Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunny Saturday Means Summit Something

Perhaps there is something to this theme I started on the big, bad birthday a while back.  The "summit something" birthday expedition success seems to have trickled down into the year that followed it.

Let me explain.  Its been nothing but rain, rain, and more rain around here, but it looked like a dry weekend was on the horizon so a friend and I made plans for a post-work Saturday afternoon hike.  We're both trying to get out and see some new sights so we had picked a little hike that started off a pass out of town.  A pass, appropriately named, for the nearest peak.  A trail that neither of us were really that familiar with.

I thought this was just going to be a hike.  Maybe a couple hours.  And the trailhead being named for the peak was just that.  Named for the peak.  Not necessarily indicating a peak-summit trail.

I should know better.

The hike started off innocently enough, uphill (they ALL are out here) for a few hours through a pine forest.  We hiked along, chatting, checking out all the mushrooms, and wondering when we would break out above tree-line for some views.

I even debated about not bringing my camera.  THAT IS HOW UNDERWHELMING I THOUGHT THIS HIKE WOULD BE.  But at the trailhead I was reminded that people use this trail as a run-up to one of the 14ers and that meant we would probably be close to that particular mountain (not to mention the formation the trail is named after) so I decided to lug the big camera.  Um, ya.  Good move.

As the trail wandered up, and up some more, we finally popped out above tree-line into a beautiful basin.  Not as many wildflowers as I've seen elsewhere, but still stunning.  With a full view of the mountain range off to our right, a funky lookin' formation in front of us, and a couple fourteeners off to the left.  And when I say "off to the left" I mean, like right there, on our left.


We got to the base of the trail's namesake formation and decided to stop for a snack.  Notice I said snack, not lunch.  We really thought this was going to be a casual hike.  At this point I'm guessing we'd already been hiking (uphill) for three hours....but we weren't really paying attention and neither of us wears a watch (mountain girls, you know).

The trail seemed to end here, other than the well worn path to the 14er summits.  Which we joked about taking, being that it was an absolutely beautiful day and this particular 14er is known for making parties turn back because of inclimate weather (its a haul, and afternoon weather usually rolls in during peak climbing season).

Not really seeing a trail up we chatted about options.  Hike to a lake we could see in the distance down-valley?  Or maybe just get up to that next outcrop of rock to see what there was to see.

Wouldn't you know, curiosity won and up we went.  This debate repeated itself, minus the lake option.....should we keep going up?  What's over that ridge?  If we keep going up do you think we can see over that ridge?  Let's just keep going up until it gets sketchy.

So up, up the talus pile we went.  Eventually connecting with an actual trail.  To the point where we were finally so close we couldn't turn back.  A summit was inevitable.

It still makes me laugh how nonchalant we were about the whole thing.  A great pair on the trail, for sure.  Both of us later said we wouldn't have cared about reaching the summit, but little by little were willing to move toward it.

We were handsomely rewarded for our efforts.

I'm not sure if it was my first 14er summit that set the bar higher....pushed me enough out of my comfort zone that something slightly less exposed seemed like no big deal.....but I really did conquer some fears on the mountain yesterday.  I wasn't just following someone to the was my idea too.  I WANTED to keep climbing.  Which is new for me.  Because I'm afraid of heights it usually takes some gentle prodding to get me over my fear and beyond where I feel comfortable, but this day it was me that was doing the encouraging -- no outside help needed.

Once at the top (or at least as close to the top as we could get without ropes), we even skirted the edge around the top formation, digging our feet into the soft shifting sand-like talus to get to a little hogback with nearly 360-degree views of the mountain ranges surrounding us --- um, and a nearly verticle drop-off on one side, the one on the other side being only slightly less steep.  I have to admit, with a huge rock formation looming overhead and drop-offs to both sides, I got a little woozy and had to sit down for a second and get my wits about me.  But for the most part, I was up there, walking around confidently, and snapping photos galore.

It may be a small victory, but it was noticeable.

Also noticeable.  Blisters.  One quarter-sized heel blister in particular, that started about an hour into the climb and made for one painful post-summit shower.  But I was motivated by a post-climb sushi and pomegranate mojito reward so I gutted it out.

What a day....6 hours of work....6.5 hours of hiking to around 13,000'....and a nice little dinner.  Whew, was I happy to climb into bed after all that!  Just another reason this place is so amazing....not many places you can bag peaks after work and still make it out for drinks.

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