Yesterday was a bit surreal for me as well. I met a huge challenge I had for myself this year. I climbed a mountain. A real mountain. A fourteener. In Colorado, we have the most fourteeners in the contiguous U.S. It is a challenge that I NEVER thought I would accomplish. Last year I had tried to climb one but the talus (rock) field scared me and I turned back at 13,600 in elevation. Hiking on a sprained ankle, it was probably the best decisions.
This year I made it a goal to attempt another one. This time I made it to the summit.
The trip report
The mountain I chose was Handies Peak. It was a five hour drive from home but I had a friend near the mountain who had suggested it and said that if it worked out, I would have a place to stay with her and her husband. I then asked a friend if she was interested in climbing with me. I chose this particular friend because I knew that I wouldn't overly stress if I slowed her down. I also knew that the event itself would be challenging enough that I didn't need the extra stress of moving faster than I should and Stephanie would understand that. Plus I like her and we would be spending a lot of time on the trail so that was kind of important too. Stephanie said yes and we set a date that worked with my friend in Lake City.
We prepared for the hike, gathering all the things that we would need to be prepared for a 14er. I am by no stretch of the imagination a mountain person but I know that certain things are necessary when attempting something like this.
We met up Thursday afternoon and drove to Lake City. We met up with Linda and she showed us her lovely little town. We talked with her and Bob for a some time and made a plan to leave their home at 5:00 in the morning to get up to the trailhead. We would drive my car to the two-wheel trailhead and they would take us on to the four-wheel drive trailhead. This meant that we would be doing a loop. The ascent would be approximately 2.75 miles and the descent would be 4 miles. But the descent would also be on the class 2 trail, while the ascent would be on the class 1 trail. That kind of scared me but I trusted Linda and Bob.
Here was the first lesson I learned. I had researched the trail quite a bit on line. The write-ups on various websites indicated that we could get a two-wheel drive vehicle to about a mile from the four-wheel drive trailhead and then walk up the road that mile and do the up and down in the same route. Linda and Bob both indicated that the road really was not appropriate for a two-wheel drive so we adjusted our plans. The lesson is to do your research but be flexible and talk to people who now the trails and roads.
So, we woke up early. It was dark...very dark...as we drove out to the trail. It was also cold. In fact, there was frost and ice on the the puddles as we drove. Part of the drive was an unguarded shelf road with lots and lots of pot holes. I was so glad when the parking area we were leaving my car came into sight. Bob was so gracious to drive us onto the next trailhead. As we drove the remaining road, we could see how right they were about revising our trip plan to ascend on one trail and descend on the other. We finally got to the trailhead and the sky was brightening as the sun was rising.
Stephanie and I got ready and started down the path. My anxiety level was high and as normal, I started out too fast and had to slow down. Both of us were climbing with poles for the first time. I am still not sure what I think about them. We climbed up and out of the American Basin before we could see Handies Peak in the distance. There was one creek crossing, which was not mentioned in any of the trip reports we had read but it was not bad. Everything was frosty and cold. We had missed the height of wildflower season but it was still pretty.
We continued to climb, reading our trip information as we climbed. We were glad to have photos of the trail as we could easily follow where we were going. The sun continued to rise but most of the ascent was done in the shade. The climb wasn't difficult yet and we even took a few steps out of our way to go see Sloan's Lake.
We then got to the talus field. I was a little nervous because this is what had turned my back last year. This talus field was nothing like the one on Bierstadt (the mountain I had attempted last year). We worked our way through it, with a only few places that were a bit precarious and slippery due to the frost.
After the talus field, it was bit more of a climb up to the summit. It wasn't easy but it was totally doable. The views were amazing. The whole idea that I may actually complete a fourteener was a bit overwhelming.
Just before the steepest part of the ascent, my cell phone actually got service and I received a text from husband. He texted me the following Dr. Seuss quote:
After that, the next part of the descent was not bad at all. In fact, it felt flat but when we looked back on it, we could see that it was a bit of a decline. The descent continued and continued. We were slow as there was many areas of slippery rocks. The poles did come in handy then.
We had to cross a creek several times. If I remember correctly, it was about seven times. The write-up indicated that it would be two to three times. Again, you have to do your research but be flexible.
We finally hit the tree line but the hike never seemed to end. I was exhausted and just wanted to get back to the car but the declines just keep going on and on. In so many ways, the down was so much harder than the up. I know that I was slightly dehydrated and I need to be more careful about the hydrating and fueling the next time.
We finally got to the parking lot, drank some coconut water, ate a little bit and then drove down to the town. The ride down, which I thought would terrify me, wasn't so bad...after all, I had just climbed a fourteener. I had accomplished something that I never thought I would.
Post trip report
Today I have been reflecting on what I did yesterday. It is a bit surreal...kind of like a pink dolphin floating through the air. My body is sore but I actually worked out today. I have been doing a lot of mobilization work. At the gym, I shared my triumph with many who have seen the changes in me over the past couple of year. Even though most did not know me at my worst, they have seen significant changes in my confidence and sense of self-worth.
I have gone from someone who was a complete and utter mess, a broken soul, a lazy morbidly obese woman who did not care for herself to someone who takes on challenges, who is healthy and getting fit, someone who is happy, who is okay with being pushed outside of her comfort zone, who is learning that sometimes you do not succeed at things but the times you do are AMAZING.
One big thing I realized over the days is that I have a lot of cheerleaders, a lot of supporters. I often think that I am alone in my struggles and that people don't really notice the accomplishments but know it's not true. My husband is my biggest supporter and I love him for that. I also have so many other supporters in my group of friends, co-workers, gym people. I am learning to appreciate their support and accept their kudos. After all, compared to where I was, where I am today is ASTONISHING.
I am so proud of myself and can't wait to take on more challenges in the future....and do more fourteeners.
I am defining my limitations and then defying them.
Some additional comments on September 1st -- There was a moment or two or three that I just wanted to sit down and cry...this was only on the way down. The way up was exhilarating. I know next time it won't be so bad.
We ran into a lot of people as we were going down that were going up the Class 2 trail. They did not appear to be prepared at all. There was even a woman in a lace skirt and tights. Really? I doubt she made it up the talus cliff but maybe she did...if she did, she was lucky.
Someone commented below that this probably changed my life more than I realize and I think it is true. I NEVER would have imagined that I would have the courage or confidence to do this. Of course, I never thought I had the ability to do the incline and I have done it several times now. I am excited about where my life goes next.