Climbing a 14er: Pikes Peak Part Two

Editor’s note: Today, Lisa Martinez continues her ongoing series about an amazing adventure through Colorado and to Pikes Peak. Lisa

Hiking_Pikes_Peak

My wake-up call came early again, at 4:30 am. Sleep had been hard to tie down the previous night. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that all the training and planning for summit day of a 14,110 ft mountain was about to get really real.

Joseph was intent to make it to the top of Pikes Peak between noon and 1:00 pm, since he shared that a surprise was awaiting us there. With the steepness and intricacies of the trail, especially as it nears the summit, hiking veterans had told us to tack on at least an hour to how long it took us yesterday to get to Barr Camp.

Add an hour? Oh boy, I was preparing mentally for another long day.

Except for the kiddos, our cabin of ten people was up before the sun and ready to either hike or send us off. There was a spirit of determination amongst our small group, and an easy camaraderie in hiking with a family that have such a long-history with my husband – and now me.

Trish, Joseph, Simon and I set our feet to walking up Barr trail, Part 2, just after 5:00 AM. Our headlamps were in place to light our path, hiking polls for those of us over 18, and only 2 backpacks – between Simon and I – with food, water, and necessities – primarily the warm layers.

The early morning darkness and chill began to fade as we hiked and the mountain sunrise peaked over the horizon. The movements began to loosen up my stiff and aching muscles from the day before. The stillness of the mountain and the glow of the morning Sun warmed my spirits.

sunrise

Our new, local friend, Terri, was also determined to summit with us. Scheduled to work on Saturday, our group’s Day 1, Terri began her ascent at Barr Trail Head on Sunday at 2:00 AM! Hiking by herself in the dark, and catching up with us during snack time after sunrise, we were glad to have another strong lady in our pack.

ladies_hiking

Terri had also lost a lot of weight, and was embracing a new healthy lifestyle which included summiting Pikes Peak four times already. Terri’s determination had impressed us, however her demeanor was always friendly and helpful.

I also was impressed to see a young leader arise before us, Simon, Mike’s Godson. The youngest of our group, with his fiery red hair, he showed great care in making sure our group was staying on track: Whether it was having his Mom set an alarm to ensure we were all eating every hour, checking that we were drinking our water every 15 minutes, holding out his hand for us each to safely scale rocky areas, diving to grab his father who began teetering backwards to sit on a rock, or carrying the sole pack for his family – he kept us primed to successfully summit.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!” I’d sometimes sass back to Simon. Then I’d secretly confess to his Mother how sweet it was to see him looking after his Dad.

The hiking continued, mostly a steady pace, with breaks for breathing, eating, drinking, or the moments when your tush just wants to park it on a rock and be left alone for a few minutes. At times there was banter between us, or maybe just the sound of shoes crunching on the trail, or sometimes I’d stick in my earphones to take in my “Mountain Music Mix”. That was the drill for the first few hours.

Around 9:00 AM, we made it to the A-Frame – a simple shelter built to serve as a refuge, particularly when weather conditions require it. However, when we arrived, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Many people leave supplies there – either because they don’t want to carry it anymore or want to leave it for those in need.

The day was warming up – so my Long-Johns came off and my sunscreen went on. With a nice surround of trees that would soon disappear as we hiked onward, this was also the last prime opportunity for a potty-break. In the outdoors, you take what you can get.

hiking-pikes-peak

After a nice break over a striking view, we moved on. It seemed like once we hit the trail, the sun went behind the clouds, and it began to feel cooler. The higher we climbed, the cooler the air became — so gradually, my layers went back on.

After hiking what I’ve seen tallied as 23 switchbacks along the trail from the A-Frame up to 12,000 feet, we reached Tree Line. Tree Line is the point at which no trees grow past it due to the lack of oxygen. What that meant for us was that we needed to be more conscious of our breathing, as it would be even easier to feel winded and lose energy. It also was a great reminder for me to pray that none of us would experience altitude sickness.

We kept pushing forward. The trail was pebbly, and the clouds were so dense that we could not see most of the incredible views that Terri wanted to share with us. There were mostly runners going up or coming down along side us, all with the same greeting:

“You’re getting close!” or “Not much longer now!”

While it was encouraging the first several times, the last few times we heard it, I began to feel like we were being strung along. This was the longest 12.15 miles I think I’ve ever walked.

There were moments when it felt like I was on an endless upward sloping path. I would glance up and see the next switchback, just how steep it was, and my legs would quiver at the prospect of getting there. Yet I was reminded that the mountain is a lot like life: It can be overwhelming to look so far ahead at the enormity of it all, and how it can be achieved; but, you will get there eventually by focusing on taking the step directly in front of you in the moment, and then the next one past that.

There were also moments of pure awe and wonder. As we trekked higher, we saw a large bird flying over head. Was that really a Golden Eagle?? With that, almost to prove that it was, it circled back – giving us a second viewing. Gorgeous.

Next wildlife siting: A beautiful Big Horned Sheep! Amidst the fog of clouds, we saw it swiftly descending. In any other setting, it would have been just a sheep – but in that time and space, nature and wildlife take on a new meaning, revealing the majesty and grandeur of God.

The air continued to become more frigid. My fingers were still cold through my winter gloves, with my fingerless gloves layered on top to provide hiking pole padding. The grey sky, densely clouded, thundered. Terri had been so excited to show us the views from the point “Cirque”, but we couldn’t see anything on account of thick clouds. Must. Keep. Moving.

Having heard tales of the dreaded “16 Golden Stairs” — a series of steep and rocky switchbacks near the top — it seemed like a good point to stop for a picture.
16_golden_stairs

Nearing the top, we continued our regime of eating, drinking, and steadily making progress. It was critical to keep doing those things, as reminded by a young woman (who had the appearance of being physically fit) that passed us while taking our picture, looking a bit green. She told us that she felt really nauseated, even though she had been eating and drinking. She turned us down when we offered her food, and kept walking.

Next came the hail. Yes, HAIL. I wasn’t really prepared for tiny balls of ice to pelt me in my final stretch, but there they were. With my fleece beginning to get wet, I stopped to pull out the big guns – my Gortex jacket. Water-resistant has a beautiful ring to it in the outdoors.

Rounding out the switchbacks of the golden stairs, past our desired timeframe of between 12 and 1, we were still thrilled to actually be close now.

“I am NOT going to cry” Joseph announced to us, unconvincingly. (Read his summit account here.)

The goal of this trip was to fulfill a promise that Joseph made to his son 3 years ago, when they drove to the summit of Pikes Peak. Physically unable to undertake any type of hike on the mountain, it became a pivotal moment for their family. And now here we were, catching glimpses of the summit house above, and about to see it all come to pass. If anyone had earned a good cry, it was him.

“Bring us home, Joseph!” I cheered.

fourteenthousandonehundredten

Hail wasn’t the only thing hovering — the anticipation of the summit was palpable. Then, from atop the mountain, there was a sight to behold: A heard of Big Horned Sheep and their Ewes, gathered on the rocks in the fog! There they stood in a white fluffy pack, impossible to ignore. Then in the next moment they were off, gracefully descending the Peak. However, one Sheep in the back lingered, looking down at us as if to pass along his congrats. In the next moment, he quickly scaled downward. It was incredible.

The summit house kept getting closer and closer until, after two days of hiking, we were finally there. Full of emotions, the Kahlichs pulled each other into a three-way embrace, tears flowing, sharing how proud they were of each other. Terri and her husband, who had climbed down the last bit of the trail to meet us and hike back up together, hugged and congratulated each of us. It was surreal.

Walking into the gift shop, I finally saw my husband, who had been so worried. It was past 2 pm, and with the hail and thunder, he was just about ready to hike down to find me. As I went to hug Mike, my emotions finally really released — tears streaming down my face.

I get it now. I had heard the true stories from Terri and other successful 14ers, stumbling upon distraught hikers along the way, who were found crumpled over on the trail crying, hurt, or sick. They would stop to give them food, water, emotional support, or even carry their pack for a stretch… Hiking Pikes Peak is not for the faint of heart, believe me.

I cannot recall a time where I had faced such a challenge – physically, mentally, emotionally – as this. We all felt a great sense of accomplishment.

pikes-peak-summit

We ate our donuts, drank our hot cocoa, took pictures, and bought our Pikes Peak memorabilia in the gift shop. Afterwards, we rode the Cog Rail Train down, which I thoroughly enjoyed letting the train do all the work.

At the bottom, we had hoped to enjoy a celebratory dinner together, but logistically it didn’t fall into place. Mike and I needed to start making our way to Salida – our midway point to our next road trip stop, Telluride. So we hugged our goodbyes, and headed off for a hearty dinner. The Kahlichs said Pizza and Beer in the hotel sounded pretty good to them at that point anyway.

The Colorado Mountain Brewery provided another meal worth writing about. Apparently Bison sounded really good to me, as I inhaled my half of the appetizer Bison Poppers, and then cleared my plate of Bison Meatloaf Wellington. And washed it down with a cold mug of UniBrau Hefeweissen.

colorado_brewery

Hopping back in the car, I was full and exhausted. More than ready for a shower and good night’s sleep – I not-so-patiently endured the two mudslide delays along our scenic route. But we made it to the Salida Inn & Monarch Suites on West U.S. Hwy 50 a bit before 9:00 pm. Definitely not a luxury hotel, but it was simple and clean, and the bed was comfortable.

Lights were out not long after a much-needed soak in a tub infused with Epsom Salts. I tried not to dream of scaling any mountains…my muscles needed rest even subconsciously.

This post is part of my Colorado Road Trip series. Next up will be our arrival in the beautiful mountain town of Telluride, so come back and join me on the next leg of our trip!

Lisa Martinez

Lisa Martinez

About Lisa Martinez

A writer, artist, and silly-heart from her youth, Lisa Martinez utilizes a variety of mediums as outlets for creative storytelling, laced with humor whenever possible. Lisa attended Franciscan University, where she studied Writing, Mental Health, and Theology. In 2004, she discovered her passion for driving small business growth; now, with her husband, she owns a boutique digital agency, illuvint, based in Dallas and partnering with a world-class team across the States. Closed Doors Open Windows is where her personal blog lives on the web.

Copyright 2014 Lisa Martinez

About Lisa Martinez

A writer, artist, and silly-heart from her youth, Lisa Martinez utilizes a variety of mediums as outlets for creative storytelling, laced with humor whenever possible. Lisa attended Franciscan University, where she studied Writing, Mental Health, and Theology. In 2004, she discovered her passion for driving small business growth; now, with her husband, she owns a boutique digital agency, illuvint, based in Dallas and partnering with a world-class team across the States. Closed Doors Open Windows is where her personal blog lives on the web.