I cannot believe how fast the time is flying by! I have already been home for three weeks! I bet you might be wondering how I am transitioning from waking up to majestic mountains to waking up in a home, surviving off rock hard jerky to indulging on an occasional steak, sleeping on a leaky air mattress to sleeping on a warm cozy bed, and most importantly, freedom from society to being completely engulfed by it. The answer? Incredibly well! To everyone who was holding their breath to see whether or not I would crash and burn, feel free to take a sigh of relief.
Since I have been home I have not used symptoms ONCE. Not once. Food continues to be nutrients instead of an enemy that makes me “fat”, and exercise continues to be a means to attain better performance on the courts instead of a means to attain a better body. I can’t explain it, but since being back, I feel like a victor instead of a victim. I feel so strong and not afraid of anything. A feeling too good to be true and as it leaves my lips it sounds like a cliche or something someone would say to hide their underlying fears, but I genuinely feel this way. I am changed-hopefully forever.
I cannot lie that the temptation hasn’t been there, because it has, but it’s usually a fleeting thought that I can easily distract myself from. Ed’s voice has never been so weak, almost laughable. It reminds me of Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. It nearly brings tears to my eyes to think how much power not long ago Ed had over my every thought and move. But I am finally stepping into who God created me to be; fearless. One who can laugh at the enemy and say as confidently as David, “My God is Greater”!
Every time I hear that a friend has fallen back into the arms of Ed my heart cries, “But God has so much more than this for you!” I want nothing more than these words to resonate with them and I have to believe and trust God that in time, it will. I know people have prayed this prayer for me thousands of times, and finally, I am nearly out of the dark hole I felt was once inescapable. I was in their shoes not long ago; utterly hopeless and just trying to survive in this seemingly harsh world.
Since I have been home, I have been moving nonstop! I couldn’t tell you how many things I have checked off my list and how many more I have added. I do know that I have had a wonderful return by spending lots of time with friends and family and have somehow managed to swing right back into working part time with my PCA client, and signing up for my CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) program with the Red Cross.
For the first time in the longest time, I feel normal. It’s as if a dark dreary cloud of self-doubt and victimization has been lifted. I get dressed in normal clothes without thinking about how “thin” or “fat” I look. I go to the gym on a regular basis without criticizing myself. Stressful situations arise, and I deal with it in a healthy way by either accepting or working through it. For the first time since my sophomore year in college, I have direction and am moving in a forward motion; Something I’ve prayed for years has finally become clear.
God spoke to me and opened so many doors for me while I was in Colorado. So much so that I knew that no matter what, I was going to finish climbing the mountains because it a part of my plan (Jeremiah 29:11). He continues to speak to me even still. While I was away, and further removed from society, it was easier to not partake in activities that weren’t beneficial for me. I was so focused and on a mission that there was no time for distractions. Now that I’m home, these activities present themselves again to me, and I am so tempted to participate. What I’m talking about in particular is the act of “going out”.
It’s permissible, but by no means beneficial. I absolutely know this, but I still love to dance and I still love to get all dolled up- especially since I was roughing it for so long over this summer. The problem with going out, is that it’s toxic and the people are intoxicated- myself, not exempt. I know these people are numbing and are bored, and I know most of these people are lost.
I have prayed to God to take away many of my sins, urges and to change my heart and He has always answered. Probably the biggest change within me has been my desire for what I want out of life. I had my own agenda in what I wanted to accomplish and I didn’t want to give that up for God. But I still prayed for it, because I knew it was right, and I knew His plan was supposed to better than anything I could ever come up with. It has taken some time, but the more I get to know God and His Goodness, the more I want to honor Him with my life. You could see how “going out” conflicts with this new found ambition.
In the first week that I was home, I went out three times! Each time I went out I drank a little more, each time I compromised myself a little more, and each time I felt sick, conflicted, and convicted. I knew God was speaking to me the night I went to the Zombie Pub Crawl. . Someone stole my phone and my passport that night which was my only means of allowing me to get into any bar. As soon as I realized they were gone, I knew it was God. I knew He was saying, “Knock it off!”. God disciplines the child He loves (Proverbs 3:12). Although I was angry with the person who stole my things, I was more concerned with where I was heading and my character.
It’s been a tough decision and I still struggle with it, but I know that if I keep this up, that I cannot promote the kingdom at the same time, nor will I be promoted while I try to advocate more. I must continue my life with the same determination, focus and purpose as I did while I was out in Colorado. I know that’s what my Abba wants for me.
- Height: 14,294 ft.
- Range: Sangre De Cristo
- Route: South Face
- Overall Distance for Day: 12.1 mi.
- Distance from Upper Parking Lot to Camp: 3.4 mi.
- Distance from Camp to Summit: 4.3 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 2,750 feet
- Time started: 8:35am
- End time (arrival back at camp): 3:35pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours and 5 minutes
- Time to Descent (back to camp): 2 hours and 55 minutes (with break at summit)
- Time to Car: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Overall Pace: 1.2 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring for day):
- Bear spray, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (100 oz or more), snacks.
- Road Condition: With a little guts, my sedan was able to make it all the way to the upper trailhead- barely. It’s very bumpy and plenty of opportunities to bottom out unless you know what you’re doing and have plenty of experience.
- Trail Condition: There was a little bit of ice around 13,300 feet, but I never slipped from it. Walk 2.65 miles up the road for the trail junction and head up the Humboldt trail as it is shorter and more direct. From the Humboldt side of the trail you’ll need to cross at the start of the South Colony Lakes. Below with pictures I have a very detailed account on the easiest way to cross over. Broken Hand Pass is marked very well with large cairns to follow and has a decent dirt path. Once on the saddle, the trail continues over to the left and you’ll see it carry on down a nice trail to Cottonwood Lake. Past the lake, you’ll cut around to the right and come to an enclosed area. There you’ll see the red gully right in front of you. There are cairns along the boulders that mark the trail great, and it will seem like it’s leading you far to the right of it, but they are trustworthy cairns and bring you to an easier entrance on the gully. At the start of the gully, the rocks are smooth and there isn’t much loose rock, but the higher you climb, the more loose it becomes. There will be cairns marking the easiest way to the top of the gully. Once at the notch, turn left and continue to follow the cairns to the top of the ridge. You’ll need to cross over to another rock pile at the summit to reach the full summit which will be an only slight difference, but obvious (there is a capsule there).
While I fell asleep rather quickly after hiking for ten hours to bag Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Peak, I kept waking up throughout the night from noises outside of my tent. At one point I could hear something heavy and large snapping twigs right outside my tent and I freaked out. I didn’t have my bear spray near me and quickly tried to get it, but I was stuck in my sleeping bag! I thought, “Great, I’m a bear burrito!” I violently shook my way out and grabbed it, and listened for the animal, but heard nothing. I figured my loud movements had probably startled it and scared it away.
Again, somehow I managed to fall back asleep until I woke up the next morning from the conversations of other hikers. I realized this was my last night that I would be sleeping in my tent! It was a crazy realization that after four months, it really was ending. When I stood outside of my tent and looked at the mountains, I quickly realized I was once again not going to have ideal weather for climbing. The mountains were completely encased in low clouds, and it was cold, but at least it wasn’t as windy.
Since I had hiked in on the Humboldt side, I needed to cross over the stream somehow to reach the other side to the Crestones’ trail. My way before when I climbed Humboldt and Crestone Needle wasn’t exactly ideal, so I tried to find another way. I ended up finding a better way across, but got lost upon reaching the other side. I was looking for the “Crestone Needle Access” sign and couldn’t find it and the guy I ran into was absolutely zero help.
Luckily it didn’t take too long to find it, but it was enough to annoy me. I then headed to the lake to fill up on water and on the way back I missed the trail again. I was so incredibly annoyed by this point by the fact that I still sucked at finding trail junctions. Luckily, that was the last time of the entire hike that I got off track. As I climbed up Broken Hand Pass, I ran into two gentlemen. One was climbing his first fourteener and his more experienced buddy was taking him up Crestone Needle- quite the endeavor on a very foggy day. I told them the story of Alix and I getting lost on it and tried to give them helpful tips for the way down. Inside I was praying for them intensely as I knew many people had died on that mountain in particular.
As I climbed up the class 3 rock to reach the saddle, the wind again roared and was so loud it sounded as if a rushing waterfall was nearby. I scratched the rocks to see if there was a layer of ice on them, and sure enough there was. I knew that was bad news. Once I reached the saddle it was as windy as it was through the Keyhole on Longs Peak, but I had the same hope that the wind would calm just the same and thankfully, it did.
The clouds were breaking somewhat and I could now see Cottonwood Lake far below. It was a nice trail leading to the lake and was really beautiful with the clouds sitting down so low to the ground behind it. I continued to make my way past the lake and curved around to the right to an enclosed area. There, I could plainly see the “Red Gully”. I took a break to eat and enjoyed the Pikas and Marmots running around in the area. I knew it was the last time I’d be seeing my buddies that kept me company all these days in the mountains.
The trail weaved far to the right, but eventually lead me back to a higher place on the gully. The cairns were great in the area, so there’s no need to second guess them as I did. Once reaching the red gully I looked at it in awe. I couldn’t believe how smooth the red rock was. It was so beautiful, and there were conglomerate rocks every color of the rainbow in the mix equally smoothed over by previously running waters. One would think that they were hand laid there and smoothed over by men. As I made my way up the foggy, steep gully I spotted two men coming down.
I asked them if they had made it, and they had. I asked if it was windy, it wasn’t. I asked if it was icy, it wasn’t! I was in the clear! As long as I kept moving one foot in front of the other the last summit was mine to claim! I told them it was my very last summit and they congratulated me. We parted ways and I couldn’t help but be a little sad that I couldn’t share this moment with someone I loved. For a moment it was lonely, but I remembered that I’d most likely have service and would be able to at least text my mom as I summited.
Up higher and higher I went still in foggy conditions, checking my GPS constantly for my current elevation until finally I could see the end of the gully and reached the notch. I was now above 14,000 feet and only steps away from completing my entire journey! The rocks and shrubs now had a layer of this really neat windblown snow on it. I knew I was ending this journey just in time. The weather wasn’t going to get any better from this day on and snow was inevitable.
I continued to climb searching for cairns through the fog and somehow found my way to the summit! It was such a strange moment. It was so quiet, so cold and I couldn’t see anything around me. This is my finish? It honestly felt so anticlimactic! I felt the urge to scream belly up inside of me so I let out a half “Wooo!” It was really cold and my fingers were starting to numb but I took the time to send one final SPOT message and texted my mom that I made it to my last summit and to let everyone else know for me.
I then took out my sign I made for my final summit, which I dedicated to God, who I couldn’t have done this without. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him. Back when I was really sick in my disorder, I could barely stay awake any time I would drive because my body was so depleted of everything. One day, on my way to work, I fell asleep at the wheel but somehow managed to wake up just before I plowed into the back of another truck going nearly 80 miles per hour on the freeway. I swerved my car to avoid him and the slippery roads sent me flying into the air.
In this moment, I heard a voice say clearly, “Be Calm” and moments later my car flipped three times into the ditch on I-94. I was anything but calm, after the fact, but I was okay. My car was completely totaled, but somehow I walked away with only a bruise on my inner calf- that was it. Everyone called it a miracle, I knew it was a miracle and heard the voice of the angel who protected me. It was not my own voice or thought, and it was not my mothers…
For some reason I kept on living after that. People said, “You’re alive for a reason”. But when I was that sick, and that depressed, I couldn’t ever imagine why… “What good could I be- could I ever be??” My gut tells me this is why: I wasn’t meant to die with the secret of my eating disorder. God had planned to use my pain and struggle for good, so I couldn’t go home yet. My purpose, lived out, I believe, is only just beginning. I wished for death before, but now, even with the pain, I’m glad I have been given this chance to help others.
I wished I could have stayed for a while longer on the summit to take it in, but the wind picked up just enough to chill me and so I put my pack back on and found my way back to the beautifully colored red gully. As I made my way down, four hikers spotted me and started to clap for me!! I immediately smiled and thanked them and they congratulated me from afar. As I drew closer I tried to figure out if I knew them, but before I could figure it out they told me that they had heard about me and were hoping to run into me along their hike.
God had heard my call of loneliness and answered it with these wonderful people! I was so grateful because they really helped it sink in that I had finished my journey. They were definitely people that I would have loved to hike with on this journey. They told me about the 14ers.com Facebook Page and that they’d post the picture they took of me on there. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t a member yet! How could I have not thought of this? I’m sure I could have found plenty of hiking buddies on there! Oh well… it was a little too late for that now.
As I made my way back to Cottonwood Lake, I came to the realization that my elevation gain wasn’t over because I still needed to climb back up to the saddle that would lead me back down Broken Hand Pass. My legs were burning and ached the whole way up as I had just climbed Kit Carson and Challenger (plus all the minis) just yesterday. The wind was just as wicked passing through the saddle, but I didn’t mind, I knew I was home free!
Finally, at 3:30pm I arrived back at my tent. I plopped down, legs sprawled and shoved a peanut butter bagel in my mouth before I packed everything up and made the last small hike back to my car. Along my way, I ran back into the two gentlemen that I met climbing up Broken Hand Pass. I was really happy that they were okay! I asked if they made it all the way up to the summit and they had! I congratulated Mike who had just finished his first fourteener. He liked it, but definitely was exhausted as he had just come in a couple days previously from Tennessee.
It was nice to have their company for the walk back down to our vehicles. They realized that the Saturn was my car and were shocked that I could get my little beater up there. It’s funny how my car becomes the talk on people’s hikes! Once arriving in the parking lot, I quickly threw everything in my car and headed down the bumpy dirt road- my last challenge of this adventure- and of course, my little gold Saturn pulled through!
As I made my way to Denver I realized many things were now officially over. I no longer would be camping, I no longer had to drive on these dumb, rough, dirt roads, I wouldn’t see all my furry friends on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have to deal with getting lost on trailheads, and sadly, I wouldn’t see the world from 14,000 feet for a long time. It makes me really sad just typing it, but there are so many things that I can’t wait for that make my heart happy!
It was surreal to be done climbing, to think, I’ve seen them all… is that it Colorado? However, I knew I’d be back someday to climb the final three that were left; North Eolus, Conundrum, and El Diente. I also know that I’ll be coming back with new skills as I would like to start learning how to do more technical climbing with ropes so I could come back and do all the class 5 traverses! It excites me to know it’s not over for Colorado! It’s also just beginning as there are so many other mountains to explore and so many other beautiful landscapes to experience.
This beautiful life is just beginning! I thank you so much for following along with me on this journey! I can’t tell you again how much it meant to me, and how much it helped to keep my determination. It just goes to show the power of community which is my next mission in life. There’s such a need for support among those who are struggling with an eating disorder. I will do what I can to see a growth in support groups for those who are struggling with this devastating disease. We were never meant to go through this life and our struggles alone. Otherwise I think we’d all have our own universes, right?!
I pray that my journey has in some way blessed you and encouraged you to live your life boldly. If you have a dream I hope you pray about it and find a way to chase after it. We all have what it takes to be a little more than ordinary and to be extraordinary. Live the life you’ve imagined! Live a life you love!
North Maroon Peak
- Height: 14,014 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 9.25 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
- Time started: 9:15am
- End time: 5:40pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours and 45 minutes
- Time to Descent: 3 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.2 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Microspikes, bear spray, helmet, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (100 oz or more), snacks.
- Road Condition: Black top; You will also have to pay to get into the park (even if you come in before they open, they check later in the day at the parking lot to see if you self-paid.
- Trail Condition: There is snow at from 13,300 feet on. It’s not deep, or that treacherous, but bring your microspikes just in case. Otherwise, from the start, it’s a beautiful walk through the forest. At the point where you would turn left to Crater Lake, you’ll turn right to head towards North Maroon. There is a junction at 10,800 marked by a cairn that will lead you down to the creek. From there, the real hiking begins. Hike up a series of boulder steps that turns into talus rock. Once around 11,500 feet, cross the boulder field to the upper break in the cliff side. The gullies are not typical gullies that I’ve been in. There isn’t much scree or loose rock, and there’s a fairly good trail leading the whole way in both “gullies”. Once at the notch at 13,200 feet, you’ll need to use more body strength to pull yourself up higher and higher, for the rest of the way. When you get to the chimney, you can go further to the left and climb up some other rocks to avoid the chimney. You’ll cross over two tall square shaped rocks. This whole area is kind of a blur honestly. It was exhausting. You will go through some snow, so have your microspikes.
After finishing up my blog entry for Pyramid, I checked my email and had one from the fundraiser page I had set up. Because I hadn’t heard anything, I thought I hadn’t raised anything or that I hadn’t set it up right. Once I confirmed the account, I was astonished at the amount people contributed to my cause! I immediately tried to call my mom to tell her the good news, but when I couldn’t get a hold of her, I went outside with tears of joy welling up in my eyes and dropped to my knees to a bench outside of the Starbucks in Aspen. I didn’t care if anyone saw, I had to thank God, and I had to pray for blessings for each person that gave. I’m relieved to say that I don’t have to worry about finances for the rest of the trip! That burden has been lifted off my shoulders and now I can eat good, warm meals and have gas to get me back home! God bless each of you!!
After my time in Aspen, I headed back to the Maroon Bells Park, and saw a sign that the campgrounds were completely full. I checked them out anyway, and to my luck, there was one campsite still awaiting its campers. I waited until 9pm, and when they still weren’t there, I made the risky decision to set up my tent there instead, fully ready to move ASAP if they had arrived. Once again to my luck, the campers never showed up. I had actually been lucky with this happening at this park two other occasions.
I left for my hike at 9:15am, and didn’t spend any time taking pictures at the beautiful lake as I had taken quite a few the previous day, including pictures at sunset. I wanted to climb North Maroon as quickly as possible so I could get to San Luis Peak that same night. I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d be able to climb the next day as my foot was usually very sore, but I was going to try anyways so I could join a reader from my blog.
I was making a really great pace and when everyone was turning to go to Crater Lake, I turned right up the far less popular trail to the treacherous North Maroon Peak instead. To my surprise, there was a gentleman waiting on the rock for his partner. His name was Rick and we talked for a while about the hike he was going to do, and about the fourteeners. Him and his wife were from Missouri and were telling me all about Telluride and how I must go visit there. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll have the time this trip. They wished me luck and safe passage and I carried on down to the stream that would mark the start of a much more taxing hike.
At first it was lovely boulder steps guiding me, but soon that gave way to smaller talus which I knew my ankles were going to hate on the way down. The area was alive with little critters and birds. Pikas were “meeping” with anger at the nearby marmots to leave their territory, but the marmots paid them no attention and continued to sun themselves on the rocks.
Once reaching the top of this field, I reached another boulder field. For a tip, head to the upper break in the cliff, not the lower. The picture from 14ers.com makes it difficult to tell. As I balanced boulder to boulder I couldn’t help but stop and be amazed by the green sparkles on rocks. I had been looking for the perfect turquoise rock to give Ginger, my mom’s friend who has been supporting me the trip. She was joking about me bringing her one home, but I found one! It’ll be a fun little surprise unless she ends up reading this entry!
The trail was very easy to follow despite 14ers.com warning that there would be a lot of route finding. I never checked my directions until I reached the upper notch at 13,200 feet. The views as I climbed higher and higher up the gullies grew increasingly beautiful. I was looking forward to seeing the painted valley and lakes from the opposite side of Pyramid.
Although the trail was easy to follow, it was exhausting. Constantly climbing, taking large steps and hoisting myself up boulders to get higher and higher. I must have not eaten enough the previous day because I kept getting lightheaded, felt weak, and was constantly hungry. Once I reached the notch at 13,200 feet, I thought I was in the home stretch. Boy, was I wrong.
The technical climbing was just beginning and was intense. It took much of my focus and strength- hence barely any pictures until I was right below the summit. Right when I thought I was nearing the summit, I realized it was still a small hump in the far off distance. Higher and higher I went pulling myself up and solving puzzles to get to the summit. I had never felt so physically exhausted.
When I previously came to Aspen I had to leave because it rained all night, two nights in a row. I decided to finish up the Sawatch Range instead because I didn’t feel comfortable climbing class 4 mountains when they were wet and most likely covered in snow. Even a week later, with perfect weather, the snow didn’t melt and I was now carefully navigating my way around it, careful not to slip. I was grateful to a reader of my blog for buying me micro-spikes and they came in handy.
It was a lovely sight to see little birds playing in the snow when I was feeling so crappy otherwise. Just below the summit I said to a bird thinking I was utterly alone, “I’m so tired lil’ birdy!” Then a head popped over the summit and said cheerfully, “Hello!” I fumbled my way to the summit and he gave me a high five upon my arrival. I collapsed on a nearby rock and we started a conversation. His name was David and he had just finished doing the class 5 traverse, and it was as sketchy as it sounded.
After about 5 minutes he started to make his way down the same way I came up, but I sat at the summit for a while to recover. That’s when I discovered I was out of water! I thought I had plenty of water left from Pyramid, but I was wrong. Thirsty from the trek up, I had finished all my PowerAde just moments before. I couldn’t believe I could make such a stupid mistake! How careless! I knew I would be physically fine, but I also knew I would be uncomfortably thirsty the whole way down.
Pushing those feelings aside, I pulled out a sign I had made. Yesterday morning, I had the bright idea to dedicate my last mountains. For my first, I would be dedicating of course, my mom and dad, family and friends. While most of my family didn’t support my choice to do this, they did love me anyways. Now that I’m getting closer to the finish, everyone is rooting me on! My friends, especially Laura and Tammy were all about it right from the start even though they were going to miss me. They have been a source of great comfort while I’ve been away and have really made the effort to keep me in the loop and to cheer me up when I was feeling blue. My parents, while they are parents and they may feel obligated to support me, didn’t have to, and paid for my broken phone, sent me food, helped pay for the family vacation in Montana and more. While they didn’t support me at the start, my mom especially has been my biggest pusher for finishing them all!
After all my pictures on the summit I started to make my way down and ran back into David. He had used ropes to get down a chimney and had to leave one of them there as an anchor. I asked if he wanted it back and threw it to him. I showed him the way I went without having to use any ropes at all. He laughed at not knowing that route was there as he had climbed this mountain a couple of times. At first we kept making our way down separately, but soon enough we were going down together having a great conversation.
As usual, he asked about me climbing the fourteeners, and how many I had done and that lead into my story. Eventually that lead into my faith and he stated, “I knew it. I knew there was a reason you were so easy to talk to!” Once again God opened up a door to hear each other’s testimonies and vulnerabilities. He said it was refreshing to talk about this verses bow hunting or fishing or other things guys usually talk about on their way down. I joked, “Yeah, I don’t stay in shallow waters for very long”!
Time flew as we made our way down. David was an avid trail runner competing in multiple 100 mile races! As it turned out, he was also a blogger and as I was using my journey as a platform and avenue for outreach, so was he. He had been doing it for a while and was now gaining sponsers and coaches to help him train for races. This past year he did four 100 miles races at the age of 46. I would have never guessed that he was that age.
He tries to set the example to others to find their “thing”, which is a great thought! Why, when I think of surfing, do I think that I’m getting too old!? Find your passion, and never stop growing! I don’t want to be restricted to only taking walks and riding a bicycle because I’m “50”. I hope I play volleyball, continue to hike, surf, climb; do all those things until God says I’ve had enough! If you’re not in “shape”, slowly work your way back- but don’t roll over to new exciting avenues of adventure!
I couldn’t believe that we were back at the parking lot after only 3 hours! It had taken me nearly 5 hours to go up North Maroon! I felt so much better coming down, and David was kind enough to give me a water bottle to quench my thirst. Unfortunately, while coming down, just as I predicted, my ankles didn’t like the talus rock, and I rolled my ankle hard. I love the idea of being a trail runner, and David encouraged me, but I just couldn’t see myself being that successful with my weak ankles. While they may get strengthened a little from a successful day on the rocks, usually the next day I end up rolling it and weakening it all over again.
I met David over at his van to recoop for a while and was amazed at his set up inside! He had a bed, and a desk with a TV! He was a contractor and was constantly moving around from state to state, so it only made sense. He loved the freedom it provided and I would have to agree! When I told David I couldn’t afford ice, he reached in the front of his car and gave me some money- again, the kindness of God overwhelms me. I thanked him for his company and kindness, exchanged information to stay up on each other’s blogs, and said goodbye. As I drove away I couldn’t help but feel so happy and accomplished for climbing all but Conundrum Peak in the Elk Mountains. People die all the time on these mountains, but somehow I had been allowed to successfully climb each of them, the first time around. To the Glory of God, Amen!
- Height: 14,018 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 14ers.com says 8.25 mi.; however my GPS said 10+ (died at 4.79 on descent and wasn’t even by Maroon Lake)
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
- Time started: 10am
- End time: 7:40pm
- Time to Summit: 5 hours and 10 minutes
- Time to Descent: 4 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.1 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, helmet, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: Black top
- Trail Condition: The trail around Maroon Lake is slick and smooth. The turn off for Pyramid Peak is the first marked trail by a very large cairn. Once on that trail, it is marked on and off with a very rocky trail that could twist your ankle. Once your in the amphitheater, it only gets worse. My ankles were absolutely shot after this hike having to balance so much on jagged, rarely flat rocks. Don’t pay attention to the cairns, as much as just make your way to the steep gully. YOU CAN GO UP EITHER TO THE LEFT OR RIGHT! The trail is more defined on the left in my opinion. The gully is very steep with lots of dirt to make you slip. Once at the top of the saddle, follow the trail and once you get to 13,150-13,200, go to the LEFT around the backside of the mountain. The trail is more defined, easier, and you’ll avoid climbing in the dangerous snow (you should be able to avoid it by 99%). Keep your eyes out for the cairns and make sure you’re wrapping towards the backside of the mountain as you summit. The rock is solid, but there is a lot of free smaller rocks sitting on them that could cause you to slip.
- Minor detail, but expect to pay for entrance into the park.
After the realization that I now could hike until October 5th when my mom would arrive, I decided to take two days off when I arrived to Aspen. I was blessed yet again by a special new friend who bought me microspikes for the coming snow, and free goodies from the Starbucks in Aspen (Pumpkin Scone and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin both to die for). But I couldn’t shake the feelings of panic from my shrinking finances. Finances have always been a huge stressor in my life, and I’ve never lived above poverty line in my entire adult life. Stress, has always been a huge cause for my eating disorder to flair up as well… the devil was attacking me, and he was attacking me hard- finances were just the icing on the cake for him. I did manage to catch up on my blog on the two days off, but I spent the rest of the time numbing myself once again to “Breaking Bad”.
Thankfully, the day after I blogged, I took the next best step for myself and listened to my audio bible to help calm me and put me to sleep that night. I was going to hike the next day; I was ready to do it, and thankfully was starting to miss the mountains. I woke up in better spirits that morning and drove myself to the Maroon Bells parking lot that would lead me to Pyramid Peak. While I had warm oatmeal and coffee outside my car, a car pulled up next to me.
His name was Bruce and he was originally from Chicago and was here to take photos of the gorgeous Maroon Bells. He had taken pictures there every fifteen years and was back for another. We talked about a lot of things, mostly travel and my goal of climbing the fourteeners and his goal of visiting all of the national parks. He had retired and was giving me the solid advice to take care of myself so I could enjoy life fully, my whole life.
He went off to take pictures and I continued to take my time getting ready to hike. I figured it was going to take me about 9 hours to hike that day and knowing that I had a gorgeous day ahead of me, I was going to make sure I enjoyed my entire day, right from the start. Once I was finally ready I started to make my way to Maroon Lake. I couldn’t have expected to see such astounding beauty. It took my breath away. The crystal clear blue-green waters of Maroon Lake reflecting the lightly snow dusted Maroon Bell Mountains and the vibrant yellow Aspens glowing from the bright sun in the clear blue sky. I could have stayed there all day, but I knew there was a view waiting for me that few would see from the peak of Pyramid.
As I made my way, I ran back into Bruce and offered to take his photo. He was making his way to Crater Lake which was the same direction I was headed to reach the turn off for the Pyramid trail. We spent the next hour or so hiking with one another taking photos every couple minutes of the neon-yellow aspen leaves. Somehow we got on the subject of faith and I was happy to share some of the miracles I had experienced along the way. We talked about the hypocrisy that exists within the church and I couldn’t help but agree. It turns many people away from God, Bruce included. Somehow, despite my own negative experience as a child at church (being picked on, never finding a friend) I found my way back to God. I could only hope the same for Bruce. I wish I could have been bold enough to tell him:
People will always fail you. They will always come up short. Placing all your hope in people is too great of a burden to for them to carry; but there’s One who is capable of that burden, and He loves you very much. He has a plan for you and a plan to help you, not harm you.
People have been given free will. People like you and me have choices millions of times a day whether we will do something positive, or negative. God gave us this choice. Why? Because He wants us to choose Him, and His way on our own. A good father will let you fail, but a good father will also discipline those who He loves. People think that bad people get away with things all the time in this life. That’s just it- in this life, yes. But one day, they will have to answer to the ultimate Judge; the One who saw it all. It is in this day, justice will be ultimately be served.
I opened up to Bruce about the ultimate reason for my journey, and he couldn’t believe it. We opened up about our own journeys and trying to figure out our paths. I think I could see some of myself in Bruce, and he could see some of himself in me. I was sad when my junction came because I could have spoke to him all day. As we said goodbye, he reached into his backpack and gave me money. He usually doesn’t even carry that much with him, but for some reason he had that day. He said, “You’re doing something incredible and the last thing you should have to worry about is money.” I gave him a hug and we parted ways.
I turned on my music as I made my way up the side of the mountain leading to the amphitheater. It was now too quiet without Bruce’s company. Arriving, I couldn’t believe how massive it was. It looked as if it would take me hours to reach the gully on the other end. The amphitheater was full of boulders of every size, shape and color. It really was beautiful and I was so thankful that there finally was also no wind! I reached the gully much quicker than I expected and it looked so steep. I was nervous about my foot because I knew I’d have to use the ball of my foot to help me get up it and it was still sore. The gully seemed to go on and on forever as I climbed, but thankfully my foot was holding up.
Once I reached the ridge I could see the surrounding mountains that I had already climbed and the stunning aspen down below. While looking at the summit of Pyramid, I realized there was a mountain goat sunning itself on the rocks. I was so happy to see them again! He didn’t allow me to get too close and jumped up to the higher surrounding rocks. He stopped and watched me with curiosity, “Why are you up here?”.
I grabbed my directions once I reached 13,200 feet. I couldn’t tell which way to go next and didn’t know exactly where I was. All I could do was follow the cairns I could see and the first ones I could see lead around to the right. I climbed and pulled and scooted my way around the rocks with high exposure down below me later realizing I should have gone left. Regardless, I found my way back on track and tried out some James Bond moves hoping across shallow crevasses. As I crossed a thin ledge, I heard a voice. There were three young men and a dog (on a class 4?!) coming down from the summit.
They stopped and one of them talked to me for a while. As we talked a family of mountain goat stopped to stare at our interaction from above. They looked so beautiful with the sun and clouds behind them. One of the men had climbed all the fourteeners including doing all the sketchy traverses. I told him about Culebra and he told me that I could still do it for free if I did “Operation Black Snake”. The hike would include going over thirteen peaks! He did it with his friend and said it was exhaustive. The whole hike had somewhere around 13,000 feet of elevation gain. I had emailed the ranch explaining my situation, but I never heard back from them… now I was seriously considering this as an option- if I felt like it at the end (which I kind of doubt).
We congratulated one another and then parted ways and I continued to the “green rock” which I was instructed to climb. I had to improvise somewhat as the mountain goats were kicking down small rocks as they moved further up the mountain. For the remainder of the hike I was climbing up very steep rock using my entire body strength to pull myself up higher and higher. Somehow I got off track somewhat and went too far to the right and ended up hiking in some wet, snowy rocks. Advice? Start making your way to the left as you near the top of the green rock. If you’re hiking soon, you should be able to avoid the snow almost all together.
I still couldn’t understand where I was when looking at the 14ers.com pictures once I reached around 13,650 feet, so I continued to follow the cairns. There were multiple cairns leading to two different ascents, but they are both on the back side of the mountain. You’ll wrap around the mountain further than you would think to reach the summit.
The summit that day was beautiful. There was only a slight breeze and it was almost warm enough to get away without my windbreaker which doesn’t happen often. It was so fun to reminisce as I looked at the surrounding mountains I had already climbed. I had fun taking plenty of pictures that would later be my profile picture for me completing number 48!
About a half hour later I started back down the mountain. It was now 3:40pm, and was expecting to be down by nine, which meant I’d be hiking in the dark which discouraged me slightly only because I planned on hiking North Maroon the very next morning and wouldn’t give my feet very much time to recover. I could also see a giant rain cloud heading my way but despite it all, I found myself in a lighthearted mood and was in awe of the mountain goats and colorful rocks I saw on the way down.
By the time I had made it back down the amphitheater my ankles and knees were shot. My neuromuscular system, responsible for balance had met its limits and made it for a tough descent down the rest of the way. My ankles folded a couple times as a result, but luckily never too bad enough to make me fall. As annoyed as I had become with the jagged rocks, I couldn’t help but be rejuvenated once I hit the main trail. I thought the trees were glowing before, but now, they were almost glowing more intensely after the sun had set.
Soon the half lit moon was shining through the trees. I wished my phone could have captured the true beauty of it. Around that time I realized that my GPS was far past the 4.15 miles it should have taken to get back to my car. It died while I was at mile 4.79 and I still hadn’t reached Maroon Lake. I can’t tell you if it’s my GPS going bad, or if it really is about 10 miles round trip. Maybe someone else knows?
I made it back to my car at 7:40pm. It had taken me nine hours of hiking just as I suspected it would and I was happy my foot made it the full day. I was happy to tell myself that I had made it another mountain. God had allowed me another successful day, and despite the devil’s best attempts to keep me down, I got up and pushed back to see yet another mountain conquered.
Windom, Sunlight and Eolus:
- Windom Peak Height: 14,082 ft.
- Sunlight Peak Height: 14,059 ft.
- Mount Eolus Height: 14,083 ft.
- Range: San Juan Range
- Windom Peak Route: West Ridge
- Sunshine Peak Route: South Face
- Mount Eolus Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 12.17 mi.
- Elevation Gain (from Needleton Stop): 12,000 ft. elevation gain overall, and 9,000 ft. in one day.
- Time started: 3:00am
- End time: 2:30pm
- Time to Summit Windom Peak from Chicago Basin: 4 hours and 15 minutes
- Time to Summit Sunlight Peak from summit of Windom Peak: 1 hour
- Time to Summit Mount Eolus from Sunlight Peak: 3 hours
- Time to Descend Mount Eolus to Chicago Basin: 3 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.1 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, helmet, water purifier, first aid kit, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, headlamp, flashlight, toilet paper, GPS, extra batteries, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, extra change of clothes, wear a tank top, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, lightweight gloves, overnight pack with water sack and extra water (160oz), food for two full days (large bag of jerky, large bag of trailsmix, 4 protein bars, and 4 granola bars).
- Road Condition: You need to park in the town of Durango. If you are tight on a budget like myself, park in the residential area not far from the train station for free- just be sure to look for parking signs. Train costs $100!! You can also take the train from Silverton- which I recommend. If you call them, you can get a discount- tell them you’re being dropped off at Needleton either way.
- Trail Condition: Needleton Stop to Chicago Basin (6 mi.): Trail is very well marked and an easy incliine. The best part of the hike is about 3 miles in (lots of waterfalls). Windom: Trail will be wet from streams in some places, but not bad at all. Look for cairns on slabs to lead the way. Once you reach Twin Lakes, it’s all bouldering. Avoid taking a path that leads to the far right. Stay to the left of Windom, and travel up the valley first. Sunlight: I took the very steep gully from Windom’s notch. Be very careful if you do so also. Crossing the boulders to get to Sunlight can be tricky as they can be surprisingly loose despite their size. I got thrown off one- ouch. The gully sucks. Follow the cairns to the top, and do not do the final hops if you have never bouldered, are alone, or don’t have ropes. I didn’t do it, and my pride is still in tact. Eolus: Cross the stream near Twin Lakes. It’s steep, but there are steps in the start, but it then turns to a lot of scree. After the “Cat Walk” DO NOT continue up the ridge line. It’s high exposure, and a lot of class 4 moves. Instead, keep an eye out for cairns that follow switchbacks right below the summit. It’s much safer.
As I left the Wilsons, I was still hoping I could ride the train the very next day to Chicago Basin to climb Windom, Sunlight and Eolus. When I called the next morning to reserve my spot, I was sadly mistaken by the times and the train was leaving in 45 minutes and I wasn’t packed- at all. I tried to pack as quickly as I could, but as I did I could hear the train blowing it’s whistle, ready to leave. I knew I had enough things I could do that day, but I wanted to catch up from taking so many days off recently. So I spent the day instead catching up on publishing pictures and my blog entries.
Durango was such a cute town. It was somewhere I could see myself living. Close to the mountains, big town comforts, but a very special small town charm. When night came, the town came to life. It was a typical Saturday night in this college town where live music was playing, people were drunk and laughing with friends, and the cops were on the street keeping things under control. Normally I enjoy this setting every once in a while, but when you’re alone, not so much. I had Coconut Vodka in my trunk since I had left for Colorado, and had never even had a sip of it in the three months I had been here. Tonight, I was going to. I’d have my own little party in my car while watching “House of Cards”.
I bought treats to snack on, comfortable with my progress on practicing moderation. Unfortunately, alcohol clouds inhibitions, and I ate a large amount, numbing myself like I used to when I was depressed and watching television. I didn’t see it coming- it just happened. I panicked and reverted to old behaviors and thoughts, ran to a gas station, and engaged in bulimic behaviors. As I looked in the mirror, with my black sweatshirt on, hood up, makeup smeared, I could have been mistaken for a druggy. Truthfully, in my mind, I wasn’t far off. I’m still recovering from an addiction, one that nearly stole my life the way that drugs and alcohol steal others. I was angry with myself, but instead of beating myself up for the rest of the night and the next day, I made the decision to not drink, even casually while alone or in settings where there’s an abundant amount of food. I think I can handle it until all the sudden I can’t. But I chose to give myself grace. The same grace my heavenly Father gives me on a daily basis.
The next morning I packed up my last few things and headed towards the train station. I dropped off my bag, and as I was conversing excitedly with a train conductor, I realized I had forgotten my tent. The train was leaving in 20 minutes… I asked him if I could get it, or if he thought it was going to rain, and he didn’t offer much comfort. I took the risk and ran back to my car, retrieved my tent, and made the train just in time. I found my seat and the gentle of the train moving side to side soothed me like a baby. I thought I would sleep the two and a half hours on the train, but it was too beautiful and I was too excited. The train took us by ranches lined with sunflowers, steep ledges with gushing rivers of turquoise water, and rocky walls that you could touch with your hand if you dared.
Two times the train conductor came by to tell me that he would teach me how to jump off a moving train and I couldn’t tell if he was kidding! Luckily, he was. When we came to the Needleton bridge, there were a good 15-20 hikers, tired and dirty waiting to board the train. That would be me in two days. I got off with only three other people. I talked with two men for a while as I suited up for my venture to Chicago Basin. They were really kind and offered me dinner, but I wouldn’t see them until the day we would board the train again. My shoulders were burning so badly from my pack. To everyone else, my pack looked very light, but I was still hurting. My makeshift overnight pack I bought online from China was made for a person 5 foot 1. The shoulder straps were fully extended and too short which left my waist straps around my belly button instead of my hips. I just couldn’t afford a nicer pack, so my shoulders were going to pay the price. It also lacked straps to hook up a tent to the underside, so for 6 miles, I carried my heavy, Wal-Mart Tent in my arms.
I was hiking as fast as I could to shorten overall time and took mini breaks bending over to alleviate my shoulders. I must have passed 20 more people who offered to help find a way to put my tent on my pack, but I declined. I knew my shoulders couldn’t stand the weight. Besides my shoulders being in pain, unfortunately, the night before I was manicuring my feet and did too much on my right palm of the foot. The side effect being my foot burned incredibly badly and by the time I made it to the campsite, I was hobbling like an 90 year old grandma, my face grimacing with pain. If this kind of pain persisted, I didn’t know how I was going to hike the full distance the next day.
I set up my tent, put my food up in a far off tree, and collapsed on my sleeping bag. I woke up again at 6pm and decided to pull out my first aid kit. I was told by my new friends I made on Snowmass that duct tape works great for blisters so I took out my hot pink duct tape and started taping up the underside of my foot. I was just praying that it would do the trick- and it did! I highly recommend it to anyone else as a solution! By 7:30pm, it was cold outside and I was confined to my sleeping bag. I laid there awake for a while plotting my hike the next day, praying for God’s presence, and trying to stay warm. I had decided that I’d wake up at 2am so I could get all three done in one day and make the train to avoid another cold night.
That night I slept terrible. If I curled up in a ball on my side to stay warm, my hips would wake me up from aching. If I slept on my back, I was cold and exposed from my sleeping bag not being long enough for my body. I could feel the cold air on my legs and feet through my sleeping bag. Normally I would have an extra blanket to put on top of me, but packing it wasn’t an option. I couldn’t have predicted how awful it was going to be. My alarm went off at 1:45am, but I couldn’t move because I was so cold and miserable.
I didn’t make it out onto the trail until 3am that morning. Everything was already going to be rushed, but now it was going to be a very rushed experience. It was cloudy that morning, but every now and then, the moon would come out and it shone so bright, that I didn’t even need my headlamp on. It was so amazing it made me giggle, and I thought for a moment, it’s been a while since I’ve laughed…
Being that it was pitch black, I was constantly looking with my head lamp for bears and at the ground for rocks to trip me. Between the two, I missed the trail junction. “Great, and I’m already in a hurry”. I ran back and found the junction that I had missed a quarter of a mile back. As I marched up the switchbacks and up ahead of me I could see two glowing eyes that had a large stature- too large to be a dear. I yelled at it in a deep voice, and it moved closer to me. “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t!” I turned my back and started back down the path afraid for my life. The more I thought about it, I realized it was too light in color to be a black bear, and realized “It’s a mountain goat!!” I turned around to see if I was right, and I was!
As I drew near it, I had a conversation with it on how he shouldn’t scare hikers. I got pretty close, and as I did, he jumped off the trail and out of my way. “Good boy!” I scoffed. I eventually climbed out of the woods where I knew bears were more unlikely to be, and could relax some. I could finally see the dimly lit Twin Lakes and was met with multiple trails. The directions said to go left, but that was further away from Windom, which was now outlined in front of me. I quickly realized it was not going the way I thought and instead of backtracking, I climbed the rockface towards Windom. I was off trail, in the dark, but eventually I ran back into it. Once on the other side, I ran into cairns taller than me leading the way, one at a time, as it was as far as I could see.
Eventually, I lost the cairns but knew I needed to head up the boulder field and rock slabs to reach the saddle that would take me to the summit. As I climbed utterly alone on the mountain, a bird started to make the oddest squawking noise. My mind imagined a giant raptor ready to swoop me off the mountain. Wouldn’t that be something? Bears down below as a threat, and giant raptors near the clouds… yikes! The mountain was the hardest class two I had climbed at this point, and was taking longer than usual, but only because I was stuck in the dark, having to take more time to spot cairns and the correct route. I reached the notch on the mountain, and from there I made my own way to the summit. I was trying to shave off any time I could and I thought I could see the summit.
It turned out to be a false summit and I worked my way around in the dark climbing and pulling myself up on boulders until I could see the true summit. My hands were absolutely frozen at this point and I was trying to do anything to keep them warm. I had unfortunately forgotten my gloves, but I don’t think I would have worn them because when it gets to be technical, I want to feel the rock and know I have the best grip. The skies were just starting to show streaks of orange, red and a faint yellow as I carefully made my way to the final rock that sat higher than the rest. I wished I could have sat up there for a while to watch the sunrise unfold, but I was far too cold to stay there.
Once I climbed back to the notch, the sunrise was in full swing. There was a very steep gully from the notch that was not part of the description for coming off Windom, but if I took it, it would lead right to the base of the gully for Sunlight. With my new technique in mind from descending the gullies on Mt. Sneffels, I decided to start down the gully and was very successful. Upon reaching the bottom, and looking back up and realized it was crazy. While I was walking through a boulder field to reach the gully on Sunlight, a very large, but loose boulder threw me down into one rock, which bounced me off to another rock. It knocked the wind out of me, and my hand and arm took a hit when I used them to brace my fall somewhat. But without much time, I got up and continued on.
I made my way up the slippery gully on Sunlight until I reached the upper notch. From here, it was all monster sized boulders. The remainder of the hike was extremely physical with me having to constantly pull my body up onto the next ledge. Some of them I had to stare at for a while just to figure out how to get up there, but I love it when I do figure it out. It’s like a fun puzzle and each one solved is a small victory. I came to a small chimney which I had to shimmy my way through with my pack and before long I was at the last pitch. The pictures from 14ers.com don’t do it justice at all. The first couple maneuvers I could handle, but the last two, there was just no way. It would involve me jumping from one rock to another, with thousands of feet below me on three sides. If I over jumped it, I was dead. If I under jumped, I would fall into a 20 foot crevice. I felt absolutely terrified just being near it.
I made my way back down the two large boulders, took a picture of the geological marker that was there, and decided it would be good enough. Pride is foolish says God, and whoever wants to diminish my efforts and declare I didn’t actually summit, fine.
As I was making my way down, I thought I found a spot that would be easier to get down, but I was wrong. The next foothold was too low, and I was too weak to pull myself back up. My fingers slipped from the edge and while I imagined myself falling on my back, I thankfully landed on my feet, but my hands got all ripped up in the process. I was really getting beat up on this hike!
On my way back down the gully, I ran into my first and only group of hikers that day. On my way further down into the basin near Twin Lakes, there was a large group of mountain goats and I went out of my way to get pictures of the cute babies. It turned out to be a far better way to go as it avoided the steep rockface that was further to the left. As I looked at my time, I knew I had to climb Mt. Eolus in about two hours. I had only climbed two mountains, and it was 9:30am. I had been hiking for six and a half hours already.
As I crossed the stream past Twin Lakes, I realized my directions had fallen out of my backpack. I had no idea when I had lost them, and there was no time to go back and look for them. I decided I’d go from my memory of studying the trails the night before, and hoped it was good enough.
Along the way I ran into four more mountain goats. Clearly they thought I was after them, but they were going where I wanted to go, on the path! Finally, they got startled and ran to another group mountain goats. Even further up the path, there were more of them! Soon the path turned into slippery, annoying scree. I ditched the scree and instead climbed a class 3/4 crack in the rocks to reach the area that was called “The Catwalk”. This section wasn’t nearly as scary as people made it sound. It was too wide to really instill fear in me. After that, it came to decision time. From the angle I was at, it looked like an easy stair climb to the summit, or I could follow the cairns which lead to the front side of the mountain which would most likely take longer.
I decided to take the stair climbing ridge instead. I could see storms forming on the other peaks, and while my peak looked okay, I didn’t know what was coming on the other side. I needed to save time if I could. As I went, I was using the same methods and had the same if not more exposure than I did on Sunlight- which was a class 4 mountain. At one point, I dropped to my knees and crawled across a skinny, but flat rock. On either side of me was death. I was so scared, but I wouldn’t let myself dwell on what I had just done. My only option in my mind was to keep going. At that point, I decided to drop my bag to lessen my weight and chance of falling. Slowly and carefully and with determination and strength I made my way to the summit.
When I saw the geological marker, I started to bawl. Not just tear up, I bawled. I was so surprised by myself, but I couldn’t get myself to stop. I was so scared, I was trying so hard to make the train that same day to avoid another painstaking night and by God’s grace, there were no storms coming my way. I had so many mixed emotions. I took my pictures, faked my smile for the summit picture, and started to head back down. There was still a sliver of a chance that I could make it. Although North Eolus was only a quarter of a mile away, I was done. My nerves were shaken, and I had the three mountains that counted. Along my way, I headed down too early from the catwalk and almost got stuck on a ledge. Thankfully, I found a small technical way to exit and I was on my way to slipping back down the scree to reach the basin.
I started running down the trail and would stop for a moment to try to get pictures of my beautiful surroundings that I couldn’t see before. Every couple minutes I was checking my GPS for the time and trying to up my pace. My body was getting extremely warn out at this time. No matter how quickly I tried to hike back down, it wasn’t fast enough to be able to catch the train. My eyes welled up with tears at the thought of another night, but I quickly changed my attitude to “It is what it is.”
I slowed down and took my time with the scenery, taking pictures of flowers and every waterfall I crossed paths with. Chicago Basin is just as beautiful as what they say it is. Now almost to my camp, I ran into another group of mountain goats sitting on rocks near the woods! I thought it was so strange to see them so far down here, that is until I went just a little further and ran into a group of them in the forest. Clearly, Chicago Basin is the capital of Mountain Goats. Finally back at my tent, after twelve hours of hiking, and an emotionally and physically tough day, I was ready for the escape of a nap.
- Height: 14,150 ft.
- Range: San Juan
- Route: From Yankey Boy Basin
- Distance: 7.07 mi. (Parked .5 miles below first parking lot described)
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.
- Time started: 8:50 am
- End time: 1:55 pm
- Time to Summit: 3 hours
- Time to Descent: 2 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.4 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat (didn’t use), light weight puffy coat (didn’t use), lightweight gloves (didn’t use), day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: The road is typical with small pot holes and some rocks, but overall it’s a very nice road. My car made it .5 miles before the first parking lot with the restroom, but after that, the road is horrible, and you need 4WD, and even then, it would help if it was lifted.
- Trail Condition: Walking the road isn’t bad as it is scenic, and you are constantly looking for Mount Sneffels to show up. The flowers are also quite pretty. Once you make it to the actual trailhead, the whole hike is talus. You walk around to the left side of Sneffels before you start heading up into the giant 500 foot scree field. Stay near big rocks to help you get up easier. You’ll then run into another 500 foot gully to your left, but this one is fun! Climb up boulders and right before the top, head to the left to find the “V” notch. Once past that, follow the cairns to the top! Because of all the scrambling, expect it to slow your average pace.
Once we reached Ouray and started towards Mt. Sneffels, we were met with signs of “No Camping” at least not unless you were in a campsite. Poop. Grudgingly, we pulled into “Angel Creek Campground” and set up camp there. Alix talked with our neighbors for a while, who were very kind and offered us left over rice and wine. I was too tired to be social. I finally had 3G and was ready to unplug with an episode of “House of Cards”. I fell asleep half way through the first episode.
Around 3am, I woke up to gun shots! It scared me, but I was so groggy that I couldn’t make sense of it and just fell back asleep. Not too long after I was woken up again, but this time by Alix who calmly said, “Sorry to wake you, but I just got pawed at by two bears, so I’m going to go sleep in my car…”. “WHAT?!” I said back to her. She thought someone was tapping her to wake up and when she looked up, two bears were staring at her. Startled she said, “What the F***!!” stood up and in her girly small voice, told them to “Shoo!” Thank God, they were startled as well and ran off.
I convinced myself at first that I’d be fine, and continued to sleep in my “shielded” tent. I heard a truck drive over and he checked in on Alix. Apparently, he was the one who fired his gun and had to fire five times before they would leave him alone. That was probably the reason they were so skittish towards Alix. With that new information, I took my pillow and blanket and sleepily made my way to my car to sleep the remainder of the morning. The guy who fired the shots was definitely on a high, and patrolled the rest of the night driving back and forth and shining his lights. Alix and I thought he was going a little overboard, but by contrast, I don’t think Alix realized what had just happened to her or realized how lucky she was.
The next morning we casually made our way to the Sneffels trailhead. We had gotten pretty far up, but had to stop a half mile before the first parking lot. Our six mile hike turned into an easy 7 mile hike. If we had a 4WD vehicle, it would have been a 2.5 mile hike, but that just felt like cheating anyway. The road was another horrible road, and I hate walking up roads, but it was at least scenic with a pretty waterfall, flowers and unique mountains. We knew which one was Mount Sneffels because it was the mountain that was lumpy and looked like it had the measles. The name was fitting- it sounded like a sick mountain, and kind of looked like one. Once reaching the trailhead, we had a quick conversation with a couple, and two attractive men passed by us.
The first section is easy, walking around to the side of Mount Sneffels with hardly any incline. Then we came to a 500 foot vertical scree field. It was day two of hiking in a row, and I didn’t eat much the day before. Unfortunately, ED had convinced me that I was eating too much and that I was going to gain weight. Well- I could definitely feel it. My legs were burning and I kept getting light headed. I told Alix to go up at her own pace and that I’d be taking it slow. We took a break not far up and I had a packet of Scooby Doo fruit snacks (my version of energy chews) and a Apricot Cliff Bar. We passed the two guys a couple of times. They were on vacation for the week, from flat land, but were doing great! I turned on my music as a way to motivate myself and it helped. I slipped a number of times, but a tip: climb the larger rocks towards center-left. You won’t slip nearly as much- just make sure they’re grounded.
Once getting up the first scree gully, we had another skinnier gully of 500 vertical feet to climb. I really like this one! My second wind came, and I think the food gave me the energy to take the lead up. The two guys were right behind following us as we clang to the right wall while climbing up boulders. On our way up, we passed a large group of people that were in their 50’s and late 60’s. I was impressed! Near the top, we located the “V” notch to the left. I was the first one up. It was surprisingly hard! The rest of them made it look easy! But I was wondering how the heck the older crowd made it over!
Through the notch we followed cairns up boulders until we reached the summit. Upon reaching the summit, Alix spotted a summit box and had fun piecing out all kinds of things left behind by others including some notes, cigarettes and weed. It was the second summit where I could wear a tank top. It was beautiful, but near noon, and clouds were starting to gather. We enjoyed the summit with Trent and Justin, took our photos, Alix had a snack, and we all headed back down. I was happy Trent and Justin were kind enough to spot us on the way down the notch.
I love going down, I don’t know why, but I do; so I lead the way back down using the same rock wall to help. Once we made it down the first part, we were now back at the first large gully full of scree. We saw three people slide down the far left side that was just smooth sand and dirt- no thanks. I bet their pants were ruined and their hands, scratched. In the beginning, I stayed near the larger rocks and was slowly side stepping my way down, but I still kept slipping and falling on my butt- even with my new shoes.
I decided I wanted to make this part as short as possible, so despite probably looking really funny, I went down in the same position I came up. Feet first, and hands on the rocks and dirt; almost like a backwards bear crawl. Let me tell you, it worked like a charm! I got down almost twice/three times as fast as the rest. I actually ended up meeting the older group at the bottom. They couldn’t believe I had already been at the summit. Half way down the gully I also ran into the couple Alix and I had met at the trailhead, and I told them that I’d pray for them that the weather would hold off as it was getting late in the day for hiking, and they had a least two hours ahead of them before they were back down in a safe zone. While I waited at the bottom, I talked with a son and mother who had taken her up her first 14er! How special! I was wishing I could take my own mom and dad up a 14er, maybe some day…
Once we were on the road again, I had taken most of the photos that I wanted to take, but Alix was taking footage for her videos so I carried on down without her. I’d just eat and do other things while I waited- no big deal. Not long after arriving at my car, a truck stopped right by me and Alix jumped out the back! Nice! Looking at the clouds, the weather had never turned for the worst and I was happy to think that the couple made it to the summit and back safely. God had answered my prayers again.
I told Alix I’d meet her in town as I wanted to explore the way down. In the morning, on the way up to the trailhead, I was brought to tears because of the beauty before me. I felt like I was transferred to somewhere foreign. I couldn’t believe God’s creation and beauty, it still makes me emotional just thinking about it. I stopped at every turnout to see what was there and I was met with extensive, gorgeous cliffs with lush greens, a rushing creek tripping over boulders and waterfalls deep down below. The cliffs were so large, I couldn’t fit it in the scope of the camera.
Near the bottom, I spotted a somewhat hidden waterfall. I hiked in and got a photo of the beautiful waterfall, but I knew there was more above it… “How do I get there?” I thought. I looked around me and there was only steep cliffs. With my keens on, I started to climb up it and it was harder and more slippery than I thought. I started to get the feeling like I could hurt myself that wpuld end my journey. Before I could make it all the way to the top, I started to look for a safer way back down. Along the way as I was lowering myself near the bottom, I slipped, but luckily my wrist got stuck between some tree roots which stopped me. I got scraped up, but I was glad I hadn’t fallen. Thank you God.
I was still determined to get up there somehow, so I backtracked my car to the upper road I could see. I used a dead tree like a rope to get up the first small ledge, and then came upon a hidden trail. I followed it through the dense forest and not far back I was met with a very tall, magnificent waterfall! “I knew it!” I just had a feeling there was something spectacular up there. There was a cave with a bucket near the entrance which told me, this was someone else’s paradise. I followed the stream from the waterfall which had carved the rocks into a smooth, colorful surface. It was clear that water had been running through here for hundreds of years. It was my first glance at a natural water slide! I spent a good half hour in awe by the water and rocks and couldn’t wait to filter my pictures to make the colors stand out. There’s so much hidden beauty in these rocks, and it’s fun to bring it out.
I safely made it down and met up with Alix at a local deli where they kindly let us blog until they closed. Despite having eaten a tomato, apple, yogurt, hot dog, and bran muffin, I nearly fainted in the shop! Luckily they had a couch and I took it easy. Not wanting to sleep in a campground around here due to our recent bear encounter, we slept in our cars at a church parking lot in Ouray. I hadn’t eaten dinner because I wasn’t feeling good, but took my supplements as usual before going to bed. Not too long after, I ended up throwing up. This intense of hiking, this many days in a row has not been good to my tummy. I’m hoping it’ll correct itself somehow, and soon.
Maroon Peak (South Bell)
- Height: 14,156 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: South Ridge
- Distance: 12 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 4,800 ft.
- Time started: 5:15am
- End time: 5:00pm
- Time to Summit: 5 hours and 45 minutes
- Time to Descent: 6 hours
- GEAR (to bring):
- GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat (didn’t need), lightweight gloves (didn’t need), day pack with water sack, snacks.
- Road Condition: It’s perfect! A black top road all the way to the trailhead! You’ll know you’re going the right way when you pass the beautiful garden on the side of the road!
- Trail Condition: Easy to follow until you get to the first junction needed to go up to the Maroon Bells. Look for a very large cairn in the talus rocks by the stream. Head right! The trail is very steep and you’ll gain a lot of elevation quickly. I didn’t have too many problems with slipping on scree either. Once you’re up on the ridge, the trail is well marked by cairns, but make sure you take mental notes of the area for when you’re coming back. The gullies aren’t nearly as scary as what it looks online. We went up the first gully, stay to the left. The easiest way up the second gully is staying all the way to the right. Past that you’ll get to use your arms to pull you up and it gets fun, but know your limits. I never felt too exposed, or in danger for my life.
I knew I was behind schedule for climbing all the 14ers this summer, and despite having just climbed Princeton and Missouri two days in a row, I wanted to try for another. I had originally decided Mount Antero, a 16 mile hike, and I was hoping my phone would be in by the time I was done. I didn’t move my tent from Missouri and decided I’d drive over to Mount Antero in the morning. I woke up early, and drove over, bobbing my head multiple times. Once I reached the trailhead, I was nearly asleep. I decided I’d give myself a 20 minute nap…. Which turned into a 4 hour nap. Even when I woke up at 9:15am, I was still entirely out of it. I think the hikes and stress had gotten to me, and I think deep down inside I realized I wasn’t up for a 12 hour hike that day.
Instead, I headed back into town, realized I forgot my laptop in my tent, drove all the way back to my tent, packed up, and went back into Buena Vista to be a coffee shop bum at my favorite coffee shop “Browndog Coffee Company”. I had my favorite drink, a Lavendar White Mocha and uploaded all my pictures from my previous two climbs. The employees are really friendly there, and have allowed me on multiple occasions to hang out- unlike some other coffee shops. They have a comfy couch next to their very own roaster that makes the smoothest coffee I’ve had in a very long while. Clinton, is the friendly guy that comes in to roast almost every day and happens to be the Vice President of the Search and Rescue Team in Buena Vista.
He had seen a lot, and he himself had been hit by lightning and survived. He described it vividly (I had to know exactly what it was like). He said before it happened, his hair was standing up and it felt like someone was hammering his spine. He assumed the position (crouched down with hands over your head) and after he was hit he had a splitting headache- that was it. Where ever there was metal on his pack, he had burn marks. It was a miracle he was alive, and I was grateful for his advice and story.
I stopped at the post office to check for my phone, but no luck. It wouldn’t be coming until Monday. With that, I needed to decide where I was going to go next. I was really intimidated by the peaks left in the Elk Range: Maroon, Pyramid and Capitol, but I also didn’t want to drive all the way to a new range only to have to go all the way back over there. Or I could try to finish up the Sawatch Range, but I wanted to save it as a half way point for Brett and I to climb. It was Friday, and that meant the timing was right for climbing tougher peaks because there would be heavier hiker traffic.
My decision was made, and with butterflies in my stomach, I headed back towards Aspen. I was praying that my prayers were heard and that God would provide me hiking buddies. I drove straight towards the Maroon Bells and tried to find a campsite. P.S. you really want to plan ahead and get a campsite or a hotel room in Aspen because there isn’t any legal camping outside the campgrounds. They don’t even allow you to sleep overnight in your car… I don’t know why or what harm it causes, but it is what it is. I thought I found a loophole, but was wrong and was left with a friendly letter saying that my tent would be taken down at the end of the day if it wasn’t gone.
The next morning, the parking lot was packed and that made me very happy. I was on the trail by 5:15am and started out with my music on, until I felt this awful feeling that I was off trail. The trail didn’t look familiar from before, but then again, I was previously in the dark for a longer amount of time. I didn’t know if I could trust my gut because it could just be paranoia after I had gotten off trail so many times before- and so far off on this trail in particular.
Thankfully I was on the right track, and I thought I knew exactly where my junction was this time. I hadn’t seen any other hikers (besides trail runners going another direction) which made me nervous. But then, up ahead, I saw a group of people! I stopped where they were at a large cairn and asked, “Are you guys going up Maroon Peak? Is this the junction?” It wasn’t at all the spot where I thought it was. I would have been stuck searching for it again. They said “Yes, this is… are you going to do it alone??” I looked to the ground, shuffled my feet and timidly replied, “Yes?”.
They quickly invited me to join them! Praise you God! I told them, “I have been praying to meet you all week!” They laughed and we proceeded up the side of a very large hill. Dan and his wife Cheryl were from Chicago, Josh, New York and Oleg from Russia. The three men were physicists and were often reunited in Aspen for work, and Cheryl was along for the ride. The three would hike the 14ers as often as they could in their off time- not a bad gig.
They were surprisingly acclimated despite only having been in for over a week. At the junction, we climbed over 2,000 feet in a matter of a mile and it was unfortunately messing with Cheryl’s head. We had to take several breaks, but I didn’t mind it, and loved the company. It also allowed me time to actually eat and drink enough during the hike.
I was hoping we would run into some mountain goats since it had been a while, and luckily we did! It was a whole family even with toddlers (kids?). We got some great shots of them and then decided it was time to really make some progress on getting to the ridge for time’s sake. The view at the ridge was breathtaking! My nervousness I had previously felt was equally matched with my excitement to reach the summit despite the foretold difficulty. I was even giddy!
This is where the real fun began and where I got to climb up and over and around large boulders and skinny ridges. We didn’t need our helmets until we got to my first chimney climbing experience. A chimney is a very steep rock area that is narrow and surrounded by tall rocks on either side. It wasn’t actually that bad at all. I never felt too exposed. It was actually really fun and the rocks were magnificent colors again like I had seen on castle and kept me oohing and aweing the whole way to the summit. I’m pretty sure I convinced my four companions I was a little obsessed with rocks.
The trail was well marked with cairns and easy to follow for the most part. As long as you were careful with your steps and didn’t focus on anything else around you, it was easy. My largest concerns were for the gullies coming. I couldn’t imagine how bad they would be since Columbia’s were only considered class 2. When we came to the first two gullies outlined in the directions of 14ers.com, I wasn’t convinced. They looked far more ominous in the photos than they did in person, but Josh had landmarks pointed out on his map and sure enough they were the gullies described. We gave each other plenty of space and it paid off. No one ever got hit by any falling rocks. We climbed around another large ridge, and found the wider gully that was outlined. As long as you stayed to the far right, it wasn’t that difficult. I hardly slipped at all. I had just done the supposed worst part of the entire hike, and I considered it not that bad!
From that point until the summit it was climbing upward and getting to use your hands as well. This was by far my favorite part, and I can easily say that Maroon Peak takes the seat as my favorite summit so far. During this part the trail was carefully marked by cairns to the top. Just as I was about to summit, there was a large odd shaped snow thing (for lack of better terms) that broke off and collided down the mountain side. It was like a mini avalanche! It was really cool!
Despite only seeing three people coming down, there was about eight people sitting at the summit. We had made it by 11am just as they anticipated, and the clouds were looking pretty good too. As we made our place to have a snack, a gentleman named Brandon approached me asking if I was the girl from the blog! I couldn’t believe it! The four I climbed up with joked that they didn’t know that they were hiking with a celebrity. It was such a neat moment to know that I was heard. I took a picture with him to commemorate the moment and he did to.
I then opened up to my group why I was doing all this. I realize the more I talk about it, the stronger my resolve is. But I never say I’m going to climb them all… just that I’m going to try. I just hope that climbing all these mountains doesn’t burn out my love for it all together. Sometimes I get antsy about wanting to start the next thing (school and being a nursing assistant), but that’s the typical old me- to start something and not finish it. This time, I’m finishing!
I was in charge of watching the weather, and there were a couple clouds that I warned my group about to start watching. Not long after, a large raincloud developed in the far distance. Last time I saw that, it turned into an enormous thunder and lightning storm over Buena Vista. So we quickly packed up our things and headed down as quickly as we could.
The way down never looks the same going up- especially in a technical area. I was so happy that I was with the four of them that day and gave my thanks where it was due. Josh knew when not to go down too far, and Oleg was great at finding the best way down for us. Oleg also saved me a couple times when I took too big of steps going down. On our way down, we spotted a mountain goat staring at us perplexed as we went down the second smaller gully. It was pretty entertaining, but I was getting pretty nervous about the weather. I didn’t want to be stuck on a technical part of the mountain and be hit with hail or lightning at the same time. Once we got back to the ridge, and were now going down the dirt, scree and grassy side of the mountain I wanted to go faster.
While the rest of the group hadn’t had that much experience with the scree, I had plenty. I figured with that storm heading our way, it would be best if at least one of us made it down to tree line to call for help in case something bad happened. I hollered back to them that I’d be waiting for them there. I felt really bad leaving the group, but at the time I thought I was making a good decision. I made it back down on route at an incredible rate. I had passed everyone we had met on the summit who had headed down long before us- even a person I’ll refer to as the half-naked man who ran up the mountain with 40 oz. of water, and itty-bitty shorts.
As I was nearing tree line, I realized that the clouds were actually dissipating! Thank the Lord! Everyone was going to be okay! I rested down by the creek and rinsed my face, neck and arms in the cold, refreshing water. I think I even dozed off for a while. Every now and then I’d open my eyes and see the people I passed come down. It was nice to relax for a second. Most of this trip once I started climbing the 14ers has been filled with errands, climbing, planning, blogging, and driving- not much time for actually resting.
An hour passed, and finally my crew was coming down. I was happy to see them again, and happy for their company. The last couple miles of course were the longest, and we had all run out of water. While I was waiting, I actually took the risk and drank the water from the stream (still doing okay!). We were all now sore, thirsty, and poor Cheryl’s headache returned. Eventually we made it back to the glorious Maroon Lake and were back at our cars after 12 hours of hiking! We each had a celebratory s’mores donut and the boys had a shot of whiskey. I was more so craving a margarita on the rocks with an especially salty rim. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for their kindness and guidance. God had blessed me once again with some amazingly kind and fun people to climb with! Oh, and I conquered the infamous Maroon Peak!
- Height: 14,130 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge from Capitol Lake
- Distance: 20-21 miles
- Elevation Gain: 5,300 ft.
- Time started: 5:00am
- End time: 5:45pm
- Time to Summit: 7 hours and 20 minutes
- Time to Descent: 5 hours and 25 minutes
- Overall Pace: 1.5 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Helmet, bear spray, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat (didn’t need), lightweight gloves (didn’t need), day pack with water sack, snacks.
- Road Condition: The road is rough with typical pot holes and pointy rocks, but my sedan was able to make it all the way to the trailhead.
- Trail Condition: The trail through the woods is great (minus all the poop)- until it rains, then it becomes really bad mud- not fun. Also, THERE ARE COWS ON THE TRAIL! Don’t confuse them for bears like I did. The trek through the meadows and all the way to the lake are straight forward. There is a confusing part about crossing Capitol Creek, but I outlined directions below with pictures. The backside of the mountain is all large boulders and some snow until you get to K2, then the real fun begins (class 3 and 4 climbing). Here, I did get scared (not frozen, just deeply focused).
The day climbing Maroon Peak was an emotional roller coaster. The high obviously being that I conquered Maroon Peak. The low being, well, too many things. I received a message that I would no longer be seeing or hiking with a certain someone who I grew to care about a lot in a short amount of time. When I got back from blogging that night in the town of Aspen, I came back to find a note on my tent to move immediately or they’d take everything. The park rangers were actually very kind that they didn’t take everything right then and there, but with the recent news, I just felt that much more horrible and poor. I didn’t even take everything apart. I just threw everything in my car and looked for a safe place I could sleep. I still wanted to do Pyramid the next day despite wanting to crawl in a hole, so I found a place near the trailhead in the park. I wasn’t supposed to be sleeping in my car, but I didn’t want to drive all the way back into town either. It was already very late. I slept absolutely terrible that night because my blanket and pillow were still stuffed in my tent. The next morning I felt absolutely drained and my knees and quads were screaming at me from the day before. I just wanted to get out of that area and to a place of solitude, where camping wherever, wouldn’t be an issue.
I decided I’d stay on track and do Capitol Peak, my first class 4 mountain. I was thrilled when I made it all the way to the trailhead. I didn’t think my car was going to make it, so originally, because of the distance I was going to split it into a two day hike. Now with it only being 17 miles, I decided I’d do it in one day, and set up my tent at the trailhead instead. There was a beautiful spot open with the best view of Capitol Peak, the only drawback was that it smelled like poop. It was a popular trail for horses to go on, and my campsite was a great place to stop to take in the view.
I spent the entire afternoon foam rolling my aching muscles, catching up on writing about my recent hikes, and talking to a sweet older woman from Taiwan who was waiting for her family to return. It was a beautiful day with scattered thunderstorms and I was really enjoying my time in my tent. After realizing how many nights I had slept in my car, and realized how much joy it was sucking from my journey and made the effort to relax as much as I could including gathering firewood so I could have an entrancing campfire.
Late evening, it was apparent I was the only one who was going to be sleeping at the trailhead. Everyone else was doing different day hikes, or making Capitol Peak into an overnight hike. Around 7pm, a couple pulled in and I invited them to come join my fire once I had it going. Not having a phone, the news on Saturday, and seeing so many happy groups of people made me feel so lonely. Right as I was going to head in for the night, Justin walked up with firewood and Stephanie soon after. We had an amazing conversation about life, and all the adventures we were fortunate to have. They had been on so many trips together to exotic places right here in the US that had me drooling. They were inspiring, and it was pretty neat that they could think the same about me.
I was hoping that I’d get started around 4am, but I didn’t take my first steps on the trail until 5am. It was still very dark outside which still blows my mind that it was only a month and a half ago that the sunrise would only just be on its way. I reached my first small meadow and out of the corner of my eye I saw eyes staring back at me. I froze. The eyes were too far apart, and the bodies were too large to be deer… “It has to be a bear!” I thought. With every flashlight I had, I tried to get a better look at what I was seeing without getting any closer. My heart was beating outside my chest, and I was holding my breath. I still couldn’t see what it was. I started to back away slowly, and when I turned my light to the other side of the trail I saw more eyes staring back at me. I thought, “Okay, bears don’t hang out like this on a regular basis…” so I got closer to the animals than the first time and saw large ears- they were cows! They scared the crap out of me!
I walked past them and into a forest only to enter another field of more cows. This was the first time I had ever been so close to them. I didn’t know how they would respond to me, so I kept my head down, talked calmly and they skittishly would run away from me. I was scared they were going to charge after me and the demon marked cow didn’t help my fears. I headed further up the trail and checked my directions. I was so caught up in watching the cows and sunrise that I thought I missed the elevation marker for making a turn down a different trail. Not again!! I ran all the way back to the first meadow, but never saw a junction. I was pissed. Once again, what was supposed to be the easiest part of the trail was giving me thoughts to turn around and go back to my tent.
Upon further dissection of the directions, I realized I ran back for nothing. I had never reached the point of the junction. Although I was at the right elevation, it was when I would hit that elevation a second time that I would find the junction. Dang it, dang it, dang it!! I added about two extra miles to what was already a 17 mile hike!!
Finally I reached the right junction that would meet up with the Capitol Creek Trail, which by the way, is somewhere between 4-5 miles into the hike. I really wish 14ers.com’s directions would be bullet points, and the elevation as well as what mile under the pictures. Can we make that happen?!
Just after the junction you’ll come to Capitol Creek and there is no easy way to cross it, but I’ll try to talk you through it with pictures. Follow the creek up just past the first group of pine trees. There will now be two streams to cross, and the first one is now skinny enough to hop over. Then you’ll see flimsy branches put across the wider portion of the creek. It’s short, but takes balance. I couldn’t believe with my ankles that I didn’t fall in.
Once past the creek, the scenery is beautiful! As I was walking through a forest, I noticed a very herby smell. As I looked around me, I discovered wild Parsley! It smelled so wonderful… I hope you find it too when you hike! The directions and trail are pretty straight forward until you get out of tree line and start heading towards the lake. You’ll see a sign for either the lake or following a trail- TAKE NEITHER! You actually just went too far. Turn around, go back about 50 feet, and you’ll see a large rock next to a bunch of junctions. Take the one that goes to the left. Hopefully my pictures help!
The flowers up the hillside were breathtaking and it wasn’t long before I was at the ridge. On the other side of the ridge, the landscape is really different! All scree, talus rocks and boulders with a pretty turquoise lake in the near distance. Almost right away, I was challenged by crossing a gully and had to use class 4 moves in order to avoid dropping and regaining elevation. From there, for a good couple hours you’ll boulder hop which I really like to do, but it would have been even more fun if my ankles were stronger. I could now tell I wasn’t going to need all the water I brought with me, so I put left my Gatorade by a cairn to lighten my load. Along the way I had to walk through the snow a couple times, but it was never long enough to need my yak tracks.
I ran into a place of shelter that was created by another hiker and took note of where it was just in case I would need it. Because I backtracked for close to an hour, and it because it took longer to get to the lake than anticipated, I knew I was in danger of encountering a storm. Just as I had reached the portion of the hike where I would be climbing over K2 (a 13er), I ran into four people coming back from climbing Capitol. I asked them how scary it was, and they shrugged it off as no big deal. Maroon turned out to not be a big deal, so I felt like it could be the same scenario for the infamous “Knife Edge”.
Climbing over K2 took mostly class 3 moves, and getting down on the other side was a interesting. Every step was chosen with care and I had to stretch my body as long as possible to reach the ground safely below me. I had my helmet on, and I was glad. From this point on, I was on the border between being thrilled and being scared. Unfortunately, I never found anyone along the way to climb this mountain with, and I knew I was taking a risk by continuing, but having my Spot Check gave me the confidence to continue.
The rest of the way all of my focus and energy went to testing rock, finding the way with the least exposure, and spotting cairns. In my eyes, there were actually two “Knife Edges”. The first was very short, but I straddled it across, never feeling safe enough to stand. I actually do have a slight fear of heights, and it was showing. Despite leaving water behind to lighten my pack, I still felt like it was heavy, getting in the way, and throwing me off balance.
Soon it came time to cross the longer “Knife Edge”. My breathing was irregular, and I could feel the nerves arising. Before I could give it much thought, I began my journey across and it was a mixture of scooting, and then switching to walk on a slightly lower edge. The rock thankfully is solid and you don’t have to worry about it breaking off. I was very happy to make it to the other side safely, and was now mentally prepared to do it again on the way back.
Not long after crossing the “Knife Edge” I decided to lose my pack, which meant I’d be without water. I figured it was only a couple of hours tops, and it could be the difference between me falling or not. I connected my Spot Check to the inside of my shirt, and headed off.
Thinking back on climbing the next part, makes my knees weak. In the moment, there’s no room for fear. You don’t allow yourself to think about the what-ifs. You just think about where your foot and hand needs to go next, and where the next cairn is. It was a mixture of thrill and fear and I could imagine myself being nauseous from thoughts of “I can’t believe I did that” and the adrenaline. I could see that there were three hikers on the summit, and I was hoping that they’d still be there so I could at least follow them down, but I never saw them again until I caught up with them at the lake.
Luckily my foot never slipped, and God guided every step to the summit. Although the men were no longer there to greet me, something else was, and I was petrified of it. A very ugly group of storm clouds were just a couple miles away from me. I wanted to cry, and thought, “this is the end”, but the fight in me overcame my fears and I quickly started making my way down far faster than the time it took me to go up the technical part. I was praying constantly for God to spare me and for Him to withhold the storm. This wasn’t a situation I could control by running down the side of the mountain. Any other way then what I came was death by fall. It was in His hands.
I couldn’t believe it, but the storm which was originally headed straight for me, diverted its way over Snowmass Mountain. I continued to make my way down as I watched heavy rain fall from the clouds and the thunder rumbled. I found my pack, and made my way back towards the “Knife Edge”. Nothing ever feels the same when you’re coming back down. I had to figure out a route across the jagged ridge once again, and soon found myself back at K2.
The directions said that going around the backside of K2 would be easier than climbing over it, so with their advice, I started my way to the back (where you can see Capitol Lake). My advice to you: CLIMB OVER K2. The backside is vertical climbing down, and slippery with scree, and then you have to regain the elevation on slippery scree. Instead of following the trail all the way down, about half way I cut across using class 4 moves on a skinny ledge, but found it easier than fumbling through the scree.
I was now back in the giant boulder hopping field and my ankles were already done for the day. I slipped many times and got a few bumps, bruises and gashes because of it. At least I was falling where there was no exposure, I guess. The sun was now out and it was warm and pleasant. I took a moment to lie down on the large boulders to soak in the warmth while fueling myself for the next couple hours. It was so peaceful. It was as if the threat of the storm had never happened.
Arriving at the gully near the ridge where you climb to the front side of the mountain was a fun area. Follow the cairns, and then go all the way up. Trying to go through the two gullies at midpoint leaves you exposed and stuck. The trail is actually obvious, but I didn’t remember it, so I didn’t trust it.
On the other side of the ridge back towards Capitol Lake, I was once again met with the sight of another dark ominous storm. This one, I knew was going to hit me. I zigzagged down the hillside as fast as I could again praying the whole way down. Fortunately, the tree line isn’t too far off once you’re off the hillside. Just as I made it into the first solid forest, and sat down to empty rocks out of my shoes, hail started to fall with the force of a meteor storm. They were small, but painful and I found shelter under a pine tree. Loud zaps and claps of thunder sounded all around me and soon the path was white with miniature snowballs.
The storm lasted about 10 minutes and at first the snow helped level the path and gave me some traction. However, very soon after, the hail started to melt and I was left to carry on in mud the whole way back. It was miserable. It slowed me down and I couldn’t trail run back to my tent like I intended. The cow poop that was everywhere was now mixed in the mud and unavoidable. At least the cows were entertaining and I was much more comfortable being around them. I wished I had been prepared to climb the mountain earlier in the year so I could see the calves at a baby stage.
I was now around 17 miles into my hike and still wasn’t back yet (because I thought I was lost). The cows were now roaming even through the aspen forest and one started to follow me for a while and freaked me out. I thought, “Sure I’m not going to die from falling, or getting struck by lightning, but by getting pummeled by a cow.” I yelled at it, and it looked at me confused and wandered back into the forest. Phew.
The last two miles were the longest… I thought I was almost back so many times, but Capitol Peak wasn’t shrinking fast enough. My hips and feet were now very sore, but I could now finally see parked cars through the woods. I had walked nearly 21 miles that day, and it took me 12 and a half hours. I was wishing I had split it up and couldn’t wait to climb into my tent to go to sleep.
Unfortunately when I got back, I found my campsite had been invaded by people and their horses. I couldn’t believe it. It was the rudest thing I had ever encountered! My car windows were smudged from a horses slobber, my tent had hoof marks all over it, my campfire pit was destroyed and worst of all, there was poop on all sides of my tent. It was as if they were mad at me for putting my tent up where they usually do their scenic overlook. Whoever you are, you disgust me. Too tired to take my tent down, I went to bed around 7pm that same night and slept hard even with the smell of poo.
- Height: 14,067 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: Northwest Ridge from Missouri Gulch
- Distance: 10.5 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
- Time started: 9:10am
- End time: 3:15pm
- Time to Summit: 3 hours and 20 minutes
- Time to Descent: 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Overall Pace: 1.7 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat (didn’t need), lightweight gloves (didn’t need), day pack with water sack, snacks.
- Road Condition: Pretty standard dirt road with a fair share of potholes after you hit the ranch. A sedan should have no problem making it to the trailhead.
- Trail Condition: The trail is easy to navigate through the forest. It gets wet and muddy near the first creek crossing, but it’s not bad. Don’t miss the first junction at the base of Mt. Belford. Make sure you go right. Everyone complains how bad the scree is once you’re on the mountain, but in my personal opinion, it’s not that bad at all. There’s a nasty part of the trail that is quite slippery on the backside of the ridge, near the summit. Make sure you have shoes with good grip, and stay close to the rocks for support.
The previous evening I had been up to 11pm climbing Princeton, so the next morning I didn’t get up until 8:30am. It was going to be a late start, but doing the math, I thought I could still make it up to the summit safely without dealing with storms. I promised myself that I wouldn’t push myself so hard on this hike, and I wouldn’t let myself get caught up in keeping a certain pace. When I arrived to the trailhead parking lot, I even allowed myself the time to make a coffee before I headed out.
This time I took the switchbacks through the forest very slowly and at much more comfortable pace. Even so, I still had to use my inhaler to make it all the way to the abandoned log cabin. It was a hot, sunny morning which I usually pray for on a regular basis, but when you’re hiking, a nice cool morning with clouds to offer shade is much more appreciated. I made my way into the meadow and could now identify Mt. Belford and Missouri Mountain even further in the distance.
I couldn’t see any hikers zigzagging up Belford like a human highway like before, and suddenly felt very alone. On Mount Princeton, for once I liked being the only one out on the mountain. But starting a late hike, and not seeing any other hikers is kind of eerie. Finally, I ran into a couple with their dog, but they were heading overnight further up the valley. Darn it. A little further up, a woman hiker by herself was heading back from the summit of Missouri. It was 11am at this point, and I had just about come to the next junction that would steeply climb up the side of the mountain. I asked her how long it would take to arrive at the summit and she estimated two and a half hours, but also dependent on my pace.
My goal was to reach the summit by noon of course taking the forming clouds into consideration. My legs were still burning pretty badly from the night before, and my throat was still sensitive. Slowly I made my way up through the boulders and thin paths of scree along the side of the mountain. Everyone warned me how bad it was, but seriously- until you’ve done Mount Columbia- everything else seems to be a piece of cake.
Despite my problems with Missouri in the past, I really like Missouri. It seems to be bad luck for storms, but the hike is very scenic and pretty. A lot of the wild flowers from a couple weeks ago unfortunately had already died off since it had been fairly dry and I missed seeing them. As I continued up the steep trail to the ridge of Missouri I spotted another climber. “Yes!” I thought, “I’m not alone!” The trail was fairly easy to follow and despite appearances, the ridge on the top is actually quite wide. I had done most of the elevation gain at that point and was trying to pick up speed because I could now see some puffy clouds that looked a little sketchy.
I came to a halt at a point along the ridge. I didn’t remember reading about this area in the 14ers.com directions, but it was a very slippery area with a steep decline that lead to a cliff. It was actually pretty dangerous and I second guessed 14ers.com’s classification of Missouri only being a class 2. I had worn my old hiking boots because they were more comfortable, but they also had no grip left. I was clinging to the rocks beside me, my heartrate raised, and slowly I made my way across and up to the summit. I quickly took a selfie, not wanting to waste time to set up my tripod, took my panoramic photos and started back down quickly. I didn’t like the clouds that were headed my way.
I couldn’t believe it, but there were three hikers coming up behind me a couple hundred feet back! When I crossed paths with them, I warned them to watch out for the clouds coming. They remarked they didn’t think they were going to do anything. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to risk it and stick around. As I made my way along the ridge I could still see them hanging out on the summit! I said a quick prayer for them and I continued my way back down as quickly as possible.
It took me exactly two and a half hours to get down and back to where I had run into that woman previously. As I gazed up at the mountain walking, the puffy cloud had now turned into an ominous huge cloud and I could feel a couple sprinkles falling on my cheeks. As I gazed, I slipped off trail and POP. There went my ankle again. It hurt for a longer period of time this time, and I couldn’t help it, my eyes wallowed up with tears. Advice: Always look where you’re stepping.
Just as I made it back to the trees, CRACK went the thunder. It was as if God was with me, and had personally held up his hands to hold back the dangerous clouds until I had made it to safety. I was just praying that the people behind me were down and safe and that I wouldn’t be hearing about them in the news… a familiar story. I weaved my way back through the forest and started trail running until I had made it safely back to my car. I had done it- it took three attempts- but I had finally conquered Missouri Mountain.
The previous night, on my way back to my tent from Princeton, my car started making a very loud noise coming from my right, front tire. I got out to check it out, and my tire looked as bad as my other tire did when it popped on the top of Sherman. So after I climbed Missouri, I cleaned up my tent and darted for Buena Vista to get my two front tires changed. On my way there, about 8 miles away from town, whoop whoop whoop, clunk clunk clunk my tire popped.
I was also still without phone service to call AAA, so taking what I had learned from Mount Sherman, I started to change my own tire! At the point of taking off the bolts, I couldn’t make them budge. Not even my entire body weight could get them to move. Now I started to panic…”I need to flag someone down so I can make a phone call…” So embarrassing. Just as I thought that, an orange roadside assistance truck pulled up and two gentlemen hopped out and with a little muscle got the bolts to come off easy. God came through once again! I thanked them, and continued my way towards a tire store.
I arrived at “All Around Tires” at 4:45pm- 15 minutes before they closed. I told them the truth, that being, my car was my home. They didn’t even flinch. They had my tires changed and I was headed back to my tent within 20 minutes! I highly recommend them too! I have saved some miles on my legs pushing my car past its limit, but unless I want to fork over another $200, I really need to start backing off. The best advice I got that day, “Two things you should check: Check your oil and check your tires”.
Yes sir, I surely will be doing so! Thank you!
Miracle: The day I got my tires changed was the same day that my mom’s co-worker Judy, gave my mom $200 cash to give to me!! It was on her heart from God to give it to me- funny- it was just $3 more than the cost of my tires. GOD IS ALIVE AND PROVIDING!
- Height: 14,197 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: East Slopes
- Distance: 8.43 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 3,875 ft.
- Time started: 6:00pm
- End time: 10:50pm
- Time to Summit: 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Time to Descent: 2 hours and 20 minutes
- Overall Pace: 1.7 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Road Condition: This road would be perfect for BMX Bikes, mountain bikes, ATV’s or anything of that sort- I just don’t know if any of it is allowed? It’s incredibly hilly, but despite 14ers.com advising only 4WD, I made it 2.5 miles up the road- taking 5 miles off my hike!
- Trail Condition: The road is easy to navigate and the pictures easily show you when to turn off onto the trail. From here on, you need to watch where you’re stepping with every step. The boulders at the beginning are fun in my opinion, but once you get past the easy boulder hopping, it gets much harder to follow the trail. There are trails EVERYWHERE! Due to rock movement, you might think you’re on a trail, and then all of the sudden it’ll disappear. Even some cairns are misleading. It can make it a heart pounding ascent fighting with loose scree. Just follow the directions the best you can, and slowly but surely, you’ll get there.
After a failed attempt trying to climb Maroon Peak on Monday, I needed to take Tuesday off. I was so frustrated. I was too busy jamming to my music to realize that I had walked well over 3 miles the wrong direction while hiking the Maroon Creek Trail. Even backtracking, I never found the right junction. It was clearly one of those days where God didn’t want me hiking alone- especially the infamous Maroon Peak. I was so angry with myself. This wasn’t the first time I had gone miles off track. I couldn’t help it, my eyes started to well up and tears streamed down my cheeks as I tromped my way back to my car.
Stewing in my car, I decided I’d try to climb these tougher peaks on the weekend when the trails were packed with people. I had just drove all the way from Buena Vista, and now I was driving all the way back. What a waste. I decided I’d work on a couple peaks back in the Sawatch Range in the meantime. I set up camp at the base of Missouri Mountain and decided that I’d work up the motivation to climb it the next morning.
I started the hike at 4:30am. I had forgotten how harsh the switchbacks were right from the get-go. I was panting so hard and my legs were burning. I pushed through it, but noticed that my throat was slowly getting tighter. I kept on going, but my throat wouldn’t cease. It just kept getting tighter and tighter and it was getting harder and harder to breathe even though I was hardly moving. I stared up at the starlit sky trying to massage my throat but I knew I was done. Not again! Another failed attempt.
I grudgingly headed back down and slept in my tent until 9am. I knew what was going on, I had experienced this throat swelling before in high school and college volleyball practices. It would happen every late summer due to allergies. I would have to be put on an inhaler and have both a nasal spray and oral anti-histamine to get through a practice. It was awful and embarrassing. I hadn’t had this happen since college, so I was surprised when it happened earlier that morning.
I knew this was a problem that wasn’t going to go away, so at first I tried a clinic in Buena Vista which wouldn’t have an opening to see a doctor until late September! I decided that I’d head to the town of Salida where they had a Verizon store and an Emergency Room. Why a Verizon store? Oh, because my phone’s screen went black after I lightly dropped it on the trail that same morning.
The nurse practitioner was amazing which just motivated me even more to enter into the nursing field. She made my day better, and that’s a gift. She set me up with everything I would need and more and even drew me a map of how to get to the Verizon store and Wal-Mart to fill my prescriptions.
I rolled into Verizon, but they couldn’t help me. They were a different kind of store than a true Verizon store. I try to act as Christ like as often as I can, but I was pissed and wasn’t very Christ like at all. I actually ended up crying in the store- it was a disaster. Those poor people at Verizon- I’m sorry! After spending a couple hours in the store calling corporate and my mom, I will finally have a phone again on Monday- hopefully.
While enjoying my Wal-Mart salad, (fresh foods are a rarity…) and checking out the weather, I decided I was going to do my first evening hike. I was sick of things getting in my way, and I was determined to get one done. I decided Princeton because it was the shortest hike I had left in the Sawatch Range. The road was pretty entertaining to drive on, and I found my resting place 2.5 miles up from the lower parking area. While I was driving up the road, a small rainstorm was passing through. I knew with it being Colorado, it wouldn’t last long, and I was right.
I was just praying that the 8pm storm wouldn’t come through. I started walking up the road at 6pm. I was hoping to have gotten there by 5pm. But thankfully I wasn’t as annoyed with the road because I was trying to steal glimpses through the trees of the beautiful clouds over Buena Vista.
Now I have to say, sorry Colorado and Minnesota, but the best gentlemen come from TEXAS! As I was walking up the road a jeep pulled over with four gentlemen from Texas, offered me a ride! This was the first time anyone had ever offered! They maybe weren’t expecting me to say yes, but I said “YES!” with enthusiasm. They took me up the trail maybe three quarters of a mile, but I didn’t care! It was less time on my feet! They had just finished soaking in the hot springs at Mount Princeton Hot Spring Resort and were headed for the Chalet (a unique feature of a fourteener) near the trailhead to grill some steaks. Not a bad day at all in my opinion!
I thanked them, and headed towards the trail. I knew I was the only one out there. Most people hike the morning and afternoon to avoid the storms- I typically do to. But I wanted to try anyways. If it got harry, I’d simply turn back- and probably cry. I prayed the entire time I was on that mountain that God would spare me and change the skies in my favor.
The boulders near the beginning were pretty fun in my opinion. I love hopping rock to rock. It reminds me of Lake Superior growing up I guess. While I was rock hopping, the sun was starting to set and the rain cloud that had passed over was now a giant Thunderhead over the town of Buena Vista. It was so beautiful to watch it change and grow and to see the lightening striking the far off foothills.
The trail became more difficult though, and what seemed like a natural path, was not the intended path. I had missed the turn to start going up to reach the ridge and it was steep. There were makeshift trails everywhere and cairns that mislead. I knew where I was supposed to head, so instead of heading back, I headed straight up and it was really, really, tough. I used my inhaler a couple times to keep the inflammation in check. The sunset was now at its peak, and I wasn’t quite at the summit. I was wishing I could have started at five that much more!
Nearing the summit, there was a plaque dedicated to a woman who died on Princeton due to a lightening strike. Luckily, by God’s grace, there wasn’t a storm brewing on the other side of the mountain. Have I mentioned? Every mountain that I successfully climb (meaning I’m alive) is only by the grace of God.
By the time I reached the summit, my headlamp was on to help guide the way. It was a little chilly, and the sunset was nearly gone. It was so peaceful on the summit. There was this strange calmness about knowing that it was just me, God, the mountain and no one else. I wanted to stay longer, but knowing it was already 8:30pm, I quickly took my pictures and started heading back down. I was now in full realization that I’d be climbing back down this mountain in pure darkness. The only light being the stars and my dying headlamp.
Luckily, I always start my hikes near or fully charged. The flashlight on my phone is amazing and so expansive and bright and better than any flashlight or headlamp I own (T-Mobile phone I still had besides the broken one). I could only see a couple feet in front of me, but could see the outline of the mountain to know how I needed to get down. I couldn’t help but think of the bible verse from Psalms, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Not completely perfect, but I had trust that God would help guide my steps to getting back down, safely to my car.
Night hikes are strangely intimate. Since you can’t see around you, you’re left with your thoughts and the next rock in front of you. I felt especially close to God that night. I stopped to gaze at the night stars and quickly found my constellation I made up as a child. I called it “Turtle” and it is three stars in a perfect triangle with one star to the right serving as his head popping out. I dare you to find it. I used to sneak out in the dead of winter to gaze at the stars. There’s nothing more quiet than a winter’s night. It was so peaceful.
For some reason I was extremely achy that evening, and was more than glad to see my car waiting for me. I didn’t end up making it back to my tent that night until 1am, so there would be no early hike the next morning, but I was determined to climb Missouri the next day.