DEPARTURE FROM BOULDER
My alarm wakes me up at 1:30 AM after a measly 3 hours of sleep. I walk to the kitchen, grind some coffee beans (sorry Josh), and groggily sip my mug of caffeine mixed with MCT oil. Josh wakes up eventually, and I am impressed/surprised that he actually rallies after his night out. Tom picks us up at 2:06 and we are mostly silent as we drive to the trailhead.
ARRIVAL AT LONGS PEAK TRAILHEAD
I thought we were being a little overzealous for leaving at 2 am but when we arrive at the trailhead, I quickly realize that is the norm. The entire parking lot is already full at 3:15 AM so we park about 1/4 mile down the road. In a way, this is great because I feel validated and less crazy for leaving so early. But also I feel much less cool and kind of basic because clearly this was not an original idea. I get over this thought pretty quickly though, and my morale is surprisingly high for such little sleep and early movement.
THERE SHE BLOWS
Up and up we walk while the sun rises, igniting all that lies below us. Before we know it, we are out of the trees and wrapping around a big lazy hill. We talk about religion versus spirituality, hallucinogens, and nutrition until we are spit out into a boulder field. The sun is up now, and I am in awe of/ intimidated by the peak we intend to climb.
SCRAMBLING THROUGH THE KEYHOLE
I am not abnormally scared of heights, but I do think that it is rational to glance down thousands of feet over a ledge and think hey, it would probably be bad if I fell down there. So it goes for the next two miles once I am in and through the keyhole (a landmark of this trail, formed by rock that allows you to continue along the other side of the mountain). My feet are still clad in wool socks and chacos (my hiking boots had been bothering my ankle), and I am starting to feel pretty nervous. I had done no research and was blissfully ignorant of the last stretch of the trail until I find myself precariously scrambling along the mountain face, just a couple feet from the ledge.
INTO THIN AIR
At about 13,000 feet, I now start to really feel the altitude. Like a nausea in my head is how I articulate what I’m feeling, and I stop to chug some electrolytes and eat for the first time all day. After 8 minutes or so, the beef jerky, shredded coconut, and cashews really seem to help. I also switch back into my boots, despite the pain, because I feel much more secure in them. This break really gives me a second wind, and after seriously considering to go no farther, I push on. Knowing that I’ll have to somehow descend all of this terrifies me, but there are so many people ahead of me on this trail that I can’t help but think if they can do it, so can I! Maybe this is kind of like peer pressure, but it gets me moving. No moves in and of themselves are that dangerous, but knowing that I am just feet from the ledge really shakes me up. I stop looking down, become confident and intentional with each move, and take it step by step. According to Strava, the 0.4 mile Ledges segment takes me about 40 minutes…it is slow going for sure.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
I am so so so happy that I reach the summit. Maybe this is dumb, but I just hadn’t realized what 14,000 feet means. It is SO unbelievably high!! I am incredulous of how close I am to the sky, how distant the ground feels, who first decided to climb up here in the first place.
We hang out at the summit for a while, and I can’t believe how early in the day it is. The altitude really doesn’t feel so bad. We meet a second cousin of Wayde van Niekerk (the 400m world record holder) and take a lot of pictures of each other and for other people. Tom was brilliant and brought up a cardboard sign, which quickly became a huge hit and makes us the most popular people at 14,259 feet.
I find myself hiking with two older men, and my trail name quickly becomes Maine (easier than Erzsie I guess). We each help each other out, noting unseen footholds and better lines. I mostly use my upper body to lower myself down between rocks, and I know this will make my arms and shoulders the sorest part of my body (I was right). Once I am back through the keyhole and past the boulder field, I know the rest is easy going. I look behind me and see the glorious mountain upon which I was just standing… I actually can’t believe it. Tom, Josh, and I agree that our morale this morning would have been much lower if we could have seen where we were headed. The sun is extra strong now, Josh and I feel hot blisters on our feet, and Tom acts like he could do it all over again. We finally make it to the car and hoist our stinking bodies inside the boiling interior.
My body is exhausted but my spirit is fired up. This was an inspiring day.