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!
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!
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.
Ellingwood Point & Blanca Peak:
- Ellingwood Point Height: 14,042 ft.
- Blanca Peak Height: 14,345 ft.
- Range: Sangre De Cristo
- Route: Northwest Ridge from Blanca Peak, then Combo
- Distance: 12.46 mi.
- Elevation Gain (from parking at 8,000 ft.): 6,800 ft.
- Time started: 6:10am
- End time: 4:10pm
- Time to Summit Ellingwood Point from 8,000 feet: 5 hours and 10 minutes
- Time to Summit Blanca Peak from summit of Ellingwood Point: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Time to Descend Blanca Peak to Como Lake: 2 hours
- Overall Pace: 1.3 miles per hour
- GEAR (to bring):
- Bear spray, helmet, water purifier, first aid kit, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, headlamp, flashlight, toilet paper, GPS, extra batteries, extra socks, phone, SPOT Satellite Tracker, Map, Topo Map from 14ers.com, hiking boots with 2 pairs of socks on, extra change of clothes, wear a tank top, long-sleeve, wind-guard/raincoat, light weight puffy coat, lightweight gloves, overnight pack with water sack and extra water (160oz), food for two full days (large bag of jerky, large bag of trailsmix, 4 protein bars, and 4 granola bars).
- Road Condition: 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 Ellingwood Point: You’re still going to be on a road until 12,000 ft. elevation. Easy slow gain to this point. Trail is in great condition and easy to follow with the cairns. We took the higher route on Ellingwood (class 3) and it’s more than fine- nothing too scary at all (coming from a person who has a slight fear of heights). Ellingwood Point to Blanca Peak: Trail at the divide between the two and on to Blanca is a difficult class two. You’ll have to pull yourself up in some areas. Otherwise, just weave your way up watching for cairns until the summit. Some loose rock, but not bad.
After a lovely night in the Hampton Inn, I left late that afternoon to meet back up with Alix! We decided we would do Ellingwood Point, Blanca Peak, and Little Bear Peak which would require backpacking overnight to Lake Como. We met up at a coffee shop in Alamosa and exchanged stories of our week apart. I told her of the six amazing people from the train and their blessings and about the five mountains I climbed. Alix had managed to hike three mountains: San Luis Peak, Kit Carson, and Challenger. She escaped to Lake City to get better when I went to Rico and stayed at the hostel there. The owner, Lucky invited her to join himself and his friend “Mad Dog” to climb Kit Carson and Challenger using ropes. It was such a great experience for her and gave her so much more confidence to climb a class 4. Something she wasn’t willing to try before.
The road was covered in river rock which made it just rough enough that our cars couldn’t make it any further than the 8,000 mark. Arriving at the trailhead pretty late, we slept in our car and set out at 6am the next morning. As we made our way up the open road, a gorgeous sunrise greeted us. It was the most spectacular one I had seen yet. It was also spread out over new terrain I hadn’t seen in a long time: a flat land with farmland. It was neat to look across it from the foothills. It’s a view that’s almost impossible to get in Minnesota.
We weaved our way through the foothills on the 4WD road until we were finally breaking into the back country. There we met Mark from Minnesota. He was hoping to climb all three peaks that day, but Alix and I had our doubts. He had only been in Colorado for a day, had only climbed one previous 14er, and he was very casual with his time. Exactly 5.5 miles in we arrived to the clear, green Lake Como and set up our tent, unloaded what weight we could, and headed back on the trail towards Ellingwood and Blanca. We passed through a short forest, where Mark pointed out Little Bear’s trailhead. I was glad he did because I’m sure it would have been a repeat of Maroon Peak.
From there we picked up speed and made our way to the waterfall at 12,000. At the top was another beautiful couple of green lakes. I was really struggling with stomach issues while we were climbing so unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy it to the full extent. Weaving up past those two lakes we came to Crater Lake that looked as if it had an ocean grotto beneath its watery surface. Once we passed that lake we switchbacked our way through boulders to reach the saddle between Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak. A couple times along the way I had to stop to massage my stomach. I felt bad I was slowing down Alix and it was zapping my moral. By the time we reached the saddle I was feeling weak.
The clouds were also really rolling in as we arrived at the saddle. They were forming in the basin, and blowing up over the saddle. It made it so we couldn’t see very far ahead of us and reminded me of my hike on Quandary. We decided to do the lower class 2 traverse to the Ellingwood Point summit. It was mostly scrambing and climbing boulders and made an easy summit. It was surprisingly calmer and warmer on the summit. I collapsed there for a bit before taking pictures- mostly of just Alix and I because we couldn’t see anything else around us.
On the way back, we took the upper class 3 traverse which we both liked a lot better. There were more skinny ridges and climbing to do, and views of thousand foot cliffs. By the time we had made it back to the saddle, the clouds were already starting to blow out of the basin and we could once again see the brightly colored lakes down below.
Next we made our way towards Blanca Peak. This was a difficult class two and was mostly just climbing up large boulders until we made summit. Once there, we could see Mark down below just making the saddle. It was already 1pm, and he hadn’t even made it to one summit. I felt bad for the guy. We rested on the slightly chilly summit and ate a snack while enjoying the views of Little Bear. A guy had taken the long traverse from Blanca to Little Bear which was class 5. We thought then, how crazy that would be?
As we headed down we crossed paths with Mark. He was surprised how much the hike was taking out of him. I said, “That’s the altitude”. He remarked, “Isn’t it conditioning too?” I said it’s a combination of the two, but I could strongly relate to him as my first hike of this trip, Mount Bierstadt, had taken a lot out of me. I was also naive on how different a hike up a mountain would differ from a walk the same distance. It’s much harder and much, much longer.
As we made our way back down, I took some time to take pictures of the emerald green lakes. I was only wishing it were more sunny to capture their true beauty. As we approached our last mile, we could hear thunder in the distance and were hoping that Mark was making his way down safely. We were sure that he was only going to make one peak today despite his valiant efforts. Thankfully for me, and my level of fatigue, my legs slowly recovered as we made it back to Lake Como.
Once we were inside our tent and set up, we laid down to take a nap. It had just started to rain, and the evening cool was already arriving. I snuggled up in my new sleeping bag and was overcome with joy at how warm and toasty I was for the first time. Once again, what was supposed to be a 20 minute nap, turned into a 12 hours of sleep! Thank you again for all your blessings Andi, Rich, Carolyn, Tom, Keith and Annette! I will think of you every time I’m in my warm, comfy sleeping bag!
- Height: 14,048 ft.
- Range: San Juan
- Route: Southwest Slope
- Distance: 7.5 mi.
- Elevation Gain: 2,500 ft.
- Time it took: 4.5 hours with leisure time at the summit, a swim in the lake and photo op at a waterfall!
- 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, snacks.
- Road Condition: Do not use Google Maps via the 14ers.com phone app! It takes you through Ouray where the Alpine Loop is only passable by 4WD! Go to Lake City! The road is rough with typical pot holes and pointy rocks, and I had to park where the directions from 14ers.com suggested.
- Trail Condition: The trail practically starts above treeline, so you don’t have to worry about bears on the trail (unless crazy bad luck). It’s a very easy trail to navigate marked with cairns along the way. When you get near the lake, and the trail splits, take a left to continue up Handies. You’ll see the switchbacks along the side of the mountain. The trail has a lot of scree, so make sure you have shoes with good grip.
After I climbed Capitol, I was debating that night if I wanted to climb Pyramid or go to Buena Vista and take the day off. I was woken up the next morning around 4am by newly arriving hikers. I decided to get up, and quickly packed my tent up and headed towards Pyramid. It was nearly 6am when I arrived at the road that would lead me to Pyramid. Looking at the photos and directions, I realized my start was going to be too late, so I turned back around and headed towards Buena Vista. The post office was my first stop and I was extremely happy when they handed me my package with my new phone. It had been nearly a week since I had one!
I spent the rest of the day doing laundry, taking a shower and going to the library to work on setting up my phone. It was such an annoying experience. I had just drove to Denver two weeks prior to get a new phone, and now I was having to set it all up all over again- ugh. I also uploaded as many pictures as I could from my previous hikes and when the library closed, I was greeted by Alix! I was so happy to see her, and we had a lot to catch up on. We went to a local Mexican restaurant, El Paraiso which was much tastier than Casa Del Sol- hands down. Although the service wasn’t outstanding, I recommend it.
We finished up dinner around 8:30pm, and made the decision to head to the San Juan mountain range. We’d climb Handies, an easy class 1 mountain first. We hadn’t realized it, but the drive was almost five hours. We got coffee and I lead the way using Google Maps via the GPS coordinates from the 14ers.com phone app. We drove all the way through Ouray, and when we got to the Alpine Loop, we were met by 4WD only terrain (not even my Saturn could fake it this time). We were only 20 miles away, it was 12:45am in the morning, and we couldn’t get to the trailhead?! We would have to drive another 3 hours to get there the right way.
That is the last time I’ll use Google Maps via 14ers.com! If you do use it, make sure that the directions on Google match the description provided by 14ers.com. Another lesson learned. Can I be done with the hard learning now?! We tried to keep driving in the middle of the night, but by 1:50am, both Alix and I could barely keep our eyes open. We pulled off into a church parking lot and ended up sleeping until 6am that morning.
The view that morning was outstanding! Beautiful, large, majestic lakes surrounded by mountains. My dad could totally find enough fishing here (his main argument for not wanting to move)! Eventually we found our way to Lake City and went into the Alpine Loop from the other side. We were able to drive all but a mile to the trailhead. We got our backpacks ready and started off onto the trail around 10:15am.
It was an easy trek up the mountain. It lead into a valley, and near the backside there was a beautiful turquoise lake. We decided we would hit on the way back down. I wore my old hiking boots, which was a mistake. Despite it being an easy mountain, there was a lot of scree, and it was very steep at times which caused me to slip multiple times. Zigzagging up the side of the mountain we finally made a run for the summit.
Alix and I joked about how many senior citizens we saw climbing that day, “Handies is for Grannies”. The summit was full of people. Many people had made a late start towards the summit that day because the weather was absolutely perfect! Not a cloud in the sky, not even at noon. There were three labs at the summit that were all eager to say hello- well one was too tired to move. We talked to a gentleman who had climbed all 54 fourteeners. He could easily point out every fourteener he could see from the summit. We stayed a long time on the summit munching on snacks, and talking with the people on the summit that day which seems to be a rare occasion. During our random conversations, Alix and I realized that Handies was both our 27th peak!! What are the odds!?
We couldn’t believe how fast the climb up went, and we were relaxed and silly on the way down, knowing we didn’t have far to go, and that the weather was fine. We diverted over to the lake and it was a beautiful sight! After taking some pictures and staring at it for a while, Alix decided that she wanted to go for a swim! Before I knew it, she was taking off her warmer clothes and without hardly a flinch walked out into the lake- not once, but twice! She was strongly hinting that I should go for it too, but being the freeze baby that I am, I declined… maybe another lake…maybe…
On our way up we caught eye of a pretty cascading waterfall, and on the way down we walked out of our way to take photos. It became the perfect photo op! We were having a blast! After goofing off for a while, we finally headed back to our tent, taking photos for all the tourists along the way. After a long night of driving, and a mountain climb, we went down for a nap, a nap that turned into a three hours, and it was glorious!
Today was the day! The day I said farewell to Forest Lake, MN and hello to the road! Here I come Colorado!! Woohoo!!! Yes, it’s starting to hit me what is about to take place in my life. I ended up half way there in Omaha, Nebraska. Tonight I sleep in a cozy hotel bedroom. No camping, yet.
I learned a couple of valuable lessons today.
1) Do not go mountain biking on a wet trail- it’s for your own good! After seven and a half hours of driving I thought I’d get my body moving. What better way then on my mountain bike in new territory? I am an optimist to a fault. It was wet, my wheels were slipping and mud was flying everywhere, not to mention mosquitoes in Nebraska are just as nasty if not nastier. I thought, “Oh, psht, it’ll get better!” WRONG. After a half hour of getting eaten alive and nearly wrestling my bike to the muddy ground a half dozen times I found the quickest route to the road through the damp grass and road back on nice, dry cement. It must have given at least a couple drivers an entertaining moment to see this mud monster emerge from the swampy forest.
2) Attractive Nebraskan men have the balls to pass out their number to a pretty girl (sorry Minnesota men!) I managed to mess up trying to pay for a hose to rinse my bike off so I had to run into the gas station. It turns out what I thought would be a hose was a soapy brush. In this embarrassing moment, an attractive man came up to me and handed me a piece of paper with his number on it! I tried to make a joke of what I was trying to accomplish, but I think I scared him off! Needless to say, I was flattered being absolutely covered in mud. And no I haven’t texted or called him… what’s the point? Maybe I should at least tell him to keep up the good work…
While these are good insights for the day, my main purpose for this trip was to connect with God on a deeper level and in a more tangible way. I guess in all my planning, I forgot to plan how I was going to make this happen. I know this connection is the one and only real way to rid myself of this eating disorder and find self acceptance and peace. It’s different for everyone, but as for me, therapy and what they taught me at Center for Discovery and Melrose, can only go so far. Tonight I will end my night with prayer; for safe passage, for contentment.