My mom and I were concluding our wonderful time together celebrating my victory and were now getting ready to leave the next day, but I had this thought that kept circling in my head, “Should I call the news stations? Should I try to share my story??” The fear of rejection had kept me from calling since I had finished.. a fear that has held me back countless times in my life.
I decided I’d take the chance to prove to myself that I could work past my fears. After all, I had already done it so many times on this trip already. I knew it was better to keep rolling with my new found courage and “just try” as I had been doing and had said this entire trip.
As I nervously sat in the hotel lobby, I called the first news station and left a voicemail. My voice was undeniably shaky. I was so nervous about what to say…but by my third and fourth call my voice had found its strength and 9News on the spot asked if I could be featured as an exclusive on the largest news network in Colorado. I couldn’t believe it!! They actually cared!! They thought it was important! It just goes to show that God was once again by my side and even though I called multiple news stations, He opened the right doors for my story to be heard by as many people as possible in the state of Colorado!
Now I know it’s important to realize that even if I wasn’t contacted by a news station, that didn’t mean it wasn’t important, but I was floored that I was going to have the opportunity to share my story where it would be heard by thousands. All I wanted, more than anything was to inspire others and here was my chance.
I quickly walked down the hotel hall and burst open the door to tell my mom that I was actually going to be on the news!! Her play it safe reaction, surprised me. It was as if she and I both couldn’t let it sink in that this was actually going to happen.
We waited a couple hours for a reporter to call us and she arranged for us to meet Steve Staeger that very day! Now it was official- we had a place, a time and a date! Immediately we called my dad to tell him the news. He was also very even keeled about the appearance and was maybe a little disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to watch it since he was still in Minnesota.
I got ready the best I could with what little clothes I had and headed to Golden where we would be taping. Normally in an instance such as this I know in the past I would have drove myself absolutely mad to get as thin as possible for something as huge as this. I’d be completely consumed with looking “fat” and afraid of people’s judgments. I’d also make sure my nails were manicured, my makeup was perfect and my hair was freshly highlighted- but there was no time for any of this. But instead of shutting down or driving myself crazy, I simply accepted myself for what I was, and focused on the grand picture. “This isn’t even about me, this about being a light and hope to others! This is my moment to honor God! This is what today is about!”
As we pulled up around the corner I could see the 9News truck and the set. I couldn’t believe it was set up for little ol’ me! It was such a surreal moment in my life.
Steve Staeger came to greet me along with the camera man (who I regrettably cannot remember his name). They were so cheerful and kind. I took a seat in the director chair and they hooked me up with the mic. I was ready, and surprisingly not very nervous.
They asked me a series of questions and I did my best to be as concise as possible. Afterwards we talked more about how they were even inspired to climb the mountains! They assured me it would be on the 9 and 10pm news that night, wished me well and just like that, it was over.
That night my mom and I snuggled up in our beds hours before the newscast just to be sure we wouldn’t miss a second. As the last TV show ended, and the news came on, my face flashed across the screen and mom and I looked at each other in awe and broke into giggles. It was amazing!! Previous to this, my goal was to simply be in the background of a newscast- now I was a feature!!
We had no idea what to expect from my interview. Even though the interview was more than an hour long, we knew there was the possibility of it only being a minute long. But right before the newscast would break for a commercial, they would say something to the effect of, “Stayed tuned” and talk about my story! I was the hook of the whole news hour!
Finally the time came for my story to be shown. I was so happy with what they had done with it and couldn’t believe how long they made it to be! There were just two things that I wished were different:
- I struggled with bulimia. They left that out and instead said exercise bulimia. If that were the case- this journey would have been very adverse to recovery as it was an excessive amount of exercise at times. While it is true that my eating disorder morphed from exercise bulimia to full blown bulimia, exercise currently is an area that I have a lot of balance in and was an area I was in control over before I left for my trip. There were comments on the news page specifically talking about this and while it’s disappointing, I know that I just need to keep pressing forward and know that I’m becoming more free of this disease!
- They left out the spiritual aspect of my journey 😦 While I know that people will experience God through my blog, I wish they would have left in how important He was on my journey because I sincerely couldn’t have done this without Him and the doors He opened for me.
The very next day I heard from people back in Minnesota that my story was on Kare11 news! Then a week later I heard I was in the Denver Post! Overall, it was an incredible experience that has left me with an insatiable hunger to want to serve God and to serve others by being a voice of hope. Many of you have voiced that I should write a book and that’s what I plan to do! I am so excited for this next part of my journey but also know it will prove to be another test in my recovery as I’m sure the process could cause stress which I’m still learning to deal with in healthy ways. God bless you and thank you for your encouragement!
- 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.
A Certain “Snake” Mountain
- 18.45 miles round trip
- Total Elevation Gain: Around 6,000 feet with elevation regain
- Start Time: 6:10pm
- End Time: 3:05am
- Overall Pace: 2.2 miles per hour
On my off day after climbing/riding Mount Lindsey, I spent some time at the library frantically looking for directions on how to climb up Crestone Peak and Kit Carson/Challenger from the Spanish Creek Trail. None of the books had much to offer and neither did anything online. While I would love to be a pioneer, and make great directions for this route, I’m running out of time! It was Wednesday, and my mom was coming on Monday. I was crossing my fingers that Alix’s book would have something better, but it didn’t either. I was so incredibly nervous to climb these mountains using this route; but using any other route would double or triple my mileage and my body and mental capacity was just about tapped out.
Wednesday night I went to what I thought was the Spanish Creek Trailhead. All signage had been taken down by the surrounding Buddhist Shrines who own the land. They are doing everything they can to discourage hikers from using the trail. I hadn’t realized this until I was reading about it that day, and really didn’t want to have to drive all the way back to the other trailhead and even more so, I really didn’t want to have to hike all the extra miles so I headed to the Spanish Creek Trailhead anyways.
I set up my tent, and with major butterflies in my stomach I tried to get some sleep. Every time I have had butterflies like this, something usually goes wrong… and my intuition was once again, right. The next day I woke up and somehow my phone batteries completely drained overnight. I didn’t want to leave until it was at least at 50% life again, which would take hours. Part of me did it so I could take pictures, but the larger part of me was procrastinating. I didn’t even know if I was at the actual trailhead. I had no idea what was ahead of me. No promise that I’d find my way. After all, I’ve gotten lost when I did have great pictures and directions!
Once my phone was at 70%, there were no more reasons to not hike and my procrastination had to come to an end. Off I went with my extremely heavy and uncomfortable overnight pack. I was planning on camping at 11,000 on the Spanish Creek Trail. From there it would only be seven miles to climb Kit Carson and Challenger, and only five miles to climb Crestone Peak. In the beginning, I was seeing the landmarks it was referring to. “Yes!” I thought, “I actually found the unmarked trailhead!” But soon the trail disappeared, but then I spotted a road- that disappeared. Then came a bridge and one way lead to a little Indian lady sitting in the forest, and the other way, again, lead to a dead end. I could kind of see a trail, but it was so overrun by thorny bushes (of course they were thorny) that I decided right then and there, “F-this.”
As I was trying to exit, I found another trail and I thought, “Maybe this is it”. It lead to a dirt road, “The directions never mentioned following a dirt road! Crap!” There were cairns everywhere on these half trails and I couldn’t tell if it was from the shrines or from fellow hikers who were as confused as I was. I followed the road and it lead to one of the shrines “Zen Centers”. The people looked at me with curiosity, “Where did she come from?” Already my shoulders were killing me and it had only been a half hour since I started. I was hating everything.
Once I reached my car, I just sat there for a while, “What the heck do I do now??” Alix was going to meet me the next day and at least I knew she could lead me in since she had done it before. I called her and she said she’d come up that night really late and we could decide what we wanted to do when she got there. Option one was to backpack in, and she could at least do Crestone Peak with me and I’d stay and camp while she headed out. Option two was to try to do all three in one day. It was possible, but we’d have to start really early.
While I was sitting and plotting in my car, I kept thinking about a certain mountain I hadn’t climbed. The closer I’ve gotten to finishing up the mountains, the more its been bugging me that I wouldn’t get to climb it before I left. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it the entire time I’ve been out here. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to tell people over and over again, “Yeah, I climbed them all, except for that one mountain”.
Instead of wasting the day, I decided I would just go for it. “I’ll figure it out when I get there. I just need to see it and the surroundings and I can make my decision then”. It was two and a half hours away, but I assured Alix I’d still come back late that night so we could take off early the next day. My plan was to do it completely in the dark and while driving I realized my hike was going to be twice as long as I originally thought. “Crap”, I was completely deflated, but I wasn’t going to leave without claiming it.
I decided I’d name this hike “Operation White Snake”. Some of you may know the Bible story about how Moses confronted the King and at one point, his staff turned into a snake. The magicians also made one appear, but the white snake of Moses ate it. If you’re following me here, I’m basically giving a big middle finger. You can’t stop this girl on a mission! Maybe someday, the mountain will be liberated like the Jews too (not by me of course, but maybe the government or something).
Once I realized that the hike could take six to eight hours, I decided to start hiking at 6pm instead of later when the sun would be down. I would already be getting back to Alix by 2 or 3am as it was. From the moment I started, all comfort or peace left me. I stayed close to the side of the road just in case I’d have to dive into the brush to avoid any confrontation.
As I walked further up the road, I was amazed by the ever changing sunset. These moments I knew, would soon be coming to an end. I kept my music off so I could hear any possible motor vehicle coming my way and as I listened vigilantly, I heard the grunts and squeals of elk. Because I grew up in a hunting family, I knew the sounds. I kept looking and looking for them, and finally I saw at least fifteen of them in a field. They were very aware that I was around and started to move further away from me, even though I was at least a quarter of a mile away.
As I continued further up the road, one jumped out the bushes right by me and scared me to death! They continued to grunt and call almost the whole time I was in the forest I’m sure, as warning to others that the “Big Bad Kristina” was around.
I kept my headlamp off for a while, still freaked out that a truck might come zooming around the corner. As I walked in the darkness, another loud galloping noise came from near by. I never saw it, but I was sure it was another elk. The sky was now black, and a silent thunderstorm was lighting up the sky in the distance behind the mountain. The elk continued to squeal and grunt to my left, then to my right. I was so creeped out! I grabbed my bear spray and for the first time, I kept it in my hand, armed and ready to go. A couple of times, while deep in thought I would accidentally set off the trigger and I must have jumped a foot off the ground each time.
As I reached an open field, I could see two pairs of glowing eyes staring at me with lightening across the sky behind them. I felt like I was living a scene from a horror movie. I blew my whistle, they wouldn’t move. I yelled, “Yah”- they still wouldn’t move. They just stared at me, never blinking. I took one step closer, and with that they slowly moved away, fading into the darkness. From that moment on, I was yelling “Yah” in my manliest voice every couple minutes until I finally reached my next destination.
Unfortunately, “Snake” Mountain, doesn’t have a path to follow from that point on. A challenge in itself when it’s light outside. Now I was going to have to do it in the dark?! At first I was marking spots to help me find my way back, but it was too time consuming, and I couldn’t find enough free rocks to keep it up. Looking behind me, I could see the city lights and I used them instead to measure whether or not I was drifting the wrong way.
While I was making great pace before (3 miles per hour), once I reached the hill I would have to climb to reach the ridge, it dramatically dropped. It was such a steep, steep hill. I was climbing 200 feet per one tenth of a mile. One hundred feet per tenth of a mile is hard, so I was constantly having to stop and breathe. I also had to constantly make sure I was on the right track and not drifting too far. As scared and nervous as I was in the forest, I was even more scared climbing up this hill, then summit and getting lost.
Once I finally reached the ridge, I could finally see the summit blacker than black against the moon lit sky. The storm, as I predicted moved on and was now lighting up the sky to the north. The moon was somewhat hidden in the remaining clouds, but was bright enough to help guide me along the ridge. It was by no means an easy ridge. For the majority of the time, I was having to balance from one boulder to the next. The wind was now picking up, and I made the mistake of only wearing my sweatshirt and the wind was cutting right through it. If it got any worse, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, or if I did, I’d be frozen and sick.
The ridge gained elevation, and then to my disgust, I lost elevation which I immediately had to reclimb. When I thought I was almost there, even knowing there was a false summit, I was surprised to see I still had quite a ways to go. It was eerie being on the mountain all alone. Once I reached the summit, I quickly took a photo of myself and started to head back down. Even with stopping for just a few moments, my hands were frozen and chills went up my spine.
I was trying to regain some speed with my slow ascent since the trailhead, but with the boulders, it just wasn’t possible. Thank God, I warmed back up and even my hands regained feeling. At times while climbing back down, it looked as if I was climbing down a dead end or cliff. My headlamp could only light about 20 feet ahead of me, and I had to trust that each step would eventually lead me safely back to my car. Much like life and how we have to trust God with our path and future.
I made my way down the uneven hill and tripped hard onto my knees and elbows, but was lucky that I was on a grassy patch vs. rocks. I was also lucky that it never happened in the dark near the cliffs. While one side was a soft grassy decline, the other side was cliffs, and that’s where the loosely defined trail was of course.
I got nervous as I got near the bottom of the hill because I couldn’t recognize the area in the dark, but I took out my GPS and could see the direction I needed to go to reach the stream. Down the next hill I went in sheer blackness, blindly trusting my resources I had to lead me back. Thankfully, it was good enough. With my GPS, and knowing the elevation I needed to cross the stream I found the next place I needed to get me back to my car.
It was now 1am in the morning, and I was tired, and my entire body hurt so I didn’t care about the possible animals in the forest. I was too sore to care. I figured they were all tucked in their nests and sleeping. I no longer could hear the calls of the elk. I tried to go down as quickly as I could carry myself, and twisted my ankle three painful times. The last time I lied there for a moment and shed a tear. “Am I done yet?! This sucks and this hurts, bad!” Two moments later I popped back up, wiped myself off the best I could and continued on in the darkness.
While I walked the last stretch another pair of glowing eyes were staring at me. Thankfully, the animal ran away into the woods right away and little specks of glowing orange on the side of the road would catch my attention as I made my way back to my car. I thought it was a piece of reflective glass until it flew up in my face! They were birds and the first time it happened, I screamed! The hike couldn’t have been more creepy!
Finally, I made it to my car at 3:05am! It was my mountain to claim! I could now say that I did climb all the official fourteeners! My face squeamed in discomfort from the long hike. I only sat once for a few minutes to drink water! My low back, feet, and legs wanted to fall off! I couldn’t imagine doing all three peaks in just a few hours.
As I drove to meet Alix, I only made it a half hour before I needed to pull over and just sleep where I was. I was dangerously tired- half dreaming while driving. As soon as I had service I texted Alix telling her that I would try to start driving again at 6am to meet her. When I awoke, I was still delusional so I fell back asleep until 8am. I received a text back from her informing me that our plans weren’t as flexible as I thought. She had wanted to start as early as possible because she only had today to climb, and there were storms developing. By the time I was nearly back in the town and near the Spanish Creek Trailhead, she backed out.
I tried apologizing profusely, explaining that I hadn’t realized it was going to be such a long hike, but it didn’t matter. I had lost my guide to get me up the Spanish Creek Trailhead. I was disappointed, a little mad at her, a little mad at myself for doing the “Snake” Mountain. What was I supposed to do now?!? I was at a complete loss… It was now Friday afternoon, and I had possibly 40 miles left to hike (vs.17 via the Spanish Creek) before Monday morning when I would get my mom. I was really actually nearly out of time, and I was too exhausted to hike Friday…
I don’t know if I can do it……
North Maroon Peak
- Height: 14,014 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 9.25 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
- Time started: 9:15am
- End time: 5:40pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours and 45 minutes
- Time to Descent: 3 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.2 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Microspikes, bear spray, helmet, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (100 oz or more), snacks.
- Road Condition: Black top; You will also have to pay to get into the park (even if you come in before they open, they check later in the day at the parking lot to see if you self-paid.
- Trail Condition: There is snow at from 13,300 feet on. It’s not deep, or that treacherous, but bring your microspikes just in case. Otherwise, from the start, it’s a beautiful walk through the forest. At the point where you would turn left to Crater Lake, you’ll turn right to head towards North Maroon. There is a junction at 10,800 marked by a cairn that will lead you down to the creek. From there, the real hiking begins. Hike up a series of boulder steps that turns into talus rock. Once around 11,500 feet, cross the boulder field to the upper break in the cliff side. The gullies are not typical gullies that I’ve been in. There isn’t much scree or loose rock, and there’s a fairly good trail leading the whole way in both “gullies”. Once at the notch at 13,200 feet, you’ll need to use more body strength to pull yourself up higher and higher, for the rest of the way. When you get to the chimney, you can go further to the left and climb up some other rocks to avoid the chimney. You’ll cross over two tall square shaped rocks. This whole area is kind of a blur honestly. It was exhausting. You will go through some snow, so have your microspikes.
After finishing up my blog entry for Pyramid, I checked my email and had one from the fundraiser page I had set up. Because I hadn’t heard anything, I thought I hadn’t raised anything or that I hadn’t set it up right. Once I confirmed the account, I was astonished at the amount people contributed to my cause! I immediately tried to call my mom to tell her the good news, but when I couldn’t get a hold of her, I went outside with tears of joy welling up in my eyes and dropped to my knees to a bench outside of the Starbucks in Aspen. I didn’t care if anyone saw, I had to thank God, and I had to pray for blessings for each person that gave. I’m relieved to say that I don’t have to worry about finances for the rest of the trip! That burden has been lifted off my shoulders and now I can eat good, warm meals and have gas to get me back home! God bless each of you!!
After my time in Aspen, I headed back to the Maroon Bells Park, and saw a sign that the campgrounds were completely full. I checked them out anyway, and to my luck, there was one campsite still awaiting its campers. I waited until 9pm, and when they still weren’t there, I made the risky decision to set up my tent there instead, fully ready to move ASAP if they had arrived. Once again to my luck, the campers never showed up. I had actually been lucky with this happening at this park two other occasions.
I left for my hike at 9:15am, and didn’t spend any time taking pictures at the beautiful lake as I had taken quite a few the previous day, including pictures at sunset. I wanted to climb North Maroon as quickly as possible so I could get to San Luis Peak that same night. I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d be able to climb the next day as my foot was usually very sore, but I was going to try anyways so I could join a reader from my blog.
I was making a really great pace and when everyone was turning to go to Crater Lake, I turned right up the far less popular trail to the treacherous North Maroon Peak instead. To my surprise, there was a gentleman waiting on the rock for his partner. His name was Rick and we talked for a while about the hike he was going to do, and about the fourteeners. Him and his wife were from Missouri and were telling me all about Telluride and how I must go visit there. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll have the time this trip. They wished me luck and safe passage and I carried on down to the stream that would mark the start of a much more taxing hike.
At first it was lovely boulder steps guiding me, but soon that gave way to smaller talus which I knew my ankles were going to hate on the way down. The area was alive with little critters and birds. Pikas were “meeping” with anger at the nearby marmots to leave their territory, but the marmots paid them no attention and continued to sun themselves on the rocks.
Once reaching the top of this field, I reached another boulder field. For a tip, head to the upper break in the cliff, not the lower. The picture from 14ers.com makes it difficult to tell. As I balanced boulder to boulder I couldn’t help but stop and be amazed by the green sparkles on rocks. I had been looking for the perfect turquoise rock to give Ginger, my mom’s friend who has been supporting me the trip. She was joking about me bringing her one home, but I found one! It’ll be a fun little surprise unless she ends up reading this entry!
The trail was very easy to follow despite 14ers.com warning that there would be a lot of route finding. I never checked my directions until I reached the upper notch at 13,200 feet. The views as I climbed higher and higher up the gullies grew increasingly beautiful. I was looking forward to seeing the painted valley and lakes from the opposite side of Pyramid.
Although the trail was easy to follow, it was exhausting. Constantly climbing, taking large steps and hoisting myself up boulders to get higher and higher. I must have not eaten enough the previous day because I kept getting lightheaded, felt weak, and was constantly hungry. Once I reached the notch at 13,200 feet, I thought I was in the home stretch. Boy, was I wrong.
The technical climbing was just beginning and was intense. It took much of my focus and strength- hence barely any pictures until I was right below the summit. Right when I thought I was nearing the summit, I realized it was still a small hump in the far off distance. Higher and higher I went pulling myself up and solving puzzles to get to the summit. I had never felt so physically exhausted.
When I previously came to Aspen I had to leave because it rained all night, two nights in a row. I decided to finish up the Sawatch Range instead because I didn’t feel comfortable climbing class 4 mountains when they were wet and most likely covered in snow. Even a week later, with perfect weather, the snow didn’t melt and I was now carefully navigating my way around it, careful not to slip. I was grateful to a reader of my blog for buying me micro-spikes and they came in handy.
It was a lovely sight to see little birds playing in the snow when I was feeling so crappy otherwise. Just below the summit I said to a bird thinking I was utterly alone, “I’m so tired lil’ birdy!” Then a head popped over the summit and said cheerfully, “Hello!” I fumbled my way to the summit and he gave me a high five upon my arrival. I collapsed on a nearby rock and we started a conversation. His name was David and he had just finished doing the class 5 traverse, and it was as sketchy as it sounded.
After about 5 minutes he started to make his way down the same way I came up, but I sat at the summit for a while to recover. That’s when I discovered I was out of water! I thought I had plenty of water left from Pyramid, but I was wrong. Thirsty from the trek up, I had finished all my PowerAde just moments before. I couldn’t believe I could make such a stupid mistake! How careless! I knew I would be physically fine, but I also knew I would be uncomfortably thirsty the whole way down.
Pushing those feelings aside, I pulled out a sign I had made. Yesterday morning, I had the bright idea to dedicate my last mountains. For my first, I would be dedicating of course, my mom and dad, family and friends. While most of my family didn’t support my choice to do this, they did love me anyways. Now that I’m getting closer to the finish, everyone is rooting me on! My friends, especially Laura and Tammy were all about it right from the start even though they were going to miss me. They have been a source of great comfort while I’ve been away and have really made the effort to keep me in the loop and to cheer me up when I was feeling blue. My parents, while they are parents and they may feel obligated to support me, didn’t have to, and paid for my broken phone, sent me food, helped pay for the family vacation in Montana and more. While they didn’t support me at the start, my mom especially has been my biggest pusher for finishing them all!
After all my pictures on the summit I started to make my way down and ran back into David. He had used ropes to get down a chimney and had to leave one of them there as an anchor. I asked if he wanted it back and threw it to him. I showed him the way I went without having to use any ropes at all. He laughed at not knowing that route was there as he had climbed this mountain a couple of times. At first we kept making our way down separately, but soon enough we were going down together having a great conversation.
As usual, he asked about me climbing the fourteeners, and how many I had done and that lead into my story. Eventually that lead into my faith and he stated, “I knew it. I knew there was a reason you were so easy to talk to!” Once again God opened up a door to hear each other’s testimonies and vulnerabilities. He said it was refreshing to talk about this verses bow hunting or fishing or other things guys usually talk about on their way down. I joked, “Yeah, I don’t stay in shallow waters for very long”!
Time flew as we made our way down. David was an avid trail runner competing in multiple 100 mile races! As it turned out, he was also a blogger and as I was using my journey as a platform and avenue for outreach, so was he. He had been doing it for a while and was now gaining sponsers and coaches to help him train for races. This past year he did four 100 miles races at the age of 46. I would have never guessed that he was that age.
He tries to set the example to others to find their “thing”, which is a great thought! Why, when I think of surfing, do I think that I’m getting too old!? Find your passion, and never stop growing! I don’t want to be restricted to only taking walks and riding a bicycle because I’m “50”. I hope I play volleyball, continue to hike, surf, climb; do all those things until God says I’ve had enough! If you’re not in “shape”, slowly work your way back- but don’t roll over to new exciting avenues of adventure!
I couldn’t believe that we were back at the parking lot after only 3 hours! It had taken me nearly 5 hours to go up North Maroon! I felt so much better coming down, and David was kind enough to give me a water bottle to quench my thirst. Unfortunately, while coming down, just as I predicted, my ankles didn’t like the talus rock, and I rolled my ankle hard. I love the idea of being a trail runner, and David encouraged me, but I just couldn’t see myself being that successful with my weak ankles. While they may get strengthened a little from a successful day on the rocks, usually the next day I end up rolling it and weakening it all over again.
I met David over at his van to recoop for a while and was amazed at his set up inside! He had a bed, and a desk with a TV! He was a contractor and was constantly moving around from state to state, so it only made sense. He loved the freedom it provided and I would have to agree! When I told David I couldn’t afford ice, he reached in the front of his car and gave me some money- again, the kindness of God overwhelms me. I thanked him for his company and kindness, exchanged information to stay up on each other’s blogs, and said goodbye. As I drove away I couldn’t help but feel so happy and accomplished for climbing all but Conundrum Peak in the Elk Mountains. People die all the time on these mountains, but somehow I had been allowed to successfully climb each of them, the first time around. To the Glory of God, Amen!
San Luis Peak
- Height: 14,014 ft.
- Range: San Juan Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 13.5 miles (the trail will say it’s only 11, but it’s wrong)
- Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.
- Time started: 2:25pm
- End time: 8:15pm
- Time to Summit: 3 hours and 5 minutes
- Time to Descent: 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Overall Pace: 2.4 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: A sedan can make it all the way to the trailhead just fine. DO NOT EXCEED THE SPEED LIMIT ON THE DIRT ROAD! I traveled the road in the dark and an unexpected turn nearly did me in. There are no warnings. 15GG WILL TURN INTO 14DD otherwise known as 794. Stay on the more defined road the whole way to the trailhead; there are many turn offs, and not much signage at all.
- Trail Condition: No snow at this point. There is some mud, but not enough to slow you down. The trail is an easy one to follow and is dirt almost the entire time until you get to the saddle at 13,100 feet. Then you’ll be in small rock, and talus the remainder of the hike.
I couldn’t have anticipated it, but it took nearly 6 hours to get to San Luis Peak trailhead from Aspen. I was trying to get to San Luis Peak so I could hike the next day with Sheryl a woman who reads my blog, and her friend. Along the way, I thought my GPS was misleading me because it wasn’t lining up with the written directions from 14ers.com. It turns out it was leading me correctly, but it was too late. I had already backed out of my phone GPS, and didn’t have service to route me again. That made it quite interesting in the blackness of the night. It made me uncomfortable that I was two hours away from any kind of service. What if something went wrong with my car??
I was driving a little fast on the dirt road, maybe 50 miles per hour. The speed limit was 45 miles per hour and out of nowhere a big turn came in the road and I lost control of my car. With one hand still holding my phone (to get a better look at the roads as it was my map) and the other on the steering wheel, I could tell my car could have flipped over, but thankfully I just swerved outside the road into some brush, and straightened back out. I couldn’t believe what had just happened- my phone was still in my hand… As I continued driving in slight shock, “Jesus take the wheel” came to mind, funny enough. I realized how lucky I was that there wasn’t a fence or tree or boulder there to wreck my car.
From then on I drove no faster than 30 miles per hour. To add to my stress, the road 15GG I was supposed to stay on eventually was blocked off by a gate! “It’s supposed to take me to the trailhead… what the f*#$!?” I was more than frustrated and stressed. Was it closed for the season? Was I going to have to hike from here?? It would be 30 miles round trip! The other road that continued was 14DD and just to see where it went I stayed on it. Thank God, it lead to the trialhead. I love 14ers.com, but this is a detail worth noting! I also don’t recommend driving the road at night.
I was anxious to end the long day and found a place to set up my tent just before the trailhead and awoke the next day around 8am unable to sleep any later. It was a beautiful, warm autumn day, but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feelings about being so far out in the middle of nowhere. The previous night I had received a text from Sheryl saying that they were planning on climbing Mount Sneffels before meeting me at San Luis Peak. Not having service to confirm anything, I decided I’d wait until 2pm before I’d set out on my own.
I did all kinds of things that afternoon, but eventually it was 2pm and I was growing increasingly restless. I was bummed, but I didn’t know if they realized they were in over their heads and just weren’t coming, or if they were still going to come, but not until it was getting too late. So by 2:25pm I headed out on the trail and headed towards the brightly colored aspen trees in the distance.
As I got closer, I realized there was actually a lot of water, almost like a marsh. The trail was wet in some places, but not too bad. In the beginning, the trail was actually kind of ugly. All the pine trees were dead and had lost all their needles. The walk through the woods was easy, but again, kind of ugly. But then I had the thought, “I need to find the beauty. I know it’s here”.
I wanted to limit the time I’d be hiking in the dark so I didn’t slow down to take many pictures in the beginning, but then I made it to the willows. The willows now had these fuzzy, white puff balls all over them and was actually beautiful and I couldn’t help but stop and take photos. For some reason a memory of a flower fixture in our basement growing up with pussy willows in it came to mind. In my mind, they were just these made up silly things, but now I was seeing where they came from for the first time.
The trail remained easy to follow and easy to walk on all the way to the saddle which was exactly what I needed after climbing North Maroon. However, I still couldn’t tell which mountain peak I would be climbing. As I climbed higher, I finally saw the true summit which looked like it was forever away. The trail marker at the start of the hike said that it was 5.5 miles to the peak, and I was ecstatic because 14ers.com said it was 13.5 miles. Well, unfortunately, 14ers.com was right, and it is 13.5 miles long.
I kept looking back behind me to see if there were two more hikers coming, but no such luck. Once I reached the saddle at 13,100 feet, the wind picked up. Until then I had been wearing a tank top because it was so sunny and warm! Once behind the mountain on the saddle (the one I thought I was climbing) the wind calmed down once again but the trail was now shale and not as easy to walk on which aggravated my left ankle. The wind once again picked up around the other side of the mountain to the right and I was stuck in the strong wind until I finally reached the summit.
Thankfully, as usual, it was more calm on the summit. I pulled out my first sign I made for the summit which stated, “Dedicated to the men and women I’ve met along the way in treatment and to those I’ve never met fighting for their lives against their eating disorder”. This is so important to me that they know that I’m no only doing this for myself, but for them. My prayer is that my example, although not perfect, will encourage them to chase after something bigger than their eating disorder. It’s been a huge reason for me to even want recovery. I had to somehow dream of what life could be like again instead of the nightmare of never recovering. I can’t explain how hard it is to overcome something like this, but to those of you who are trying, never, ever give up- ever. God has a plan for you. Don’t let the devil hold you down from the life God intended for you.
The second sign was for my cousin Cody, and his bride Michelle. I mentioned before that I was trying my best to finish this journey before their wedding so I could be there, but obviously, it’s not the case. I at least wanted to let them know that I was thinking of them and wanted to honor them with my journey. After taking the pictures I quickly started to head back down. I was so cold now and needed the body heat to warm me back up as the sun was now starting to set.
I turned my music back on and at a good pace made my way back down through the wind and shale to the saddle. Once there, I could hear screaming voices over my music. I turned off my music which confirmed I was hearing voices further down the mountain! It was Sheryl and her hiking partner! I hurried down to them and immediately gave Sheryl a hug! It was so nice to meet her, and it was nice not to feel so alone in the middle of nowhere! I met her hiking buddy Kelly who looked a whole lot like Olivia Wilde and we stopped for a quick conversation.
They had arrived at the trailhead at 4pm. I was so bummed I had missed them! I could tell right away that they were a lively, fun pair of women, and it would have been such an enjoyable hike! They knew they were going to be hiking in the dark and were hoping to hike with me because I had the Spot device. I told them to stop by my tent on their way out so I would know that they made it back safely. If not, I’d then send a message out for help. I wished them luck and to have fun and we continued our separate ways.
While on my way down, I noticed at least a couple dozen arrows that were made out of twigs and drawn out in dirt. The trail seemed straight forward enough, but when it’s pitch black, everything helps. I decided to slow down to take more photos. I wanted to find the beauty of San Luis and boy did I ever! The florescent red, purple and green leaves, cherry red berries, magically twisted trees, the blue and pink sunset, the rushing creek and fluffy white dandelions glowing in the moon’s light captivated me until I was in complete darkness.
I hadn’t been in the forest at night for a long time now and was finding myself once again freaked out by the unknown. Shadows looked like bears, and rustling leaves tricked me into believing I was being stocked by a mountain lion. “Do they still have enough food available for them during this time of year?” I questioned. I moved as quickly as I could through the forest once it was dark. My ankle from the roll the previous day was aching and my right ball of my foot was acting up. I was ready to be done. While it was a short hike time wise, it was the furthest hike I had done in a while.
It felt like I was in the forest forever and thought I would feel better once I reached the open field, but I was wrong. Every large rock dimly lit by the moon looked like a sleeping bear and I had my music going as loud as possible to warn anything else alive besides me. I was now jogging looking for my car to show up at the side of the road, but it wouldn’t come.
Finally, I saw a glimmer from steel and I knew I was almost back. My active imagination told me I was in danger so when I made it back to my car, I was a happy girl! Instead of going to my tent, I decided I’d stay and watch for Sheryl and Kelly to come back. I was editing my pictures when I looked up and saw two headlamps bouncing in the distance! I flashed my lights at them and honked my horn to signal, “You’re almost there!” and soon enough they were back with me at our cars.
We talked for a while about the different fourteeners and I asked them about the arrows on the trail, and as I suspected, they had made them all! We also discussed some of my blog which was really neat to hear someone say, “Oh yeah, I remember you writing that!” I asked them how they met, which was a really cool story! They both previously lived in Virginia (I think…), were in the same city, and in the same running group, but never met each other! They actually met in Colorado and discovered they had a lot of mutual friends and put it together. Their friendship was clearly a gift from God. Moving anywhere can be scary and lonely, God provided them friendship right away with common roots. It’s just like Alix and I! Although we weren’t originally from the same place, God knew we were after the same things and aligned our paths to meet. God, is a God who cares!
While I was going to camp another night at the base of San Luis, Sheryl and Kelly were going to drive at 10pm at night to Buena Vista. They had drove 5 hours the previous night, hiked Mount Sneffels at 5am the next day, then San Luis Peak, and were now driving another three and a half hours! People think I’m motivated and intense! Kelly had a wedding the next day, so that’s why they were smooshing it all together. I suppose it’d be something I’d do too if I weren’t already constantly climbing mountains. We hugged and said our good-byes and I was grateful for meeting them, but sad I wouldn’t get another chance to hike with them before my journey was over. I headed to my thought knowing that I’d head to Alamosa where I’d rest before climbing my arch nemesis, Mount Lindsey.
- Height: 14,018 ft.
- Range: Elk Range
- Route: Northeast Ridge
- Distance: 14ers.com says 8.25 mi.; however my GPS said 10+ (died at 4.79 on descent and wasn’t even by Maroon Lake)
- Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
- Time started: 10am
- End time: 7:40pm
- Time to Summit: 5 hours and 10 minutes
- Time to Descent: 4 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.1 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, helmet, GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: Black top
- Trail Condition: The trail around Maroon Lake is slick and smooth. The turn off for Pyramid Peak is the first marked trail by a very large cairn. Once on that trail, it is marked on and off with a very rocky trail that could twist your ankle. Once your in the amphitheater, it only gets worse. My ankles were absolutely shot after this hike having to balance so much on jagged, rarely flat rocks. Don’t pay attention to the cairns, as much as just make your way to the steep gully. YOU CAN GO UP EITHER TO THE LEFT OR RIGHT! The trail is more defined on the left in my opinion. The gully is very steep with lots of dirt to make you slip. Once at the top of the saddle, follow the trail and once you get to 13,150-13,200, go to the LEFT around the backside of the mountain. The trail is more defined, easier, and you’ll avoid climbing in the dangerous snow (you should be able to avoid it by 99%). Keep your eyes out for the cairns and make sure you’re wrapping towards the backside of the mountain as you summit. The rock is solid, but there is a lot of free smaller rocks sitting on them that could cause you to slip.
- Minor detail, but expect to pay for entrance into the park.
After the realization that I now could hike until October 5th when my mom would arrive, I decided to take two days off when I arrived to Aspen. I was blessed yet again by a special new friend who bought me microspikes for the coming snow, and free goodies from the Starbucks in Aspen (Pumpkin Scone and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin both to die for). But I couldn’t shake the feelings of panic from my shrinking finances. Finances have always been a huge stressor in my life, and I’ve never lived above poverty line in my entire adult life. Stress, has always been a huge cause for my eating disorder to flair up as well… the devil was attacking me, and he was attacking me hard- finances were just the icing on the cake for him. I did manage to catch up on my blog on the two days off, but I spent the rest of the time numbing myself once again to “Breaking Bad”.
Thankfully, the day after I blogged, I took the next best step for myself and listened to my audio bible to help calm me and put me to sleep that night. I was going to hike the next day; I was ready to do it, and thankfully was starting to miss the mountains. I woke up in better spirits that morning and drove myself to the Maroon Bells parking lot that would lead me to Pyramid Peak. While I had warm oatmeal and coffee outside my car, a car pulled up next to me.
His name was Bruce and he was originally from Chicago and was here to take photos of the gorgeous Maroon Bells. He had taken pictures there every fifteen years and was back for another. We talked about a lot of things, mostly travel and my goal of climbing the fourteeners and his goal of visiting all of the national parks. He had retired and was giving me the solid advice to take care of myself so I could enjoy life fully, my whole life.
He went off to take pictures and I continued to take my time getting ready to hike. I figured it was going to take me about 9 hours to hike that day and knowing that I had a gorgeous day ahead of me, I was going to make sure I enjoyed my entire day, right from the start. Once I was finally ready I started to make my way to Maroon Lake. I couldn’t have expected to see such astounding beauty. It took my breath away. The crystal clear blue-green waters of Maroon Lake reflecting the lightly snow dusted Maroon Bell Mountains and the vibrant yellow Aspens glowing from the bright sun in the clear blue sky. I could have stayed there all day, but I knew there was a view waiting for me that few would see from the peak of Pyramid.
As I made my way, I ran back into Bruce and offered to take his photo. He was making his way to Crater Lake which was the same direction I was headed to reach the turn off for the Pyramid trail. We spent the next hour or so hiking with one another taking photos every couple minutes of the neon-yellow aspen leaves. Somehow we got on the subject of faith and I was happy to share some of the miracles I had experienced along the way. We talked about the hypocrisy that exists within the church and I couldn’t help but agree. It turns many people away from God, Bruce included. Somehow, despite my own negative experience as a child at church (being picked on, never finding a friend) I found my way back to God. I could only hope the same for Bruce. I wish I could have been bold enough to tell him:
People will always fail you. They will always come up short. Placing all your hope in people is too great of a burden to for them to carry; but there’s One who is capable of that burden, and He loves you very much. He has a plan for you and a plan to help you, not harm you.
People have been given free will. People like you and me have choices millions of times a day whether we will do something positive, or negative. God gave us this choice. Why? Because He wants us to choose Him, and His way on our own. A good father will let you fail, but a good father will also discipline those who He loves. People think that bad people get away with things all the time in this life. That’s just it- in this life, yes. But one day, they will have to answer to the ultimate Judge; the One who saw it all. It is in this day, justice will be ultimately be served.
I opened up to Bruce about the ultimate reason for my journey, and he couldn’t believe it. We opened up about our own journeys and trying to figure out our paths. I think I could see some of myself in Bruce, and he could see some of himself in me. I was sad when my junction came because I could have spoke to him all day. As we said goodbye, he reached into his backpack and gave me money. He usually doesn’t even carry that much with him, but for some reason he had that day. He said, “You’re doing something incredible and the last thing you should have to worry about is money.” I gave him a hug and we parted ways.
I turned on my music as I made my way up the side of the mountain leading to the amphitheater. It was now too quiet without Bruce’s company. Arriving, I couldn’t believe how massive it was. It looked as if it would take me hours to reach the gully on the other end. The amphitheater was full of boulders of every size, shape and color. It really was beautiful and I was so thankful that there finally was also no wind! I reached the gully much quicker than I expected and it looked so steep. I was nervous about my foot because I knew I’d have to use the ball of my foot to help me get up it and it was still sore. The gully seemed to go on and on forever as I climbed, but thankfully my foot was holding up.
Once I reached the ridge I could see the surrounding mountains that I had already climbed and the stunning aspen down below. While looking at the summit of Pyramid, I realized there was a mountain goat sunning itself on the rocks. I was so happy to see them again! He didn’t allow me to get too close and jumped up to the higher surrounding rocks. He stopped and watched me with curiosity, “Why are you up here?”.
I grabbed my directions once I reached 13,200 feet. I couldn’t tell which way to go next and didn’t know exactly where I was. All I could do was follow the cairns I could see and the first ones I could see lead around to the right. I climbed and pulled and scooted my way around the rocks with high exposure down below me later realizing I should have gone left. Regardless, I found my way back on track and tried out some James Bond moves hoping across shallow crevasses. As I crossed a thin ledge, I heard a voice. There were three young men and a dog (on a class 4?!) coming down from the summit.
They stopped and one of them talked to me for a while. As we talked a family of mountain goat stopped to stare at our interaction from above. They looked so beautiful with the sun and clouds behind them. One of the men had climbed all the fourteeners including doing all the sketchy traverses. I told him about Culebra and he told me that I could still do it for free if I did “Operation Black Snake”. The hike would include going over thirteen peaks! He did it with his friend and said it was exhaustive. The whole hike had somewhere around 13,000 feet of elevation gain. I had emailed the ranch explaining my situation, but I never heard back from them… now I was seriously considering this as an option- if I felt like it at the end (which I kind of doubt).
We congratulated one another and then parted ways and I continued to the “green rock” which I was instructed to climb. I had to improvise somewhat as the mountain goats were kicking down small rocks as they moved further up the mountain. For the remainder of the hike I was climbing up very steep rock using my entire body strength to pull myself up higher and higher. Somehow I got off track somewhat and went too far to the right and ended up hiking in some wet, snowy rocks. Advice? Start making your way to the left as you near the top of the green rock. If you’re hiking soon, you should be able to avoid the snow almost all together.
I still couldn’t understand where I was when looking at the 14ers.com pictures once I reached around 13,650 feet, so I continued to follow the cairns. There were multiple cairns leading to two different ascents, but they are both on the back side of the mountain. You’ll wrap around the mountain further than you would think to reach the summit.
The summit that day was beautiful. There was only a slight breeze and it was almost warm enough to get away without my windbreaker which doesn’t happen often. It was so fun to reminisce as I looked at the surrounding mountains I had already climbed. I had fun taking plenty of pictures that would later be my profile picture for me completing number 48!
About a half hour later I started back down the mountain. It was now 3:40pm, and was expecting to be down by nine, which meant I’d be hiking in the dark which discouraged me slightly only because I planned on hiking North Maroon the very next morning and wouldn’t give my feet very much time to recover. I could also see a giant rain cloud heading my way but despite it all, I found myself in a lighthearted mood and was in awe of the mountain goats and colorful rocks I saw on the way down.
By the time I had made it back down the amphitheater my ankles and knees were shot. My neuromuscular system, responsible for balance had met its limits and made it for a tough descent down the rest of the way. My ankles folded a couple times as a result, but luckily never too bad enough to make me fall. As annoyed as I had become with the jagged rocks, I couldn’t help but be rejuvenated once I hit the main trail. I thought the trees were glowing before, but now, they were almost glowing more intensely after the sun had set.
Soon the half lit moon was shining through the trees. I wished my phone could have captured the true beauty of it. Around that time I realized that my GPS was far past the 4.15 miles it should have taken to get back to my car. It died while I was at mile 4.79 and I still hadn’t reached Maroon Lake. I can’t tell you if it’s my GPS going bad, or if it really is about 10 miles round trip. Maybe someone else knows?
I made it back to my car at 7:40pm. It had taken me nine hours of hiking just as I suspected it would and I was happy my foot made it the full day. I was happy to tell myself that I had made it another mountain. God had allowed me another successful day, and despite the devil’s best attempts to keep me down, I got up and pushed back to see yet another mountain conquered.
- Height: 14,115 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: West Ridge
- Distance: 16 miles with sedan, 8 miles with the help of strangers or your own 4WD!
- Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft. (8 miles)
- Time started: 8:00am
- End time: 4:00pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours
- Time to Descent: 3 hours and 30 minutes
- Overall Pace: .9 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, warm hat, lightweight gloves, day pack with water sack (64 oz), snacks.
- Road Condition: Once again, 14ers.com is accurate with their recommendations. A sedan or even a SUV or truck without 4WD will not make it far on the road after the Angel of Shavano Trailhead.
- Trail Condition: You will have to do a lot of trail finding on this route. The route is considered “abandoned” so it is very rugged and trails will start and then disappear often making it a difficult class 2 mountain. The trail from what I hear is also consistently very windy. Be prepared for that. When you reach the hill also known as Point 13,936 go straight up it and look for a cairn at the base (made by Anne and yours truly.) You’ll weave straight up it. There are two more cairns along the way to look for to help you reach the top as easily as possible. Expect the entire ridge to be windy and jagged with rocks and barely there trails. On your return, make sure to watch for your turn back onto the long ridge leading back to Point 13,936. There is a misleading defined trail that got us off track, so I hope you avoid it.
I made my way to county road 240 that lead to the Tabeguache Peak Trailhead and I was amazed to find yet another campground closed for the season. It absolutely blows my mind how quickly time has gone by. It feels like I just started and there was still plenty of snow in the mountains, and all of the sudden I’m returning back into snowy conditions. Where did summer go? I have to say, this was the coldest summer I’ve ever experienced. Climbing and staying so high up in the elevation left me wearing long sleeves most days. It’s almost ironic how I chose an experience that would have me in the cold all the time when all I want to do is escape it in life!
I found a small grass field right off the road about .7 miles away from the Angel of Shavano Trailhead and set up my tent there and was asleep within minutes. The next morning, I quickly arose and headed towards the Angel of Shavano Trailhead where I would be meeting Anne, a reader of my blog, at 6:45am. While I waited I had warm breakfast of oatmeal and not soon after, Anne and her beautiful white SUV pulled up.
She was such a breath of fresh air right from the start! We talked for a short time while I finished my oatmeal and then hopped into her SUV both hopeful and yet skeptical that we could make it all the way up the now 4WD road that lead to the trailhead. But alas, almost immediately we ran into problems. The road was steep with a lot of loose rock and even after three attempts, we couldn’t make it up. “Crap, today’s going to have to be a 16 mile hike after all”.
Just around the corner we could hear a possible Jeep heading up the same road. Anne quickly ran down to meet them and boldly asked if we could have a ride to the trailhead. With some reluctance (only because they didn’t have a lot of room) they accepted. Their names were Dave and Brian and each had done more than a handful of fourteeners. They cleared a space the best they could and I squatted in the back while Anne sat on one of their duffle bags. We were squished to say the least but entirely grateful for them taking 3 miles off our hike.
We bounced all over the place and Anne squeamed with the thought of her SUV being on the road. Even though my car could make a 3 out of 6 rating for a road, a 4 was insane- even for a Jeep! The ride was surprisingly long despite only being 3 miles and the trailhead was so understated it would have been easy to miss if there weren’t other trucks already parked there. The trail we were taking, Jennings Creek is technically “abandoned”, but really, it’s just far less popular than the Shavano to Tabeguache route.
We thanked the two men who generously gave us a ride, and joked that we’d be waiting for them at the bottom hoping for another ride back down. They said sure, but that they really take their time with hiking. Normally, if I only did this a couple times a year, I’d take all day too! But being that it was my 47th hike this summer, I was more interested with keeping a good pace.
Right from the start the hike was breathtaking with vibrantly golden yellow aspen trees. Even with hiking two mountains in full swing of autumn, I was still just as in awe as Anne, who was experiencing it for the first time. I can’t explain the joy I get from hearing the now crispier leaves rustle in the gentle breeze. It’s one of my favorite sounds in the world along with crunching fall leaves beneath my feet. Needless to say, my senses were on an overload of ecstasy. The smell of freshly fallen leaves filled my lungs deeply and I was finally free from coughing (from my darn cold I got weeks ago) for the most part.
Anne and I despite being athletes and acclimated felt it harder to catch our breath that day. It hardly took any pace at all to get our lungs working hard, but we somehow kept the conversation going regardless. I wanted to know everything about her and she felt the same. She was originally from Iowa and moved to San Diego not too long after college. She made it there thirteen years, but often retreated to Colorado to be in the mountains. After a while, she felt she needed another change and she moved here not too long ago to a small town near Pikes Peak. She said it was hard to move and to leave her family and friends, but she needed it for her. It was as if we were the same person, but she had more guts to listen to herself earlier on in life. Some people never find the courage to do something big for themselves, especially when there’s risk and it’s uncomfortable. At least I was finally listening to myself at the age of thirty.
As we made it to the open meadow the wind really started to pick up. “Not again,” I whined to myself. I was and am so tired of the darn wind! “God” I thought, “I know you’re here! You have my attention, so calm the dang wind!” Or did He have my attention. I haven’t had the urge to read my Bible, to pray or to read books I knew would benefit me. Why? I’m not quite sure, but I think it’s because I’m tired- emotionally, mentally and physically. I realize in this moment just typing it I must do it anyways. I know I wouldn’t be feeling as down as I do right now if I were. I took the first step in calling friends and my mom, but this is another huge part of the equation to find deep, unshakeable joy. I’ve had that joy before and there wasn’t a circumstance I couldn’t deal with and it was amazing! But right now, I know I’m trying to finish this on my own strength.
My own strength… I couldn’t understand what people meant by saying that, but now I finally do. Last year when I was fresh out of partial treatment at Melrose Institute for my eating disorder, and just getting started in a new job again, I lived with a wonderful woman named Melody and her family. She’s like a sister to me and someone I go to for spiritual advice. She’s the very special woman who when I was four asked if I wanted “Jesus in my heart”.
While I was out one night, doing things I shouldn’t do, she had a dream and it scared her, but it was very clear. She told me, “God will not bless anything unless he’s at the center of it. You will fail at everything you do unless you rely on Him.” In that moment I was so scared, so hopeless. I thought, “Well duh, look at my adult life so far. Not a screaming success.” I was angry at God for this message. “Why me?” I complained, “Plenty of people have a successful life without your help God. Why are you making this so hard on me? Why do I have to rely on you for any success at all?” I complaints came from fear…I didn’t know what it meant to rely on Him completely. “How do I even do that?”
It’s something that I’m now starting to grasp, but still can’t seem to walk it out completely- which scares me. I pray and I feel like I never hear anything from Him. “How do I discern from someone I can’t hear from?” It’s a question I still have all the time. While I know I have been blessed, and that God has met my needs, I don’t hear from Him. I feel like I’m constantly wondering in the darkness fumbling for a door to open and once I find it, I’m not even sure if it’s even the right one. Trial and error. Trial and failure.
What makes me think that God even wanted me to do this trip… Did I hear it from Him? Nope. I just had a personal desire to do it, and God has blessed me along the way- opening doors instead of shutting them. That’s what I have to go off of. That’s it.
Now, back to the hike. The trail that we were following would come and it would go constantly. There was no consistent trail to follow which meant we were constantly discerning with one another whether or not it was the right trail. It was kind of annoying as those of you who have read my blog regularly might have realized I don’t like getting off track or lost or hiking more than I have to. Then Anne questioned, “Should we make a cairn for other people so they don’t have to go through this?” and I agreed. We made our first two cairns at an unspecified split in the trail and carried on with the satisfaction of knowing we made it easier on someone else.
Surprisingly, Anne had only climbed about 4 or 5 other fourteeners and so when we came to the steep gully to get to the ridge, she wasn’t sure what to think of the scree. Man, do I remember being there! With only a little struggle, we made it to the top where the wind proceeded to pick up more. So much so that we could barely hear each other. We were nearly blown over once we hit the top of the first hill and proceeded to walk over the saddle.
Our next endeavor was to climb up to Point 13,936 and looked like a huge task. We couldn’t see a trail and so with my best judgement I suggested to swing to the left side of the gigantic hill because it looked less rocky, less steep, and less windy. Unfortunately, no matter where we went the wind followed us. Again as we went up, trails would start and stop and we were constantly guessing where to go next. At some point, I say, forget the dumb “trail” and just head to where you ultimately have to go next- which was the top of the giant hill. Take the straight line and just go.
With many stops, we finally made it to the top of the hill and could now see Tabeguache Peak in the distance. The wind roared the entire time we were on the ridge, to the point where it was hard to keep balance and violently flapped my hood in my ear. I hated it, but was keeping it to myself and I was glad I did. Negativity is one of Anne’s pet-peeves I found out later- and it’s one of mine too- but this was ridiculous!
When we got near the summit, there was an option to drop down, or from what I could see, an option to stay higher on the ridge. I welcomed the chance to get some class 3 moves and tried to encourage Anne to join me, but being that she had only done a couple mountains, she wasn’t comfortable with it. It really wasn’t worth it as I had to drop down anyways because the ridges didn’t connect like I thought. There was a notch between them instead and I decided to take the next ridge to the summit while Anne followed the trail around the corner.
We finally reached the summit and it took us almost exactly four hours! Thank God, but it wasn’t as windy as we were expecting it to be at the summit. It’s funny how often that happens actually. You would think that’s where it would be the windiest as the wind has free range to roam, but for some reason, it’s not the case. We found a calm place to sit and enjoyed the delicious cookies Anne had made from scratch.
Nearly a half hour later, we started our descent and soon after ran into Brian and Dave who were also getting incredibly annoyed by the wind. We encouraged them that they were almost there and that we’d see them at the bottom. Along the way down, I didn’t navigate correctly, and passed the ridge that would lead us back to Point 13,936. Instead of re-climbing, we headed around the side of the mountain and found ourselves back on a path for a brief moment until that too disappeared. While on the ridge, we couldn’t decide whether we should gradually drop down, or stay up high. For those of you wanting to hike this route- stay up high! We had to climb back up to avoid the long wrap around the mountain that lead back to the “trail”. As tempting as it is, don’t head towards the saddle down below either- you’ll drop too far and you’ll have to climb back up.
Thankfully, it’s easier to spot trails from higher up and we could see a better way to get down the giant hill. There’s actually a trail almost the entire way, but it’s hard to spot. You’ll head straight back down the hill with a slight weave to the saddle. Don’t cut to the left on the way up like we did- just take the hill straight up/down. Along the way Anne and I stopped and made another cairn to mark the trail and then again made another, larger cairn. We were purposely trying to kill time as we knew Dave and Brian would be down much later than us. At the bottom of the large hill we made another even larger cairn, and an arrow at the start of the saddle. Even after all that, and another long stop to snack and hydrate, we still couldn’t see Dave or Brian even starting the descent of the large hill.
We carried on down the steep gully surfing on the scree and got lost in the meadow a time thinking that we had forgotten to cross over – but we didn’t. As we got closer to the forest, we couldn’t help but stop over a dozen times to take pictures of the glowing Aspen trees. It was now 3pm and the lighting was beautiful and there were these amazing dead, twisted trees. We felt like we were in an enchanted place; one you dream of being in as a child.
As we made our way in the forest we realized how tired our bodies were getting. It had been nearly 8 hours of hiking at this point, and our feet were getting very achy. To my delight, my right foot was actually holding up great! Not quite soon enough we finally exited the forest and were finally back at the road. We sat there for a while resting our feet and looking at our photos, and decided that if a truck was coming down, we’d ask for another ride from someone else. We were getting huuungry!
To our luck, one came and we stopped and asked a couple in a white rental Jeep who had two empty seats. I think they were a little surprised, but with little reluctance agreed to give us a ride back down. Their names were Leon and Diane and had moved to Castle Rock not too long ago. They were such a lovely couple and so open to sharing their story with us. I got a kick out of their accents too as they had moved from Atlanta, Georgia and wouldn’t you know it, they got a kick out of mine too.
Soon we arrived back at Anne’s SUV, but the ride could have gone longer because we were enjoying each other’s company so much! Anne and I decided to grab dinner together in Salida, but first I had to stop and pack up my tent. As I approached the grassy small field, my stomach dropped- my tent was gone! Who would steal someone’s tent?! Anne pulled in behind me and we both drew into a panic. Then I remembered it was windy that day and that it could have blown into the ditch. I hadn’t been using my stakes because they had gotten so badly bent and my mallet was lost in the Chicago Basin somewhere.
Sure enough, it was in the ditch! I deflated my mattress, pulled the poles and with everything still inside, I balled it up and threw it in my car. I mean, what was the point of putting it away nicely. I was just going to set it back up again in a couple hours! Anne and I headed to Salida and decided to go to Rivers Edge which was an awesome restaurant. It had a giant welcoming patio with comfy couches and fire pits to keep us warm in the increasingly fall like weather. We both had a juicy burger with truffle fries and tons of water. We hugged and parted ways, promising to stay in touch and I knew I had a new friend and one that was willing to help me out any way she could. God is good, all the time He is good.
- Height: 14,269 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: West Slopes
- Distance: 16 miles (10 miles for me with the help of a kind stranger on an ATV)
- Elevation Gain: 5,200 ft.
- Time started: 12:45pm
- End time: 6:45pm
- Time to Summit: 4 hours
- Time to Descent: 2 hours (my bet is 3.5 hours for the return without help of ATV)
- Overall Pace: 1.9 miles per hour to summit
- 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: 14ers.com is not kidding when they say that only 4WD can make it up jeep road #277. An SUV without 4WD, might be able to make it. There’s plenty of parking spots right at the start of #277 for all other vehicles.
- Trail Condition: You’ll be on a road covered with river rocks for 90% of the time. Luckily the gorgeous autumn leaves made it entertaining and I didn’t mind the road at all. You can avoid all water and the peak is snow free. However, once again, it was cold and windy! Once you leave the road, the ridge is easy to follow. Once you reach the end of the ridge, expect small shale the whole way up which makes for a little annoyance as you have to really watch your step to avoid tripping or twisting an ankle.
- Also, I have extra notes on how you can avoid some of the switchbacks on the way up/down to shorten the hike by a couple miles.
After climbing beautiful Mount Huron, I headed straight to Mount Antero’s trailhead. Somehow, I didn’t get there until after dark and decided to sleep in my car. I thought I’d sleep like a rock considering the emotional day and exertion, but I ended up sleeping like poop. I tossed and turned all night long and woke up the next morning to my alarm clock completely exhausted.
I was already really nervous about climbing Antero because my foot acted up so bad on a short six mile hike. I just couldn’t see it going well for a sixteen mile hike! I debated whether or not I would climb for a while, and then decided to text my mom for advice. Upon discussion, I decided it was best just to take the day off. I was still feeling pretty lonely and thought it would be a perfect day to get a hold of my dearest friends.
It was honestly just what I needed and my heart felt so filled after talking with them. I really needed to feel connected, and I really needed a pep talk. Of course, despite the current adversities, I was going to continue, but my mind is still wired to think negatively sometimes. All I could envision was physical pain and loneliness for the remaining time out here.
After a full day of phone calls and blogging, I made sure to leave early enough to set up my tent near the trailhead to avoid another sleepless night. There weren’t any campsites, so my only option was to set up my tent in a pull off area on the dirt road and I parked my car in front of my tent to shield me from any crazy drivers hitting me- yikes. I could only pray I wouldn’t be woken up in the middle of the night due to being told to move.
Since it was only 7:30pm, and I wasn’t tired, I headed back towards Buena Vista until I got a 4G network so I could relax further with an episode of “Breaking Bad”. Well, one episode turned into four and all of the sudden it was nearly 2am! That show is so addicting (probably as addicting as meth). I drove back to my tent, crawled inside and didn’t wake up until 11:30am the next day. I really wasn’t worried about my late start because once again, the weather forecast was perfection. I got ready regardless of my anxiety over my foot and knew I had to at least try. I couldn’t think about the “what if”. Thinking about “what if” scenarios had done nothing but cause paralysis in the past.
Right as I started up the trail, there was a beautiful, sunlit stream with bright green moss and immediately I found myself more relaxed and even eager, for the rest of my hike. Normally I hate walking up dirt roads (read Castle Peak), but I didn’t mind this one. The glowing yellow Aspen leaves had me entranced. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. They were so vibrant, and for a moment, I forgot about missing fall at home and enjoyed the fall for what it was here in Colorado.
Multiple Jeeps, ATVs and dirt bikes came roaring past me as I climbed higher and higher. For a split second I was hoping that someone would be coming up to shave off four extra miles, but then, I realized I wouldn’t ask for the ride even if they had come. I was enjoying it too much and I was prepared mentally for the hike to go all day.
Soon I reached treeline and was weaving my way up the windy, dirt road. The dirt road by the way, is not a fun one to walk. It is covered in river rock which means you are constantly stuck looking down so you don’t trip or sprain your ankle. I was also disappointed that I was having to climb yet another, windy peak. It seems they all have been so windy lately, and I was wishing I knew why. It really changes everything mentally but having my music going helped.
As I weaved my way up the large switchbacks, I noticed a consistent gully that cut right down to treeline. I was thinking it would probably shave off a couple miles taking it, and decided that I’d try it on the way back down. While I hiked, I only ran into two hikers. I talked briefly with the first, but with the second man it was so windy I could only manage to nod hello. The peaks are getting so much quieter now… peak climbing season has definitely passed, and I miss the interactions.
At last the road came to an end and it was time to climb a short ridge that linked to the last homestretch of Mount Antero. The ridge was easy and I was grateful for a temporary shield from the wind. Once on the other side of the ridge, the wind roared and pushed me off balance. I climbed up the loose shale rock struggling to balance while making my own way up as the trail was too faint to follow.
After about 20 minutes of fumbling, I arrived at the summit. The bright yellow Aspens were now only specks at the view of 14,000 feet. To the South, I could see Tabeguache Peak- my last fourteener in the Sawatch Range and I’d be climbing it the next day with company! Anne messaged me from my Facebook page asking if she could join me for a climb and this one finally worked out for both of us!
I tried to have a small snack while I was on the summit, but it was too cold to enjoy so I quickly got ready and started to head back down. In the distance I could see an ATV pulling up to the very top of the road. At this point, it had been a couple hours since I had seen a vehicle and with the wind ripping at me, I was praying for a possible ride back down- but I was so far away, I’d never catch him…
To my surprise, the driver hopped off and started to climb the ridge! He was going to summit Antero, which meant I’d cross paths with him and I could ask for a ride down! As he approached near me, I exclaimed, “You’re such a lucky ducky! You’re already almost there!” I couldn’t strike the courage to ask straight out for a ride. But then he answered, “Oh yeah, I know! If I see you on the way down, I’ll give you a ride!” I was floored! “Yes! Any number of miles taken off of this hike would be amazing!” I thanked him, and knew that there was only one way down and that we’d surely cross paths. God had heard my worries, and provided a way down for me!
I made it down over two miles and before he came I decided I’d try out one of the intimidating, steep, rocky gullies to see if it would be worthwhile to recommend to other hikers. I side stepped my way down, doing my best to avoid the prickly plants and personally, if you do have experience with scree, I recommend it! If not, you’re better off sticking to the road. Unfortunately because I got the ride, I can’t tell you how much distance you will shave off by taking the gully.
As I reached the bottom of the first gully, a speedy ATV approached me. It was the man near the summit and his name was Randy. He was originally from Texas, and had now been living in Colorado for nearly 20 years. He had never gone up in the mountains this late in the evening and wanted to see what it was like. Thank God it was on this particular day! Both of my feet were now increasing in pain.
I hopped on the back and held tightly around his rib cage. I couldn’t believe how smooth the ride down was! I was expecting to be bucked up out of my seat a couple of times, but the ATV took it like a champ. It was my first time on an ATV, and I could definitely see why people like them so much. He of course asked me the typical questions and I was happy to tell him about my journey thus far out here.
Most people ask how I could get the summer off and it opens up a perfect window of opportunity for a discussion around the topic of healthy living. Being a personal trainer in the past, people assume that I workout seven days a week and eat only “healthy” foods. It’s a discussion that fills with me passion to be able to preach the contrary and to voice the opinion of true “healthy living” which is truly, “Everything in moderation”. Each time the conversation happens I can only hope it plants a seed; that it can be “food for thought” for those who needed to hear it.
A quick 35 minutes later, we were back at my car. I again expressed my gratitude, and he offered to take me out for a beer, but I declined. I could tell that maybe he was interested in something more. I still had to take down my tent, drive an hour to my next place, set my tent back up, eat dinner and most likely go back to sleep so I’d be ready to hike the next day with Anne. I had two thoughts on that scenario: 1) Go have a beer even though it sets you back. You owe it to him for the kindness he has shown. 2) Don’t have a beer. Let him be satisfied with the kindness he has shown, and remember- you don’t “owe” him anything.
I chose option 2. It’s a long story, but to put it simply, I have done far too many things I knew weren’t good for me because I thought I “owed” them something. Is it not healthier to realize that not everything needs to be repaid?! Can gratitude be enough? It’s a new school of thought for myself and something that’s recently been put into practice. This thought also goes hand in hand with this thought: Do kind things because it makes you feel good- period.
As I drove away, there was the most magnificent sunset, and again I thought kindly of Randy for his ride. I would have missed it if it weren’t for his kindness! Nor do I think my feet would have been ready to hike the very next day. I admired the sunset for a time, silently thanked God for his mercy, for meeting my needs and allowing me to complete number 46; then set off to Tabeguache Peak to complete number 47.
- 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!