Hope Epic Zombie Loop pt 2

“It was too wonderful for words…

‘Do you think I’m a fool, Uncle Mike?’ asked Ernest suddenly.

‘If you think it the right thing to do, you are right to do it.’ replied Uncle Mike quietly. ‘I believe the experience will be valuable.’ (both of the book quotes were from the Mrs. Buncle series)

 

I picked up the CDT to Hope Pass and realized I could feel hot spots in my feet. I’ve had trench foot before, so I know the warning signs, and once you get hot spots you need to dry out your feet. I took off my shoes and socks, and rubbed my feet until the wrinkles dried out a bit. I gave Pippa some of the dinner I’d thankfully packed for her. I took out my headlamp, and realized I had no idea how much the batteries had in them, and had no spare batteries. I was really playing roulette here when I planned this loop. Or craps. I guess they call it Russian Roulette because of the alliteration? Because pretty much all the casino games are purely luck-based, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I realize now, yes, that is the point. Because there’s no fun in doing something when you know how it’ll turn out. It’s the risk. You don’t have to risk your life to know that we want to be surprised. I suppose not literally everyone wants to be surprised, or they’d be out gambling or climbing mountains or squirrel suiting instead of going to work every day and having a glass of wine on the couch at night with their safe, loyal friends or spouses or whoever they hang out with.

 

When I was in California, I had been dying to go back to Leadville because California sucked for all the reasons I’ve already discussed and I just thought of all the possibilities of running in the Colorado mountains again. But since I’d been back, I had only done things that I knew I could do. There’s no doubt or fear or excitement anymore about running Mt. Elbert or Mt. Massive, even if you make a really interesting loop of it. Obviously, even when exhausted, I can complete those runs and there’s no mystery at all. The mystery of this loop is what was exciting, I guess subconsciously I planned it poorly on purpose. Who knows how many miles! Who cares! Will I even be able to complete the loop with the snow conditions? If not, what the fuck will I do? I DON’T KNOW! It might be miserable or amazing and certainly no one, including myself, will be able to predict how I will handle whatever obstacles might come my way.

 

I put my wet socks and wetter shoes back on and continue up. Once the CDT meets the CT, they both rise immediately, incredibly steeply, to climb to Hope Pass. I don’t remember the last time I ran, I’m so tired, I’ve been hiking ever since I got out of the Basin of Eternal Sadness. Zombie, zombie, zombie-e-e-e. I pass a campsite and keep climbing, but then I realize, the higher I climb, the colder it will get because that’s how both altitude and night work. My feet are soaked, and I’m well on my way to trench foot. I return to the campsite and put Pippa’s puffy coat on her. I take my shoes off and stuff my socks into my arm pits, leaving my feet bare to dry. I spoon Pip and wrap the emergency blanket around us. I’ve just been telling it like it is, and how it is sounds pretty grim. I stopped because I thought I’d feel better after a nap, and I knew stopping wouldn’t be possible if I went higher or later in the night, and I knew my feet had to dry out anyway. But it was fine. In your head, in your head, they are fighting.

 

Pip slept and I didn’t. I would say I “tossed and turned” all night, but that wouldn’t be accurate because emergency blankets don’t allow for any tossing or turning or they’ll rip and leave you uncovered. So, I had laid still but fitful for … not all night but however long we were there. I looked at my watch, and it was dead. I turned my phone on, it sprang to life, I think it was 2 or 2:30am. My socks were nearly dry, dry adjacent. Good enough. My shoes were cold and crispy, like if I tap danced in them, they might shatter. I didn’t try to tap dance in them. I just climbed slowly, slowly towards the pass. I had actually never done this side of the pass before, so in addition to the mysteries of mileage and snow conditions, there was the extra fun of being on a new trail. New to me. I reached a talus field covered in so much avalanche debris it takes a long time to cross, I can’t figure out where the trail has gone, my halo of light is too small, and my mind is too tired to find a way. I get above treeline and feel like I’ve been wrapped in the stars, like those gray wool blankets firefighters wrap around survivors. It’s in your head, in your head, zombie.

 

At the top of the pass, two extraordinary things happened (and I’m using extraordinary here in the literal sense as opposed to the cultural definition, extra ordinary as opposed to extremely good). I got cell service, for one. A couple texts came through and I hurriedly sent off messages to my parents, advising them of the adventure I was currently on, because I realized somewhere along the line that I hadn’t let anyone know where I was going (yet another symptom of biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew in an adventure that’s much bigger than you expected). I wanted some comfort, some familiarity. Though I had been doing all these miles this year, they were almost entirely on trail except for a couple small bushwacks. I hadn’t realized that my mental fortitude had waned so much, but of course it had. I hadn’t been training it and bodies and minds are very efficient. They get rid of whatever they don’t use regularly, like when your phone is all, “Critically low storage! Archive items that haven’t been used recently???!?” And you’re like, yeah, sure, if I haven’t used it recently I probably don’t need it. Your brain makes those decisions without giving you an “Okay” message to click on. And now, your Nolan’s-level resilience has been archived, and nobody told you. And that is exactly how computers are different from human bodies. Man, I should go back to school just so I can write a thesis about AI.

 

I stood at the edge of the snow, it reflected vividly in the little moonlight there was, as snow does, because snow reflects 80% of any light shined upon it. Whereas the ground reflects, I don’t know, none? My headlamp was off, and I just stood there, taking it in, too tired to really formulate, wtf am I going to do? Oh right, the other extra ordinary thing. The ridge is lined with a brutally steep snowfield that is actually, at 3:30am or whatever time it might be, pure ice. And I have socks and La Sportiva Akashas with which to cross it. [look up more Zombie lyrics, because when you sing them, they’re undoubtedly wrong]. I traverse as far as I can towards whatever mountain is east of Hope Pass, and find a place to descend the steepest part of the ice. A couple hundred feet down, the ice softens to shitty snow and I’m back on it, descending and post holing into icy water yet again. The snow ends just before treeline and I realize, I have no idea where the trail is. I traverse left and right, hoping to cross it. The ground is a swamp, though, a snowmelt-cold swamp, which is just as bad as an ice-cold swamp, and looking back I realize that I probably was crossing it but wouldn’t have been able to see any trail under the water and mud and plants and slush. I descend a labyrinth of felled trees, to find a dead end and waterfalls and cliffs. I ascend and traverse and descend again only to find the same cliffy dead ends over and over again. I find a high point in the swamp and sit down, wrap the space blanket around Pip and I, hoping to wait it out until sunrise. In five minutes, I feel numb.

 

I get up and ascend and descend over and over again, but getting a little further down each time like a chameleon, unsure of its next step and trying to be calculated but ultimately all the moving backwards and forward will finally inch it to its destination. I stumble upon the trail and cry out with relief and gratitude. I am too tired, or dehydrated, or tired, or zombie, to cry. Now that I’m on the trail, the dense, jungley forest of Willis Gulch feels infested with something terrifying. I’m not really that scared of lions and bears, but when you’re tired your eyes or your brain play tricks on you. I felt paranoid. I began to sing, devotional songs in Sanskrit and Play it Right by Sylvan Esso, the songs I can think of at this moment. “Oh I feel like an animal in the night [because we are] play it right.” The dirt trail is plagued by tree roots but it is refreshingly soft on my knees. I feel the hot spots, but know it’s too cold to stop. The animals I’m hallucinating aren’t mountain lions or bears, they’re prehistoric. They’re saber-tooth tigers, their enormous presence so heavy and taking up so much space, I can feel them there. I’m sure they are there. “And I will be more than a small human with her head pressed against your mouth in motion.” The miles add up. My watch isn’t adding them anymore, but I know how many more miles it is to get home now. With their tanks and their bombs, and their bombs, and their guns, in your head, in your head, they are crying.

 

At the base of the Willis Gulch trail, there is a hint of light over the Mosquito Range. I turn right, towards “Interlaken”, not yet realizing my mistake. Two and a half miles later, I arrive at Interlaken, and it is no place at all. The CT continues directly to the east, and I realize I have to go all the way back to Willis Gulch and west to the Willis Gulch trailhead, where the bridge is to cross Lake Creek. My feet burn and sting and rage, I know it’s too late now and I have trench foot. You know when your feet get all wrinkly in the bath? The skin is swollen and stretched and sensitive from the water it’s soaked up. If you let your feet be swollen and sensitive for long enough, and in fact bear your weight on them step after step while they’re in that condition, those wrinkles will begin to blister. That is trench foot, hundreds of blisters, and raw, swollen skin.

 

I wake up, my face feels rough and my neck is stiff, but I am bathed in sunlight, and warm. Pip is standing a few feet away, looking at me. My arms are wrapped around a large, rather flat rock that I’m cradling like a teddy bear (or if I’m being honest, a Popples, or a Figment) and the rest of my body is splayed out, completely blocking the trail. Apparently, I found this nice cozy rock and laid down to snuggle it, and fell asleep in the sun. It is 8am, and my phone has something like 9% battery left (do you remember when there was mystery to gas tanks and phone batteries? Now you always know how many miles left and how many seconds left and what is the fun in that? I used to never have any idea when my phone would die. Although, since I still drive an ‘89, and the gas gauge has never worked properly as long as I’ve had it, so I guess I still have some mystery there. And what’s the fun in driving, really, if you always know exactly when you’re going to run out of gas?). Is my life a little *too* exciting?

 

I’m hiking again, and I’m quite miserable and stiff but in slightly better spirits. Once I reach Twin Lakes, I know I only have 8 miles left. Each step is blindingly painful, but hey, 8 miles is better than 13! It’s more than the five I wasted this morning taking a wrong turn to Interlaken (WTF IS INTERLAKEN? And WHERE does the trail ever cross 82!? I still don’t know). I wander around Twin Lakes looking for the Jeep road that links back to the CT. I had done this before, but I stopped before I reached Twin Lakes itself. Now, I realize I don’t know just exactly where it comes out. I meet a group of old folks, who in the typical old folks/small town way, give me these directions “Follow this street, see, to the pitch. Climb the pitch, cross through a gully then a ditch, then take a right. But don’t be too eager with that right or you’ll end up trespassing. Be patient about that right turn, you hear?” And they stride off, clearly in better shape than me.

 

I climb the pitch, cross through a gully, then a ditch, arrive at a road, and turn right. It dead ends at someone’s garage and I realize I’ve not been patient enough, I backtrack. I patiently wait for another right, and as it materializes I see a through hiker, who confirms I’ve found the right, less eager, right turn. I shuffle up the climb from 82. Zombie, zombie, zombie. After all, there’s nothing to do but walk the eight miles back to my bike stashed at the Elbert TH. Nothing, nothing, nothing else to do. I start to see through hikers who are, relative to me, bright-eyed and chipper on a sunny, blue-skied morning. We great each other warmly. They don’t ask me what I’m up to, struggling like I’m dragging my hapless body through honey and wincing as if a dozen miniature miners are hacking into my feet, looking for valuable ore that they might sell to fancy bike manufacturers. And I don’t volunteer it.

 

A few miles later, I’m taking a break on the side of the trail with my shoes off, knowing it’s too late but looking at the ruins of my feet and hoping I might prevent it from continuing to get worse with each step. A woman approaches, another through hiker. She asks, “What are you doing?” so sincerely that I tell her exactly what I’m doing, or what I’ve just done. The short version, which is something like: I climbed Mt. Elbert by the standard route, then descended southwest over Bull Hill to Echo Canyon. I crossed 82 and climbed La Plata in the evening, and descended to Winfield. I took the CDT to Hope Pass, crossed through Twin Lakes, and now I’m here, trying to make my way back to camp, to close the loop. I was out all night. I have trench foot (of course, I left in these important details, and I am exhausted.

 

“Wow! What an accomplishment!” She says. I’m so tired. Zombie, zombie, zombie. For miles and hours, or hours of miles, the trial of miles, miles and miles of trials, I though about what had gone wrong. About how lousy I felt. About how poor of shape I was in and how un-resilient my mind was. About how I had accidentally come to run and walk and stagger for 50 miles. I say, “Thank you.” She goes on her way and I put my shoes on with no wet socks anymore, I get up and shuffle. I know she’s right. I think about how my GPS track laid over a satellite map on Strava will tell so little of this story. I laugh out loud.

Mt Princeton (who’s the boss?)

Mt Princeton (14,204) is generally believed to be the crux of the Nolan’s route. Its long approach, almost entirely off trail ascent and descent, and the fact that it generally falls overnight in most people’s attempts have led me to believe that if Nolan’s were Super Mario, Princeton is the big boss. Once I make it past Princeton, nothing will stop me from finishing.

20160328-060212.jpg

It was incidental that last summer, as I hammered down every part of the Nolan’s route, I tread nearly every piece of Princeton except the summit. I spent 3 days route-finding from the Avalanche Gulch trail, putting tons of miles in figuring out the [long] way up off trail on the NE arm. I spent a day in Grouse Gulch, learning the descent. But I didn’t summit. Princeton was the only Nolan’s mountain that I did not stand on top of all year.

As I considered my winter training, I knew that I’d have to push harder on winter ascents this year (no matter how miserable! I would prevail), especially since I planned/am planning an ambitious July attempt (if you don’t remember from last year, there was still waist-deep snow in the mountains at the end of May, summer doesn’t generally start until the end of June). I knew that I had to do Princeton in the winter.

When I drove to Arizona in February, I hadn’t yet managed to do more than Elbert, Massive, and La Plata (I was busy skiing I guess). Passing Princeton as I drive through BV, gracefully and commandingly taking up the sky, I thought “Princeton is such a boss, I have to get up there.” (I not only thought this but texted a running buddy, who was not thrilled like I was).

After AZ, I came back injured and spent a month trying to get back on my feet. One week ago, I went out for my first long(ish) run. Basking in the glow of Princeton on the East side of BV, I resolved to get up there. Another friend asked if I wanted to run together, I suggested Princeton, and ultimately plans fell through.

It’s not that Princeton (or any Sawatch Range winter ascents) is inherently dangerous or harrowing or even difficult.. just long, somewhat miserable slogs. Which is why I was hoping for company (because good company can make even the longest of drags fun) but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. Despite a lousy forecast, I headed up Princeton on Friday. The weather was beautiful when I got there, clear and sunny and warm, but turned terrible about 6 miles in. I got this picture just before it started snowing and visibility was totally lost (and my phone turned off because it wasn’t willing to suffer the new frigid wind),

20160328-063128.jpg

Terrible weather in the winter doesn’t scare me or even affect me that much (as long as I know the route well enough). It’s even kind of appropriate, because it’s slow and miserable to begin with so the weather’s like “hey, why not take away your view, too?” (“Bwahahaha”, because I think the weather should be personified). Someone asked me after if it felt good to be in the mountains again, and I didn’t really know what to say…it felt normal. It wasn’t “fun” and there wasn’t the thrill of standing on a summit (conditions were so bad you could have been standing anywhere and just seen gray). I had kind of forgotten just a little what it feels like to endure…so at least I still had that sort of toughness to push on.

The truth is, some days I’m so pumped to get back to climbing mountains and running again, and other days I don’t even want to go outside let alone spend another full day dragging my legs through the snow. I heard a team went up the Maroon Bells, and at first I was inspired, then it faded to meh…fuck that. As does everything eventually, I think this whole thing boils down to GOOD VS INTERESTING. Would you rather your life be good or interesting? Most people say good. If you read that question and thought “why would you ask a question like that?” Or “why can’t it be both?” That’s ok, I get it. Sometimes I admire you, a lot of times actually. I’ve come to realize during this time off that I can’t just read and watch TV, or study yoga or design or whatever I get into. I need the full spectrum of pain, the challenge, the risk, the fear, the incredible doubt. I choose interesting, and I don’t care at all if it’s good. Good is such a relative term. When someone asks you how you are, you say “good.” I don’t want easy, and as much as I sometimes regret moving up here because it is quite the POLAR opposite of easy, I know that this is where I’m meant to be.

It’s hard being 29 for a lot of reasons. There’s the cultural/societal pressure around 30, and there’s this “return of saturn” business that I would have never believed in except that I’ve been having rolling emotional/life crises for months. Sometimes I think “how the fuck did I get here?” Or “what have I DONE in the past 10 years!?” But I will never measure success by my job or my house, my friends, my bank account. At least I don’t ever feel like “why aren’t I married?” It’s more like “WHY haven’t I been to Banff!??”

I guess the point of all of this is, I climbed Princeton and it didn’t feel like epic or harrowing or victorious. I just quietly surpassed my recent (injury-induced) doubt and accepted that this is who I am. Some days I am NOT okay with it, and I wish I could stay at home and eat pizza and watch TV all day…and sometimes I do (and whether you know about chakras or believe in them, let me tell you when I stay home it physically hurts beneath my sternum and in my solar plexus). And sometimes I go out and run mountains.

ICE MOUNTAIN (what doesn’t break both your legs makes you stronger)

I realized today what it means to find comfort in discomfort (and it only took me 29 years to understand). I was climbing Mt. Elbert from the south, and after 2 hours of mind- and foot-numbing post holing, I was above treeline where intense wind and below 0 temps made a usually mellow mountain into a harrowing summit bid, which is the best time to think about my life. And I remembered the miserable day I spent on Ice Mountain probably two months ago.

It was one of those days where I was ready to give up mountaining and get a real job, but it started out lovely; clear, sunny skies, even decently warm. First you drive nearly to the middle of nowhere on a Jeep road, then you park in an empty TH parking lot and run a handful of miles. You scramble up this very long and unstable talus field (and hope nothing worse happens than a few rolled ankles and smashed fingers and toes as the rocks you’re putting your weight on slip and slide and rock disturbingly beneath you) then begin ascending a gully.

20151217-183557.jpg

Ice Mountain is one of the three Apostles (in the middle above). Three beautiful, jagged, sheer, and rocky peaks all rated class 3 and with only one logical route to ascend any of them. I’ve never been told this by someone who’s done it, but I had thought for quite some time that it sounded like a fun day of scrambling and I finally managed a day to do it before the weather turned [into winter]. I began the ascent to the gully, which was supposedly the crux of the route, and thought it was iffy at best. I actually felt a little silly for being annoyed with the instability of the talus field before it, because this gully defied logic. Had I not been sure I was on the route (there is no alternative, just sheer rock faces and this one gully) I would have been sure that there just was no safe route up this mountain. It was extremely steep, and mostly comprised of loose, slippery clay topped with smatterings of pebbles and frequently featuring loose boulders that threatened to dislodge themselves at any moment.

Ascending terrain like this sucks, but more importantly on anything so unstable is HOW THE FUCK WILL I GET DOWN? About halfway up I was suddenly pissed, because I felt insecure about my situation, and I wanted to blame it on everyone who’s ever climbed this mountain (which is the kind of excellent logic of a girl who knows she’s about to get injured, deep in the middle of nowhere). Meanwhile, the weather took a sudden turn and the dark sky looked like it might break all hell loose upon the Apostles any moment.

So why did I keep going? I was thinking about that a lot today. What makes anybody keep going when they want to turn around? I’ve finally realized the things that make me miserable (for example: snowshoe running, unstable gullies, climbing at night) aren’t inherently bad. To be home in the mountains, you have to be supremely comfortable, up, down and sideways. I’m just not that comfortable with all of it yet. It doesn’t seem mindblowing, but it blew my mind.

20151217-185622.jpg

Today, on Elbert, I discovered that there’s horrible, excruciating pain on the other side of numbness (and I wondered if it was the early stages of frostbite). It was so bad that I thought all the bones in my feet were simultaneously breaking. But I kept going. The wind became so harsh above the first false that I sometimes had to bear down so it didn’t push me back down the mountain, and meanwhile my eyes were starting to freeze shut (is it a thing to wear goggles when it’s this cold? I feel like I should, but I’d feel silly kind of). But I kept going. It only barely occurred to me that I maybe should turn around and come back when the weather was better.

20151217-190538.jpg

I kept going because I don’t want to be comfortable all the time. People who never face fear (in all of its manifestations-especially pain, misery, doubt) are so afraid that it controls their lives. I don’t want to climb unstable gullies because I’m afraid of [the very real possibility of] rock slides. If I had turned around that day, then I wouldn’t have made it safely up and down, thereby gaining a new [small] shred of comfort. There’s more than just our big fears to face, there’s dozens of smaller discomforts that we can’t keep avoiding. Discomfort is not the reason to turn around (or to stay home, as Dan’s mom famously said on our snowy Capitol attempt last year). That’s what it means to find comfort in discomfort: you experience discomfort, you own it, you accept it…it would be easy to turn away or avoid it but you don’t. You spend time is discomfort. You face all of its sides and angles. You sit in it (and climb and run and go about your business in it). Once you surpass fear, then you’re at home in the mountains.

dads (and how they can get you to do 80 miles)

I’ve known my dad was coming out to Leadville to visit for months, and he warned me that I’d better get good on the passes (on a bicycle). But alas, it was winter still until just a couple weeks ago and thus I’d only been on my bike a dozen times or fewer by the time he arrived to visit.

My father is the type of guy that can ride over 100 miles per day every day for weeks.

total badass

total badass

So we were making plans for what we’d do while he was here, and he asked if I wanted to do Independence Pass. I said yes immediately, because that’s just how I roll, but after the fact I had to think about it very seriously and I discovered I was nervous. He asked what the longest distance was I’d done in a day so far, and it was somewhere in the thirties [it is tragic how I rode 25+ every day in Denver and now I only do that once or twice a week!]. He told me Leadville to the top of Independence Pass and back was about 70 miles.

I did spend some time thinking it over and the reason I was nervous was because I was concerned I couldn’t do it, and kind of legitimately so. The thing about out-and-backs is that at the point you turn around, you’re going to have to do just as much distance back. What a mindfuck. If you can’t, you never get home. Let me tell you though, the premise that if you stop you’ll never get home is EXCELLENT motivation. The other thing is that 24 back to Leadville is miles and miles of brutal and relentless uphill.

So yeah, I was worried. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But what on earth was I going to tell my [totally badass] dad? Like I would puss out. No, I would do this thing.

My dad told me in the morning that it was more like 76 miles. We set out with tons of snacks and water. From Leadville to CO 82 is pretty much downhill (which explains the evil uphill) so we were cruising pretty good. We made good time to Twin Lakes.

la plata TH

la plata TH

The trail over Independence Pass has been in use possibly since prehistoric times, and most definitely by the Ute Native Americans that occupied the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s pretty much the only way through. Like most of the High Rockies, Roaring Fork and Aspen were rushed by miners in the 1870’s (slightly later in the decade than the mining towns to the East) and in 1880 one of the boomers paid a crew using hand tools to build a real road over the pass. At each bridge a toll was charged-$.25 for horses and $.50 for wagons. Also in 1880, a town developed around the ore mill three miles west of the pass. It was called Independence, and at its peak housed 1000 residents. The last resident of Independence left in 1912. The pass had previously been known as Hunter Pass, and was re-named in honor of its new neighboring town.

To say CO-82 is scenic is a wretched understatement. I’ve spent so much time on Fremont Pass (between Leadville and I-70/Copper Mountain) that I forgot how gorgeous passes can be. The road to Independence is winding, forest-lined, and right in the middle of a beautiful valley. Rushing rivers, canyons, and completely epic mountain views line the road. I wasn’t really that tired when we approached the first switchback, but my crotch HURT and the steepness of the switchbacks was terrifying. [I still don’t understand the steep/steepness deep/depth conundrum, despite how much time I spend thinking about it].

I’d never done a mountain pass on a bike before, and I’ve discovered it’s much like ascending a fourteener…you always think you’ve gone further than you have, you always think there’s less left to go than there is, and most of the time you can’t actually see where the route goes in the future (so you spend a lot of time thinking about it). At first I had a can’t stop-won’t stop mentality and I somehow thought I could bust ass up THE WHOLE PASS without slowing or stopping…but I think each time you turn into a new switchback, it’s like realizing you’re on a false summit, and I’m not going to lie my friends I slowed down and took two breaks during that ascent. It felt great though. Someone spray painted encouraging things along the road for cyclists…YOU CAN DO IT!.

Yeah it was a lot of work but trucking up the final ascent to the pass felt light and triumphant. At this point (much like on fourteeners also) I was thinking “the hardest part is over” but that was not at all the case.

20150709-100500.jpg

In most endurance sports, you can plan to race twice the mileage you’ve been training. The 80 miles (yes, 80) we ended up doing for the round trip was definitely more than twice my previous high mileage. I hadn’t written the last post yet, about the physiology of endurance, but I knew well enough to eat as much as I could before I got too hungry and drink more than I could stand [here’s a fun fact-if you drink solely to thirst you’ll be about 70% hydrated. Most studies agree that your body can still operate very well at 70%, and that at the end of the session you can catch back up]. I still had to take a few breaks though. By the time we got to 24 my vag hurt so much I could barely put it on the seat anymore, and now my shoulders felt like they could barely support my torso on the handlebars. I think we had about 15 miles to go at this point. Uphill.

20150709-100652.jpg

So here’s what I mean about another person helping you push past your limits. It would not have occurred to me to ride 80 miles on Monday, let alone in our mountains and up a pass, because 80 is so far beyond my comfort zone. But because my dad asked me to, I said yes and attempted it the best I could. And we made it. From Leadville to the top of Independence Pass and all the way back home (for pizza, fries, and Cokes). I don’t know if I even believed I could do it until we were ascending, but I went for it anyway. My dad literally rode circles around me. The whole thing was such an eye-opener; I surpassed what I believed to be my limits running and climbing in the mountains in the past year to such an extent that I stopped believing I have them. But now I can see that it’s not full circle-I still see limitations in myself when faced with different types of barriers. Friends, this is a new frontier.

beast mode/couch mode (the space between?)

On Friday Mark and I ran the Flatirons and the first time up the first Flatiron I was dragging. I have this brilliant theory that I’m good after 4 miles…and in this instance we were tackling badass elevation gain very early, so I could use that as an excuse. But man, do you ever have that run that you just want to stop with every single step. Ugh! Then right at the end it turned, and I beast moded the rest of it. BM is how we do epic shit right? I pride myself on my ability to beast mode elevation gain, in races but more importantly the real world. I get “can’t stop/won’t stop” in my head and just blast right past where I think my edge is. It seems to have environmental factors (and by that I mean COMPETITION), but there has to be some way to trigger it just any time. Right!?

Flatirons are so sleepy you can't even see them

Flatirons are so sleepy you can’t even see them

I was thinking during this run how much I’ve changed. Even from that moment in a spin class I was teaching when I thought about BASELINE (is your baseline sitting on the couch watching Netflix?) and I was already training then. Powering through the mountains has changed everything. Beast mode is now rocking 1000ft gain/mile. But there’s always so far to go.

I scheduled the rest of the 28 fourteeners. It’s pretty surreal; last January 20 seemed like an insane number. A month ago 28 seemed improbable. I’ll finish the remaining Collegiates (and the rest of the Sawatch range) next week. Up next is the Long’s trip. I’ll be riding the 82 miles to the trailhead, running the 14 miles to and from the summit of Long’s Peak, and riding home to Denver, hopefully in less than 20 hours (bagging one peak the long way). Last week of September Mark and I are going back for the Mosquito Range peaks we missed the last time around (due to ice and Luna’s cut foot). Then, it’s Capitol Peak with the boys. Colorado’s most technically difficult fourteener, and the #5 most dangerous (happy birthday to me!).

braking for pull ups on the way to Evergreen on my new bike, Blow

braking for pull ups on the way to Evergreen on my new bike, Blow

Monday was the Columbia ascent 11.5 miles and 4200ft gain
Tuesday off
Wednesday 42 miles on the bike
Thursday 6mi city
Friday 5mi 3000ft gain at the Flatirons
Saturday 15mi bike
Sunday 14mi Mesa Trail (NO BEARS!!!)

la plata (also updates-hitting it hard, and sarah starts using brackets all the time)

With another Wednesday almost all the way off, I elected to get up at 3:30a to do La Plata Peak (14,336ft, 9.25mi) before the storms rolled in at 1 (something like 90% chance…and they started as we were pulling out). The TH was hard to find, you park off the main road then walk in like a mile, but it’s not marked well plus it’s unusual to walk in on a road without the TH in site. Naturally, I drove into the forest on a very bad service dirt service road and wasted about an hour, looking for the TH and only finding a bunch of obscure signs and random, unmarked roads. By the time I rolled back out to the main road where the TH parking is, I was super frustrated. So frustrated that I was about ready to head home (whoa nelly, Sarah, calm your shit down). I parked and got out, just in time to meet up with a couple that were walking around in confusion as well. We walked in on the road together and found the TH and I departed from them pretty quickly, ready to burn up the mountain fast and dirty (with all that extra vigor for getting so annoyed about nothing). [fun fact: the couple had only eaten chocolate frosted donuts for breakfast-I abstained from telling them how well *that* works out]

Mama nature, you stop it with your damn epic views.  I'm so tired of hiking with gorgeous backdrops all the time! #nofilter

Mama nature, you stop it with your damn epic views. I’m so tired of hiking with gorgeous backdrops all the time! #nofilter

Once you get out of the forest, the views get amazing and you hit the brutal switchbacks that are the worst part of the route. I passed two decent-sized groups that were split up over the switchbacks. Several of the poor dears were carrying gallon jugs in one hand and a couple of the girls were wearing purses [wondering what happens to them? I’ll see them later]. They loved/hated Luna, exasperatedly commenting about how epic she is and WHY DOESN’T THE ELEVATION EFFECT HER?! Business as usual.

The switchbacks were over before we knew it, and we continued through the meadow eating PB&J without stopping. The ascent up the ridge was grueling and somewhat terrible because the whole time it looks like you have so much more to go. The first couple I saw descending told me that it’s not as far as it looks. I disregarded this information, thinking “oh. really. it looks fucking far.” Then it turned out, maybe 5 minutes later we hit the saddle and you could see there was only one last little bit of talus hopping to the summit. [Here’s an aside for you: when I suddenly got interested in mountaineering, I was mildly annoyed at the constant use of talus and scree in trip reports and route directions. I gleaned a basic understanding, that both were referring to broken rock bits. I assumed there were solid definitions of each, but it turns out NOT. They both refer to broken rock bits, or a formation made of broken rock bits. Neither is specific to size. Scree comes from skrioa, Norse for landslide. Talus comes from the same word in French, meaning slope or embankment. Now, you can refer to talus and scree with pride and look very cool. You’re welcome.]

Luna sizes up some rocks.  See?  How hard was that?  Just call it like it is.

Luna sizes up some rocks. See? How hard was that? Just call it like it is.

While scree-hopping (see what I did there?), we came across a whole group of teenage girls that I was initially annoyed by (SO. LOUD.) but that quickly spent 15 minutes petting and fawning over Lu. So I cut them some slack. Evidently, Colorado summer camps take field trips to hike fourteeners. I was pretty impressed with these girls, as there were plenty of grownups still heading up the switchbacks and crying about it.

Me giving you a thumbs up on the summit.  Because I'm cool like that.

Me giving you a thumbs up on the summit. Because I’m cool like that.

We took some time to hang out on the summit, but with my later-than planned start and what I assumed were impending storms, we headed back down pretty quickly. [MORE BRACKETS. There was a family of 3 on the summit eating Subway sandwiches…it was like 10am, so they must have purchased them the night before? This bothered me and I spent more time than I should’ve thinking about it]

The gorgeous Ellingwood Ridge, named for the first person who climbed it in the 20'sish.

The gorgeous Ellingwood Ridge, named for the first person who climbed it in the 20’sish.

On the way down the main ascent, we stopped to tell our fellow travelers that it’s not as far as it looks and they gave me skeptical looks. I ran into both groups of newbies, one about to tackle the ridge with fear in their eyes, and the others lunching in the meadow with resignation. Both stopped me to talk, and I tried to give them an accurate assessment of what was coming next, but it turned out they were uninterested in my guesstimates of time to the summit, or in my warnings of the coming storms. They wanted to talk about Lu, quel surprise.

because Lu is the shit, obv

because Lu is the shit, obv

The hike down was uneventful, which was good, because the storms didn’t hit until I was all the way to the car and on 24, headed back to Denver. And hit they did, hopefully everyone that was up there made it up/down safely. When everything was said and done, I was home by 3p! Definitely a successful trip.

Getting ready for collegiates, I put in a whole lot of time running:
Friday 4mi Matty Winters
Sunday 7mi city
Monday 8mi Mesa Trail (this is the infamous bear run)
Tuesday 7mi Dinosaur Ridge
Wednesday 4mi Matty Winters

Things got filthy dirt on dinosaur ridge

Things got filthy dirt on dinosaur ridge

I’ve shaped somewhat of a plan for the Collegiates: one day is Oxford/Belford/Missouri and the other will be Huron/Harvard/Columbia. I’m getting pumped, TWO WHOLE DAYS in the woods?! Shit’s about to get all kinds of rad.

Stay tuned for delicious raw energy ball recipe and updates on the Collegiates trip coming up fast!

xo

We wandered (but we skipped Wanderlust)

So Kristina and I had it all settled to go to Wanderlust Festival in Aspen this past week. It was epically difficult to sub all of my classes, so I haven’t taken a vacation in ages, plus I had to find someone to watch Lu (the amazing mountain dog). All of it done, the car packed, all of our responsibilities and worries at bay, we headed to Aspen on Wednesday.

Aspen, Colorado is fancy upper class mountain town (this is on the list of things I didn’t understand before I went to Aspen). It is terribly crowded, and traffic and mountain towns do not mix (they are NOT set up with flow, just sayin). The festival didn’t allow camping on site (of course-because the fancy people who pay to go to such things are going to stay in hotels anyway) and the National Forest employee would not even allow us to drive down the road to the campgrounds to look around-he never actually answered our questions (you’re saying everything is full?) just that we could come back in the morning and they’d “definitely hook us up” (when posed with the “so not full?” he just repeated himself over again). Disappointed but not defeated, we headed towards Independence Pass where there was the promise of more camping. Now, every campground that takes “reservations” (these mythical computer related things that I don’t understand-because camping is camping and you shouldn’t need to worry about such things) was fully “reserved” meaning the sites were totally empty, because it was Wednesday, but no one was allowed to camp in them because someone on the internet said they “got there first”.

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

On the other side of Independence Pass we finally found a campsite (really, many campsites, because at this point we were so far south of Aspen that nobody cared apparently) at Twin Peaks Campground. After setting up the tent, we went into “town” for beer (by town, I mean a single building that served as a general store (read: ice cream, grocery store, liquor store, gas station, pharmacy).

Game time.

Game time.

We realized then that neither of us had any interest in going back to Aspen, trying again to find camping, or going to the festival in general. After a rad night around the fire at Twin Peaks, we woke up to sunshine and the rushing Arkansas River. Exploring the river, we found it lead to a canyon where it rushed and fell and winded through steep turns. So epic. Phones were dead, so there are no pictures from this morning. Back at the campsite, we practice yoga by ourselves for hours. Then packed up and headed to Leadville.

City on a Hill coffee.  Epic.

City on a Hill coffee. Epic.

In Leadville there is an epic little coffee shop with all of the comforts of our Denver coffee shops, but a wonderful small-town everybody-knows-your-name feel. I’ve never been to such a place. It was wonderful. After regrouping over coffee, charging our phones, and asking the internets about things (camping/hiking) we took the National Forest access road to Turquoise Lake.

Seriously.  This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Seriously. This is a real place, and hardly anyone in the world knows how cool it is apparently, because there was hardly anyone there.

Turquoise Lake is a gorgeous, huge lake that you would never be able to see from the highway, tucked in at the base of the mountains. There were almost no other people anywhere in the vicinity. We found a random campsite a ways off the road that provided us with the opportunity to spend the day on the “beach” (read: sand colored rocks) and the evening over a campfire with astonishing views.

Shit man, life is hard.

Shit man, life is hard.

The next morning I took a long hike around the lake, practiced on the “beach”, and drank my chai (I brought my tiny backpacking stove with the intention of heating water for morning tea and nothing else-and brought no coffee with the intention of breaking that habit…damn) reveling in the awesomeness.

In retrospect, it's funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

In retrospect, it’s funny looking at this picture because in a couple days I had to brush that hair, and wash the campfire out of it.

We headed back to Leadville (for coffee), and their adorable fourth of July parade, then to Buena Vista, because we heard there would be fireworks. Set up camp in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness amongst a grove of Aspens in another random, free, secluded site. One of the NF signs on the way in mentioned “Harvard Lakes” so we took the Cottonwood Creek trail in that direction, and it was gorgeous, but never did we see any lakes. We did, however, get rained on and totally soaked.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us.  But instead, here's a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

I was going to post the drowned rats picture of us. But instead, here’s a picture of the view from the trail, right before it rained.

Interesting thing about situations that *could* feel miserable: it’s a good time to think about how this is your life right now, and you are never going to feel exactly this way ever again. Back at the campsite, we changed into dry clothes and, since it was still raining, headed to town for dinner at the Eddyline Brewery. It never quite stopped raining, and definitely wasn’t going to clear up anyway, so we skipped the fireworks that probably never happened and went back to the forest where we slept soundly because the ground in the Aspen grove was wonderfully posh.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders.  Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

Also of note, there was a marshy area in that aspen grove that was full of mosquitoes and large spiders. Importantly, I was not afraid of the spiders.

We got up and packed first thing to attempt to reach Hanging Lake on a Saturday morning before the parking lot was full. With only a small sense of urgency, we took our time, and even stopped at our favorite little coffee place in Leadville on the way. Reaching Hanging Lake at 9:30a it was already full, and the exit wasn’t officially closed yet but the police were sending us all back. Shortly thereafter, they officially closed the exit for the day. We attempted to find a way to hike in from the bike path, thinking we’d beat the system, but the bike path was closed on that end, so the only option would be from Bair which is an extra 5 miles each way.

Back in Glenwood Springs, K found mention on the internet of a secret hot springs near Carbondale that is both free and generally uncrowded. Only about a 30-minute drive, and the scenery left nothing to complain about, we found said hot springs. For being so small, the ten people or so that were there made it feel a little crowded, but definitely manageable. The river was still purely ice water, so the contract was cool, and the views spectacular. Another epic secret we stumbled across in our wandering.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains.  NBD.

Just another sunny day at the natural hot springs on the edge of a river looking out at the Maroon Bells and other nearby mountains. NBD.

Back to Glenwood Springs again for lunch at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, which was fantastic. Excellent service, totally delicious food (veggie burger and fries to die for), really delicious beer. After lunch we decided to give Hanging Lake one last college try-the exit was still closed, which meant the parking lot was probably empty because all the morning people that had gotten there early would be done and gone…a car in front of us moved the cones and drove in, so we followed suit. While I don’t recommend it, it’s apparent that after they close the exit they ignore it for the day, and most of the parking was open. The hike was very short but reasonably challenging. Much less exposed than I expected, and featured a beautiful stream and constant views of the canyon. The lake itself was the highlight of course, but the whole experience was lovely (or would’ve been, if it weren’t for the cross section of rude Americans that littered the trail being loud and not even attempting to follow hiking etiquette).

Yep, that's Hanging Lake.  So gorgeous it doesn't really even look real.

Yep, that’s Hanging Lake. So gorgeous it doesn’t really even look real.

Above Hanging Lake is “Spouting Rock”- a totally breathtaking 3-part waterfall. By the time we got up here, it was raining pretty good, and the crowds were heading down quickly, so we took our time taking tons of silly pictures, climbing on the rocks, shimmying across fallen logs, etc.

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I'll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

Looking up at the volume of water rushing down at your face from underneath like that was an experience I’ll never forget-so glad I decided to be a douche and backbend all over those slippery rocks!

We were pretty cashed by this point, and headed home to Denver pretty late. Definitely four days of celebrating independence and Colorado. More adventures to come!

Bierstadt/Sawtooth/Evans (or fear, perspective, and finishing what you started)

I’m terribly afraid of spiders. And as I reached up to the next rock to grab a hand hold, there was a big one with hairy legs and everything, inches from my hand. I didn’t even flinch. I said “fuck you” and kept going.

On the right is Bierstadt.  In the middle is the Sawtooth.  On the left  (the summit isn't actually pictured) is Evans.

On the right is Bierstadt. In the middle is the Sawtooth. On the left (the summit isn’t actually pictured) is Evans.

This was on Monday, during my hardest climb yet. I posted the night before we did it about being a little fearful. That didn’t let up much. I packed up and headed to Guanella Pass anyway, but partway up Bierstadt (the first fourteener) I stopped to chat with a fellow hiker and when the Sawtooth came up I said I was 60/40, which was probably true. I had the idea that I could turn back if it was too rough. To be honest, I did turn back. After summiting Bierstadt, we didn’t even stop before we headed down to the Sawtooth ridge. I put ropes on Luna, just in case. It was more challenging than I expected, and lowering myself down from large boulders on a narrow ridge with thousand foot drops on both sides was enough to freak me out pretty good. I turned tail and headed back up.

On the summit of Bierstadt

On the summit of Bierstadt

Didn’t get very far though. I stopped dead in my tracks, and thought NO FEAR NO FEAR NO FEAR NO FEAR. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. So, on we went. Shortly thereafter a group of four passed us and I took a good amount of solace in the fact that there were going to be other people on the ridge, it’s not a very popular destination (there’s only been one reported trip across it this year on 14ers.com).

A lot of interesting things happened in the three hours it took to cross the Sawtooth. I slipped and fell, and caught myself, but that may have been the moment in my life that adrenaline was at it’s very highest. I found obstacles over which Luna needed help, for the first time ever. I happy cowboy-ed along the top of a 13,000ft ridge. I am no longer afraid of my biggest irrational fear (spiders). I also gained a whole heck of a lot of perspective. Teaching about fear this past week has made me think a lot about how my stress list is very fear based, and why am I afraid of such silly, trivial things?

Looking back from where we came: the Sawtooth ridge

Looking back from where we came: the Sawtooth ridge

Once we made it across the Sawtooth, we soon caught up with a group of hikers and joined them. The idea of hiking directly down the gulley and back to the Bierstadt trailhead (thereby skipping Evans) was temporarily a good one, but after the Sawtooth I felt invincible so we grueled on. The hike was longer and harder than I thought, but we made it to the summit of Mt. Evans.

One of our new friends took this picture of me (in my cool outfit and goggles) on the summit of Mt Evans

One of our new friends took this picture of me (in my cool outfit and goggles) on the summit of Mt Evans

We were even rewarded with close ups of mountain goats! Who recognized Luna as their kin.

Lu on the summit of Evans

Lu on the summit of Evans

The hike back down was long and very wet. We got to spend a fair amount of time in the gulley glissading (what is that, you’re wondering? it’s sliding down snow covered mountain on your butt). It was definitely a couple hours that would have been miserable had I been alone, and it would’ve been a Pike’s Peak replay (can’t I just lay down for a few minutes??). We also found the bog of eternal sadness from the Neverending Story (don’t give in to the sadness, Artex!).

Looking back as we crossed the bog of eternal sadness.

Looking back as we crossed the bog of eternal sadness.

Fear. (how it’s always creeping in and trying to ruin things)

MAN for someone who thinks and talks so much about not letting fear get in the way, I get scared too often.

So I allowed every excuse I could think of to get in the way of biking to Mt. Evans tomorrow. I mean, some of them were legit:
-probably can’t afford to get my Tuesday classes subbed right now
-have not gotten a new hitch for Lu’s trailer because the Croozer people are assholes
-skipped my training test ride on Friday to go with friends to Evergreen and let the dogs run around, so unsure if I’m ready for the mileage

BUT. I know better. And ultimately, I was letting those things get in the way of something I really want to do because I’m fucking afraid. The ride itself is almost 50 miles. That is FAR from home. Plus what like 5000ft elevation gain? Towing Luna’s trailer. Jesus Christ Lizard. I have a pretty high baseline, folks, and that is a lot (when you’re considering another 15-20 mile hike and 1-2 fourteeners in the same day-I was considering some different routes).

So then, once I called off the ride idea I decided to hike Evans and Bierstadt together tomorrow (and drive there with Lu, instead of biking). At least I’m getting out right? Taking the Sawtooth between Bierstadt and Evans makes it my first class 3 climb. I was familiarizing myself with the route, map, and pictures today when I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT about the gendarme that makes it class 3. Really? Yes. I really considered calling the whole thing off. Which is crazy, because this is just the beginning and if I’m going to continue with this mountaineering business I’ll be hitting much worse by the end of the summer. You’ve got to start somewhere, Sarah! You have to want it more than you’re afraid to fall. The risk increases with the awesomeness, that’s something I’ve already thought a lot about and accepted.

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

I know better than to let fear get the best of me. I talk about it all the time. And, coincidentally, I’ve been talking about it ALL WEEK in class. It keeps appearing in different places. Like that Jim Carrey video that’s all over the internets right now. And other teachers whose classes I’ve gone to this week are talking about it. It’s like the universe was building me up to let go and be ready and I failed. Which isn’t a healthy way to look at it, is it.

20140615-204419.jpg

Of course I’m going ahead with the hike tomorrow. I’ve got rope to secure Lu’s harness to me. I’m still unsure if that’s more unsafe than letting her handle herself. Yet another thing to be afraid of, right? We’re going to tackle that Sawtooth, and we’re going to be fine. The technical part is NOT EVEN VERY LONG. Sigh. Fear is a hard one. It creeps itself in everywhere and sometimes you don’t even see it. Courage comes from faith. I cannot let the doubt in, and the fear take over. THIS IS MY LIFE. I will not waste it.

Peakbagging (2/4 is better than none, baseline is elevated)

On Monday I was aiming to summit the four fourteeners that are all in a ring in the Tenmile range. We got a late start, going up after my class at Root. Heading up to Kite Lake we had to leave the truck and hike the last two and a half miles in to the trailhead. Lots of snow everywhere still! Kite Lake was still so thoroughly frozen over and covered in snow that we couldn’t figure out where it was, so we headed East to go up Bross first. There’s a break in the snow/ice that reveals what looks like a full on rushing river from the snow melt underneath 5 feet of snow. We threw our packs across and jumped it. The elevation gain in the first mile or so is huge.

20140603-141643.jpg

It’s not technically legal to summit Bross right now, apparently due to politics or something. We speculated a lot on this (best guess: somehow part of the mountain is owned by some outrageously rich guy that rides around in a helicopter shaking his fist at all the nare-do-wells that are out hiking) but ultimately what we know is that there’s a sign that says “no legal access”. Did we summit Bross? We don’t know. What we do know is, it was peanut butter jelly time.

No snow up here!

No snow up here!

So now it’s epically windy and we’re crossing the ridge from Bross to Cameron. Still feeling great, I might add.

TAKE NO RISKS when it comes to sunburn.

TAKE NO RISKS when it comes to sunburn.

Lu was putting on at least 4x the miles we were, as usual. As we approached Cameron, we noticed a trail in the snow heading East to Lincoln. Most of the tracks we saw were skis, btw. Anyway, Lincoln looked gorgeous but it was still thoroughly covered in snow, which is fine, but the ridge out to it looked really treacherous at best so we decided to pass, heading up the final ascent to Cameron. We couldn’t find the registry on Cameron, we were even at the point where we thought perhaps we weren’t on Cameron at all, but I compared pictures and maps and it was definitely Cameron.

The air at 14,200 is sweeter.  But somebody get this girl some Doggles!

The air at 14,200 is sweeter. But somebody get this girl some Doggles!

So heading down from Cameron, and noticing how far down the saddle went and how far back up the Democrat summit was, even though we were still feeling good and the weather was great, we needed a little pep talk.
When I’m wavering on a mountain, there are two things I think of that comfort me and help me go on:

From Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go”:
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked
Some windows are lighted but mostly they’re darked
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin
Do you dare to stay out?
Do you dare to go in?
How much could you lose?
How much could you win?

From Robert Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening”:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep

Heading down the saddle from Cameron and towards Democrat

Heading down the saddle from Cameron and towards Democrat

Democrat was a steep and snowy ascent. Steep steep. There were tracks to follow but it was steep enough and there was enough evidence on the north side of avalanches that I was a little nervous. We kept on trucking. Slowly slowly. I kept thinking (and probably saying out loud): this is your life right now. If you don’t like it, change it. If you can’t change it, accept it. You are walking up this mountain, deal with it. Being present is really liberating. Nothing else existed, including my past, my worries. Not having to get my registration renewed or laundry or grocery shopping or disagreements with friends. Just one foot in front of the other.

Hey, Mt. Democrat.  You beautiful mountain.

Hey, Mt. Democrat. You beautiful mountain.

So we’re about 100 feet elevation wise (Mark’s got one of those crazy awesome watches that can tell you stuff like that. Evidently it will also provide us with our route via GPS once it’s uploaded to a computer! What!?) from the summit when I realized Lu was bleeding. There was a little tear in her pad but because it’s in her foot it was bleeding more than you would expect. On the side of the steep ass mountain I took out my first aid kit and bandaged it up, she was limping weird and I couldn’t take it so we called it and started our descent. Yeah, it was a bummer not to grab another peak when we were so close. But, we had a great day, and at the end of it I’ll never risk Lu.

Part way down the saddle, we spotted what we could only suspect were butt tracks from sliding down the steep snow. We looked at each other, and I immediately was like NO WAY that is DANGEROUS. We’d probably tear our MCL or break our necks or run into a patch of rocks…then I thought WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? I tell my classes all the time NO FEAR. So, with Luna on my lap, I slid down that gorgeous mf mountain. It. Was. Epic. We may not have summited Mt. Democrat, but that descent was the most memorable.

It’s funny how in the beginning of any wintery hike you all try to keep your feet dry, walking through snow gingerly or avoiding it. Coming down the rest of the descent and through the valley-ish around Kite Lake was not only deep, deep wet snow but underlying was SO MUCH water. We may have hiked through Kite Lake. We were only ever 40% sure where it actually was. When it came to jump over the river crossing again, the break in the ice had widened and I started to have those creeping what if’s (if one of us falls in there, the water’s moving too fast and the snow is too loose, we wouldn’t be able to get out). Mark jumped it and I threw my pack but I was freaking out. Then I thought, why? No fear. Just be here. Jump this crazy river! I did, and made it. The 2.5 back to the truck was dominated by talk of fueling down. Fries and Coke? Should we stop at a brewery in Breckenridge or Frisco? Ultimately, it was fries and Coke. 3 large fries? Yes.

What did I learn on this hike? My baseline is elevated. I felt strong the whole time. That felt amazing. It was also a reminder that “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” (Helen Keller). Fear is never a good reason not to.

Update: NO SUNBURN on my skin or eyes.