Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our Summit of Pikes Peak - Part 3 of 3: Day 2 - The Summit or Bust!

Day one ended with many blessings.  Relaxing and recouping at Barr Camp, enjoying the spaghetti dinner there, the comradery of other hikers, campers and the camp care takers, but most of all, the arrival of my niece and her family.  My niece, her husband, and their sweet young children, one of which is my Godson, traveled from Texas, took the cog rail up to Mountain View, and hiked the mile and a half over to Barr Camp just to spend one night with us at the camp, and then meet us at the summit the next day!

A Natural Leader
The entire purpose of this trip was to fulfill a promise to my son that I made 3 years ago when we drove to the summit of Pikes Peak on his 16th birthday because I was extremely to unfit to make ANY type of hike on the mountain.  The gift of my promise was returned to me as I saw my son’s leadership skills first hand.  All three of us, my wife, my son, and I are all VERY HARD HEADED, but this time I kept my mouth shut, for the most part, and enjoyed stepping back and letting my son take charge of the Day 2 hike to the summit.  At the end of day one, he reached out to others at the camp, explaining our day, and most importantly LISTENING to the advice and instructions from the veterans at the camp.  Key to this; carry ONLY what you must and make sure to drink every 15 minutes and EAT at least every hour!  Simon walked into the upper cabin where we were all staying and exclaimed “Alright let’s lay out what we are bringing to the summit! All we need is food, water, and rain gear.  If you get hurt you can have 1 Band-Aid!”  He further instructed, “Mom set a timer on your phone to remind us to eat every hour and we are going to drink water every 15 minutes.”   I was proud to see him in action as we laid out only the essentials that we would carry up to the summit.  My son went around to each of us asking, “How much water do you think you will need?” He did the math, rounded up the appropriate amount of bottles and then went and collected and purified the water from the stream.  “I am the youngest and most fit.  I will carry the one back pack.  The rest of you can help by each carrying a bottle of water.  As the day progresses and we eat and drink my pack will get lighter making it easier on me as we reach the summit.”  That is MY BOY!!!

Support System
Now, this plan only worked because of my INCREDIBLE niece and her husband.  They gratefully accepted taking a pack stuffed with ALL of our remaining gear with them on the train and up to the summit!  What an incredible gesture to drive out for an overnight stay just to root us on and help us out!

Another form of support was all the other family, friends, and supporters from Facebook.  Their words of encouragement and compliments of my family efforts kept us driving on, but the most important gift of all were the PRAYERS!  Of the greatest Facebook supporters was an incredible woman named Terri who every day for SEVERAL months posted pictures of Barr Trail and Pikes Peak on the Fourteenthousand Onehundredten Facebook page.  But Terri did MUCH more than that as will be learned later in this post.

Hike to the summit
The night before, one of the caretakers at the camp, Renee, asked how long it took us to get from the trail head to the camp. “9 hours” was the response.  “Well, then it should take you 10 to make the summit.”   Though I did not physically see any, I swear at that moment I heard crickets.  Soon after I started hearing the squeaking grinding of cog wheels as my mind began to process time windows.  I had made arrangements to meet on the summit between noon and 1 p.m.  with a gentleman that at the time of this writing must remain private (I don’t want to ruin any surprises).  “cccrrreeeakkk…. whhizzz… clank… ccrreeaakk…. clank….  cccrrreeeaaakkk…. DING!”  …. “2 a.m.” …  “2 a.m.!”  “We MUST start hiking at 2 a.m.”! 

Bundled up in our toasty 40 degree rated sleeping bags we rolled out of our surprisingly comfortable bunk beds at 4 a.m.

We were donned in our modern day long johns, now made of polyester with just a splash of spandex, (NO NOT PANTYHOSE!!!! These were OFFICIAL athletic wear). “Ain’t no way I am hiking up the side of a mountain I have never been on at 2 a.m.” 

We decided on a 5 a.m. departure figuring one hour in the dark before sun up won’t be so bad. I thought to myself, “Hell at the rate we hiked yesterday we’ll only be about 150 yards from camp.”  Not to forget to mention the rest of the campsite was booked full with 2 separate Boy Scout troops.  “They should easily hear our screams for help...”

So on with the ankle braces, knee braces, Bio-Freeze, hiking boots, jackets, skull caps, and gloves.  Of course we made one more run to the last closed in in restroom for the next 6 miles.  Then off we went into the dark with my wonderful family cheering us on as we marveled at the fact that we could see our breath in the light of our headlamps.  The temperature was around 40 degrees.

On we marched carefully watching our steps.  The stones were still, and some man-made steps with ties were not too terribly difficult to navigate.  The trail was a bit confusing in just a couple of places but we felt confident we were on the right path.  Fifteen minutes in; “Drink!” ordered our leader, and we did.  I personally was already a bit winded and confessed so to the group.  Thankfully for me my wife said, “So am I”.  I was just happy to not be alone.  We had to book it.  I wanted to be at the summit no later than 1 p.m.  I felt great, actually.  I was not sore.  My ankle was not in too much pain.  I had slept well and was refreshed.  Oh, and my new hip, the one I received just 20 weeks prior; though the muscles on that side were still a little weak, was doing GREAT!  “WE CAN DO THIS”!

We marched on drinking every 15 minutes.  I was the slowest of the group so I lead the charge.  About an hour in as the sun was creeping up I began to see just how steep the climb was.  “Dang it!”  I did NOT need to see that!  It was nothing more than a mind game.  I remembered what so many GREAT supporters on Facebook and hiking family members had said, “Pace yourself.  Walk a few steps and rest”.  My dilemma was that I MUST make the summit by 1pm. 

“1, 2, 3, …. 50, 51…. 98, 99, 100 steps.  Stop. Take 5 deep breaths. Repeat.”  And so was the grind for the next five and a half miles.

Of course that grind was broken up with timeouts called by my son, our enthusiastic leader.  “Time to drink”.  “Time to eat”, which happened to work out to be about every 30 to 45 minutes.  It was during one of our chow sessions that we had one of the most pleasant moments we had been waiting for on our hike; OUR BIGGEST CHEERLEADER HAD CAUGHT UP WITH US!  “HELLLOO???” we heard.  “TERRI!!! Is that YOU????”  Sure enough!  Terri, a local and 4-time summit veteran of Barr Trail, had caught up with us to support us and cheer us on the rest of the way!

Back to the topics of supporters AND hiking up the side of a mountain at 2 a.m.  As mentioned previously Terri had been one of my family’s biggest supporters on Facebook where we met.  Terri had dinner with us at the Colorado Brewing Company earlier in the week so we could both do the whole, “is this person a weirdo test” in person.  Sure we enough we all passed.  We all are definitely “WEIRDOS”.  I mean who wants to walk 12 plus mile up a mountain in little oxygen and possible harsh conditions?  Luckily for us LOTS OF WONDERFUL WEIRDOS!

This awesome new friend hit the Barr Trail head Sunday August 10th at 2 in the morning.  And by the time we headed out from Barr Camp was only 30 minutes behind us! “Chugga, Chugga, Chugga, Chugga. Chugga, Chugga, Chugga, Chugga.  CHOO CHOO!”  This woman was a beast!

We quickly shared our adventures of the previous day, Terri’s of the previous HOURS… and then we continued.  “1, 2, 3, …. 50, 51…. 98, 99, 100 steps.  Stop. Take 5 deep breaths. Repeat.”

“There’s the A-Frame!”  A public structure created for refuge in the event shelter is required on the side of the mountain; especially in the event of harsh conditions.  This was about the halfway mark to the summit.  It was 9 a.m.  Now thinking back to the actual time, down to the minute, that we walked away from Barr Camp it was 5:23 a.m.  “Wow.  We are making much better time today and I feel great!”  … “Drink and eat … Drink and eat”  …  “At this pace we will be able to make summit by 1 p.m. without a problem!”  Water drank, food ingested, water bottles refilled, and bladders re-emptied it was time to move on!

“Here comes the tree line.” The area above the tree line had been described to me by veteran Barr Trail hikers as walking on the soft sand of a beach, but it is small pebbles, up a steep grade, no shade, and little oxygen.  There are no trees above tree line because there is not enough oxygen to support them.  The mind game was on and buddy, WE WERE DETERMINED!

As we pulled out of the trees, onto the slopes of the pebbles the sun was only partly making its way through the clouds, the air was cool, and so far, so good.  Then I hear my son say, “Oh WOW!”  I quickly turned to him and saw the direction of his gaze; just as quickly, I exclaim “Oh WOW!”  Sprawled out in front of us was the most incredible view I believed I had ever seen.  Mountain ranges, massive boulders that looked like marble, perpetually caught from rolling down a mountain side, the bright glow of a ray of sun illuminating an edge of the reservoir below.  “How could anyone think there is not a God?  How blessed am I to be here and witnessing this?”

“1 p.m. summit.  Gotta move.”  I stepped on but as I rounded switch back after switch back I soon realized that the gifts and surprises waiting for us at the summit were no match to what was I missing by scurrying on.  View after view, angel after angel; it was breathtaking, even more than the lack of oxygen at this height.

We continued on with our grind.  It was a challenge to breathe.  The breaks became much more frequent and the large step ups onto, and over smaller boulders deprived my muscles more and more of strength.  A great blessing that we had is that clouds had rolled in and the sun was not beating down on us.  “How much harder would this be if I was dealing with lack of O2 and the bearing sun?.” I realized at that moment that the prayers from all of my family’s wonderful supporters were being answered.  It was pleasantly cool, near cold, and I still felt GREAT; I just needed to keep pacing myself.

“Phew, time to sit.”  As I sat on a rock taking in more of the incredible view, again I was thinking “how can this keep getting better and better?”  At that moment out of the corner of my right eye I spot, not more than 20 feet in front of us, an eagle. I could not believe it!  I was questioning myself, “Is that an eagle?  Is that an EAGLE?”  I panned the sky following it to my left and called to the group, “IS THAT AN EAGLE?”  Sure enough it was indeed an eagle!  As it continued its show by circling back around and gracing us with yet another fly by no more than just a few yards away!  “Incredible!”

“It probably wants to eat us.  Let’s move.” So on we went with the same grind.  As I was trekking along, something else caught my eye. Down below on the ground vibrant against the mountain side were groupings of the tiniest, red, violet, and yellow flowers.  “Amazing. This is just AMAZING!  This is worth every step I have trudged and breath I have ached for.”

“Look!” I hear Terri exclaim pointing to the front of us “I big horned sheep!”  Staring off in the distance was a lone big horn sheep, galloping down the side of mountain with incredible grace and speed.  I continued to be in awe as I was finally able to have such an experience in person and not living through somebody’s video on the Internet.

We continued on closer and closer to the summit.  It was getting colder and the clouds were getting thicker and thicker. It was to the point where visibility at times was probably no greater than 50 feet.  We were all getting tired.  The air was really taking its toll, and then I come to a point where the trail ended; so I thought.  In front of me lay a small boulder that I really couldn’t see over. “Oh no.  Did we miss a switch back?” … Nope.  Up steps my son, “C’mon Pops.”  Simon steps from rock to rock, onto the big “rock” and says “Take my hand.”  I was tired, my legs weak, especially the operated one. I get up the rock, face down to the side of the mountain, and feet dangling over the edge.  Simon pulls on me as I push and scooch my way to the other side.  “That was AWESOME!!!”

We continued on the trail, again parts of it not even looking like trail to me.  There was no way we busted our noon summit and there was no chance we would make it by 1.  The clouds were thicker than ever and then “BOOM!” THUNDER!  It was right on us.  It didn’t matter now; we were closer to the summit than any retreat so move forward we did!

My head was down.  It was cold.  My fingertips were tingly and pink so I put the gloves back on that I had removed earlier in the day.  “There is the sign for the 16 golden stairs ahead” Terri stated calmly.  “There it is …. ahhh.... there it is…. the home stretch….”  Emotion was starting to take me over.   “I am not going to cry” I told myself.

We paused for a photo op at the sign.  We caught our breath.  We ATE! 

As I leaned on the cool damp rock, my back to the sign I looked over the first “stair” of the Golden Staircase.  This was nothing man-made.  This was not just “16 steps up” and we would be done.  What I was seeing was the first of 16 steep, large, rock-laddered, switch backs, tightly stacked together.  They were way too tall for my tired weak legs to step on, or lunge up to. I was going to have to incorporate my hands and knees to climb and crawl up these “steps”. It was impressive.  I was wasted. I continued to sit.  I stared it down. It taunted me with every new inch I scanned over with my eyes.  I told it, “Bring it you B!%CH.”  And it began to pour down sleet.  “Oh it is on.  IT IS SO ON!”

We began.  My son jumped ahead of me in case I needed a hand.  Steps were slow and cautious.  BB’s of frozen rain drops pelted us. It was EXCITING!!! IT WAS AMAZING!!!!  The climb was exerting. At times my face was inches from the ground and that is when I paused and I took a moment to really study what it was that was pelting us.  These perfectly round, white and crystalline balls.  I could see tiny striations in some, on others just a small kiss of a tiny point. They were so clean, so perfect; they were beautiful.

“Ow!”  “Dang!” “It’s like getting hit with air soft pellets on my ears!”  My son’s exclamations rattled me back into reality.  Unfortunately he was wearing a baseball cap and no protection to the side of his face or ears.  “Let’s move!  We are right there!” 

We climbed on, pushing, pausing, breathing heavily… and then…. smooth trail!  We had made it past the gauntlet of the Golden Staircase.  Emotion started taking over again, as fought crying, a little less successfully this time.  “I am NOT going to cry” I exclaimed to the group.

Looking up, the clouds were a soup, but through the white murk, just yards above a perfect rectangle began to appear.  “That’s it!”  My wife Trish stated, “That’s the summit house!”  “Wow” and then we turned to the right and continued on the trail.  The summit house was above us …. NOT in front of us.  A few more switch backs to go.

Anticipation was growing.  Adrenaline was pumping.  The steps came easier.  “CHUGGA, CHUGGA. CHUGGA CHUGGA!!!!”  Then I FROZE!  I could not believe it!  No it was not the summit sign it was something straight out of a movie.  A large heard of big horned sheep and their ewes stood above us; 12 to 15 of them.  Majestic and proud and is if they were there to greet us.  As if they were there to congratulate us!  “Look!” I exclaimed “Look there!” … “Yes the summit house is right there” was the response I got.  “No Look in FRONT of us!”   We stood in amazement.
“WOO HOO!”  “WOOOO HOOOOO!!!!!!” I was cheering… Thanking them… and off they began to go calmly down the other side of the mountain. Then right on cue, a huge, majestic sheep with its large crown of curved horns stopped and looked back and stared at me one final time.  “Wow.  Just, wow.” 

I was in a state of euphoria that I can only compare to my wedding day and witnessing the birth of my son himself.  2 more switchbacks to go! They were smooth, they were leveling out!  And then, THERE IT WAS!!!!!!!  THE SUMMIT SIGN OF PIKES PEAK!!!!!!!  EMOTION WAS LOST AS I BAWLED!  TURNING, I GRABBED FOR MY SON; WHO BAWLED!!!!!  AND WE REACHED FOR MY WIFE; WHO BAWLED!!!!! 

WE MADE IT!!!!!  WE MADE IT!!!!  A 3 YEAR PROMISE!!!!  PIKES PEAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this riviting account of your conquering of PP. Congrats on meeting the weight loss and conditioning challenge to do it. Very inspiring. Life changing event for you I bet.

    Heading there myself mid Sept to do same. My challenge will be the altitude due to some comprised lungs. Not bad, but enough to be a worry. We'll see. BTW, I'm 73, in pretty good condition. Your summiting has given me some needed confidence and good pointers. Water every 15, food every hour, rest frequently, leave early.