Monday, August 18, 2014

#19 - Climb Combo 14ers

In Colorado there are 50+ peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation, and I've been fortunate enough to climb a couple of them.  So for my challenge, I wanted to do multiple in the same climb.  After some back and forth, we settled on the Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln-Bross loop.  Since Kristen and I conquered Mount Democrat last summer, we decided to finish the loop.

Mount Cameron

We started our climb at about 4:30AM, using the moon and a small flashlight as our guide.  We made our way up and up as the cold and wind blasted us.  Since we had done the start of this route before, we knew what to expect, so that made the climb more manageable.  When we reached the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, we basked in the fact that we could be guides for people climbing Democrat, and we got the rest of the climb up Cameron to ourselves.  Frost covered the trail as we hiked in the shadow of the mountain towering above us, but we trekked and trekked until we finally reached the summit at 14,238 ft.  Although Cameron is considered an "unofficial 14er," it is still the 17th tallest peak in the state.  Counts for me!  We snapped a quick picture and because of the cold, we wanted to move on quickly.  Onto the next!

On the way up

On top of Cameron

Mount Lincoln

headed along the ridge toward Mount Lincoln, which looked like the most daunting stretch of the entire trip.  One couple was coming down from the summit but aside from them, we still had this entire stretch to ourselves.  The route got a little frostier and a little sketchier.  The last couple hundred feet proved to be a little daunting, so Kristen was content to stop just short of the summit, still conquering all but the final hump of Lincoln.  I headed up the slippery rocks and found myself on the summit at 14,286 feet - the 8th tallest peak in the state.  Still unable to really enjoy it because of the piercing wind, I snapped a quick photo and headed right back down to catch back up with Kristen.  Onto the next!

Lincoln from Cameron

Lincoln selfie

Mount Bross

This is when we finally started having a GREAT time!  The sun was finally coming up - the wind was dying down, and the satisfaction of climbing the two previous mountains was hitting us.  This was also the easiest stretch of the entire climb.  We headed down the easy hike across the ridge and started our final ascent of the day.  Tired and worn out, we took a few last bursts of energy and found ourselves standing once again on top of the world - 14,172 feet - the 22nd tallest peak in CO.  Because the weather was finally getting nice, and we were on the final mountain, we definitely took our time and enjoyed this one!

Lincoln from route to Bross

From Bross - Democrat, Cameron & Lincoln (and Quandary in background)

The Descent

Now all that was left was the way down - we knew there would be tough stretches, but it would be a relatively easy trek down to the trailhead.


About halfway down we ran into a snag.  The route split and headed down a really rough trail.  About halfway down this chunk, we were in a little over our heads - scrambling, scooting on our butts, crab walking, and shuffling our way down a super steep part of the trail.  We made it down a few feet at a time, and we were getting closer to where it leveled off.  After probably about 30 people were with us on the trail, and after a long time of brutally trudging our way down, a man's voice said that the REAL trail was about 50 yards away from us - we were on a rain gully that tons of people had taken that made it appear to be the trail.  So after all that ordeal, we had to scramble our way across a whole lot of rocks to make our way back to the trail.

Ugh...  Awful...

Once we regained our composure, we headed down, and the rest of it was uneventful.  That section sucked the life out of us, but we both tried to keep enjoying the rest of the journey.  Down and down we continued, until we finally reached grass... then flat ground... then finally the trailhead, thankful to be done.

Aside from our little unanticipated struggle, it was a great day, a great hike, and it was a great accomplishment for the two of us!

14ers 3, 4, and 5 in the books!

On the summit of Bross

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#7 - Dive Into a Swimming Pool

Last night we had a pool party during RA training.  I had no intentions for this to be the night... until I opened my big mouth.

Rewind to when I was a kid - I took swimming lessons in the neighborhood, and I always passed with flying colors.  Except for the diving.  I always failed.  I never learned right.  It always hurt.  It always scared me.  Year after year, I would try to dive... but I got more and more scared.

That eventually turned into a phobia.  As I grew older, the fear grew with it.  Instead of trying and failing like I did as a kid, I just stopped trying.  I'd think about it and start getting nervous.  I just couldn't do it.  The last time I dove into a pool was when my age was a single digit.

Back to last night.  Sitting in the hot tub, watching some people dive, I started asking a few people about how to dive.  What do I do with my hands?  What do I do with my head?  How do I not bellyflop?  I started getting nervous.  Not tonight.

Let's get it over with.  I kept thinking I could do it.  I could cross it off tonight.  They suggested I start on the edge of the pool, then work my way to the blocks, then work my way to the diving board.  I crept to the edge of the pool and stared at the water.  I couldn't breathe.  No way I was diving off the side of the pool.  It was going to be one shot.  All or nothing.  So I decided it was time.  And I was going straight for the diving board.

I crept to the edge and looked down.  I can do this.  That's when everyone in the pool took notice and started chanting my name.  My heart started pounding.  "YOU'RE NOT HELPING!" I yelled.  I took a few deep breaths.  Now or never.  After a couple of seconds of strategizing... I went for it.

I rose from the water and I couldn't stop shaking... but I did it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

#8 - Hike from Gothic to Aspen

Gothic, CO to Aspen, CO is a 4.5 hour drive around the most rugged mountain range in Colorado.  Or it's a 10 mile hike straight through. 

My friend Adam hopped the bus from Denver to Gunnison to meet me on Thursday night.  We prepped, got to bed early, and braced ourselves for the 4:30AM alarms, hoping that the thunderstorms that swept in late at night would be gone by dawn.  In the darkness, we woke up, grabbed our breakfast, and headed to Crested Butte to catch our 6AM shuttle.  As the sun came up, the clouds in the sky were daunting.  With no chance of lightning til early afternoon, we wanted to press on, but we were getting a little nervous, because it was looking like it could be a wet day.  We decided to at least make it to the trailhead and then decided if we wanted to go for it or turn back.  On the way, we picked up 6 women in their 50s-60s, so naturally our macho-ness made us feel way better about the hike if they were doing it.  After a brief moose sighting and our shuttle driver taking the dirt mountain road like a NASCAR driver, we arrived at the trailhead and were greeted by a slight drizzle, and started our hike - knowing that if it stayed like this, we'd be ok!

After about a half mile we were awed by the amazing wildflowers that carpeted the valley - yellow, purple, blue, red... flowers as far as the eye could see in every direction.  That awe quickly melted as the rain picked up and we spent the next few miles getting soaked.  Luckily, Adam had a couple of trash bags so he saved my camera!  The trail wound through the valley at an easy incline (with a couple steeper spots), so we were making great time... and fine by me because between the rain, the muddy trail, and the bushes that our bodies would swipe across, we were completely drenched.  We knew that if it stayed like this, we'd be miserable...

About 3 miles into the hike the rain started clearing a little.  Then it stopped.  Then we were passed by a 5 foot tall girl speed walking her way up the mountain.  As we looked behind us, the clouds started a lift and patches of blue started coming out, just in time for us to hike over West Maroon Pass.  About 3.5 miles in, the easyish incline turned into a steep series of switchbacks as we ran into a dead end of mountain range, knowing we'd have to go up and over.  Breathing became heavy and pace became slow, but before we knew it, we made it to the top!  The valley behind us looked amazing in the sun, and we basked in the victory of the trail we had conquered.  The valley ahead of us looked majestic, and we reveled in the feeling that we would soon be descending into it.  But for now, we stopped for a few minutes to snap a few pictures and to grab a quick snack.  4 hard miles done - 6 easy miles to go.  For the first time in the hike, we really got to take in the surroundings, so we took advantage of it!

We started down into the valley and that's when we started seeing a lot more people who were coming from Aspen.  We chatted with a few on the way down, about the hike, about the obstacles that would be on the way, and some interactions were way funnier than others.  We crossed a few streams trying to tiptoe across the rocks, we crept through the muddy muck that the trail turned into in many sections, and just kept hiking down.  The view of the 13ers and 14ers around us was breathtaking, and now that the weather was finally nice, we started to dry off and made everything way more enjoyable.  After a few miles of steady downhill, we found ourselves at the base of the Maroon Bells and right alongside Pyramid Peak - and only the home stretch remained.

As we headed down to the first of two lakes that we'd hit, clouds started rolling over the Bells behind us, and along with the gray of the sky ahead of us, we knew that we weren't quite done with rain for the day.  As we headed around the lake, the clouds kept slowly rolling in and the rain started up again, and our ideas of being able to take our time and relax at the end of the hike were quickly washed away.  The last couple miles were in a steady rain, but then, we saw the final lake - which meant the end of our hike.

Adam and I rounded the final lake and peered back at the Maroon Bells - some of the most beautiful mountains and the most photographed spot in the state of Colorado.  Yet here's what we could see, and after my two previous unsuccessful attempts to see the Bells, I was now 0-for-3.  The Bells really do hate me.  We hopped a couple of buses and made it to our hotel in Snowmass, took advantage of finally being dry and warm, and waited for his wife Kristin and my Kristen to join us later that night.

The next morning, we all reluctantly agreed to wake up early on a Saturday and make one more attempt to see the Bells, which was now my 4th attempt.  But this time, my luck changed, and we were treated to a breathtaking morning at the Maroon Bells. 

We enjoyed a wonderful partial weekend of Glenwood Springs, mini golf, some great meals, and lots of conversation, love, and laughter.

And another incredible experience is in the books!  Thank you Adam for taking the journey with me!