Collegiates pt 3 (no sleep till Columbia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, part deux

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

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

Day 2 total mileage: 25miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

because Lu is the shit, obv

because Lu is the shit, obv

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

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

Things got filthy dirt on dinosaur ridge

Things got filthy dirt on dinosaur ridge

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

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

xo

Training for greatness (how to schedule all of your free time)

Don’t get me wrong, I love laying face down on the floor of my apartment watching Awkward, drinking Coke, and eating junk. But those things are fun in the moment, and not even a little bit epic.

I grew up hoping to wake up before my dad left for work, at like 6 o’clock in the morning, to kiss him goodbye, and I can remember like it was yesterday my dad sitting on the stair by the side door putting his shoes on. To ride his bike 6.3 miles to work (and that’s one way, I just looked it up). Rain or shine, and all winter long (and we lived in Michigan…). Epic. He helped me move to Colorado…and rode his bike home (TO MICHIGAN). He’s been doing this his whole life.

So now you know where I get it.

Every day it seems like there are more amazing things I want to do. I’m not going to lie, I dove face first into climbing, I’ve been at the gym every single day. Contrary to breakdancing and ashtanga, I’m actually getting so much better and more comfortable with all of this practice. Everything has sort of overlapped, at the moment I’m just rocking as hard as possible running and putting miles in the saddle. I need to make a sched…yikes! My yoga schedule is finally calming down, luckily, so this is getting more possible.

With all the madness, here’s what I’m currently working on:

Running: mainly, training to be able to run 14ers. I’m planning next week to knock out the four collegiate peaks in two days, which means I’m going to need to run some to get the mileage done in time. I’ve considered doing one more race before the season’s over…but I’m unsure if racing is something I want to do again. Such a different mindset.

Climbing: mainly, just trying to get better, stronger, more comfortable so I can get back out on the real rock before the weather goes. I love it so much, but I quickly realized that I have A LOT of strength to gain before I can get serious outdoors.

Hiking: 28 14ers before 10/3/14. That’s pretty self explanatory, right? I’m thinking on 10/3, my birthday, we’ll do Capitol Peak…my biggest, hardest climb yet and one that makes me tremble a little, it is on the list of the top 5 most difficult Colorado 14ers…and barely misses the cut for top 4 most deadly. See you at the Knife Edge?

Riding: So I’ve just been gifted a new bike (A NEW BIKE. I KNOW.) Which means I can finally race if I want to…looking at the Steamboat Springs Stage Race over Labor Day weekend…and I am terrified, just considering it as a possibility. I mean. Holy shit, right?! Cyclists are fancy mf. Scared of this for so many reasons. …but…maybe?

Ashtanga: relegated to once a week. I know. Better than not at all? My regular practice has to be a compliment to all of my wild training in other directions.

Gosh, is there anything I’m forgetting? I’m going to try abandoning my regular diet (and by diet I mean the food I normally eat-I don’t do “diets”) and subscribe to Alicia Silverstone’s vegan macrobiotic cookbook (I’m already vegan…but I eat a lot of bread and pasta. and sugar). There’s millet porridge in my fridge…is this going to work? We don’t know. In the meantime, I’ll share the raw energy balls recipe I just made in another post (and let me tell you, they are f***ing amazing).

xoxo love you, internet!

Mt. of the Holy Cross (hiking alone)

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

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

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

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

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

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

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

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

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

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

Rock Hopper

Rock Hopper

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

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

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

Do you see that mid-jump!?

Do you see that mid-jump!?

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

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.

20140728-102235.jpg

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!

20140728-102140.jpg

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.

We wandered (but we skipped Wanderlust)

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

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

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

Starting Independence Day weekend in Independence Pass

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

Game time.

Game time.

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

City on a Hill coffee.  Epic.

City on a Hill coffee. Epic.

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

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

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

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

Shit man, life is hard.

Shit man, life is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the summit of Bierstadt

On the summit of Bierstadt

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

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

Looking back from where we came: the Sawtooth ridge

Looking back from where we came: the Sawtooth ridge

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

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

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

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

Lu on the summit of Evans

Lu on the summit of Evans

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

Looking back as we crossed the bog of eternal sadness.

Looking back as we crossed the bog of eternal sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

Thar she blows, that beautiful jagged monster

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

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

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

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

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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.