BUSHWACKING (if you feel lost, get lost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MOTHER NATURE (and how I learned about expectations

Mother Nature exposed and made light of my weaknesses by dumping foot after foot after foot of fresh snow on my mountains; they that were so near to being clear.

When it started snowing on Wednesday I was annoyed. When it continued snowing on Thursday I was already pissed. I thought after work I would run all day. I adjusted said plan to spend the afternoon swimming laps instead, but when I arrived at the pool the sun was coming out and I cut my swim short to run Ptarmigan…only to find the sun immediately replaced by another snowstorm. And how it stormed. Friday I woke up to a full foot of new snow, and to put this in perspective that’s enough snow that I couldn’t open the back door to let Lu out in the morning. I shoveled the foot of snow off of my car and went to work, only to return to another FOOT OF SNOW in the afternoon; so much snow you couldn’t even see the dent in the driveway from the foot of snow I took with me in the morning (I totally got stuck in my street). Saturday it snowed, and Sunday it was occasionally sunny but it also snowed.

You may remember that I was recently thrilled about the amount of exposed trail up here, and the impending spring and summer when I would get to run on the ground again. I can’t even dredge up hope for that dream anymore, and here’s why:

So yesterday I looked at conditions reports on the southern Sawatch, and as recently as 8 days ago someone was on Mt Yale reporting that the first couple MILES were dirt, and there wasn’t enough snow anywhere to ski. The weather was reporting 50’s and sunny in Buena Vista, so I thought good enough, let’s go. Lu and I drove to BV in the mid-morning, coffee-in-hand, and arrived at the Denny Creek TH parking lot that had been thoroughly plowed and sunned and was perfectly empty at 10am. It was sunny and relatively warm. I did Yale towards the end of last summer but I was racking my brain trying to remember where the TH actually was from the parking lot, and boy I wish I had taken a picture because it was comical when I realized that it was so thoroughly buried with snow that you couldn’t see the sign, and there were no tracks to speak of.

I’ve gotten used to this common mountain scenario since I’ve moved here: there’s a baselayer of snow, someone makes tracks on it, when it snows again you still have the packed snow beneath it. Well. This was much different. There was no baselayer and no previous tracks, just the dirt trail. Like this was the first snow there ever was. And it was three. fucking. feet.

I dug out my snowshoes and sighed.

Luna doesn't care if she's buried or not

Luna doesn’t care if she’s buried or not

An hour later, we had lost the trail and the sun and it had begun to snow. We arrived at a river crossing and I nearly fell in. Each sluggish step in the wet snow dragging each snowshoe miserably. Yeah, I was totally angry. I know it’s not right, but I’m just done with winter and I’m so mad it snowed again [and hey, guess what! This is the usual for the high Rockies. Silver Lake, Colorado holds TWO U.S. records for snowfall-the most snow in 24hours (76”) and the biggest continuous snowfall (100” in 85hours) and it was a late April storm]. The reality is, our snowfall was really light this year and we NEEDED this huge storm so we have water this summer; okay, I totally get it! But it doesn’t make me feel better about the current state of dragging ass in the cold woods [especially when I tasted summer in that glorious weekend I spent running the front range]

this water.  was delicious.  and the coldest water that exists in the world.

this water. was delicious. and the coldest water that exists in the world.

It gave me a lot to think about. When I was still teaching yoga full time I did a 5-week series about expectations. How and why we have them and their effects on our lives and well being. Others expectations of us. What it boils down to is something we all already know-expectations set us up for disappointment. I’ve been dreaming so hard of summer and the weather was good so I expected it to stay that way and get better. It took moving up here to realize that you can never rely on anything when it comes to weather. I know, I know, in your part of the country the weather is CRAZY and unpredictable and you can have all four seasons in the same day (are you realizing for the first time that you’ve totally said that, because EVERYBODY thinks that about where they live? Is your mind blown!?)

But here’s the thing about the high country. It goes from 50 and sunny to 0 and storming in less than five minutes, and I’m not exaggerating for effect. I counted (for the first time) and it went from sunny/clear/warm to FULL ON SNOWSTORM and back 7 times today. SEVEN. It might be 60 degrees and sunny for two weeks, then it drops the biggest storm of the year on you and pummels you for days with January temperatures. It’s also not unusual for this to happen once summer is in full swing; in fact, it’s likely to happen several times this summer that we get sudden snowstorms. Plus, at high altitude (I’m at 10,200) the sun feels hotter and it warms us (people, land, air, whatever) up faster, and the thin air doesn’t hold heat very well, so the temperature swings can be truly incredible.

My weakness this past week has been my expectations. But I’m not going to get anywhere training for Nolan’s holding a grudge or staying inside to avoid snow because I was ready for summer. I could let every step be wretched, feeding the anger and frustration. Or every step fuels the fire that burns out my weaknesses. Self discipline through austerity-and once that garbage is burned off I won’t even notice the snow, excepting the lightness of burdens being lifted.

fresh tracks

fresh tracks

SNOW (and so I’ve had my mountains all to myself)

I’ve basically spent the entire winter dreaming of winter being over. Do I like winter sports? Yeah, of course I do. But whoa mg all of this snow is cold and wet and it gets in the way.

You know what I’m so tired of?? Post holing. It was so bad one time and my shins were so swollen and bruised that I felt like I had stress fractures all over again (you road runners know what this feels like).

if you cannot tell, this is up to my waist.  MY WAIST.  I call this snowwimming

if you cannot tell, this is up to my waist. MY WAIST. I call this snowwimming

Anyway, the point is that there was a two-part happening that’s made me realized why the snow is secretly good (it’s a theme this winter-something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about). I went down to the Front Range to visit a friend and had two days of most excellent summer trail running. It was more than magnificent. It was fast and wild and rolling and hard and FINALLY I was tired from fast elevation gain and not from dragging in the snow. We burned up Bear Peak, stood in the river and drank from waterfalls, raced mountain bikers. We also dodged all sorts of people, answered questions, listened to their small talk, and actually ran into some friends.

from Bear Peak

from Bear Peak

So then I came home to the mountains, where it was actually snowing (of course) but it didn’t stick. So we went up to Half Moon Creek. And get this-they’ve opened the road! It’s not passable yet but MORE THAN HALF was clear of snow.

LOOK!  It's the ground!

LOOK! It’s the ground!

I had to carry my microspikes for the 4 miles in to the TH because there wasn’t enough snow to wear them! But, here’s what I realized is the problem with such magic. When the snow is all melted off of Half Moon Creek road, you’ll be able to drive right up to the TH (imagine that!) and even camp along it! When the trails are clear of snow, it will be downright easy to summit my mountains…which is fantastic, until I think about the piles upon piles of fair weather Coloradans that will come out when it’s easy again. The snow: it makes me cold and wet, it exhausts me and causes me to carry all kinds of different equipment, it bruises my shins and knees and other things when I fall dramatically on my face. And the snow: it’s the exact reason why I’ve spent an entire winter almost completely alone in my beautiful mountains in perfect quite and solitude.

Just me and Luna, enjoying the summit of Quandary ALONE for the 7th time this winter or so

Just me and Luna, enjoying the summit of Quandary ALONE for the 7th time this winter or so

Someone told me after I moved here that the other long distance runners in town do road miles and skate ski on the groomed paths around town, but they most certainly don’t run trails in the winter. Like it’s dirty and wrong! Which is why I’m probably the only one filling out those Mt.Massive Wilderness use permits.

welcome to mt. massive wilderness

welcome to mt. massive wilderness

As much as I’ve enjoyed running with my feet on the ground, I’m going to continue loving my peace and alone time while I have it.

on the way back in n. 10 mile trail north of Frisco

on the way back in n. 10 mile trail north of Frisco

...and me looking awkward, just for good measure.  By the river on the way up Mt. Yale

…and me looking awkward, just for good measure. By the river on the way up Mt. Yale

Winter Camping (taking misery to new heights)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lu on her way in, just after we arrived

Lu on her way in, just after we arrived

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

Lu breaks trail

Lu breaks trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nolan’s 14 (do the mountains make you want to be a better person?)

I’ve said before that when I’m in the mountains I feel like I can do anything, be anything. And I want a simpler life. I make all sorts of resolutions, about how when I get home I’m going to stop watching TV and be more sustainable and appreciate every moment. That generally fades sometime on the drive home and after a long day and a lot of mileage I generally end up watching something like Ugly Betty, drinking Coke, and eating everything I can find.

I’ve been wondering if prolonged exposure to the mountains would lengthen that feeling, or wanting to be a better person and waste less time vegging out and dinking around

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In the wake of the 28 (which, although not “technically” over, feels mostly finished) I certainly felt good about my ability to test my limits. I want my only limits to be my imagination, and never my perception of who I am. Trying to decide what my next adventure would be started towards the end of the 28. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking about Nolan’s, but I do distinctly remember spending the entire long Princeton descent fantasizing about it.

Nolan’s 14 was thought up in 1991, although the first actual event was in 1998. It’s an 88-108 mile course, according to Matt Mahoney’s website. It takes about 44,000ft gain and loss to summit FOURTEEN 14,000+ft mountains. It’s the most grueling course I know of, and the elevation gain is much, much higher than any 100mile ultra race I’ve heard of (including hardrock). The Forest Service apparently shut down the idea of holding a regular race on the course, but hardcore ultrarunners still attempt to finish the course within the cutoff time of 60hrs.

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As far as I can tell from the records, 13 men have completed the course since 1998. But. There IS NO FKT (fastest known time) set by a female yet. The most summits completed by a woman is 12.

Why? I estimate you’d have to move about 1.5 mph over 60 hours to finish this course. Thats not even that fast. But, and it’s a BIG but, 44,000ft gain is gnarly. And when I say gnarly, I mean epic. To continue dragging yourself up summit after summit (not even to mention high altitude problems) is so incredibly difficult.

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I’ve been a bit apprehensive about putting my intention to set a FKT on Nolan’s when the weather breaks because it is so huge. But, I learned something during the 28. It was a pipe dream of sorts, that I thought up while in the mountains (of course, because I feel unlimited in the mountains). At the time, I didn’t believe I could do 28 summits in a couple months, but then I did it, and along the way I broke all sorts of barriers that I believed would hold me back. I dreamed up setting a FKT while in the mountains too, and while it seems so huge, the first step is to put it in writing and get down to training.

And there will be some adventures along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan and I at the TH

Dan and I at the TH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We kept going.

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

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

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

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

It just gets deeper from here.

It just gets deeper from here.

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

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

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

27 (all systems go)

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

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

Antero.  I took this the next day from Princeton.

Antero. I took this the next day from Princeton.

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

Needs no caption.

Needs no caption.

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

On the way up the talus field

On the way up the talus field

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

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

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

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

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

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

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

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

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

and after the sunrise.  still awfully nice.

and after the sunrise. still awfully nice.

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

so. far. from here.

so. far. from here.


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

check that view!  of...clouds.

check that view! of…clouds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

20141007-095907.jpg

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

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

#28: CAPITOL PEAK, coming up next week

Collegiates pt ? (progress is progress)

The morning after where we left off, I had just summited Shavano and Tabegauche, and attempted (but failed at) Antero. On the docket today is Yale and Princeton, but I woke up feeling a little beat.

Planned: Mt. Yale (14,196) 9.5mi, 4300ft gain and Mt. Princeton (14,197) 13.25mi and 5400ft gain
Total planned: 22.75mi and 9700ft gain
Actual: Mt Yale 9.5mi and 4300ft gain

I started out actually pretty damn early, so I felt great about that. I wasn’t feeling great in general, however, and the first couple miles were a bit tainted by the idea of rushing this ascent in order to make it to Mt Princeton, ascend, descend, and make it all the way back to Denver in time to teach an 8:30p class. The rushing was much more strenuous than the elevation gain.

Then I had a brilliant epiphany. What if I didn’t do Princeton today? I struggled pretty hard with this decision. I’m already behind on mountains and at this point I had everything scheduled. I considered all of my options in terms of rescheduling. I did my best to justify skipping Princeton. But, ultimately I didn’t want to do it and once I made the decision to summit Yale then go home I felt a big burden being lifted. Part of this process is surpassing what I thought to be my limits, but part of it is understanding why and if I really want to do things.

The rest of Yale went smoothly, I passed several groups and was the first on the summit, then even had it to myself for a while. It was an absolutely gorgeous summit. I made a fast but not rushed descent, stopping to chat with a bunch of people on the way down. There was a girl that asked to take a picture with Lu as if she was her and her boyfriend’s dog…that was weird.

me and my Luna bug, feeling the bigness of summiting Yale.

me and my Luna bug, feeling the bigness of summiting Yale.

On my way home from Buena Vista I spent a long time thinking about my schedule between now and my birthday, to see how I could adjust to add Princeton and Antero. Tomorrow was supposed to be an all day training ride for the planned 82mi ride to Long’s, Long’s ascent, and ride back to Denver that was schedule for next Monday Tuesday. What I realized is, if I wanted to get all the peaks in before my birthday without subbing any classes I’d have to do Long’s tomorrow so there’s time to go back to BV for Antero and Princeton next week.

Wednesday morning I did not want to set an alarm, so I woke up around 8:30 and hung out making breakfast and drinking coffee. I got lost on the way to Long’s after mixing up some highway numbers and ended up starting out from the TH a bit after 11:30. And yeah, there were storms forecasted.

I did not take this.  But I accidentally deleted my picture from this viewpoint of Long's, on the long way in.  I'll go to the right, around the back, and pop up through that notch you can see about 1/3 from the left to climb to the summit.

I did not take this. But I accidentally deleted my picture from this viewpoint of Long’s, on the long way in. I’ll go to the right, around the back, and pop up through that notch you can see about 1/3 from the left to climb to the summit.

I burned in pretty hard and fast, but stopped to talk to a nice old man right before the trail splits toward the lake and the boulderfield. He was headed in to fish until the weather turned, and was highly disturbed that I was starting a summit ascent so late in the day. I tried to explain to him that I know what I’m doing, but he was unconvinced, and asked me if I’ve been on a fourteener before. 🙂

It’s a good long ways to get to the technical part. Even crossing the boulderfield takes ages, winding about then up a talus field to the keyhole that looks much shorter than it actually is. Once you cross through the keyhole to the other side of the mountain, you’re rewarded with epic views and it’s all class 3 from here. The route’s well marked so it moves pretty fast. Long’s Peak is technically a part of Rocky Mountain National Park, and dogs aren’t allowed so I left Lu home for this one so it was nice to enjoy the scrambling without having to keep track of her. I met some clearly very high gentlemen headed down the very steep and technical gully, and I was amazed that Colorado stoners are so motivated as to climb such long and technically difficult routes (14 miles with a good amount of class 3 technical that is mildly dangerous but also takes a pretty long time). The last two guys I saw claimed to be the last heading down from the summit, which would make me alone on the route for quite a while. They estimated 30 minutes to get through “the narrows” then another 40-60 on the final ascent. I was thinking that when I got to the top of the gully I wouldn’t be too far off from the summit, so the rational part of my brain worried slightly about the impending storms…the rest of my brain felt a little too excited.

from the keyhole

from the keyhole

Turns out, the two guys that gave me the time estimates (who appeared to be competent climbers themselves) were either very slow themselves or had highly underestimated me and given me an inflated time to the summit, because 30 minutes later I was standing on it, confused as all get out, trying to figure out how I ended up there so quickly, and if it was possible that I was not, in fact, on the summit. But I found the metal seal and the capsule containing the register so I knew I was there. I took some pictures then headed down, hoping to make it through the technical before getting rained on.

coloradical

coloradical

I made it to the top of the gully where I’d be downclimbing before traversing that class 3 west ridge again when it started hailing. And I wasn’t scared. Maybe I should’ve been. I moved as quickly as possible coming down the now hail-covered slippery rock, feeling like a kid out playing in the rain.

I didn't take this either, and I don't know these people.  But I stupidly deleted almost all of my pictures of the sweet route I was on to clear up memory for a later trip, you'll hear about soon

I didn’t take this either, and I don’t know these people. But I stupidly deleted almost all of my pictures of the sweet route I was on to clear up memory for a later trip, you’ll hear about soon

After getting back to the keyhole and crossing over to the east side again the storm was gone and I ran the whole way back fast and dirty, hoping to have time to catch some dinner in Boulder before I had to be at the search and rescue meeting. (victory). 14.5mi, 5100ft gain

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.

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!!!)