, so my head was starting to hurt pretty good from the cold wind in my ears. I also left my sunglasses on the summit. Angry face. We passed our fellow descenders as we ran down as quick as we could-and we did find that we missed the turn out of the gully to take the shoulder up to the ridge, which was much better (but still slippery and steep in places). Coming down the lowest segment of the gully, where the routes meet, I attempted the snowless version of glissading (aka, sliding down the steep parts on my butt) but that’s problematic because of the rocks. What did seem to work was kind of skating on my feet, which my hips just above the ground, and my hands steering on the rocks. This was pretty great (although most of the time you’re halfway between being in control and falling) until I landed my right hand on one of those giant, evil thistle flower plants. And now I’ve got 20 splinters, that are going to have to wait until later because I’m not carrying a first aid kit. Angry face. [update: there were four that I couldn’t get out. FOUR. ugh.]

At least I was about below treeline. So when I’m in the mountains I always think about wanting to be a better person. How to make more out of my life. What unnecessary junk I can and need to get rid of. This ascent, being particularly miserable, gave me more to think about than usual. I’ve been tragically hooked on Netflix lately, letting House run while I’m cleaning, while I’m trying to go to sleep, and while I’m eating. Awful, and I just keep letting it go on! What a time suck. I’ve also let my yoga practice sort of go by the wayside, not practicing at home and skipping class some days. Finally, I realized that sugar is causing my digestive problems. It’s time to make drastic changes.

more summit pictures!  Lu's glamour shots.  Here she is, looking regal

more summit pictures! Lu’s glamour shots. Here she is, looking regal

I made the decision on the way down to call it for the day, find a campsite, and do one summit in the morning. I was really looking forward to making dinner, reading, and doing some yoga. I had to drive to the next trailhead, so I headed toward Princeton. No camping at the Princeton parking lot, so I headed up the Mt. Princeton road (supposed to be 4wd only but it’s not THAT bad). After driving several white-knuckle miles up, I gave up and turned around. I hoped there would be better luck near Antero, so I drove further in towards Baldwin Gulch. On the way in, I saw lots of “no camping” signs. Hmmm, promising. Arrived at the Antero TH surrounded by ATV trails and parking, and no camping. More “no camping” signs. I drove in further with very little hope, then gave up and turned around. I could’ve gone back to Harvard but couldn’t stomach adding another 45 minutes of driving into the national forest. Frustrated and disappointed, I turned tail and headed home.

This trip gave me a lot to think about. “Learning” doesn’t come from outside of you; as you pick your way through experiences, you expose who you are and what you’re about.

Coming up: Sarah gets serious about putting miles in the saddle for the Long’s trip (164 bicycle miles, 14 running up Long’s, 15,000ft gain in 24 hours), and the Collegiates fire is burning a hole in something.

Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, part deux

Day two was planned to be three summits: Huron Peak (14,003), Harvard (14,420), and Columbia (14,073). Plus much more mileage (26) and similar gain and loss (10,000ish ft).

Day 2 total elevation gain and loss: 8,900ft

Day 2 total mileage: 25miles

I didn’t wake up until just after 7a (that’s right, if you read day one you’ll know I slept almost 12 hours!) so I didn’t get an early start today either. Good things, though, it was raining all morning and I got up just in time to start Huron in the sunshine. Even the hike in to the Huron Peak TH was absolutely gorgeous, which would be a trend on this mountain.

That's not Huron Peak, it's to the left and hard to see from the hike in.

That’s not Huron Peak, it’s to the left and hard to see from the hike in.

Luna was running in every direction, as if she wasn’t tired at all. At the TH there’s a brief bit through the forest, then the switchbacks start right away and they’re arduous but somehow don’t go on as long as you’re expecting, or don’t seem as miserable as they should. I didn’t see my first human until treeline; he was on his way down and gave me the dl on the rest of the hike. As promised, at treeline the trail opens up to cross this breathtaking meadow with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. It is one of the world’s greatest tragedies that I did not take a picture on the way up (you’ll see why when you see the way down picture). We crossed the meadow then head into more switchbacks up the shoulder toward the ridge. This is where I started feeling the gain from yesterday in my legs, but more so in stiffness and not burning. I came across a group of 6 on the final ascent, they were all experienced hikers and we discussed the impending weather which seemed to be going from bad to worse. 2 of them made the summit and the rest turned around as I was heading up. I was only 400 feet off or so so we went for it. And my god, it was maybe my favorite summit so far.

You can see in the video how quickly the weather can change. By the time I get all the way around the 360, you can see the storms getting so much closer. The snow got much worse as we headed down, and we ran down as fast as we could. By the time we arrived in the meadow again, it looked like this:

The ghosts of mountains in the distance cast a much different feel on the meadow

The ghosts of mountains in the distance cast a much different feel on the meadow

Once below treeline, it poured on us. Which really wasn’t bad and it wasn’t even that cold. The storm broke as we hit the TH, and the sun came out. Which was good news for the Harvard/Columbia attempt. I was feeling great. Huron was a straightforward 11 miles and 3,800ft gain, and it served to warm me up rather than tire me out (so I thought). Lu and I both had peanut butter sandwiches, and we headed for Harvard.

The first few miles in through the forest were sunny and nice, but the weather was turning slowly but surely. When we broke out of the trees and into the valley there were extraordinary views on all sides. It’s really miraculous how enormous 13ers and 14ers are, before you climb them. They humble us, certainly.

As I say in the video, I was feeling pretty rough at this point. The mileage and slow elevation gain was emptying me out just as slowly but surely as the weather was going bad. By the time we hit the talus field to start the last big ascent, I was pretty miserable. This is fun for me because the cool thing about 14ers is that you have that moment where you think “I’d rather die than keep going” but I haven’t felt that in a while, maybe since that miserable Pike’s ascent. So to find that again felt good in a weird way. Peakbagging and endurance hiking isn’t about conquering, as much as it may seem to be. You become a part of the mountain and you leave yourself on it. You always have a choice-to stay or go back. And if you stay, not just to stay but to dig deeper and go harder than you believe you can. That’s why I planned this trip, because the elevation gain was much more than I’ve ever done in the amount of time I was setting out to do it. Since I believed it to be past my limits, I wanted to prove that I could break out of them.

There was a mountain goat on Harvard, we actually came pretty close to it but it was around the corner and I didn’t want to spook it.

Can you find Waldo?  Me neither.  I know he's in the frame!  We're not even that far away.

Can you find Waldo? Me neither. I know he’s in the frame! We’re not even that far away.

The weather was turning quickly and the Harvard ascent took longer than I had imagined it would; which meant we were losing daylight too.

Right next to the summit, where I did not take even a single picture :(

Right next to the summit, where I did not take even a single picture 😦

We reached the summit and did another one of those quick taps and immediately started to descend, thinking we’ve got to bust ass if we’re going to make the Columbia summit before dark. It didn’t feel like a celebration or an accomplishment, making it to Harvard, which it should’ve! And I really wasn’t as familiar as I should’ve been about the route to and down from Columbia…I was a little nervous about doing it in the dark. We would descend from the Harvard summit to a saddle, then hike up an unnamed 13er, descend to another saddle, and head up to Columbia. That traverse would’ve been 2.54 miles, and was slotted to take over an hour due to difficulty and route-finding, and once on the ridge there’d be no escape if the weather turned.

On the saddle before the unnamed 13er, I stopped, stared at it, and just shook my head. It was 7:20pm.

In 2 parts because my phone wouldn’t upload it in onehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G570j-QO4EU

Here’s what’s really funny about the whole thing: the ridge I show you in the video, and the peak in the distance that I believe to be Columbia? It’s not! I told you, I wasn’t familiar with the route…whoops! Turns out, when I show you the creepy death eater fog coming over that ridge to the Northeast? That’s the ridge to Columbia. It doesn’t change the fact that I had to call it due to weather and losing light. We started descending immediately and were in the talus field (read: broken rock field) when the fog made it into the valley. Visibility wasn’t even 20 feet anymore, and then it started pouring (that was a close call!). Darkness fell completely while we were in the forest, we hiked back a little over 3 miles (felt like so much more) in total darkness. I had a light, but that doesn’t go very far. Darkness in the forest feels very heavy and thick. I sang devotional songs in Sanskrit to ward off the bears (and to help keep me from losing my mind-I’ve never been afraid of the dark, I didn’t know this would scare me so completely). I also discussed the impending fuel down at length with Luna.

Unfortunately for both of us, everything in Buena Vista closes at 8 or 9pm. Coming out of the Collegiate wilderness, it was a little after 9. We found one gas station still open until 10 (“summer hours” for one more week!) and got a coke. Coming back from BV you go through a variety of small towns (Fairplay, South Park, eventually Conifer) that also have no amenities “late” at night, so there was no fuel down to speak of. We didn’t roll back into Denver until 11:30p and by that point I just wanted to hit bed so hard.

5 summits over 14,000ft. 19,700ft gain and loss. 42 miles. I can be good with that.

Coming up: no sleep till we summit Columbia and finish the Collegiates. Sarah gives up sugar, and starts training for the Long’s Peak ride

Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, day 1

Day one served up three mountains: Belford (14,197), Oxford (14,153), and Missouri (14,067).

Total elevation gain and loss: 10,800ft
Total mileage: 17.5miles

On this trip, I took fewer pictures but made a couple videos. LMK what you think of this format!

We got an early-ish start. Ultimately, I was up later than planned packing and writing route directions out and I didn’t want to start this on no sleep, so I set the alarm a little later than originally intended. Then we got stuck in the blasting traffic near Idaho Springs. Belford went off without a hitch. There were storms forecasted for noonish, about 60% chance I think, so I was watching the sky pretty fervently and it was going back and forth between sunny and ominous all morning. A group that summited right after I did had been planning the Belford/Oxford double and called it due to the foreboding weather in the distance. Not enough for me to give it up on a day like this though! Lu and I headed down from Belford to the Southeast, on a low saddle that would provide a lot of cover should the weather turn quickly. Otherwise, both of these mountains were relatively barren. It was so windy, but the weather was holding.

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

We nearly got blown off of Oxford, and headed back down immediately to cross the saddle and head for Elkhard Pass. We would be taking a south ridge off of Belford to head towards the pass and to Missouri. The whole thing was very straightforward, and when we reached the pass there was a faint trail up a shoulder towards Missouri. Assuming this was the standard route that I was headed for, we took it.

Doesn't look so bad just yet

Doesn’t look so bad just yet

It turned class 3 very quickly, but I was undeterred, thinking it was just misclassified and Luna was fine. Then, just as we were approaching the final ascent to the summit ridge, it turned very much class 4. I was having a good time navigating this and still in good spirits, but Lu was getting stuck a lot, to the point that helping her was getting dangerous, and the last pitch was going to be impossible for her. I really wanted to give it a go, and even though she was right at the bottom I didn’t want to risk anything by not being able to get to her if something happened. So we descended the crazy ridge to look for the real route up Missouri. We lost a lot of elevation, but found the route and it was much simpler. It really didn’t take very long to get up all the switchbacks. As we approached the summit ridge (from the other direction) the storm clouds were coming in hot and we ran to the summit, tapped it, and headed back down as quick as possible.

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it.  The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it. The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

It didn’t start raining until our last 4ish miles, which was pretty miraculous. By the time we set up camp near the Huron Peak trailhead, it had mostly stopped raining. I even got a fire started on damp wood, which I was pretty proud of. Realized I didn’t have a can opener and haven’t replaced my lost multi tool yet so we were SOL with the baked beans I brought. More PB&J. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and fell right asleep around 7:30pm.

Up next: three more fourteeners and much more mileage is on my plate for day 2!