The road to 13,500 feet

NEW LOGO

I’m not sure if people noticed or not, there’s a new logo at the top of the page! I had some fun drawing it up on paper and scanning in for some editing. I might go further with it and stretch it across the top at some point. I’m still deciding on it. I’m going to be upgrading the site and changing things up here soon, so keep an eye out!

 

THE ROAD TO 13, 500 FEET

As you know, from my previous post, back in June, I’ve been working out and preparing for the first of hopefully more 14,000 foot mountain hikes. I’ve been ready to go for the last month or so, but plans kept getting canceled because of the weather or other commitments. My friend Patrick text me and asked if we just wanted to try and get through the weather anyway, I was tired of waiting and REALLY wanted to knock this out before it was too late.

I was really worried because originally there was a 20% chance of rain, but that ended up holding off and it snowed the night before. I was hoping by the time we got there that would’ve been long gone since it was supposed to be a really light snow…HA.

I got up at 5:30 and checked the weather and to start getting ready, snow and rain was at 5% for the day. But it’s Colorado, that means absolutely zero in the mountains. I did my usual morning routine and cooked a big breakfast to get me through the day and we headed off.

We got there just after 7:30 and knew it was going to be rough when we saw the top half of the mountain covered in snow, we figured we could get through it anyway! After all, I was wearing 3 layers of clothes and had gloves, a scarf and hat along with an extra sweater and it was supposed to warm up that day.

 

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That big mountain to the right is Bierstadt.

 

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My friend Patrick. I think you can kinda tell we were under dressed even with layers just from looking at this.

 

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View of the lake nearby the trailhead start. The beginning of the trailhead goes through a swampy area until you get passed a small creek then you start the climb up.

 

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The sun was out and we did really well until we got to the half way marker, where the wind was at 10-15mph and in the shadow of the mountain so much colder by then.  At this point it was still bearable. We saw some nasty clouds coming in but it kept blowing away from us, so we decided to keep moving on.

From that point it just continuously got worse and worse. Winds picked up to 20mph and it started to snow as we got closer and closer to the false summit. The false summit is the point at which you arrive at 14,000 feet but Bierstadt has an extra 400 feet or so to the “top” of the highest point.

 

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To my left (not shown) is the post that marked the halfway point and the point which the wind was starting to pick up and get colder.

 

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800 FEET LEFT

At one point we were about 800 feet from the false summit and I kept having to stop, the altitude and cold just did not do well for two people, who even though we had tons of layers on, were under dressed. As we got closer, the wind got faster, it got colder, and I was feeling kind of sick from drinking too much Gatorade G2. On some of the bigger steps I would literally rely on Patrick to pull me up using his handle on this backpack because I had no feeling in my hands and I didn’t want to slip (which I did end up doing anyway.) I kept wondering if it was worth it to keep going and asked Patrick if he wanted to try to keep going since it seemed like we were close to the top so we slugged on for a bit further.

 

13,500 FEET

At 500ft from the top we stopped to take our final rest, at that point I couldn’t feel or even move 2 of my fingers on my right hand, and 2-3 of my toes weren’t really responding well to moving. I tried keeping my hands warm by adding some wool socks on top of my gloves but it didn’t do any good. I then started to just keep my hands under my pits the whole time to keep the warm which takes a really long time so was not doing me any good there either.

 

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View from the highest point we made it to. See that small lake in the left side of the picture? That’s the lake I took a picture of at the beginning of the post. The cars are parked just north of that lake about 200 feet or so.

While we were stopped, a guy was coming down and we asked how much worse it was at the top and he told us he made it all the way to the very top and winds were at 30-40mph with snow and you couldn’t see anything because you were in the clouds the whole time. People were basically hiking up it, touching the monument at the top for a few seconds and hiking right back down. I looked at Patrick and he said “I think I’m calling it” and there was a big group of about 7  people behind us who heard us talking to the guy coming down, 5 decided to come down with us and 2 decided to at least make it to the false summit.

 

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We had decided that I didn’t want frost bite and I wanted to keep my digits intact and agreed we should just go back. I stood up took my gloves off and got off a couple of pictures on my phone, which immediately died right after I took the photos since phone batteries hate cold and I just had it in my pocket not being warmed. It wasn’t until we were way passed the half way point going down that I even started to get a little feeling back in my toes and hands and I was able to get my phone warmed up and back on again to get a couple more pictures.

 

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This hike was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do or endure, bar some of the more difficult hospital stays I’ve had in life. The sad part is, the hike itself was actually pretty easy for me. All that working out and training paid off, but the cold, wind and altitude and really being unprepared for that because we were going so late in the season stopped us in our tracks.

I have no hard feelings about saying we didn’t totally make it to the top because the conditions were literally dangerous to the point of making a rational decision to go back down, even though we were so close, but at the same time it was just 500 feet. Even though I know we did extremely well under harsh conditions I can’t help but feel a little defeated being that close.  I would rather go on another day when it’s in the proper season or at the very least come back with the proper clothing and knock it out again when the weather wasn’t constantly battling us though.

 

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One last picture on the way back down. This mountain was north of us, which is another 14er, it stayed in the clouds almost the whole time, I can’t imagine trying to tackle that one in the fall/winter in these conditions. You can easily see how the weather changed in just a 3 hour time from the beginning of the post to this one.

 

CYSTIC FIBROSIS

One of the other things I’ve learned is that EVERY single time I go on hikes I learn something new, most of the time it’s what NOT to do for the next time. With my Cystic Fibrosis I’ve been working with my nutritionists to try and figure out how I wouldn’t crash on the hikes. We did get past that over the last few hikes I’ve done. I eat eggs and bacon for breakfast every morning, snacks between, and plenty of water and Gatorade G2 because it has the extra sodium in it I need.

Just one of the many side effects of Cystic Fibrosis causes your body to sweat double the amount of salt, and our intake is 2x sodium that of a normal person. The problem is, is G2 tastes like southern Kool-aid. The kind where you ask for kool-aid in your sugar. Super syrupy and sweet. I needed the electrolytes and the hydration but it was making me sick the whole time which hindered me because I kept feeling like I was going to puke with the altitude so thin.

I cut that out on my last hike up to Lost Lake but I felt flighty on the last leg up and figured out I still need SOMETHING in it’s place. I looked at some Vitamin water products but they don’t have any sodium in them. I’ve yet to really find an alternate solution. The nutritionists recommended salt tablets, but besides ordering them online I went to 5 different stores looking for them and nobody carried them. That’s going to be my next little goal.

 

LEARNING PROCESS

I also made the mistake of bringing flimsy soft cotton gloves and not either wool gloves or the actual snow gloves. I rectified that after our hike and picked up both kinds on sale at Costco. Both with available touch fingers so you don’t have to take your gloves off to use your phone or  take pictures. I still need a wind jacket, which even at the cheapest is around a $100 to get something really good for weather (which in the case of winter clothes it’s better to buy once and done.) I’m going to wait for a good REI sale and pick one up.

I had literally 3 layers of clothes on (compression shorts, and pants, plus cargo pants, and compression long sleeve, and shirt plus a sweater) AND a hat, gloves, socks on top of my gloves and a scarf. Still wasn’t enough. I didn’t have my thick wool socks on, and neither of us carried hand warmers (stupid I know!) so there were several things had we been a little better equipped could’ve gotten us up the rest. In fact I want to bet that if I even just had hand warmers we could’ve made it. When you literally can’t feel your digits or move them because they’re so cold and they’re starting to turn a different color, that 500 feet wasn’t worth it, neither was risking falling and breaking bones or worse for the same problem of not being able to feel where you’re grabbing or stepping.

If you’ve stayed around long enough to read this whole thing, congrats! I have to give mad props to my buddy Patrick who really helped me those last few hundred feet, we wouldn’t even have gotten that close if it wasn’t for him. As always, I’m always pushing myself hard to overcome my shortcomings with CF and reaching my goals, and I’m going to continue doing that. I WILL be back to defeat Mt Beirstadt and will push to do at least 2 more by the end of next summer. My ultimate goal, (God rest my soul) is Long’s peak. A 14,259 feet monster that you have to get up at 2am to start and walk 5 miles before you even get to the trail head. It’s rated one of the hardest in the state and people have died trying to do it in the winter. I’m giving myself a good 2-3 years to prepare for that one and once I bag that one. I can say I’m probably done!