Thank God we’ve had some warmer days… I know I haven’t written in a while, but of course, as predicted, I’ve been struggling- with winter. In a previous blog entry I said I was going to make this winter the best winter ever! That indeed did not happen… and unfortunately winter isn’t over-yet. So I have to try to get on with it, and still try to turn things around. Last year I made a long list of activities to do in the winter and then I divided into three categories: low energy, moderate energy and high energy. When one struggles with depression or an eating disorder, there are many days when opening a book is too taxing. I pray this list will help you find ways to get through winter. Keep your chin up, it eventually has to end!
- Workout: Bike and Read, Hot Tub, or Steam Room
- Plan Dream Vacations (Pinterest For Inspiration)
- Research New Exciting Places in the World
- Pinterest a New Craft, Recipe, or Fashion
- Read By a Fire
- Light Candles and Read
- Light Candles and Listen to Music
- Find New Music
- Window Shop Online
- Catch up With Friends Via Text/Facebook
- Make a Wish List/Shopping List
- Phone Games
- Computer Games
- Look on Twitter/Instagram
- You Tube Different Exercises (NOT Diets)
- You Tube Jenna Marbles (She’s Hilarious!)
- You Tube Motivational Clips (“The Ultimate Motivational Clip- Rise and Shine!”)
- Read Your Daily Bible Verses
- Listen to the Bible Via YouVersion
- Look Up Neat Restaurants by Reviews or Open Table App
- Check Out StumbleUpon App
- Look at Etsy
- Make Plans with Friends
- Dream Up Tattoo
- 30-50 Minutes Cardio or Weights
- Catch Up on Work/Homework
- Do Etsy or Pinterest Craft
- Shop My Closet: Put Together Cute Outfits
- Listen to a Sermon
- Build a Blog or Website
- Bake or Cook
- Pedicure/Manicure/Facial Masks
- Play With Hair and Find New Hair Dos
- Foam Roll Your Tight Muscles
- Window Shop for Dream House
- Learn New Language
- Go to a Coffee Shop
- See a Movie With a Friend
- Go to Dinner with Family or Friend
- Luxurious Bath-Bubbles, Candles, Music, Book, Drink
- Girls Night Movie In
- Listen to a TED Talk
- Workout With A Friend
- Bake for Friends/Coworkers/Family
- Organize Something
- Home Improvement
- Dance In Your Living Room/Bedroom
- Watch a Local High School Game or College Game With Company
- Go to a Professional Sports Team Game
- Read About Finances/Investing
- Rock Climbing w/ Friends
- Play Sport Indoors
- Bible Study
- Volunteer at Church
- Stretch Until You Can Do the Splits
- Get Dressed Up and Go Out to Eat or a Play
- Happy Hour With Friends
- Museums/Art Galleries
- Snow Tubing
- Cross Country Ski
- Stay In a Cabin
- Visit Family
- Put Things Online For Sale
- Host Board Game Night
- Mentor a Teenager
- Host a Dinner Party
These are just a few ideas! Print it off and hang it up on your refridgerater or the back of your bedroom door. Make it seen, because what is unseen is forgotten. Explore new areas and reignite old passions!
What helps you get through the blues?
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.
Now that I’m all done climbing the mountains, and have accomplished what I set out to do, what do I do now? How do you come down from such an extreme high and incredible journey? How will I adjust to going back home to a regular life? These are the thoughts that I’ve had, but are also the thoughts of my friends and family. They’re all concerned that I’ll crash and burn I suppose, biting their nails to see what happens. Well guess what, I’ve thought about this, a lot lately. Believe it or not I’m a planner and have thought everything through.
While I feel like I’m in a place where I have forgiven myself for my past, I still have more work to do on self-acceptance. It sounds like the same thing, but to me, it’s not. These are the things that I still struggle with: my body. This trip has been tremendous in helping me in this area. Yes, I did lose a little weight, but that’s not why I feel differently about myself. I haven’t had mirrors around me, I haven’t been body checking, and I haven’t been comparing myself to others while I’ve been out here and it’s brought me to a level of contentment. Yes, I see my photos of me on the mountains, and I might not love what I see, but I let it go quickly. As I go home, I know that this is going to be a much, much tougher situation to avoid. I will have to work really, really hard not to go back to doing those things and keep telling myself that I am blessed with this body. It is a strong, able body that I have a lot to thank for. That’s all I want to think about when I see or think about my body. I don’t want to think about it’s imperfections and how I don’t have model legs.
With all that being said, I know my journey with treatment is not over. I know that when I get back home I will have to go to Melrose Institute and see a dietitian and therapist regularly to keep me on track. I wish I could say that this journey was my ticket to being “cured” from my eating disorder, but if I did say it, I would be lying. I know that recovery is a journey in itself. For me, and for many others who struggle with an eating disorder. I have been eating more food than I typically would to stay active out here, and that’s going to change and I know I’ll need help with regulating my eating. The truth is I’m still scared to death of gaining back any weight I lost on this trip. Even two weeks on vacation in Montana I had a breakdown at the end because I thought I had gained back some weight from all the eating out. I have a battle ahead of me.
I will also start working again. I am so thankful that I get to work with my PCA client, Cassie again. Being a PCA has been the best job I have ever had. Not only does it pay decent, I have a blast every time I’m with her. We shop, take walks, visit coffee shops and see movies. I’ll have to find something else since it’s part time, but at least this won’t be a huge adjustment for me when I get back since it’s so fun!
As far as what to replace hiking and climbing with and the high it gives, I’ll start playing my love, volleyball again! It’s something that I’m constantly working on to get better at, and will give me the motivation to stay active and workout to gain power and a better vertical. If I get a gym membership, it will not be to do cardio machines just to burn calories. That is very dangerous territory. With my recovery, working out can never be about manipulating the shape of my body or burning a certain amount of calories. It destroys me quickly, but thankfully this is an area I have been the strongest with in my recovery.
To continue my spiritual growth, I’ll get involved with Substance Church once again, most likely as a greeter every other weekend. I owe much of where I am today because of Pastor Peter Haas and his church. He’s funny, passionate, intelligent, and always brings it home. The church itself has been the most accepting, connected church I’ve ever been to; “Come as you are” they say. I’ll also find a small group to stay grounded and connected to other believers. I think this is so important, almost more important than attending a church service because it’s a time when you can get real with people.
Last but not least, it’s important that I state that I will not go back to the life I was previously living. What do I mean by that? It means I won’t go back to living my life for someone else. I’m going to continue what this journey started for me and that is to live a life I imagined for myself. I must do what makes me happy because it allows me to be the best me; one that can love others better. So, what does that mean? It means I’ll be saving up every penny until mid winter so I can move to California. It’s always been a dream of mine, so I’m going to do it. Every winter I struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and it keeps me from finishing anything I start. While I love my family and friends dearly here in Minnesota, they must understand that this change could make me the happiest they’ve ever seen me- consistantly.
If you love someone, let them go free, right? The friends who love me and cherish me will continue to make an effort to see me, and the ones that don’t, well I’m grateful for the time we had together, but their season of friendship will end. I’ll get immediately connected into a church and start the process of developing new friendships all over again, which thankfully, has never intimidated me. I’ll be able to play outside year round! I’ll be more active than I’ve ever been in my entire life trying new sports and playing sand volleyball on the beach by the rolling waves of the ocean. I’m not saying it’s forever, but I am saying it’s what I need to try right now. I’ll start community college out there to gain the credits I need to be accepted into nursing school and I’ll be a nursing assistant until I graduate building experience.
I’ll also itch the scratch I’ve had my whole life and make time and resources to travel the world. I look at the world and I see it as a color crayon box filled with the most beautiful, vibrant colors. Staying in one place your whole life is like only using one color! God created this world for our enjoyment and it has beautiful and magnificent things for me and you to see. Being in the mountains was a taste of it, and I want more. Ever since I was little I used to say that I wanted to see the seven wonders of the world. I would say a lot of people have this passion, but it’s another to act on it, and I will be one of the few who do.
Lastly, I will continue to follow my calling which is to help others struggling with an eating disorder. I’ll get involved in an organization and help any way I can. I’ll do public speeches at high schools, treatment centers, churches, and conferences; whatever I can do, I’ll do. People have been encouraging me to write a book and it’s something I’m going to seriously look into. While being on the news was an amazing opportunity, they cut out anything I said about my faith- which was the foundation of my recovery process and it’s so important to me that others know that. Perhaps my path will inspire others to try God, or reconnect with God which would be the greatest accomplishment of my life. I can’t tell you how much I want to live my life for God!
- 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!
Kit Carson Peak & Challenger Point
- Kit Carson Height:14,165 ft.
- Challenger Point Height: 14,081 ft.
- Range: Sangre De Cristo
- Kit Carson Route: East Ridge
- Challenger Route: Challenger to Kit Carson in reverse
- Distance from Trailhead to Camp: 3.4 mi.
- Distance from Camp to Both Summits and Back to Camp: Roughly 8.2 miles (GPS died for a short time)
- Elevation Gain from Camp: 4,300 ft. (I think this is wrong because I’m not sure if they add the loss and gain)
- Time started: 8:25am
- End time: 6:30pm
- Time to Summit Kit Carson: 4 hours and 5 minutes
- Time to Descent (Back to Camp) from Challenger: 4 hours
- 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 (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: Walk up the road from the upper trailhead 2.65 miles until you see the sign wooden sign on the right for the Humboldt standard route. I camped at 3.4 miles in and that’s the start of many more campsites to come. There are a couple wet areas, but nothing to sweat. Walk past the South Colony Lake, and when you reach the Upper Colony Lake look for a trail leading to the right and up the mountain side. You’ll come to a saddle and turn LEFT. Climb over the BACKSIDE of Point 13,290. It’s easier and will block you from the wind. Once at Bear’s Playground, look for the cairns as they will lead you beautifully across the meadow (you’ll never have to actually summit Obstruction Peak). There is a path that will come and go up Kitty Kat Carson, but just climb to the top of that one and you’ll barely notice climbing along the ledges of Columbia that you even climbed another named peak because it’s such a short distance. The pictures from 14ers.com make the next section look very intimidating, but the ridge to Kit Carson isn’t bad and with care, you can safely make it down the gully without too much trouble (mostly solid rock). As confusing as it sounds in the directions, once you’re there, it’s fairly straightforward. I only took the directions out once to check out how they recommended climbing up the last stretch of Kit Carson (lots of loose rock). ONCE YOU’RE READY TO MOVE ONTO CHALLENGER: Backtrack down the same way you came up Kit Carson only head to the right instead of the left (to go back the way you came). You’ll see a purplish, brownish, fairly wide trail to follow around Kit Carson. In a short time you will see Challenger and it’s straightforward from there to reach the summit of Challenger Point.
After the disappointing news of Alix not being able to take me up the Spanish Creek to conquer my last three mountains, I immediately started plotting alternative routes. It was now Friday morning, and I only had two days before my mom was coming. I decided I’d go back to the South Colony Lakes to climb Crestone Peak. It was 14 miles long, and I figured I could hike the whole thing that day. I knew I wouldn’t get done until the middle of the night, but I didn’t care. I was going to do what I had to, to finish this.
I stopped in Westcliffe and continued to look at the routes because I just had this feeling while I was driving over that there had to be a better way to get Kit Carson and Challenger Point. My original thought was to drive all the way back over from where I came and take the Willow Creek Approach. Upon further research I found that I could hike to Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes, but it didn’t have directions on how to get to Challenger Point from there. I decided I’d use what I had, and try to follow the directions in reverse (from the standard route: Challenger to Kit Carson).
I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to drive all the way back over to the town of Crestone over two hours away. However, taking the East Ridge route to Kit Carson would be an absolute exhausting route: first I would have to climb over Point 13,290, then climb along the lower ridge of Obstruction Peak, then climb up and over Kitty Kat Carson, then climb a short distance over Mount Columbia, then climb up to my first destination Kit Carson Peak, then finally to Challenger Point and do it all over again in reverse.
That night I hiked in to camp once again carrying my annoying overnight pack and literally cradling my Wal-Mart tent in my arms the whole way. I only hiked in 3.4 miles to one of the first campsites I found. I couldn’t stand walking another step. The hike in was haunting and the wind blew so powerfully. It made me so incredibly uneasy about the climb the next day… “What if the winds are too strong and I can’t make it?” I set up my tent and somehow quickly fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning paralyzed by the same fear the next morning with thoughts of not making it to the summits that day. “What if it’s too windy? What if it’s absolutely freezing? What if I can’t find my way? I have to get it today, or I run out of time.” It was as if I was already experiencing failure before it even happened.
Despite my fears I did the next best thing, much like recovery, and just started going through the motions of getting ready for the hike and tried to put out the thoughts of negativity. Before I knew it I was outside my tent ready to take a chance.
As I hiked to the Upper Colony Lake, the wind started to blow and ripped through the leave of the trees and as I got higher, it only got worse. Once I reached the saddle between Humboldt and Point 13,290 it became the windiest. My head down, hood up, I hiked step after step in the wind until I could hide behind the ridge. Although 14ers.com hardly talks about this ridge, it is definitely worth noting. It was an exhausting ridge with lots of climbing and it takes a lot of time even though it is only .4 miles long. I was so cold and miserable, but still pushing to go further.
Once I got to the Bears Playground (a large meadow high in the mountains) the wind was nearly strong enough to blow me over, but I kept going. I wasn’t having any fun at all and I was so cold, but I couldn’t give up, I couldn’t hike it another day. It was now or never for this journey. Luckily, there were cairns all along the field that lead to the easiest way possible along the expansive meadow and boulder field. Along the way I kept looking over at Crestone Peak searching for a possible route that I could take so I could climb all three peaks in one day. It looked positively frightening, but I knew from previous climbs that what looks straight up and down, might actually not be as steep as it looks.
Once across Obstruction Peak, I could now see Kitty Kat Carson. It was an interesting looking mountain and the words “Shark Fin” kept running through my mind. I never went near the ledge since it was still windy, but luckily the wind for the remaining time that day never was intolerable again. It was a fairly easy climb to get over and the views on the other side were awesome of Kit Carson in the distance.
I didn’t even realize at one point that I had actually climbed over Mount Columbia since it’s such a short distance from Kitty Kat Carson. Once I started coming down from Mount Columbia a jagged ridge lied ahead to climb over. While I thought I was done climbing anything above class 2, it turned out I wasn’t. For the remaining time to reach Kit Carson Peak, I had to do all class 3 maneuvers.
Once again the summit was calm and beautiful. For the first time I could see the famous sand dunes past the Crestones and Challenger Point was so close I could touch it. I was so relieved that I had made it to summit number 53. I just didn’t have the confidence that it was going to actually happen!
As I moved closer to Challenger Point from the summit of Kit Carson, I could see many gullies leading down the side- except they were class 4/ class 5. I was so confused. I kept reading the directions in reverse on how to get to over there, but it wasn’t making any sense! I wasn’t seeing anything they were talking about, and they said it never exceeded easy class 3. What I was staring at was definitely not easy class 3 and made my insides want to jump out of my skin. I was stuck!
I saw other people come and go on the top of Challenger, but none of them were making their way over to Kit Carson! That is until two gentlemen started down Challenger’s slope and I stared at them below to see where they would go, but they disappeared! I sat there waiting for them for a time to see what gully they would climb up, but they never came. I called down the mountain, but no one answered. Near tears, I decided it was time to take action. I tried to go down each incredibly steep gully, but each time I went down, my senses told me to go back.
Finally, I decided on one final gully that didn’t look quite as steep as the others and started to make my way down. Carefully I scooted on my butt and climbed down the vertical wall. I didn’t have room for fear and concentrated on the next place I needed to put my hands and feet. Near the bottom I reached a dead end and had to actually scale the wall horizontally to reach a safer area. If I was going to fall, this would have been the spot. I should have had ropes, but God being with me, safely guided me to solid ground.
As I started to climb up Challenger Point I ran into two hikers, Carol and her husband who watched me climb down the entire wall. They were expecting me to be some extreme climber dude and were so surprised when they realized it was a girl in pigtail braids that descended the wall! They then pointed out a sign at the bottom that said, “DANGER! Loose rocks/ Cliff. MANY HAVE DIED”. Whoops. I told them I couldn’t figure out any other way to reach Challenger Point! I told them about my trip and Carol called me crazy- which I knew! I was so happy when she found me the next day through my blog and sent the kindest message.
A short climb later I was at the summit of Challenger Point, #54. Another summit I really didn’t think I was going to get. I had spent over an hour trying to figure out a way to get over there. Fortunately on the way back down I found the Kit Carson Avenue which lead around the backside of Kit Carson and met back up to where I originally climbed to get to Kit Carson Peak! No wonder I couldn’t figure it out! So now all of you know! After climbing Kit Carson Peak, climb back down the way you came up and make your way to the right and you can’t miss the Kit Carson Avenue! Climbing down the west face of Kit Carson was probably one of the scariest moments of my entire journey- I do not recommend it!
My body was getting very tired at this point, but I still had a long journey ahead of me to make it back to my camp. I had given up on the idea of climbing Crestone Peak that day as I was running out of steam and daylight. Thankfully, the wind had also died down a lot which made the hike much more enjoyable on the way back. Unfortunately once I made it back to Obstruction Point, I couldn’t find any of the cairns I so easily followed on the way in, and had to make my own way back through the Bears Playground. It was much rockier and I was having to climb through many boulders which were unstable and threw me around, but eventually I made my way fairly unharmed to Point 13,290 and then back to camp.
I had started at 8:25am that morning and didn’t arrive back at camp until 6:25pm that night and immediately I curled up in my warm sleeping bag and went to sleep, anxious, but more confident about bagging my final fourteener, Crestone Peak.
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: 14,003 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: Northwest Slopes
- Distance: 6.5 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.
- Time started: 12:05pm
- End time: 3:30pm
- Time to Summit: 2 hours
- Time to Descent: 1 hour and 15 minutes
- Overall Pace: 1.8 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, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: My Saturn sedan made it all the way to the upper 4WD trailhead. However, I did bottom out a couple times, but my car is okay!
- Trail Condition: It had just rained the previous two nights, but the trail was only damp. 99% free of mud. There was also a little bit of snow collecting in the last 500 feet of elevation. The trail is easy to follow and is a series of switchbacks the entire way. It was a nice, easy hike. However, it was windy and cold.
Before I took off for Aspen, I stopped into REI and without any hesitation, they took my warn out hiking boots and told me to pick out another. It’s possible that I might be getting a stress fracture in my right foot, so I took my time with the shoe’s salesman and he helped me pick out the best pair and fit. It ended up being a pair of Keens and I bought inserts to offer extra cushion and support. It didn’t surprise me that I chose a pair of Keens, I love my summer sandals that are made for hiking in wet conditions.
As I drove to Aspen, I realized that I had forgotten to make a reservation for Maroon Bells. I tried to find an open slot, and was unsuccessful. I dreaded the thought of sleeping in my car, plus it was illegal anywhere within the park. I stopped at the Forest Ranger Station in Aspen but it had moved to a new location. I called them and asked them how I could legally camp outside of the park. They stated these two things:
- Has to be 1/4 mile away from a road.
- Has to be 100 feet away from water.
I think there was a third, but I can’t remember. She also advised me to check in on the campsites in person at the park as there may be one open. I followed her advice and was happy to find that campsite number one was open for the next two nights! “Perfect!” I thought. But while I was in town, I also took the time to check out the weather, and the forecast was horrid. Rain all night both nights into the morning. Rain in town, meant snow on the mountain. It completely changed my mood. I couldn’t help but feel unsure and anxious of what to do if it didn’t work out.
After I had just slipped my payment into the box, I noticed a large, black animal walking down the road a couple hundred feet away. It was a bear! I was so excited to actually see one! I hopped in my car and drove close enough to get a picture before it disappeared into the woods again- but it was heading in the direction of my campsite! I sat in my car a few minutes and just as I predicted he came back out on the road that lead to my campsite. He was sniffing wildly at the air and made his way to the dumpster right behind my car. He couldn’t get in, and then wondered to my trunk. Thankfully, he didn’t give it much attention and walked right past my window to the bear lock box. Once he couldn’t get in there, he meandered back into the forest, right through my campsite. I waited about ten minutes and then started to set up my tent cautiously. Somehow I still felt safe enough and that I wouldn’t be bugged by the bear anymore.
It rained all through the first night, and was still raining when my alarm clock went off at 6am, 7am and 8am. I was too scared to climb. Not only afraid of the snow, wet rocks and wind, but now it seemed too late in the day. I can’t explain the feeling I get when this sort of thing happens. Somehow, I feel stuck, and trapped and overwhelmed with anxiety and hopelessness. I was going to be set back another day. I was anxiously eating the whole evening and woke up sick to my stomach from eating too much.
For some reason, I was in a funk. Visiting my friend in Boulder reminded me of all my failed dating attempts and feelings of inadequacy. He was also doing well financially and was staying at a beautiful, luxurious place and I couldn’t help but feel like a disaster. I felt lonely. Sad to lose my hiking buddy, and overwhelmed with panic and homesickness with the changing season.
I love the fall. The leaves changing, orange pumpkins, the delicious pies, heart warming chili, fireplaces, football parties, warm sweaters and cute boots, apple orchard visits, Halloween and time with family. It still brings tears to my eyes… I’m missing it. I’m also missing one of the most important moments in my life: the birth of my nephew, Logan. He was born yesterday and all I want to do is hold him and kiss him and tell him I love him.
All these feelings made me reach for the things that used to once comfort me, but also brought me nothing but pain and regret: food. I drove back into town and spent $20 on binge foods and sat in my car most of the day bingeing and watching “Breaking Bad”. I don’t know why I didn’t call anyone. Sometimes it’s more painful. Sometimes it is what it is and a phone call to a loved one can’t help. I was sad and depressed, and I just wanted to numb it all and have it go away.
This trip is getting harder each day with new challenges. But I try to remind myself with tears in my eyes that this is absolutely worth it. That this will all make me stronger. That this is a once in a life time opportunity and I can do this for a couple more weeks. I can! I can! I can! I will get it together!
While still in town, I threw away all the foods that had been tempting me. I headed back to my tent still feeling quite melancholy, and tried to sleep. The next morning when my alarm went off at 6am, it was raining. 7am, raining. 8am, still raining! Instead of wasting yet another day, I made the quick decision to head to the Sawatch Range where I knew I could still get Huron Peak done that day. It was only 6.5 miles long if I could make it all the way to the trailhead and it was only a class 2 so their wouldn’t be a risk of a fall if it was wet and slippery.
I packed up my soaked tent (which leaked on me a little bit) and still being in a funky mood, I stopped at a gas station and bought way too much food. The drive through Independence Pass was gorgeous with so many trees and shrubs turning bright yellow and red. Normally I’d stop and take pictures, but I didn’t have the desire; I was still feeling down in the dumps which often kills the impact nature usually has on me.
My car had managed to make it all the way to the 4WD trailhead with a couple incidents of bottoming out. My poor car… it takes such a beating and yet she does so well. So far on this trip I’ve popped two tires, broke my ABS breaks, broke off my side review mirror (taped back on with hot pink duct tape) and broke my cruise control (ooooh how I miss it). It’ll be a miracle if it lasts another year- or a couple weeks.
I headed out on the trail at 12:05pm with my new boots on and a sky full of clouds. The forecast only said rain and I was willing to get a little rained on for the forward momentum of getting peak number 45 under my belt. I turned on my music and tried to tune into my familiar songs and the views of the enchanting forest, but I couldn’t shut out the thoughts about how fat I was feeling and how messed up I must be for no one wanting to date me.
My eating disorder has been loud since Pikes Peak. The most frequent thoughts being, “You’ll never be this fit or little ever again. Remember Cory? He didn’t want to move forward with dating you because of your body. You should have lost way more weight than you have on this trip with all the activity you’re doing- you’re such a fatty. Look, you’re already gaining weight and you’re not even done, yet.” And the voice of inadequacy saying, “You can’t even get someone to date you more than a week. What’s wrong with you? There’s something wrong with you…”
They are there, and now I can’t get them to shut up. Every word seems like truth. All these feelings and what action do I want to take? I just want to stop eating. I want to lose weight. I want to stop the voice of rejection and inadequacy and this seems like the answer.
Recovery is hard. Loving as if you’ve never been hurt is hard.
Thankfully, the wind started to blow like it did on Longs Peak and took my mind off of my defeating thoughts. It was making it so cold, but I could now see the summit and it wasn’t that far away. Near 13,600 feet, I ran into a girl who had to stop because she was having problems with altitude sickness. I felt so bad… She was so close! But she responded, “I’m okay here. The pikas and marmots are playing and are really entertaining!” “Wow”, I thought. I don’t think I’d be as content as her.
At the summit I ran into her two hiking buddies. On one hand they were kind enough to take my picture, but on the other hand one of them lit a cigarette. He asked if I wouldn’t tell his wife on the way down, but I kind of wanted to! He was polluting the summit and ruining my experience! Not only that, my cold was still present and I already couldn’t stop coughing! It was so cold and windy at the summit that I didn’t spend much time there and followed the two men back down.
Soon, I was jogging down the mountain wanting to get to Buena Vista faster, but my ankle gave out and I took a hard fall. I sat there for a moment in pain and one of the men came up behind me to help me up. We spent the next half hour talking about our hikes we had done. He was from Virginia and had climbed about 12 of them. He was trying to climb as many as he could while he was out here and luckily the altitude wasn’t bugging him.
Once we caught up to Kristen (the hiker that was dealing with altitude sickness), we parted ways. Their third was still far up the mountain and they were going to wait for him. They were so kind, and asked me to join them for dinner in Leadville, but I was heading to Buena Vista, more so, I didn’t want to eat.
By the time I got to my car, my feet were killing me. Both balls of my feet were. I think my new boots were on too tight, but it worries me as I’m supposed to climb Mount Antero tomorrow which is a 16 mile hike- nearly three times longer than today’s hike. We’ll see how it goes. As I drove away from Huron Peak, I could tell I was in a slightly better mood. I could appreciate the changing leaves and couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.
Near the freeway I had to stop because a family of Rams were crossing the road! For the first time I got to see a baby ram. It was pretty cute! I can only hope that my spirits continue to improve and that I won’t be beating myself up again all day. Pray for me in this and that my feet will last the 16 miles tomorrow!
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.