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

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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.

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.

20140728-102149.jpg

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.

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.

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.

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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.

Training (and psychology or something, probably)

You guys know I’ve been up to a lot of business lately. And by business, I mean activities. As I’ve been planning my upcoming amazing trips, I’ve realized that there’s a couple doozies coming up fast and in addition to the things I’m already training for, I have some areas to step up. It’s got me to thinking about the difference between working out (for the sake of working out), training for competition, and training to do epic shit.

I’ve been involved in competitive sports for basically ever, with maybe a 2 year reprieve after I stopped racing (road running) after college and before I picked up roller derby. Training for competitive sports is a discipline and an obligation. Sometimes, it’s awesome. As long as I’ve had something to work for, I’m able to train (even if I don’t always like it). But, like I say all the time, I road run to support my trail racing habit. And it’s exactly that. Most of my training for running is on the road, and it sucks. I would never be like “I’m going to crush 10 miles on the ROAD!” it’s more like oh dear god, 10 miles. 10 monotonous, repetitive motion injury, joint shaking miles that make me question my commitment to long distance running in general (more on this later). But I still do it.

I’ve never been one for working out. When I’m at the height of intense training for something, I can really crush a work out. And yeah, I like it, and it feels good. I’m never going to question the amazing effects of endorphins, et al. But I can not bring myself to work out for the sake of working out. Plenty of people do, it’s awesome, because exercise is really important for your health and not every human is willing and able to commit their lives to physical endeavors. I teach a spin class once a week and the beautiful souls who attend that class, I tip my hat to them. No music in the world would make me work that hard just to be healthy.

What!?  So many miles!

What!? So many miles!

So I’ve been keeping track of my bicycle commuting mileage on a calendar all month, without doing anything with it (like adding it up) and when I realized the other day that I MUST start training for my bike tours, I added it up. I ride 70-100 miles a week, and that’s mainly getting to classes. I don’t think I entered in when I ride to a restaurant for dinner or something, and I usually walk to the store. I was pretty impressed. Although with the Mt Evans trip (50 miles by bicycle, from Denver to Echo Lake, then summit Mt. Evans, then ride the 50 back) looming, I need to increase mileage by a lot. Something about planning and committing to this training feels very different. I rode an extra 30 miles yesterday, and it felt amazing. I haven’t been riding much outside of commuting lately, so that was probably part of it. But it was more than that. It wasn’t an obligation. It was a commitment to become stronger so I could live a stronger life. There’s been a tone of falsity in my race training lately, and that’s what it is. I consider that training obligatory so I can race hard and obtain a good time and all the glory that comes with competition. Whereas, training to walk and ride mountains; that feels very authentic and like I’m working to be better.

Yeah, this is how I ride training miles...get better sunglasses, Sarah.  And wear a MF helmet!

Yeah, this is how I ride training miles…get better sunglasses, Sarah. And wear a MF helmet!

How do I bring this into my race training?

Updates and coming up:
Monday Long’s (this should be 3/20 and my last winter ascent of the season, I hear the conditions up there are actually still WINTER)
6/11 Mt. Evans
July 2-6 Wanderlust Festival in Aspen
July & August Nolan’s Fourteeners 100 miles backpacking, bicycle tour to Estes via Peak to Peak Highway
Breakdancing: still working on the same two moves but they’re getting better!
Ashtanga: finally getting back on track

Pike’s Peak Pt Deux (triumph of the human spirit)

On Monday I posted the story of the time we tried the Pike’s Peak winter ascent…and failed.

This is the story of when I attempted to summit Pike’s Peak…and made it.

ahh, the beautiful summit

ahh, the beautiful summit

I didn’t sub out my Monday morning class so I wasn’t headed south until 7:30, which got me to the trailhead just after 9:30 with all the morning traffic. Luna and I ate our pre-hike chia seed/oatmeal porridge, packed up, and headed out just before 10am. [Side note: I thought long and hard about the decision to bring Luna along on what I knew was probably going to be a treacherous hike. The end all is: she is a mountain dog, and if she were able to choose she would always pick adventuring by my side over staying home alone all day. Always.]

Luna, at tree line

Luna, at tree line

We started at the Devil’s Playground trailhead, from the Crag’s campground parking lot off highway 67 south of Divide. The round trip hike is 14 miles, assuming you’re able to stay on the trail and don’t take any detours (hahaha as if anyone has any idea where the actual trail is under all that snow) and gains 4,300 feet in elevation. Below tree line, it was mostly dry and a little icy, as the several feet of packed snow was finally melting then freezing due to the high temps. We made it to tree line pretty quickly. I saw my first and only fellow hiker just before, on his way down (he turned around at tree line); there were two other cars in the parking lot, I never did see anyone from the other car.

The view from tree line

The view from tree line

Still in high spirits at tree line, the weather was beautiful and we set out on a mildly marked trail following snowshoe prints. The wind picked up, but it wasn’t cold and it wasn’t picking up snow and throwing it around. Clear skies and sunshine. Pretty soon, the “trails” collided and I joined the same path as everyone that had come before me. Which is an interesting feeling, following the footprints of the ghosts who walked these mountains. And really, I was using their post holes, so I was exactly following their footprints! The wind picked up pretty hard and I finally put mine and Luna’s coats on for protection. Still wasn’t cold though.

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When we hit Devil’s Playground we completely lost the trail and had to break one ourselves for the first time. From this point on, we never actually found the trail, although we’d occasionally find footprints again but they seemed just as erratic and lost as we were. Somewhere in this section, after we crossed Devil’s Playground but before we reached the final rocky ascent to the summit, I got miserable and almost turned around. I don’t remember if it was wading through the snow in the valley or navigating the rocks in the snow and ice (which was treacherous at best). Once you cross the last peak and head down into that little shoulder part before you ascend up to the summit, you get a view of what you’re in for and it seems so epically far away that summiting suddenly seems impossible. We stopped to eat and snuggle and find some serious morale to keep going. This is where I began talking directly to the mountain, which I would continue for the rest of the day.

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Now, I know I was struggling with altitude sickness a little by this point because I had a slight headache. I don’t remember what all I said, but I definitely remember asking Pike’s Peak to protect us. I’m pretty sure I talked almost constantly during the final, grueling, soul crushing, scramble of an ascent. Climbing like a spider over the large rocks, desperately avoiding breaking a leg in the snow filled crevaces between them, and probably moaning desperately, I kept my eyes one foot in front of me. When I finally reached the 10 feet or so of snow after the rocks end and you approach the real, actual summit I looked up and couldn’t believe it. I crawled, literally on hands and knees, until I reached bare ground, laid my head down, and cried.

From the summit, right after I got my shit together, stopped crying, and stood up

From the summit, right after I got my shit together, stopped crying, and stood up

What I think is really tragic about the fact that Pike’s Peak Highway goes up to the summit, where you’ll find a parking lot and a gift shop, is that what do these people gain from the view? By the time you summit a mountain on foot, you are a part of it and it is a part of you. And the view from the top is sort of the infinity that you are together, the mountain and you. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But the view from the car seems approximately like looking at a photograph: many things that exist in nature are beautiful objectively, but just seeing the physical outline of them is not the same as the experience of being a part of them.

I knew that I was well behind schedule so once PP and I had our sweet moment together, I set out to look for the registry and the signs that you find at the summit of fourteeners. Now, since they had to plow the parking lot there were huge piles of snow everywhere in addition to the cars and it was difficult to see everything. I was in a hurry, so after some unfruitful looking around I went into the gift shop and asked the ladies behind the counter. They didn’t know what I was talking about. “The hiker registry-it’s usually in a capsule next to a big pile of rocks” “Wait, did you hike up here?” “Yes” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, do you know what she’s talking about?””Registry? No”. Sigh. I took another look around. There was a long line of people taking pictures at the Pike’s Peak Summit sign (14,110 feet!). Ultimately, I had to head back down before I lost the weather or the daylight, so I gave up and began my descent.

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So the descent is when things got really weird. Sometimes I would just sit down in the snow and think “if only I could just take a nap.” And it would take me five minutes of saying out loud “Sarah you need to get up. Get up. You need to get up. You need to keep going.” The thing about fourteeners is, you’re miles into the middle of nowhere, and at very high elevation. Once you’re out there, you have no choice but to come back (or to lay down in the snow and die), you can’t just give up. Getting back across and to treeline was a big struggle. But from there, it was only a couple more miles down and the altitude sickness started getting immediately better. I sang out loud the last two miles or so. It’s kind of funny realizing what songs you know all the words to (and what songs you think you know all the words to but clearly don’t). The trip took almost 9 hours all said and done. When I sat down in the car I just said “we made it.” No big deal. We fueled down at McDonald’s because that was the first fast food place we saw (Coke and fries, and you’d better believe Lu got a few fries, but I also had some fuel down peanut butter for her).

Snowblindness. Did you know that’s a thing? My PSA for you: WEAR SUNGLASSES ALWAYS. Snowblindness (also called Surfer’s Eyes) is when the clear layer over the colored part of your eye gets sunburned because of the UV reflections off of snow (or water). It is just as painful as it sounds, and I literally spent all of yesterday in bed because I couldn’t open my eyes.

Vermont (Mt. Mansfield) and routine (how it goes out the door sometimes)

So, obviously, I was in Vermont for about 30 minutes before my dad said “well we could hike the tallest peak in Vermont” and I said “deal” and he said “I was kidding” and I said “nope, it’s already settled.”

Mt. Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont, at 4,393 feet. Apparently it’s supposed to look like a face, and the chin is the summit. I never really saw it. The trail we took up was about 3 miles, with 3,000ft elevation gain. New England trails generally aren’t built with switchbacks, apparently. Just up, and up.

trail up mansfield

It was gorgeous; the first mile or so there was water everywhere from the snowmelt. Tons of technical, several decent size water crossings. Then there was snow. So much snow. I somehow didn’t take any pictures of the snow. All of the snow. Post holing. Soaked freezing feet. Icy rocks. On the way down we laughed about how careful we were to not get our feet wet (pre-snow). You’ve got to love steep climbs when you’re post holing so deep that your hips have to stop you and you can barely drag yourself out!

Once we hit treeline (which, in New England is apparently somewhere below 4,000ft!) it got windy but still not that cold. And let’s be honest…above treeline in the Rockies conditions are an entirely different ballgame. Mt. Mansfield was sweet 😉

mansfield summit

Overall, the technical was crazy fun (what wasn’t covered in snow). Once the snow melts and the trees pop for spring, that hike is going to be gorgeous. The views from the top are permanently epic.

What else did I do in Vermont? Drank lots of coffee and a decent amount of wine, attended a wedding, spent lots of time with the fam. Checked out Lake Champlain. And basically nothing else.

lake champlain

Now that I’m back it’s time to get to work.

Active goals:

Leadville Heavy Half 6/14
Bike to Mt. Evans, hike the summit before the end of June
Peak to Peak Highway and Estes bike tour by mid July
20-fourteeners (by the end of 2014)
Nolen’s Fourteeners by the end of the summer
Learn to Breakdance
Ashtanga Primary Series 5 days a week