I cannot believe how fast the time is flying by! I have already been home for three weeks! I bet you might be wondering how I am transitioning from waking up to majestic mountains to waking up in a home, surviving off rock hard jerky to indulging on an occasional steak, sleeping on a leaky air mattress to sleeping on a warm cozy bed, and most importantly, freedom from society to being completely engulfed by it. The answer? Incredibly well! To everyone who was holding their breath to see whether or not I would crash and burn, feel free to take a sigh of relief.
Since I have been home I have not used symptoms ONCE. Not once. Food continues to be nutrients instead of an enemy that makes me “fat”, and exercise continues to be a means to attain better performance on the courts instead of a means to attain a better body. I can’t explain it, but since being back, I feel like a victor instead of a victim. I feel so strong and not afraid of anything. A feeling too good to be true and as it leaves my lips it sounds like a cliche or something someone would say to hide their underlying fears, but I genuinely feel this way. I am changed-hopefully forever.
I cannot lie that the temptation hasn’t been there, because it has, but it’s usually a fleeting thought that I can easily distract myself from. Ed’s voice has never been so weak, almost laughable. It reminds me of Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. It nearly brings tears to my eyes to think how much power not long ago Ed had over my every thought and move. But I am finally stepping into who God created me to be; fearless. One who can laugh at the enemy and say as confidently as David, “My God is Greater”!
Every time I hear that a friend has fallen back into the arms of Ed my heart cries, “But God has so much more than this for you!” I want nothing more than these words to resonate with them and I have to believe and trust God that in time, it will. I know people have prayed this prayer for me thousands of times, and finally, I am nearly out of the dark hole I felt was once inescapable. I was in their shoes not long ago; utterly hopeless and just trying to survive in this seemingly harsh world.
Since I have been home, I have been moving nonstop! I couldn’t tell you how many things I have checked off my list and how many more I have added. I do know that I have had a wonderful return by spending lots of time with friends and family and have somehow managed to swing right back into working part time with my PCA client, and signing up for my CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) program with the Red Cross.
For the first time in the longest time, I feel normal. It’s as if a dark dreary cloud of self-doubt and victimization has been lifted. I get dressed in normal clothes without thinking about how “thin” or “fat” I look. I go to the gym on a regular basis without criticizing myself. Stressful situations arise, and I deal with it in a healthy way by either accepting or working through it. For the first time since my sophomore year in college, I have direction and am moving in a forward motion; Something I’ve prayed for years has finally become clear.
God spoke to me and opened so many doors for me while I was in Colorado. So much so that I knew that no matter what, I was going to finish climbing the mountains because it a part of my plan (Jeremiah 29:11). He continues to speak to me even still. While I was away, and further removed from society, it was easier to not partake in activities that weren’t beneficial for me. I was so focused and on a mission that there was no time for distractions. Now that I’m home, these activities present themselves again to me, and I am so tempted to participate. What I’m talking about in particular is the act of “going out”.
It’s permissible, but by no means beneficial. I absolutely know this, but I still love to dance and I still love to get all dolled up- especially since I was roughing it for so long over this summer. The problem with going out, is that it’s toxic and the people are intoxicated- myself, not exempt. I know these people are numbing and are bored, and I know most of these people are lost.
I have prayed to God to take away many of my sins, urges and to change my heart and He has always answered. Probably the biggest change within me has been my desire for what I want out of life. I had my own agenda in what I wanted to accomplish and I didn’t want to give that up for God. But I still prayed for it, because I knew it was right, and I knew His plan was supposed to better than anything I could ever come up with. It has taken some time, but the more I get to know God and His Goodness, the more I want to honor Him with my life. You could see how “going out” conflicts with this new found ambition.
In the first week that I was home, I went out three times! Each time I went out I drank a little more, each time I compromised myself a little more, and each time I felt sick, conflicted, and convicted. I knew God was speaking to me the night I went to the Zombie Pub Crawl. . Someone stole my phone and my passport that night which was my only means of allowing me to get into any bar. As soon as I realized they were gone, I knew it was God. I knew He was saying, “Knock it off!”. God disciplines the child He loves (Proverbs 3:12). Although I was angry with the person who stole my things, I was more concerned with where I was heading and my character.
It’s been a tough decision and I still struggle with it, but I know that if I keep this up, that I cannot promote the kingdom at the same time, nor will I be promoted while I try to advocate more. I must continue my life with the same determination, focus and purpose as I did while I was out in Colorado. I know that’s what my Abba wants for me.
Yes, it’s true! I finished climbing all 55 fourteeners that I set out to do as of October 4th, 2015 and I honestly don’t think it would have happened without the people supporting me and God. It was a struggle to get the last three between the weather, time, and emotional turmoil. I will most definitely fill you in on them when I get the chance, but currently I am enjoying the company of my mother and celebrating my accomplishment with all my favorite things such as; a massage (ooooh yeah), hotels (beds!), shopping, getting a white chocolate lavendar mocha from Brown Dog in Buena Vista, soaking in the hot springs at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, VIP cocktail and lemon cake from Del Friscos and ice cream from Bonnie Braes!
I have finally taken a moment to add up the amount of days it took from start to finish and the final number was 87! I started with Mount Bierstadt on June 24th, and ended with Crestone Peak on October 4th. I also had the family vacation which was two weeks long in July, so I didn’t count those.
When I put a number to it, it does feel like quite an accomplishment in a short amount of time, but I would have never expected to experience three seasons during my time out here. I started with the snow, and just today, enough snow fell to cover the top of Mount Yale.
While I get ready to go home, there are a number of things I can’t wait for. These are the things that I’m looking forward to the most:
- A BED!
- Consistent showers!
- Seeing my baby nephew Logan for the first time.
- Playing with my beautiful niece Avery Belle.
- A lasting hug from my papa.
- Going out and celebrating with friends!
- Dressing up in clothes other than workout clothes.
- Getting my hair did and being able to fix it (I’m still a girly girl).
- A roof over my head.
- A refrigerator so I can have fruits, veggies, dairy and meat again!
- Normal meals!
- Going to church on a regular basis again.
- Playing volleyball with my crew!
- Doing fall activities with family and friends: Apple Orchard, carving pumpkins, etc.
- Having a place to call home.
- To start planning and working towards my future!
There’s probably more on my list, but these are the biggies that I can’t wait for and definitely have a new appreciation for! Being away from family and friends this time around has been different from the time I moved to Colorado back in 2010. I can only attribute it to my faith that has grown exponentially over the past five years, and being in a better spot in recovery. I want to treasure every day that I’m with them, and stop to thank God for those times, because each day is a gift. I know that is very cliche to say, but gratitude I have found, is the best way to receive peace and contentment in life.
I have so much to be grateful for on this journey! The fact that I wasn’t injured by an animal or a fall or struck by lightening. The fact that I was taken care of by so many wonderful new friends that I met through my blog and along my hikes. The fact that I was actually able to climb all 55! The fact that my body never gave out on me. I was never hungry and had a roof over my head. When I lacked things like warmth or a working car, it was provided and fixed by the kind acts of practically strangers. I had people who believed in me and who cheered me on when things got rough, and I found the inner strength to push past my fears and doubts. I know I’m going back to Minnesota stronger in so many ways. I’ll be even stronger in my faith, stronger against my eating disorder and stronger against the currents that life brings. I can’t wait to show the world what I can do!
- 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.
Little Bear Peak
- Little Bear Peak Height: 14,037 ft.
- Range: Sangre de Cristo
- Little Bear Peak Route: West Ridge and Southwest Face
- Distance (Lake Como to Little Bear RT): 4 mi.
- Distance (Lake Como to 8,000): 5.5 mi.
- Elevation Gain (from Lake Como): 2,300 ft.
- Time started (to Little Bear): 7:30am
- End time (Lake Como): 2:00pm
- Time started (@ Lake Como): 2:40pm
- End time (8,000 ft.): 5:00pm
- Time to Summit Little Bear Peak from Como Lake: 3 hours and 45 min.
- Time to Descend Little Bear Peak to 8,000 feet: 5 hours and 5 minutes (minus time to take down tent)
- Overall Pace: .6 miles per hour while on Little Bear; 2.3 miles per hour to 8,000 ft.
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, helmet, water purifier, first aid kit, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, headlamp, flashlight, toilet paper, GPS, extra batteries, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, extra change of clothes, wear a tank top, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, lightweight gloves, overnight pack with water sack and extra water (160oz), food for two full days (large bag of jerky, large bag of trailsmix, 4 protein bars, and 4 granola bars).
- Road Condition: The directions from 14ers.com is correct in that a sedan will only make it to 8,000 feet or slightly further. We saw one Jeep make it all the way to Como Lake- which was mind boggling.
- Trail Condition: 8,000 to Como Lake: You’ll be on the road the entire time. The road mixes between dirt areas where it’s easier to walk, but mostly river rock and boulders. Eyes on the ground mostly to watch your step. Como Lake to Little Bear: You’re on a nice road for a short time, then upon exiting the forest, the trail for Little Bear is to your right. The first scree field is not fun, and you’ll slip and slide and it’s loooong. When returning, make sure you go far enough because there are other notches that look similar, but as I found out it had a huge cliff (wrong one). The trail is marked nicely with cairns, and follow it- even though you have to go back down. We tried to stay high on the ridge to avoid elevation regain, but had to go down anyways. Follow the directions as listed on 14ers.com. The “Hour Glass” is fine. Let one person go up in sections at a time to avoid getting clunked in the head. As of now, the ropes in my opinion were in great condition and I used them the whole way down. Once you get out of the “Hour Glass” you can go up left or right- either way will have scree and will be very steep with loose rock and will require pulling yourself up.
After a sound night of sleep, Alix and I woke up at 4:30am to start our hike for Little Bear Peak. I wanted to get an early start to beat everyone else so we wouldn’t have to worry about rocks hitting us on the head, killing us. It was a huge reason there were so many deaths on that mountain. But once we looked at the directions more, we decided it was best to wait for the sun to rise so we could see our surroundings perfectly. Luckily, we were the only ones climbing Little Bear that Friday which completely surprised me being a holiday weekend.
Alix and I headed out at 7:30am in the morning sun and started our way up the 600 foot gully. There was no easing into this hike. It was only 3 miles long, but there was a lot to be done during those three miles. I predicted it taking us four or five hours. It ended up taking us six and a half! The more technical, the slower the average pace. Little Bear would be my slowest moving mountain out of the forty I had now done this summer. The gully was like most gullies, extremely slippery, lots of sliding, and time consuming. Alix and I always climbed on opposite sides to limit the chance of rocks being kicked out on each other. I was still having stomach problems, so Alix was again always ahead of me.
Once reaching the top of the gully, we followed an easy path about 50-100 feet below the ridge line. The path continued to drop in elevation, and because I was still feeling weak and depleted, I stayed higher in the higher class moves to avoid having to regain elevation. Alix soon caught on and as the path dropped further, we decided from that point on to climb the ridge which turned into a rich, class 4 climb. I would have thought that my experience on Mount Eolus would have scared me, but it did just the opposite. It gave me more confidence to climb the highly exposed rock. It also helped tremendously to have Alix there and leading the way. Being her first class 4, I was surprised, impressed, and proud she was so willing to lead!
I was definitely doing my most dangerous climbing thus far, and I felt okay. Not great, but okay. Eventually we were getting close to the end of the ridge and approaching the actual mountain. As I stared at it, I couldn’t see a route for us to take. The rock was too smooth. As we read the directions, we figured out that we were 100 feet above and a ridge over from the infamous “Hour Glass”. We made the decision to drop down to the “Hour Glass” because we knew what to expect there, but not ahead of us. It could get to be too dangerous and would take a long time to backtrack.
It was slightly dangerous climbing our way down to the scree field below, but eventually we made our way to the Hour Glass and were a little surprised that people were so intimidated by it. There were ropes there to help, but Alix didn’t use it at all on the way up, and I only used it briefly. The ropes seemed to be in great condition; there were a couple of knots near the bottom, but overall, not bad at all. Alix and I divided it into two sections. She climbed the first section and would yell to me to start. She’d then wait until I had arrived and we did the same for the next section.
When we got to the top of the Hour Glass, I went left, and Alix went right. The directions said you could go either way, so to eliminate any chance of rockfall on each other we split. It wasn’t far to the summit, but there was a lot of loose rock to overcome. I then came to some smooth rock under a small cliff and as it intersected with another I did some difficult class 4 moves to overcome it. After that, it was easy to reach the summit. We couldn’t believe upon reflection that it had taken us 4 hours to climb up 1.82 miles! The views were beautiful and as we looked at the traverse to Blanca, we were thinking new thoughts, “We could totally do that”. What seemed impossible, seemed more attainable because we pushed ourselves to a new limit. Much like in life. I rested for a while hoping for some kind of revival. I still wasn’t feeling to great.
As we headed back down, we agreed that we would follow the route described by 14ers.com the whole way back. We were simply ready to get off the mountain because we knew we still had 7.5 miles left to hike to our cars. When we came back to the Hour Glass, I decided to have some fun with the ropes. I used them the entire way down and had a blast! I really, really want to learn how to belay and start doing outdoor climbing. I feel like I’m just getting started in opening up my sports repertoire! I still want to learn to boulder and kayak rivers, and Paddleboard more!
As we continued I was started to feel better and was feeling more like my bubbly self which made the time go by so much faster while we had to regain elevation to the initial gully. We thought we had finally arrived at the gully, and as I started down first, I realized it was the wrong one because I was met with a cliff below me. We went down another quarter of a mile and found another gully. This was the right gully. I would consider this part my area of expertise because once again, I flew down the gully. When I was at the bottom, Alix still had half way to go.
It only took us 40 minutes to take down our tent and repack our bags. Near our tent, we found Mark’s business card left behind and I was relieved that he had made it down safely from Blanca. While getting ready to go, a couple stopped over to talk with us. Their Jeep had made it the entire way which absolutely blew me and Alix’s minds. We were wishing for a ride back down. My shoulders now had horrible knots in them which gave me headaches and I was not looking forward to the journey back to our cars.
Somehow I could fit my sleeping bag in the main part of the pack which made a huge difference! As we headed down, we were passed by two men who Alix noticed smelt of weed. They also happened to be the men who were blowing a Viking’s horn the whole morning. Why? I have no idea. They weren’t very social- moooore paranoid than anything…
I still had a bad stomach ache so Alix put on music to distract me. Unfortunately, I was trying to go as fast as I could towards the end so I could lay down, but Alix’s pinky toes were hurting badly so she had to slow down. Eventually we both made our way to our car and behind us was a dark black cloud hovering the mountain we just came from. It looked so ominous and we were happy we were leaving and I was more than ready for a day off to hopefully regain some strength and get a hold of my stomach cramps.
Things are about to really pick up around here!
I was texting a gentleman today who Alix and I had met at the Vail Brewing Company the night before we left for Harvard and Columbia (yummy beer and fun atmosphere, by the way). His name is David, and he is actually a part of the Mountain Rescue Team in Vail. So as you can imagine, he’s seen some s**t. He was asking me if I planned on hiking in the snow this fall. I was naively hoping that I just wouldn’t run into it, or not enough of it to slow me down too much. Then I realized, “Crap, if I continue the way I’m going, I’ll be hiking the most technical mountains in the snow!!!” Not only do I have little technical experience, but to put snow on top of that, is just plain stupid. I bet some of you were already thinking that before I became enlightened today! I did get a month membership at Vertical Endeavors and climbed as often as I could before I left and I was fairly good at it. BUT, I never got certified to self-belay or clip ropes or anything like that… side note… I should probably go to Sports Authority today and buy a helmet- yup- that’s a great idea.
So with my new epiphany, I’ve spent my day rerouting my course and looking over the class 4 mountains carefully. Here’s the data I have:
- Like I mentioned, to get them all done, I need to hike two days, and rest one day until the very end.
- I have one, class 1 mountain; seventeen, class 2 mountains; ten, class 3 mountains; and four, class 4 mountains left to climb.
I’ll be heading to the Elk Range this week. There are two class 2’s, two class 3’s, and two class 4’s. After attempting Pyramid Peak, I’ll make my decision if I’m ready for Capital Peak. This mountain has the highest exposure of the 14er routes I’ll be doing, and has the dreaded “Knife’s Edge”.
I’ll then make my way to the Sangre De Cristo Range, then San Juan, hopefully climb Longs Peak with Jessica and friends, and finish the remainder of the Sawatch Range which are all class 2 mountains which by that time there may be snow.
So far I’ve been climbing nothing but class 1 and class 2 mountains.This should be a real wake up call! Is it strange that I’m completely floored to climb Capitol?! I know I can’t get too proud, and I know I can only truly do this with God’s grace, wisdom and protection. David was trying to instill fear in me, but somehow it just instilled determination. “Faith Greater Than Fear”, right? I have to at least try! I can always turn around and go back and come back with a buddy. Speaking of which, David also gave me the great idea of trying to team up with some of the people on 14ers.com. This is such a genius idea! Pray for me that I would have experienced hikers to come with me on these class 4 mountains!
Mount Harvard and Mount Columbia Traverse
- Mount Harvard Height: 14,420 ft.
- Mount Columbia Height: 14,073 ft.
- Range: Sawatch Range
- Route: South Slopes to Harvard, Traverse from Harvard to Columbia, and then West Slopes down Columbia (MAKE SURE YOU PRINT OFF ALL THREE ROUTES!!!)
- Distance: 15 Mi according to directions, but I’m not sure since I didn’t have my GPS.
- Elevation Gain: 6,100 ft.
- Time started: 9:05am
- End time: 9:25pm
- Time to Summit Harvard: 4 hours and 15 minutes
- Time to Summit Columbia: 3 hours and 30 minutes
- Time to Descent: 3 hours
- GEAR (to bring):
- GPS, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, long-sleeve, wind-guard, light weight puffy coat (I didn’t have to use it), Yak Traks, poles at your discretion (could help on such a long day), first aid kit, toilet paper, day pack with water (100 oz at least), food (2 cliff bars, 2 granola bars and trailsmix), sunscreen, lip balm.
- Road Conditions: Minor potholes and a little rough in some parts, but a 2WD should have no problem making it to the trailhead.
- Trail Conditions: A couple wet spots in trees, but shouldn’t get your feet soaked.Luckily other hikers put clues on the forks you’ll pass so you know which way to go. Little exposure. Do bring your Yak Traks if you’re climbing both mountains as we ran into a lot of snow especially going to Columbia. It almost would be nice to have poles as well. There is a steep, very slippery, very long gully making your way to Columbia. Once you climb Columbia, the trail down is mostly the same: steep, slippery, very very long gully. I’m glad we went the way we did (Harvard first).
Whoever decided that Columbia doesn’t count, is clearly insane. Climbing to that mountain was ridiculous and please, feel free to count how many times I say ridiculous in this entry! I would have never thought in a million years that it would have taken me almost twelve and a half hours to complete the hike! I think they should start putting approximate times on the sites and for varying athleticism. This was the most unprepared I had ever been for a hike.
You won’t believe me, but Alix and I started our journey towards Harvard and Columbia at 5:30am that morning. We had slept in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Avon, and within minutes were driving towards the trailhead. We stopped multiple times to try to find a coffee shop, or open gas station, but had no luck until we got to Buena Vista. The whole ride I was nodding my head and trying to sing along with Taylor Swift to keep myself awake. It would seem that small town folk don’t feel the need to get up at the crack of dawn or feel the need to have their shops open 24 hours a day for us 14er fanatics.
I had taken all kinds of meds to try to correct my stomach problem the day before, and was prepared to bring them all with me up the mountain since I still wasn’t feeling 100% since the incident on Mount of the Holy Cross. I made it up both mountains, but not without having half the bottle of Pepto, three tablets of anti-diarrhea, and six Advil.
The trek through the forest was gentle and didn’t offer the rude awakening to the body like other 14ers. Alix and I hadn’t realized it yet, but we hadn’t actually printed off the directions for the way up to Harvard. The directions only said how to get to Columbia from Harvard. We came to many forks in the road, many more than usual and thank God other hikers had made signs for us to follow to get us to where we needed to go.
Once out of treeline, we ran into a woman who was near tears because she had been separated from her boyfriend. She had been waiting and searching at that spot for an hour and a half. Alix tried to comfort her and told her that we hadn’t seen him yet, and when we had, we’d tell him that she was waiting for him. This seems to happen all the time! As we continued on, we asked every single, male hiker if he had been hiking with a woman, but had no luck.
When it came time to start the switchback up the mountain side to Harvard, we ran into mountain goats! It had felt like forever since I last saw them. They weren’t as curious this time and despite Alix and I’s amazing goat calls, they booked it up the mountain. I was thankful to have run into them, although I was sad I didn’t see any babies with them. I have to say, seeing wildlife makes the journey so much more enjoyable!
After getting a video of them, a man approached us and asked us if we had seen a woman with two dogs. With slightly aggressive undertones, I said, “Yes we did, she’s waiting way down there for you. She’s very concerned about you.” The dude had ditched his girlfriend to get to the summit! I wanted to push him off right then and there! Seriously, where are your priorities? Summitting, and your girlfriend possibly getting completely lost in the wilderness, OR going back to find her and getting there together, but just a little later than planned (eyes rolling heavily).
I could tell I was feeling a lot better than I had been on Mount of the Holy Cross. My legs had a little more stamina and I was relieved that the Pepto was working to take away any onset of stomach aches. We had to trudge through some snow using our hands and feet, and getting to the top was the most technical I had done so far, but it was fun.
The summit was warm and not windy for the first time! I was fired up that I could actually wear my “Faith>Fear” tank that I made! There was all kinds of marmots at the top and little pikas running about. We ate, and took our time enjoying the view. The view was much more impressive than Mount of the Holy Cross. All the sudden, the girl that we had seen just out of treeline waiting for her boyfriend appeared. We were so happy to see her! We thought, “Now it’s his turn to wait! And then breakup with his ass!”
We debated about climbing the next mountain, Mount Columbia for a while. It wasn’t actually on my list of mountains to climb because it didn’t count. It was only 1:30pm, and I knew we’d get back down by 4pm. I wasn’t ready to be done yet, and neither was Alix. I thought even with the extra peak we’d be down in our car by 5pm. Well I was sadly, very mistaken.
For a little while Alix and I were in good spirits jumping boulder to boulder and having fun, but soon the trail changed and our full concentration was needed. We passed a couple sitting taking a break on a group of boulders. I said hello and with exhaustion they said hello back. I asked them if they had done Mount Columbia. They had- but they had started at 4am! It was now close to 2:30pm, and they still had a ways to go to get to the summit of Harvard and down again. They had been climbing for 11 hours at that point! They said they took the wrong route and that if we just followed the trail, we’d be fine.
Not long after passing them, a steep descent came about. It was our first glimpse at what was ahead. Next we came to a very high ridge and the directions and pictures were unclear whether we should head across the skinny upper ridge to Columbia, or climb down a steep gully that would add thousands of feet back onto our ascent to Columbia. We decided to go down. It was dangerous and took a lot of time to get all the way down the gully. I kept sending rocks and scree like a small avalanche down the mountain side. Side step after side step after side step we finally made our way down.
Alix was worried at this point. It just didn’t feel right to her, and we hadn’t seen any cairns. I assured her according to the pictures we were making our way correctly to Columbia. At the bottom, I showed her the picture and she felt a little better. We then had to cross more snow and had to climb up some dangerous rocks. Not only was it getting dangerous, there was also huge clouds forming in the distance. It was now 3:30pm, and according to the weather the previous day, there was a high chance of storms that would roll in around 5pm. We both knew better that it could just as easily come sooner. If we kept climbing, there was a high possibility that we’d be meeting this dangerous looking cloud near the summit.
It was either back up the hellish gully, and all the way back over Harvard and down, or we would have to keep going. We sat for a while perplexed. I could tell we were at odds. I wanted to give it a shot and push forward because I hated the thought of climbing back up the gully. Alix wanted certainty of the route. I convinced her that if we didn’t seen cairns, that we’d turn back. Slowly, they started popping up! I was watching the clouds form and grow in their size, but they were also turning. I started praying fervently to God to protect us, to turn the clouds away from us and he must have heard us. We were in the clear from bad weather- PRAISE GOD!
My body, was absolutely exhausted at this point, and all I had left was an apple. My legs were no longer cooperating with me very well. We were still far below the summit of Columbia and I was now out of water and we weren’t by any water sources. There was nothing we could do. We just had to follow the route until we were back at our car. Even though my body felt pushed to the limit, I knew that if I had to, my body could carry on for days and that gave me the confidence to push on.
Once we made it out of the valley and were on the final ridge towards Columbia my motivation and resilience was leaving me. I didn’t want to continue, but Alix kept encouraging me to keep going and that we were finally almost there. I was so thankful that she was there with me, otherwise I’m sure I would have sat down to rest and cry, making my total hike time even longer, and arriving at the car even later. As usual when we were just about there, I found a burst of energy and made it up to the peak first.
There was no way that I was going to fake a smile in my picture this time. I was crabby, and absolutely bushed. At least the summit was beautiful, warm and not windy again. We had picked a perfect day for an unexpectedly long climb. We took our photos, and were soon on our way down- except we realized we didn’t have directions for going back down Columbia either. The only ways we saw going down were either following a very long trail around a ridge that gradually made it to treeline, or the longest, steepest gully I had ever seen.
I decided to try to call my mom to see if she could read off the directions to get down. Luckily I had service. After my mom shook her finger at us for 5 minutes, she went to 14ers.com and tried her best to get us to the route. After some time, she finally found them. She was reading them off , but they didn’t make much sense. Alix had less than 5% left on her phone but somehow managed to get 3G and directions up on her phone. We took pictures of them with my phone, and said to my mom with false confidence that we’d be down soon.
According to the directions, the way down was the steep gully. A gully that ran from 13,600 feet to treeline! It was also probably the fastest way down, but we felt pretty defeated that we would have to do something so exhaustive in our state. Alix was a pro at going down. She went down slow and steady, and never fell once. I on the other hand was impatient and was trying to get down the gully as quickly as possible. Many times I surfed down the mountain on the shale. Imagine that for a second- I was literally riding my own mini-avalanche! I thought Emigrant Peak in Montana’s shale was bad, and falling on my butt 10 times was ridiculous, well let me tell you, I think I fell around 50 times- not exaggerating! The last time I fell, I was near tears. I was so over this dumb gully, it was absolutely outrageous!
It must have taken us almost an hour and a half to get down that gully sliding on my butt. At the bottom, Alix and I weren’t sure which way was the right way to go. We started towards a large rock formation that would take more upward climbing, and as we grew near it, knowing we didn’t have much energy left, we decided we’d risk going the other way.
Luckily, it was the right way! We were now in treeline and from what I could remember from before, it didn’t feel like a long way through the forest. It was now 7:15pm, and the sun was down. Soon it started to drizzle, and we could hear thunder and see lightening in the distance. The trail seemed like it just wouldn’t end. We were now walking through the dark with our phone and flashlights out to lead the way. Did I mention that morning I took out both flashlights and my Yak Traks because I thought for sure I wouldn’t need them, but otherwise have had them with me every other hike?? Of course with my luck I’d take them out.
We kept talking about how we were going to have the biggest Mexican meal when we got back. On and on we went, dreaming about food, water and finally arriving at our cars. We were so tired at that point we were just extremely loopy, laughing at everything including the subject of poop.
This time we saw a parking lot! It was 9:05pm and we were finally back. We left as quickly as we could, and headed for Buena Vista to find an open restaurant. We had reached Buena Vista right after 10pm. Despite our best efforts driving all around town, we couldn’t find any food. We hung our heads and drove to the Super 8 motel where we would be sleeping that night. I scarfed some Smoked Provolone Cheezits, beef jerky and a banana before passing out at around 11pm.
Alix and I didn’t wake up the next morning until nearly 10am. Even in our stink and filth, we headed to The Evergreen Cafe. Our bodies were still hurting from the day before. I ate everything on my plate and was still just happily satisfied and not overfull. I need to refuel my body for another climb tomorrow.
The total count of mountains I hope to climb this summer has been bumped from 55 to now 56! I don’t think I’ll risk climbing any more mountains for extra credit even if they look close!!