Day 1 started with an uneventful flight into Denver. My cuz and his wife picked me up at the airpost and after a lovely dinner we headed to a pavilion in a big Denver park for Ukelele practice. I expected to be a little bored, which was not the case. Besides the immaculate flower (and kale) gardens, the music was a real treat – I had no idea they were so wonderful. Be sure to watch the video – cousin John and wife Ann-Marie are on the left. I had to shorten it a little to add it.
Day 2 - Not so much to report. Jet lagging and adjusting to the mile-high city. Picked up my 1999 Toyota 4Runner relayride.com ride ($308 for 10 days - yippee!), bought some groovy yoga mat sandals at REI (they feel soooooo good), did some work on my laptop, and hung out with John and Ann-Marie.
Day 3 – More work on the laptop (hard to get away :->). I checked out the beautiful ukeleles my cousin handcrafts. They are a work of art. (I promise to add some pics later). That night the ukelele group performed at the Adrift Bar & Grill to celebrate their 2nd anniversary. It was great fun, enjoyed by all (another short video below). I also got to see my 2nd cousins, John's son Ian (center) and another 2nd cousin, Jeff, I had never met before, and his wife, Shannon. It was like a mini-family reunion.
Day 4 – Headed to Halfmoon Camp at the base of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, the two highest peaks in Colorado. My goal is the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421'). I climbed Elbert, 8 ft. higher, 25 years ago as my first peak ever. I found a cozy campsite, organized my gear for an early morning start, built a little campfire as the temps dropped into the 40's, and enjoyed my dinner and a beer before an early bedtime.
Day 5 – Summit day
7:30 AM start – not as early as I had planned, but after a somewhat fitful night of sleep in the back of the SUV, and morning temps in the 30's, it was the best I could do. A 3/4 mile hike to the trailhead and I was on my way up. There were maybe 3 dozen people on my side of the mountain that day, with most of them getting an earlier start. The first 2-3 miles was an upward hike through Aspen, Hemlock, and various wildflowers and yellow mushrooms. There were Clark's Nutcracker (that's a bird by the way), grey squirrels with black tipped tails and of course cute little chipmunks. I started off with a bruised left heel from the day before (not sure how I did that), and soon had a big blister on my right heel from favoring my left foot. Time to turn back. But nooooo.. add a little mole skin and keep going.
I was hiking slower than I wanted, but adjusting to the now 10,000' plus altitude was a challenge for this flat-lander. With almost 7 miles all uphill to go, and 2 sore heels, it was going to be tough.
As I got up to about 12,000', I started meeting people heading back down. I thought "I am REALLY slow - they have already summited", but each group said they turned back because when they got to the saddle the wind was blowing too hard and it was sleeting. Yikes! Another good reason to turn back. But I wasn't about to turn back... not yet.
At about 13,000' I finally met a guy, and a dog, who had made the summit. He looked at me and said, "I know you can do it - you have the right stuff (gear that is) and you seem committed. Good luck." Finally, some encouraging news. I later met 3 others who had made the summit, plus about a dozen more who all turned back due to the weather. I put on all my layers, tightened down my hood, put on my wrap around glasses, and headed into the wind... and sleet... and snow... and freezing "you know what" cold. There is nothing quite as painful as sleet hitting your face driven by a 30 mph+ wind. It was not enough wind to blow me over (unlike the Boy Scout troop in blue jeans and plastic ponchos I passed on their way down) but it really saps your energy.
Okay, so now we get to the "am I gonna keep going, or be sensible and turn around?" phase. I had done all the training, come all this way, had all the right gear (or mostly) for the unexpected weather, had my eye on this peak for a very long time -– was I ever going to come back if I turned around? No. No way. I needed to deal with the pain and adversity now, and continue on. Not to the point of risking my life. But that which I had to endure was worth the goal.
My fingers and toes were numb, my cheeks stung from the blowing sleet, and the altitude and wind were exhausting me. Maybe I could just say I made it - who would know? Me, of course. Somehow I just kept moving forward, now climbing up and over boulders, thinking I was almost there, only to find another false summit. Where is it?!!
But then - Summit! At last!
There was not another soul up there. I was completely alone at 14,421 feet.
I took only 5 minutes to enjoy a bite of a Luna bar, a couple of quick photos, then carefully, oh sooooo carefully, headed down. There is no room for mistakes alone at the top of the world. Oh, but what an amazing place to be.