How a Texas flatlander climbed a Colorado mountain.

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My sister called me up one evening and said, Can you meet me in Colorado and go hiking? My heart started pounding a little faster and I dared to get my hopes up a little. This was the call I’d subconsciously been waiting for all summer. I knew about her plans of traveling, camping and hiking through beautiful places with her little teardrop camper and I wanted to be a part of it, but wasn’t sure how or when things would come together .  She had literally just finished hiking the trail seen above in the guidebook and was excited and inspired to call me. She gave me one month’s notice to get there. We chatted a few minutes and I was non-committal but told her I’d ask my husband. He was already in bed, but I couldn’t stop myself from heading to the bedroom to ask him if I could go. Not sure why , he was probably half-asleep, but he said yes without asking questions! My spirit soared! Yes! I am going hiking in the mountains of Colorado! Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail to be exact.

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I’d been training for a hilly trail running race for the past few months, gradually increasing my hill repeats and time on feet, but I still immediately began to wonder if I could handle something like this. I’d never backpacked overnight before or even put on a pack heavier than just a full 2 liter hydration bladder. I may look strong but my upper body could use some attention, so I knew I had some work ahead of me.  My first step was to go to Ebay and look at backpacking packs. My sister said I could rent one at REI in Denver but I wanted to train with a pack. God blessed me with a super nice vintage Gregory pack in my size for only $75.00 plus shipping! I ended up using this pack on the hike. When it arrived, I immediately put some stuff in it, including some hand weights and various random blankets and put it on. Yikes! It felt heavy. I was nervous. IMG_2712

So I started taking walks with the pack. The first time I only had about 10 pounds in the pack and it felt so awkward and different than my running vest. I was walking sooo slowly! I tried to go faster and tried various postures.  The pack is supposed to sit on your hips, which means you have to get used to that weight on your hips as opposed to your back.  I started to worry that I’d not be able to keep up with my sister. Later, I discovered that 2 miles per hour was considered perfectly normal so I stopped worrying so much. I kept adding time to my hikes with the pack and adding weight. I even went out in the rain one day. Finally I did a 3 hour hike with 25 pounds in my pack and used my trekking poles and tried climbing hills. It went so well that I finally felt ready. My only fear was the altitude.

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I live at 300 feet, basically sea level. I would soon be traveling to a high point of over 14,000 feet . I posted in a Facebook Texas hiking group about my plans and the replies were that I was probably going to get very sick in the altitude. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, etc.. Great! I became very concerned . My sister thought I’d be fine because I had been okay at 10,000 feet in the past, but this was higher, said my Facebook friends. So I did some research about how to survive and this is how it worked out. IMG_2727

The first day I flew into Colorado Springs and my sister picked me up and we drove out to where she was camping.  Mueller State Park is at around 9,500 elevation. All we did there is sleep and then get up and pack up and leave to drive to the next place. That was one night at elevation. The main thing, as far as adapting to altitude, that I did the first day was to drink a lot of water. I woke up needing to pee so bad it hurt,  but I was afraid of bears! I finally couldn’t hold it and I got out of the camper and just went right there in the grass. My bear fears abated a little over the next week.

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We set up our next camp at Twin Lakes campground, a very scenic park with a lovely lake surrounded by tall mountains. Gorgeous! This was about 9,200 feet elevations, the second night. We got our gear all sorted and packed and ready, discussed morning plans with her friend who was going to shuttle us,  and went to bed.  Her little camper is very comfy. The temperatures there were much cooler and dryer than Texas, by about 30-40 degrees at night and 20 degrees in the daytime, and I was loving that! Day two I also drank water constantly and also took some salt tablets. I was peeing constantly, as fast as I drank, the faster I peed it out. This is normal as the body adjusts, so you need to add salt to your drinks or food, or you’ll get dehydrated from so much water. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. IMG_2783

The next day we loaded up in two cars, dropped my sister’s car off at the place where we planned to end the hike, and then rode in her friend’s car to the trail head. All of this driving took awhile and we didn’t actually start the hike until 10:00 A.M.  The hiking went pretty well as far as how I was able to handle the backpack and poles and trail, but I had one problem, gas! In other words, my intestines were bloated up with air and it really hurt. I found out later after suffering for a long time that  my sister had some Gas-X tablets which I took and they helped a lot. After that I just farted as often as necessary to relieve the pressure. Turns out gas is common when adjusting to altitude. Bring Gas medicine!

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The first day I was super happy, almost giddy, to finally be hiking in the mountain, something I’d been dreaming of doing for awhile. Instagram has a way of inspiring me to try newer and more exciting adventures , especially when I know there’s a real possibility of making it happen, thanks to my amazing , retired, adventurous  big sister. So far, thanks to her and with her, I’ve been to Hawaii, climbed up to the Delicate Arch in Utah, hiked Negro Bills Canyon in Moab, went running on Mid Mountain in Park City, went snowshoeing and alpine skiing, and did lots of camping and other fun things when she still lived in Texas. We also went to see the late, great  Stevie Ray Vaughan live in Houston. Once we went canoeing and our boat capsized in some rapids and I was left stranded in the middle of a river. Another time we got caught in a huge rainstorm and near-flash flood while camping and had to abandon our tent. Oh, and I got lost on that mountain that  I climbed in Park City and thought I might die.  But things always work out!  I’m very thankful for my sister and her willingness to teach me how to adapt and learn and have fun. IMG_2787
Back to hiking. On the first night on the Colorado trail, we set up camp at 11,000 feet. I was feeling good, no issues with headaches or anything, except for the previously mentioned intestinal gas. This was my third night at altitude. The next day was going to be the real test. We were going to attempt to climb the trail to Mount Massive, up to 14, 421 feet. Could I do it? Could she do it? Neither of us were really sure. It took me a long time to fall asleep.

We woke up at sunrise as usual. It was gloriously cold and beautiful weather, but there was  smoke in the air from a wildfire burning. It wasn’t close to us, but the wind carried the smell. We retrieved our food bag from the tree, took some sunrise photos, packed up our sleeping bags and tents and got our packs sorted, then hiked about a mile down to the Mt. Massive trail intersection. Before we headed out we had to refill our hydration packs from the stream (after filtering), figure out what food and supplies and clothes we were going to wear and set up a tent to leave the rest of our stuff in while we were gone. This was a tip we got from some fellow hikers that we became friends with, leaving our stuff in a tent instead of just leaving it out by a tree or something. We finally hit the trail to climb the mountain at around 8:30 or so. Not as early as we should have started , but it worked out.

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The first mile or so was still in the trees, mostly pines. It was fairly steep going, about 1000 feet in one mile. Then it got really steep! About 2500 feet in a little over 2 miles. The trail was well built but rocky and got slightly technical in some places. We took a lot of breaks to take photos, rest, catch our breath, eat snacks(protein bars, jerky, cheese, and Clif bloks), and my sister made one phone call, so it was slow going . The closer to the top we went, the steeper it felt and the slower we climbed,  and the windier and cooler it got. My sister said she had never moved that slow in her life, and we were having a little trouble with the lack of oxygen, but no headaches or dizziness, so we were thrilled when  made it to a flat spot about 13,900 feet up where we stopped for a short break. We took some photos, shooed away an overly brazen marmot who wanted snacks and  waited on our friend who we saw descending the trail which was pretty technical past that point. She was without her husband and she told us that she had decided to stop short of the summit because it was very difficult and included some rock scrambling in place with steep drop-offs.  Her husband had gone on to the top. After hearing this information, we decided to push forward as far as we could , knowing that we would probably not make the summit as we both have a fear of heights when we can see the bottom. As long as there was no visible drop-off , I was okay, but the minute I had that in my peripheral vision, I knew I would get scared and could freeze. I also knew that even if we made it up , we’d have to come back down which is even more frightening.  We made it up the increasingly technical and hard to see trail to approximately 14, 153 feet, based on my Garmin and were both okay with stopping there. Next time I may make it to the summit, but this time I am happy with climbing over 14,000 feet . We could see a mountain goat on the summit, we were so close. Of course, there was  a boy about 10 years old scampering back down from the summit with no poles and no fear and  that did make feel a little like a big chicken for not going all the way.

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After that, we carefully, but fairly quickly descended the mountain and made it back to our tent.  We were tired and hungry so we took time to refuel before  we packed the tent and hiked another 4 miles mostly downhill to her car.  Our total mileage for the two days was about 20 miles.  The next few days were spent camping,  kayaking relaxing, and reliving the hike and feeling very good about it. I can’t wait to do it again and I plan to use the same methods of sleeping at gradually higher altitudes for several nights, drinking tons of water, and taking salt, to adjust to the the altitude. It worked and I’m so thankful!

 

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