Mt. of the Holy Cross (hiking alone)

Important things that you think about on long solo hikes: we say depth instead of deepness…but steepness instead of stepth. WHY!?!? I could probably find out why now that I’m home and have access to the internet, but I spent hours considering this serious problem on the trail.

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

I do love hiking with friends; people I knew before and some that I meet along the way. Casual conversation helps ease the steepness, helps you keep pace, pass the time, and especially not lose hope when the going gets rough (like miles of snowmelt flooded willows as you’re losing light). But there is something special about facing all of it alone from time to time.

The Mt. of the Holy Cross (elevation 14,003ft) starts off with a good amount of gain pretty quickly, in fact you hit treeline before you make it to Half Moon Pass in the first couple miles. At the top of the pass, two things happen: sweeping, epic views of MTOTHC, and now the trail heads steeply down (and loses not only all of the elevation you gained, but maybe even a little more).

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

At this point, the weather was pretty ominous. I was getting a later start than I planned (hit the TH at 8a) and I heard it was a good thing-it rained and hailed until about 7a, maybe a little later than that on the summit. It was still looking pretty dark up there as I descended Half Moon Pass and headed for the river crossing that would lead me to the ascent.

A big descent early in the hike is a bummer for so many reasons-you lose what you’ve already gained, you realize you’re going to have to gain it all back again (and then a lot more), and most importantly, the out-hike is going to have a long ascent on it when you’re already exhausted. And we all know, the main rule of hiking is, the way out always feels much, much longer than it actually is.

The main ascent was what I’d like to call arduous. I was in a hit-it-and-quit-it mood because of the weather, and because I had to be back in Denver by 5p to teach class at 6. So I burned up that mountain like a…I’ll have to come back and insert a clever simile here. Anyway, there weren’t a whole lot of hikers out, I came across two heading town that gave me weather reports from the summit (hail) but optimism as well-“the clouds are moving quick”. In total I think I saw 7 people (even though there were at least 20 cars at the TH-where were they??).

At the top of the ridge that leads to the final, the trail evens out for a bit, providing a break (although the trail is all small, loose rock, so is it really a break?) I had a good view of the final and the summit for a while (good news: the weather cleared, bad news: I thought it looked far and rough-with no conversation to distract you, that’s a fun mental game). Starting to attack the trail quickly gets lost and things get technical and scrambly very quickly. Luna was rock hopping, as usual (and, as usual, I think all 7 people on that mountain commented on her epic capabilities, grace, stamina, agility…), and I really wasn’t fairing poorly. I was rocking my trail shoes instead of boots, which has become my norm for summer hikes, and I passed a group of 3 older gentlemen who were shocked to see someone in tennis shoes (they don’t even UNDERSTAND about trail shoes, yo) and assumed my feet were pretty torn up. I told them not to worry about it, this is my 9th summit this year in these shoes and my feet feel great 😉

Rock Hopper

Rock Hopper

Because of all the losing-the-trail confusion (made even more fun by the cairn game-found a cairn, but where’s the trail?) and rock hopping fun, I hit the summit in no time at all and was shocked to realize that was it. The clouds had even broken and we had a few sunny minutes on the summit before I decided to roll.

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

The descent was fast and dirty. We even ran part of it, trying to get out as quick as possible. Well, I ran part of it. Lu ran the whole thing and then some. I made a mental note about getting Lu sponsored as a #caninebadass endurance athlete.

Do you see that mid-jump!?

Do you see that mid-jump!?

The clouds rolled back in as we were approaching that hellish up-hill back to Half Moon Pass, and it started to rain. NBD, we were already safely into the woods. McDonald’s fries and Coke for fuel down! Back in Denver just in time to teach my 6pm class and head to the climbing gym for 3 hours! (fun new fact about climbing: climbers are not only super friendly, but pretty lazy. Initially I was only lasting about 45 minutes at the gym because I just climbed non-stop…until I found out that protocol is this: you climb a route, you sit down with the other climbers, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. Then someone else climbs a route, sits back down, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. It’s awesome! Definitely the most welcoming community to any sport I’ve become a part of.)

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Elbert & Massive (the two tallest peaks in CO in 24 hours)

I hadn’t gotten to a fourteener since the epic Sawtooth day of awesomeness, so I got this guy on the books. Mt. Massive (14,428) and Mt. Elbert (14,433) (you guys know how much I love parentheses-elevation is speculated, there are a lot of numbers floating around but they’re all within a few feet).

Lu came with me to my Monday morning class, then we headed to Mark’s house to set out for Leadville, CO (but first-coffee and a quick grocery store trip). With iced coffee and frosted donuts, we were en route to the mountains.

On the way into the national forest to the TH, we came across my friend Chris from the Evans hike who was meeting us for the hike up. I had chosen the Southwest slopes route because we were going to be getting a late start-we hit the TH at 11am. So we were looking at 9ish miles and 3,950′ gain. The first couple miles were in the woods and meadow and very lovely, but the gain started pretty quickly and we were headed up.

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Mark was feeling hella strong (probably all of that Orange Theory working out, we speculated) and I was feeling hella-not-energized (here’s a moment that I’m going to take to tell you that I did not properly feed myself or hydrate on Monday…I did not take this trip seriously enough and had cookie dough and Coke for dinner the night before…then coffee and donuts for breakfast WHOOPS. Lesson=learned) and my thighs were BURNING and I wasn’t getting to my second wind very quickly. So Chris and I took it relatively easy while Mark trucked on.

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This was basically the story of the whole ascent, but it was beautiful and pleasant. When we reached the top, Mark was sitting on the rocks chilling and we commented about where the summit actually was (Massive has several false peaks) and we were informed that we were on it!

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The ascent went pretty quickly, we were back down around 6:30. Chris was dying to put his feet in the river, and Mark and I were dying to go into Leadville for some Coke. Sad, right? Nothing like a cold soda after working your thighs to death! There is KILLER camping in the forest between our TH and the Elbert TH that was further east on the way in. We picked a spectacular spot in great vicinity to the roaring river (and with the world’s most epic firepit, that I, of course, didn’t take a picture of because my phone was dead by now). We had Mark’s tent so it was put up in a jiffy, and I used my badass fire starting skillz to get a roaring fire going to cook our veggie dogs and bourbon baked beans over. Chips and coke too!?! Plus-Lu got the extra “dogs” and beans so we hit the tent with full happy bellies.

Not quite a 5am wake up, but 6am so not too shabby. We broke camp and headed to the Elbert TH to rock out one more mountain before we had to head back to Denver. The Elbert TH was already very crowded, the parking lot nearly full and a line for the highly overused bathrooms (should’ve pooped at the campsite, damn). There’s a bit of trail in the woods that’s a nice windy hike, then suddenly BAM! steep incline that never lets up. We passed several people in this section, constantly thinking- any second now, this steepness will let up. It never, ever did. It was a wild trail, the standard route, just up and up with no breaks. But, to gain 4700′ in 5 miles is a lot!

Still snow.

Still snow.

We were fully prepared with food and water, though, and I felt amazing on this hike. Just hauling ass and taking names. We continually encountered more and more people-good lord this trail was busy on a Tuesday! Then we got to the steepest of the steep parts! Oof! I had a mantra in my head on this one-can’t stop, won’t stop. I was rocking as hard as I could. We had seen 3 people trail running on this route (I know, right?? New goals) and somehow right in the middle of the steepest stretch with a little less than a mile left to go I suddenly thought I could run to the finish. That didn’t happen. But, I didn’t take any breaks and was pretty proud.

We spent approximately long enough to take this picture on the summit-it was crowded.

We spent approximately long enough to take this picture on the summit-it was crowded.

We really burned it on the way down. And we realized something-we didn’t start Massive until 11am on Monday-and headed down from the Elbert summit it was only a little after 10am! Two peaks in 24 hours! It felt good.

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The Elbert trip was the fastest fourteener I’ve done to date. I thought about it a lot on this trip and decided to go for my new goal: 28 fourteeners before I turn 28, which means I’ve got 18 to go before October 3rd! It’s a tall order, but I think it’s doable. We fueled down at the Boathouse in Frisco-fries, mountain dew, and pizza.

The mountains are waiting, so get on your way.