Sunday, Kelli and I hiked Pikes Peak. I awakened at 5 am, feeling the pressure over making the decision for our group–I desperately wanted to go, but not if it meant everyone would be miserable. It was dark and cloudy when I looked outside, and my spirits plummeted. Luckily, I could check the Internet, and the forecast was excellent, with the clouds expected to clear by 7, so it was a go. (That’s me, right, trudging up the last mile. Amazing view, huh?)
From the Barr Trail website:
Distance from Trailhead to Barr Camp: 6.8 miles
Distance from Barr Camp to Summit: 5.8 miles
Total distance from Trailhead to Summit: 12.6 miles
We met at the trailhead in Manitou Springs at 6:45, which is actually quite late, but the forecast (all sun, all day) allowed it. We arranged gear and actually started up the trail by 7. The first section is quite steep, switchbacks through gorgeous forests, and it was misty and soft, the trees dotted with silvery dew. After the switchbacks, we lost the third member of our party, who had a bad cold and realized he’d be miserable if he kept on.
We landed at Barr Camp at 10, and felt pretty pleased with ourselves. We lingered over peanut butter sandwiches. I greased my toes with carmex (vaseline is better, but I didn’t want to carry both) and put a band-aid on my right heel. We drank a cup of coffee and talked to the people who run the camp, then drank some more water and headed toward the next psychological marker–A-frame, or timberline, three miles away. It seemed like a long way. It seemed a lot steeper. The air was getting thinner. Still, we made it to A-frame and our second, much shorter break in just over an hour and a half, which meant we were sticking to our schedule pretty well.
And then, you know, things got a bit rougher. 12,000 feet is thin air. The trail is gravel and slippery and by then, my hips were getting a little bit tired of climbing. CR always extols the powers of GU, and I discovered a year or so ago that it helps prevent that crash that can be so miserable on a long hike, so I pulled some out (the second round of the day) and had some as I walked. By the time we made it to the two mile marker, we retreated into ourselves, each of us focused on doing whatever we had to do to make it the rest of the way.
It’s hard to explain how challenging high altitude hiking is. (There is a lot of detail and discussion about it for Ascent & Marathon Runners at champion and record-holder Matt Carpenter’s site, so I won’t go into details here.) It’s like suddenly getting forty years older, with asthma. My goal was to keep a steady, steady, steady pace, and I slowed way down, knowing the top would be there when I got there.
It took a solid hour and a half for us to do that last 2 miles. Christopher Robin was taking photos, perched like a mountain creature on a rock to chronicle our progress and call out encouragements.
There we are, trudging along at our own pace. No breath for speaking. At this point, we were unaware that CR was perched on the trail, taking our photos. (He did such a great job–you can tell he loves that mountain.)
We were just putting one foot in front of the other. And again.
And then, oh joy, the Golden Staircase. Which is a brutal, difficult joke. Big, big rocks that require lifting legs that just don’t know how to lift like that anymore. We’re smiling for the camera, but the muscles above my left knee felt like earthworms, all squishy and dark and soft, and I was really not looking forward to those damned stairs. Kelli confessed later that if it hadn’t been so far, she would have turned around and gone back.
But up we went.
The very top is in sight. Look at all the tourists!
And here we are, thinking of donuts, greasy and hot, and hot chocolate from the house at the top.
We’re going to do it again next year. And the next. Until we are too old to do it at all.
Have you ever done something you weren’t sure you could do? Not necessarily a physical challenge, but completing a course of study or making a very complicated quilt or going on a trip you weren’t sure you could manage? If you haven’t, what would you like to tackle?