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!
Yes, it’s true! I finished climbing all 55 fourteeners that I set out to do as of October 4th, 2015 and I honestly don’t think it would have happened without the people supporting me and God. It was a struggle to get the last three between the weather, time, and emotional turmoil. I will most definitely fill you in on them when I get the chance, but currently I am enjoying the company of my mother and celebrating my accomplishment with all my favorite things such as; a massage (ooooh yeah), hotels (beds!), shopping, getting a white chocolate lavendar mocha from Brown Dog in Buena Vista, soaking in the hot springs at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, VIP cocktail and lemon cake from Del Friscos and ice cream from Bonnie Braes!
I have finally taken a moment to add up the amount of days it took from start to finish and the final number was 87! I started with Mount Bierstadt on June 24th, and ended with Crestone Peak on October 4th. I also had the family vacation which was two weeks long in July, so I didn’t count those.
When I put a number to it, it does feel like quite an accomplishment in a short amount of time, but I would have never expected to experience three seasons during my time out here. I started with the snow, and just today, enough snow fell to cover the top of Mount Yale.
While I get ready to go home, there are a number of things I can’t wait for. These are the things that I’m looking forward to the most:
- A BED!
- Consistent showers!
- Seeing my baby nephew Logan for the first time.
- Playing with my beautiful niece Avery Belle.
- A lasting hug from my papa.
- Going out and celebrating with friends!
- Dressing up in clothes other than workout clothes.
- Getting my hair did and being able to fix it (I’m still a girly girl).
- A roof over my head.
- A refrigerator so I can have fruits, veggies, dairy and meat again!
- Normal meals!
- Going to church on a regular basis again.
- Playing volleyball with my crew!
- Doing fall activities with family and friends: Apple Orchard, carving pumpkins, etc.
- Having a place to call home.
- To start planning and working towards my future!
There’s probably more on my list, but these are the biggies that I can’t wait for and definitely have a new appreciation for! Being away from family and friends this time around has been different from the time I moved to Colorado back in 2010. I can only attribute it to my faith that has grown exponentially over the past five years, and being in a better spot in recovery. I want to treasure every day that I’m with them, and stop to thank God for those times, because each day is a gift. I know that is very cliche to say, but gratitude I have found, is the best way to receive peace and contentment in life.
I have so much to be grateful for on this journey! The fact that I wasn’t injured by an animal or a fall or struck by lightening. The fact that I was taken care of by so many wonderful new friends that I met through my blog and along my hikes. The fact that I was actually able to climb all 55! The fact that my body never gave out on me. I was never hungry and had a roof over my head. When I lacked things like warmth or a working car, it was provided and fixed by the kind acts of practically strangers. I had people who believed in me and who cheered me on when things got rough, and I found the inner strength to push past my fears and doubts. I know I’m going back to Minnesota stronger in so many ways. I’ll be even stronger in my faith, stronger against my eating disorder and stronger against the currents that life brings. I can’t wait to show the world what I can do!
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!
San Luis Peak
- Height: 14,014 ft.
- Range: San Juan Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 13.5 miles (the trail will say it’s only 11, but it’s wrong)
- Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.
- Time started: 2:25pm
- End time: 8:15pm
- Time to Summit: 3 hours and 5 minutes
- Time to Descent: 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Overall Pace: 2.4 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- 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 (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: A sedan can make it all the way to the trailhead just fine. DO NOT EXCEED THE SPEED LIMIT ON THE DIRT ROAD! I traveled the road in the dark and an unexpected turn nearly did me in. There are no warnings. 15GG WILL TURN INTO 14DD otherwise known as 794. Stay on the more defined road the whole way to the trailhead; there are many turn offs, and not much signage at all.
- Trail Condition: No snow at this point. There is some mud, but not enough to slow you down. The trail is an easy one to follow and is dirt almost the entire time until you get to the saddle at 13,100 feet. Then you’ll be in small rock, and talus the remainder of the hike.
I couldn’t have anticipated it, but it took nearly 6 hours to get to San Luis Peak trailhead from Aspen. I was trying to get to San Luis Peak so I could hike the next day with Sheryl a woman who reads my blog, and her friend. Along the way, I thought my GPS was misleading me because it wasn’t lining up with the written directions from 14ers.com. It turns out it was leading me correctly, but it was too late. I had already backed out of my phone GPS, and didn’t have service to route me again. That made it quite interesting in the blackness of the night. It made me uncomfortable that I was two hours away from any kind of service. What if something went wrong with my car??
I was driving a little fast on the dirt road, maybe 50 miles per hour. The speed limit was 45 miles per hour and out of nowhere a big turn came in the road and I lost control of my car. With one hand still holding my phone (to get a better look at the roads as it was my map) and the other on the steering wheel, I could tell my car could have flipped over, but thankfully I just swerved outside the road into some brush, and straightened back out. I couldn’t believe what had just happened- my phone was still in my hand… As I continued driving in slight shock, “Jesus take the wheel” came to mind, funny enough. I realized how lucky I was that there wasn’t a fence or tree or boulder there to wreck my car.
From then on I drove no faster than 30 miles per hour. To add to my stress, the road 15GG I was supposed to stay on eventually was blocked off by a gate! “It’s supposed to take me to the trailhead… what the f*#$!?” I was more than frustrated and stressed. Was it closed for the season? Was I going to have to hike from here?? It would be 30 miles round trip! The other road that continued was 14DD and just to see where it went I stayed on it. Thank God, it lead to the trialhead. I love 14ers.com, but this is a detail worth noting! I also don’t recommend driving the road at night.
I was anxious to end the long day and found a place to set up my tent just before the trailhead and awoke the next day around 8am unable to sleep any later. It was a beautiful, warm autumn day, but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feelings about being so far out in the middle of nowhere. The previous night I had received a text from Sheryl saying that they were planning on climbing Mount Sneffels before meeting me at San Luis Peak. Not having service to confirm anything, I decided I’d wait until 2pm before I’d set out on my own.
I did all kinds of things that afternoon, but eventually it was 2pm and I was growing increasingly restless. I was bummed, but I didn’t know if they realized they were in over their heads and just weren’t coming, or if they were still going to come, but not until it was getting too late. So by 2:25pm I headed out on the trail and headed towards the brightly colored aspen trees in the distance.
As I got closer, I realized there was actually a lot of water, almost like a marsh. The trail was wet in some places, but not too bad. In the beginning, the trail was actually kind of ugly. All the pine trees were dead and had lost all their needles. The walk through the woods was easy, but again, kind of ugly. But then I had the thought, “I need to find the beauty. I know it’s here”.
I wanted to limit the time I’d be hiking in the dark so I didn’t slow down to take many pictures in the beginning, but then I made it to the willows. The willows now had these fuzzy, white puff balls all over them and was actually beautiful and I couldn’t help but stop and take photos. For some reason a memory of a flower fixture in our basement growing up with pussy willows in it came to mind. In my mind, they were just these made up silly things, but now I was seeing where they came from for the first time.
The trail remained easy to follow and easy to walk on all the way to the saddle which was exactly what I needed after climbing North Maroon. However, I still couldn’t tell which mountain peak I would be climbing. As I climbed higher, I finally saw the true summit which looked like it was forever away. The trail marker at the start of the hike said that it was 5.5 miles to the peak, and I was ecstatic because 14ers.com said it was 13.5 miles. Well, unfortunately, 14ers.com was right, and it is 13.5 miles long.
I kept looking back behind me to see if there were two more hikers coming, but no such luck. Once I reached the saddle at 13,100 feet, the wind picked up. Until then I had been wearing a tank top because it was so sunny and warm! Once behind the mountain on the saddle (the one I thought I was climbing) the wind calmed down once again but the trail was now shale and not as easy to walk on which aggravated my left ankle. The wind once again picked up around the other side of the mountain to the right and I was stuck in the strong wind until I finally reached the summit.
Thankfully, as usual, it was more calm on the summit. I pulled out my first sign I made for the summit which stated, “Dedicated to the men and women I’ve met along the way in treatment and to those I’ve never met fighting for their lives against their eating disorder”. This is so important to me that they know that I’m no only doing this for myself, but for them. My prayer is that my example, although not perfect, will encourage them to chase after something bigger than their eating disorder. It’s been a huge reason for me to even want recovery. I had to somehow dream of what life could be like again instead of the nightmare of never recovering. I can’t explain how hard it is to overcome something like this, but to those of you who are trying, never, ever give up- ever. God has a plan for you. Don’t let the devil hold you down from the life God intended for you.
The second sign was for my cousin Cody, and his bride Michelle. I mentioned before that I was trying my best to finish this journey before their wedding so I could be there, but obviously, it’s not the case. I at least wanted to let them know that I was thinking of them and wanted to honor them with my journey. After taking the pictures I quickly started to head back down. I was so cold now and needed the body heat to warm me back up as the sun was now starting to set.
I turned my music back on and at a good pace made my way back down through the wind and shale to the saddle. Once there, I could hear screaming voices over my music. I turned off my music which confirmed I was hearing voices further down the mountain! It was Sheryl and her hiking partner! I hurried down to them and immediately gave Sheryl a hug! It was so nice to meet her, and it was nice not to feel so alone in the middle of nowhere! I met her hiking buddy Kelly who looked a whole lot like Olivia Wilde and we stopped for a quick conversation.
They had arrived at the trailhead at 4pm. I was so bummed I had missed them! I could tell right away that they were a lively, fun pair of women, and it would have been such an enjoyable hike! They knew they were going to be hiking in the dark and were hoping to hike with me because I had the Spot device. I told them to stop by my tent on their way out so I would know that they made it back safely. If not, I’d then send a message out for help. I wished them luck and to have fun and we continued our separate ways.
While on my way down, I noticed at least a couple dozen arrows that were made out of twigs and drawn out in dirt. The trail seemed straight forward enough, but when it’s pitch black, everything helps. I decided to slow down to take more photos. I wanted to find the beauty of San Luis and boy did I ever! The florescent red, purple and green leaves, cherry red berries, magically twisted trees, the blue and pink sunset, the rushing creek and fluffy white dandelions glowing in the moon’s light captivated me until I was in complete darkness.
I hadn’t been in the forest at night for a long time now and was finding myself once again freaked out by the unknown. Shadows looked like bears, and rustling leaves tricked me into believing I was being stocked by a mountain lion. “Do they still have enough food available for them during this time of year?” I questioned. I moved as quickly as I could through the forest once it was dark. My ankle from the roll the previous day was aching and my right ball of my foot was acting up. I was ready to be done. While it was a short hike time wise, it was the furthest hike I had done in a while.
It felt like I was in the forest forever and thought I would feel better once I reached the open field, but I was wrong. Every large rock dimly lit by the moon looked like a sleeping bear and I had my music going as loud as possible to warn anything else alive besides me. I was now jogging looking for my car to show up at the side of the road, but it wouldn’t come.
Finally, I saw a glimmer from steel and I knew I was almost back. My active imagination told me I was in danger so when I made it back to my car, I was a happy girl! Instead of going to my tent, I decided I’d stay and watch for Sheryl and Kelly to come back. I was editing my pictures when I looked up and saw two headlamps bouncing in the distance! I flashed my lights at them and honked my horn to signal, “You’re almost there!” and soon enough they were back with me at our cars.
We talked for a while about the different fourteeners and I asked them about the arrows on the trail, and as I suspected, they had made them all! We also discussed some of my blog which was really neat to hear someone say, “Oh yeah, I remember you writing that!” I asked them how they met, which was a really cool story! They both previously lived in Virginia (I think…), were in the same city, and in the same running group, but never met each other! They actually met in Colorado and discovered they had a lot of mutual friends and put it together. Their friendship was clearly a gift from God. Moving anywhere can be scary and lonely, God provided them friendship right away with common roots. It’s just like Alix and I! Although we weren’t originally from the same place, God knew we were after the same things and aligned our paths to meet. God, is a God who cares!
While I was going to camp another night at the base of San Luis, Sheryl and Kelly were going to drive at 10pm at night to Buena Vista. They had drove 5 hours the previous night, hiked Mount Sneffels at 5am the next day, then San Luis Peak, and were now driving another three and a half hours! People think I’m motivated and intense! Kelly had a wedding the next day, so that’s why they were smooshing it all together. I suppose it’d be something I’d do too if I weren’t already constantly climbing mountains. We hugged and said our good-byes and I was grateful for meeting them, but sad I wouldn’t get another chance to hike with them before my journey was over. I headed to my thought knowing that I’d head to Alamosa where I’d rest before climbing my arch nemesis, Mount Lindsey.
- 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.
- Height: 14,115 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: West Ridge
- Distance: 16 miles with sedan, 8 miles with the help of strangers or your own 4WD!
- Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft. (8 miles)
- Time started: 8:00am
- End time: 4:00pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours
- Time to Descent: 3 hours and 30 minutes
- Overall Pace: .9 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, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: Once again, 14ers.com is accurate with their recommendations. A sedan or even a SUV or truck without 4WD will not make it far on the road after the Angel of Shavano Trailhead.
- Trail Condition: You will have to do a lot of trail finding on this route. The route is considered “abandoned” so it is very rugged and trails will start and then disappear often making it a difficult class 2 mountain. The trail from what I hear is also consistently very windy. Be prepared for that. When you reach the hill also known as Point 13,936 go straight up it and look for a cairn at the base (made by Anne and yours truly.) You’ll weave straight up it. There are two more cairns along the way to look for to help you reach the top as easily as possible. Expect the entire ridge to be windy and jagged with rocks and barely there trails. On your return, make sure to watch for your turn back onto the long ridge leading back to Point 13,936. There is a misleading defined trail that got us off track, so I hope you avoid it.
I made my way to county road 240 that lead to the Tabeguache Peak Trailhead and I was amazed to find yet another campground closed for the season. It absolutely blows my mind how quickly time has gone by. It feels like I just started and there was still plenty of snow in the mountains, and all of the sudden I’m returning back into snowy conditions. Where did summer go? I have to say, this was the coldest summer I’ve ever experienced. Climbing and staying so high up in the elevation left me wearing long sleeves most days. It’s almost ironic how I chose an experience that would have me in the cold all the time when all I want to do is escape it in life!
I found a small grass field right off the road about .7 miles away from the Angel of Shavano Trailhead and set up my tent there and was asleep within minutes. The next morning, I quickly arose and headed towards the Angel of Shavano Trailhead where I would be meeting Anne, a reader of my blog, at 6:45am. While I waited I had warm breakfast of oatmeal and not soon after, Anne and her beautiful white SUV pulled up.
She was such a breath of fresh air right from the start! We talked for a short time while I finished my oatmeal and then hopped into her SUV both hopeful and yet skeptical that we could make it all the way up the now 4WD road that lead to the trailhead. But alas, almost immediately we ran into problems. The road was steep with a lot of loose rock and even after three attempts, we couldn’t make it up. “Crap, today’s going to have to be a 16 mile hike after all”.
Just around the corner we could hear a possible Jeep heading up the same road. Anne quickly ran down to meet them and boldly asked if we could have a ride to the trailhead. With some reluctance (only because they didn’t have a lot of room) they accepted. Their names were Dave and Brian and each had done more than a handful of fourteeners. They cleared a space the best they could and I squatted in the back while Anne sat on one of their duffle bags. We were squished to say the least but entirely grateful for them taking 3 miles off our hike.
We bounced all over the place and Anne squeamed with the thought of her SUV being on the road. Even though my car could make a 3 out of 6 rating for a road, a 4 was insane- even for a Jeep! The ride was surprisingly long despite only being 3 miles and the trailhead was so understated it would have been easy to miss if there weren’t other trucks already parked there. The trail we were taking, Jennings Creek is technically “abandoned”, but really, it’s just far less popular than the Shavano to Tabeguache route.
We thanked the two men who generously gave us a ride, and joked that we’d be waiting for them at the bottom hoping for another ride back down. They said sure, but that they really take their time with hiking. Normally, if I only did this a couple times a year, I’d take all day too! But being that it was my 47th hike this summer, I was more interested with keeping a good pace.
Right from the start the hike was breathtaking with vibrantly golden yellow aspen trees. Even with hiking two mountains in full swing of autumn, I was still just as in awe as Anne, who was experiencing it for the first time. I can’t explain the joy I get from hearing the now crispier leaves rustle in the gentle breeze. It’s one of my favorite sounds in the world along with crunching fall leaves beneath my feet. Needless to say, my senses were on an overload of ecstasy. The smell of freshly fallen leaves filled my lungs deeply and I was finally free from coughing (from my darn cold I got weeks ago) for the most part.
Anne and I despite being athletes and acclimated felt it harder to catch our breath that day. It hardly took any pace at all to get our lungs working hard, but we somehow kept the conversation going regardless. I wanted to know everything about her and she felt the same. She was originally from Iowa and moved to San Diego not too long after college. She made it there thirteen years, but often retreated to Colorado to be in the mountains. After a while, she felt she needed another change and she moved here not too long ago to a small town near Pikes Peak. She said it was hard to move and to leave her family and friends, but she needed it for her. It was as if we were the same person, but she had more guts to listen to herself earlier on in life. Some people never find the courage to do something big for themselves, especially when there’s risk and it’s uncomfortable. At least I was finally listening to myself at the age of thirty.
As we made it to the open meadow the wind really started to pick up. “Not again,” I whined to myself. I was and am so tired of the darn wind! “God” I thought, “I know you’re here! You have my attention, so calm the dang wind!” Or did He have my attention. I haven’t had the urge to read my Bible, to pray or to read books I knew would benefit me. Why? I’m not quite sure, but I think it’s because I’m tired- emotionally, mentally and physically. I realize in this moment just typing it I must do it anyways. I know I wouldn’t be feeling as down as I do right now if I were. I took the first step in calling friends and my mom, but this is another huge part of the equation to find deep, unshakeable joy. I’ve had that joy before and there wasn’t a circumstance I couldn’t deal with and it was amazing! But right now, I know I’m trying to finish this on my own strength.
My own strength… I couldn’t understand what people meant by saying that, but now I finally do. Last year when I was fresh out of partial treatment at Melrose Institute for my eating disorder, and just getting started in a new job again, I lived with a wonderful woman named Melody and her family. She’s like a sister to me and someone I go to for spiritual advice. She’s the very special woman who when I was four asked if I wanted “Jesus in my heart”.
While I was out one night, doing things I shouldn’t do, she had a dream and it scared her, but it was very clear. She told me, “God will not bless anything unless he’s at the center of it. You will fail at everything you do unless you rely on Him.” In that moment I was so scared, so hopeless. I thought, “Well duh, look at my adult life so far. Not a screaming success.” I was angry at God for this message. “Why me?” I complained, “Plenty of people have a successful life without your help God. Why are you making this so hard on me? Why do I have to rely on you for any success at all?” I complaints came from fear…I didn’t know what it meant to rely on Him completely. “How do I even do that?”
It’s something that I’m now starting to grasp, but still can’t seem to walk it out completely- which scares me. I pray and I feel like I never hear anything from Him. “How do I discern from someone I can’t hear from?” It’s a question I still have all the time. While I know I have been blessed, and that God has met my needs, I don’t hear from Him. I feel like I’m constantly wondering in the darkness fumbling for a door to open and once I find it, I’m not even sure if it’s even the right one. Trial and error. Trial and failure.
What makes me think that God even wanted me to do this trip… Did I hear it from Him? Nope. I just had a personal desire to do it, and God has blessed me along the way- opening doors instead of shutting them. That’s what I have to go off of. That’s it.
Now, back to the hike. The trail that we were following would come and it would go constantly. There was no consistent trail to follow which meant we were constantly discerning with one another whether or not it was the right trail. It was kind of annoying as those of you who have read my blog regularly might have realized I don’t like getting off track or lost or hiking more than I have to. Then Anne questioned, “Should we make a cairn for other people so they don’t have to go through this?” and I agreed. We made our first two cairns at an unspecified split in the trail and carried on with the satisfaction of knowing we made it easier on someone else.
Surprisingly, Anne had only climbed about 4 or 5 other fourteeners and so when we came to the steep gully to get to the ridge, she wasn’t sure what to think of the scree. Man, do I remember being there! With only a little struggle, we made it to the top where the wind proceeded to pick up more. So much so that we could barely hear each other. We were nearly blown over once we hit the top of the first hill and proceeded to walk over the saddle.
Our next endeavor was to climb up to Point 13,936 and looked like a huge task. We couldn’t see a trail and so with my best judgement I suggested to swing to the left side of the gigantic hill because it looked less rocky, less steep, and less windy. Unfortunately, no matter where we went the wind followed us. Again as we went up, trails would start and stop and we were constantly guessing where to go next. At some point, I say, forget the dumb “trail” and just head to where you ultimately have to go next- which was the top of the giant hill. Take the straight line and just go.
With many stops, we finally made it to the top of the hill and could now see Tabeguache Peak in the distance. The wind roared the entire time we were on the ridge, to the point where it was hard to keep balance and violently flapped my hood in my ear. I hated it, but was keeping it to myself and I was glad I did. Negativity is one of Anne’s pet-peeves I found out later- and it’s one of mine too- but this was ridiculous!
When we got near the summit, there was an option to drop down, or from what I could see, an option to stay higher on the ridge. I welcomed the chance to get some class 3 moves and tried to encourage Anne to join me, but being that she had only done a couple mountains, she wasn’t comfortable with it. It really wasn’t worth it as I had to drop down anyways because the ridges didn’t connect like I thought. There was a notch between them instead and I decided to take the next ridge to the summit while Anne followed the trail around the corner.
We finally reached the summit and it took us almost exactly four hours! Thank God, but it wasn’t as windy as we were expecting it to be at the summit. It’s funny how often that happens actually. You would think that’s where it would be the windiest as the wind has free range to roam, but for some reason, it’s not the case. We found a calm place to sit and enjoyed the delicious cookies Anne had made from scratch.
Nearly a half hour later, we started our descent and soon after ran into Brian and Dave who were also getting incredibly annoyed by the wind. We encouraged them that they were almost there and that we’d see them at the bottom. Along the way down, I didn’t navigate correctly, and passed the ridge that would lead us back to Point 13,936. Instead of re-climbing, we headed around the side of the mountain and found ourselves back on a path for a brief moment until that too disappeared. While on the ridge, we couldn’t decide whether we should gradually drop down, or stay up high. For those of you wanting to hike this route- stay up high! We had to climb back up to avoid the long wrap around the mountain that lead back to the “trail”. As tempting as it is, don’t head towards the saddle down below either- you’ll drop too far and you’ll have to climb back up.
Thankfully, it’s easier to spot trails from higher up and we could see a better way to get down the giant hill. There’s actually a trail almost the entire way, but it’s hard to spot. You’ll head straight back down the hill with a slight weave to the saddle. Don’t cut to the left on the way up like we did- just take the hill straight up/down. Along the way Anne and I stopped and made another cairn to mark the trail and then again made another, larger cairn. We were purposely trying to kill time as we knew Dave and Brian would be down much later than us. At the bottom of the large hill we made another even larger cairn, and an arrow at the start of the saddle. Even after all that, and another long stop to snack and hydrate, we still couldn’t see Dave or Brian even starting the descent of the large hill.
We carried on down the steep gully surfing on the scree and got lost in the meadow a time thinking that we had forgotten to cross over – but we didn’t. As we got closer to the forest, we couldn’t help but stop over a dozen times to take pictures of the glowing Aspen trees. It was now 3pm and the lighting was beautiful and there were these amazing dead, twisted trees. We felt like we were in an enchanted place; one you dream of being in as a child.
As we made our way in the forest we realized how tired our bodies were getting. It had been nearly 8 hours of hiking at this point, and our feet were getting very achy. To my delight, my right foot was actually holding up great! Not quite soon enough we finally exited the forest and were finally back at the road. We sat there for a while resting our feet and looking at our photos, and decided that if a truck was coming down, we’d ask for another ride from someone else. We were getting huuungry!
To our luck, one came and we stopped and asked a couple in a white rental Jeep who had two empty seats. I think they were a little surprised, but with little reluctance agreed to give us a ride back down. Their names were Leon and Diane and had moved to Castle Rock not too long ago. They were such a lovely couple and so open to sharing their story with us. I got a kick out of their accents too as they had moved from Atlanta, Georgia and wouldn’t you know it, they got a kick out of mine too.
Soon we arrived back at Anne’s SUV, but the ride could have gone longer because we were enjoying each other’s company so much! Anne and I decided to grab dinner together in Salida, but first I had to stop and pack up my tent. As I approached the grassy small field, my stomach dropped- my tent was gone! Who would steal someone’s tent?! Anne pulled in behind me and we both drew into a panic. Then I remembered it was windy that day and that it could have blown into the ditch. I hadn’t been using my stakes because they had gotten so badly bent and my mallet was lost in the Chicago Basin somewhere.
Sure enough, it was in the ditch! I deflated my mattress, pulled the poles and with everything still inside, I balled it up and threw it in my car. I mean, what was the point of putting it away nicely. I was just going to set it back up again in a couple hours! Anne and I headed to Salida and decided to go to Rivers Edge which was an awesome restaurant. It had a giant welcoming patio with comfy couches and fire pits to keep us warm in the increasingly fall like weather. We both had a juicy burger with truffle fries and tons of water. We hugged and parted ways, promising to stay in touch and I knew I had a new friend and one that was willing to help me out any way she could. God is good, all the time He is good.
- Height: 14,110 ft.
- Range: Front Range
- Route: Northwest Slopes from Crags Campground
- Distance: 14 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,300 ft.
- Time started: 9:30am
- End time: 5:00pm
- Time to Summit: 3 hours and 30 minutes
- Time to Descent: 3 hours
- GEAR (to bring):
- MONEY! (for a treat at the top), 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, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz or more), snacks.
- Road Condition: The road is typical with small pot holes and some rocks, but overall it’s a very nice dirt road.
- Trail Condition: The trail is in great condition overall. No snow and no wet spots. The trial is fairly well marked (watch for that first trail junction) and you shouldn’t worry about getting lost. Coming down, the dirt path on the last large hill before the forest is very slippery because of the pebbles on the hard dirt. I slipped and fell 5 times!
After a night at Alix’s house, I stayed the next night at a beautiful hotel with a wonderful hot breakfast thanks to a reader of this blog! I can’t express how blessed I feel and how grateful I am for everyone’s support! To have not only my family, but the support of my friend Alix to take part in my journey and for all the wonderful strangers who have sent me notes of encouragement- you made this possible! I have always been a person who does well with starting risky things, but it never comes to fruition unless I have someone who believes in me. I’m sad to say that hasn’t always been the case, so thank you.
That day, I had the most perfect off day possible. It started with shower and a hot breakfast. I then got to venture to The Garden of the Gods which I’ve been thinking about since I arrived in Colorado. I was only wishing Alix was there with me so we could scramble on the rocks together. Unlike the last time, there were people climbing the tall, skinny, orange rocks. I looked at them in awe as others did, dreaming about how someday that could be me. Someday, I will learn how to use ropes.
After my mini adventure, I headed to Crags Campground and found a great place to camp for free. It was the first time I got to set up my tent with my three favorites: my blowup mattress, Therma Pad, and new warmer sleeping bag. It had been a long time since I had arrived to my destination with daylight to burn. I walked around nearby and gathered firewood and for the first time since climbing Capitol, I made a campfire. I couldn’t have asked for a better day, and I slept even better. It was so cold, that I needed my extra blanket in addition to everything else and so cold, that there was frost on my car windshield! My blanket and tent were soaked with condensation from the contrast of my body temperature and outside temperatures.
Thank goodness Alix woke me up at 8:30am that morning and I’m not sure I would have climbed that day if it hadn’t been for her being there. I was just sleeping so hard and good that I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t sure what time she was going to arrive, and apparently she didn’t get there until eleven when I was already fast asleep.
We started on the trail at a late 9:30am, but knew we had a perfect weather for hiking. I was feeling much better than I had felt on Crestone Needle, but I forgot to take my cold medicine, so I was coughing up a lung- often. Regardless, I was just happy that I was feeling stronger. I felt so incredibly weak when I hiked Crestone Needle, looking back, I can’t believe I kept going.
Pikes Peak was going to be better though. Alix and I just knew it was going to be a great experience, and we were right. We hadn’t hiked something this easy since Handies Peak weeks ago and while we were hiking fast, we took the time to take plenty of pictures and had fun with it. We were cracking jokes about the unnecessary cairns on the obvious trail, singing and even dancing a little.
Along our way, a man questioned, “Are you the blogger?” and I excitedly answered, “Yes!” I think God crossed our paths because he had just climbed Longs Peak not that long ago. A fourteener that scared me because of the extreme winds and caused me to turn back when I tried to climb it when I lived in Colorado five years ago. He told me not to be afraid and that it was very temporary. I thanked Michael for his wisdom and we parted ways.
Once we reached the summit, we immediately headed towards the shop. It’s the only shop on top of a fourteener and is well known for its donuts. We grabbed a seat and with happy hearts both of us grabbed a famous doughnut and a french vanilla cappuccino. We looked around us and I said, “Look at all these hard working hikers!” and laughed. It was a great setting for people watching. There were old people, babies, kids, bikers and people of all shapes, sizes and abilities. It was neat to think that anyone could experience the joyous views a fourteener has to offer; but not everyone would experience the feeling of accomplishment that one experiences from climbing one.
We took a full hour eating and exploring the summit. On the other side of the summit, a red cog whistled for its passengers to board and people were cheering for hikers as they summitted. There was a race that day fundraising for brain injuries. I hiked along with a family the last 50 feet talking with them. All the sudden I was getting pictures taken of me and being offered a medal. “I didn’t do the race! I don’t deserve one of these!” I laughed. I then told them I climbed 43 different mountains and asked if that qualified for a medal, and they agreed… which leaves me with a thought, what will I leave with to commemorate this journey? A tattoo? All 55 patches? I don’t know… and how will I celebrate my 55th climb? I don’t know… but I do know a hot spring will be calling my name!
Alix and I listened to music the whole way down and as we reached the second large hill leading to the forest, I slipped and fell- five times! I looked at the soles of my boots and realized that somehow they were already getting very warn out. It was time for another new pair!? I never did like my hiking boots, and I was thankful that I was a member at REI and could trade them for a different pair. If you’re not a member I strongly recommend it.
Once we reached our cars, I found a note from Michael on my car and it really blessed us, and I felt so humbled and honored to think that I was an inspiration to this man. Alix helped me pack up my tent and we said our sad goodbyes. While she was visiting Lake City last week, Lucky, the hostel owner offered Alix a job and she accepted! I was really excited for her, but sad that I was losing my hiking companion. I hope we can at least climb one more together… hopefully, my last one.
Little Bear Peak
- Little Bear Peak Height: 14,037 ft.
- Range: Sangre de Cristo
- Little Bear Peak Route: West Ridge and Southwest Face
- Distance (Lake Como to Little Bear RT): 4 mi.
- Distance (Lake Como to 8,000): 5.5 mi.
- Elevation Gain (from Lake Como): 2,300 ft.
- Time started (to Little Bear): 7:30am
- End time (Lake Como): 2:00pm
- Time started (@ Lake Como): 2:40pm
- End time (8,000 ft.): 5:00pm
- Time to Summit Little Bear Peak from Como Lake: 3 hours and 45 min.
- Time to Descend Little Bear Peak to 8,000 feet: 5 hours and 5 minutes (minus time to take down tent)
- Overall Pace: .6 miles per hour while on Little Bear; 2.3 miles per hour to 8,000 ft.
- 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: The directions from 14ers.com is correct in that a sedan will only make it to 8,000 feet or slightly further. We saw one Jeep make it all the way to Como Lake- which was mind boggling.
- Trail Condition: 8,000 to Como Lake: You’ll be on the road the entire time. The road mixes between dirt areas where it’s easier to walk, but mostly river rock and boulders. Eyes on the ground mostly to watch your step. Como Lake to Little Bear: You’re on a nice road for a short time, then upon exiting the forest, the trail for Little Bear is to your right. The first scree field is not fun, and you’ll slip and slide and it’s loooong. When returning, make sure you go far enough because there are other notches that look similar, but as I found out it had a huge cliff (wrong one). The trail is marked nicely with cairns, and follow it- even though you have to go back down. We tried to stay high on the ridge to avoid elevation regain, but had to go down anyways. Follow the directions as listed on 14ers.com. The “Hour Glass” is fine. Let one person go up in sections at a time to avoid getting clunked in the head. As of now, the ropes in my opinion were in great condition and I used them the whole way down. Once you get out of the “Hour Glass” you can go up left or right- either way will have scree and will be very steep with loose rock and will require pulling yourself up.
After a sound night of sleep, Alix and I woke up at 4:30am to start our hike for Little Bear Peak. I wanted to get an early start to beat everyone else so we wouldn’t have to worry about rocks hitting us on the head, killing us. It was a huge reason there were so many deaths on that mountain. But once we looked at the directions more, we decided it was best to wait for the sun to rise so we could see our surroundings perfectly. Luckily, we were the only ones climbing Little Bear that Friday which completely surprised me being a holiday weekend.
Alix and I headed out at 7:30am in the morning sun and started our way up the 600 foot gully. There was no easing into this hike. It was only 3 miles long, but there was a lot to be done during those three miles. I predicted it taking us four or five hours. It ended up taking us six and a half! The more technical, the slower the average pace. Little Bear would be my slowest moving mountain out of the forty I had now done this summer. The gully was like most gullies, extremely slippery, lots of sliding, and time consuming. Alix and I always climbed on opposite sides to limit the chance of rocks being kicked out on each other. I was still having stomach problems, so Alix was again always ahead of me.
Once reaching the top of the gully, we followed an easy path about 50-100 feet below the ridge line. The path continued to drop in elevation, and because I was still feeling weak and depleted, I stayed higher in the higher class moves to avoid having to regain elevation. Alix soon caught on and as the path dropped further, we decided from that point on to climb the ridge which turned into a rich, class 4 climb. I would have thought that my experience on Mount Eolus would have scared me, but it did just the opposite. It gave me more confidence to climb the highly exposed rock. It also helped tremendously to have Alix there and leading the way. Being her first class 4, I was surprised, impressed, and proud she was so willing to lead!
I was definitely doing my most dangerous climbing thus far, and I felt okay. Not great, but okay. Eventually we were getting close to the end of the ridge and approaching the actual mountain. As I stared at it, I couldn’t see a route for us to take. The rock was too smooth. As we read the directions, we figured out that we were 100 feet above and a ridge over from the infamous “Hour Glass”. We made the decision to drop down to the “Hour Glass” because we knew what to expect there, but not ahead of us. It could get to be too dangerous and would take a long time to backtrack.
It was slightly dangerous climbing our way down to the scree field below, but eventually we made our way to the Hour Glass and were a little surprised that people were so intimidated by it. There were ropes there to help, but Alix didn’t use it at all on the way up, and I only used it briefly. The ropes seemed to be in great condition; there were a couple of knots near the bottom, but overall, not bad at all. Alix and I divided it into two sections. She climbed the first section and would yell to me to start. She’d then wait until I had arrived and we did the same for the next section.
When we got to the top of the Hour Glass, I went left, and Alix went right. The directions said you could go either way, so to eliminate any chance of rockfall on each other we split. It wasn’t far to the summit, but there was a lot of loose rock to overcome. I then came to some smooth rock under a small cliff and as it intersected with another I did some difficult class 4 moves to overcome it. After that, it was easy to reach the summit. We couldn’t believe upon reflection that it had taken us 4 hours to climb up 1.82 miles! The views were beautiful and as we looked at the traverse to Blanca, we were thinking new thoughts, “We could totally do that”. What seemed impossible, seemed more attainable because we pushed ourselves to a new limit. Much like in life. I rested for a while hoping for some kind of revival. I still wasn’t feeling to great.
As we headed back down, we agreed that we would follow the route described by 14ers.com the whole way back. We were simply ready to get off the mountain because we knew we still had 7.5 miles left to hike to our cars. When we came back to the Hour Glass, I decided to have some fun with the ropes. I used them the entire way down and had a blast! I really, really want to learn how to belay and start doing outdoor climbing. I feel like I’m just getting started in opening up my sports repertoire! I still want to learn to boulder and kayak rivers, and Paddleboard more!
As we continued I was started to feel better and was feeling more like my bubbly self which made the time go by so much faster while we had to regain elevation to the initial gully. We thought we had finally arrived at the gully, and as I started down first, I realized it was the wrong one because I was met with a cliff below me. We went down another quarter of a mile and found another gully. This was the right gully. I would consider this part my area of expertise because once again, I flew down the gully. When I was at the bottom, Alix still had half way to go.
It only took us 40 minutes to take down our tent and repack our bags. Near our tent, we found Mark’s business card left behind and I was relieved that he had made it down safely from Blanca. While getting ready to go, a couple stopped over to talk with us. Their Jeep had made it the entire way which absolutely blew me and Alix’s minds. We were wishing for a ride back down. My shoulders now had horrible knots in them which gave me headaches and I was not looking forward to the journey back to our cars.
Somehow I could fit my sleeping bag in the main part of the pack which made a huge difference! As we headed down, we were passed by two men who Alix noticed smelt of weed. They also happened to be the men who were blowing a Viking’s horn the whole morning. Why? I have no idea. They weren’t very social- moooore paranoid than anything…
I still had a bad stomach ache so Alix put on music to distract me. Unfortunately, I was trying to go as fast as I could towards the end so I could lay down, but Alix’s pinky toes were hurting badly so she had to slow down. Eventually we both made our way to our car and behind us was a dark black cloud hovering the mountain we just came from. It looked so ominous and we were happy we were leaving and I was more than ready for a day off to hopefully regain some strength and get a hold of my stomach cramps.
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.