Maile, Anais, Papa, Lil and I spent Thanksgiving week in Santa Fe where we rented a wonderful 5 level artist retreat on 5 acres in the hills just outside of town. We had a great time, walked a bunch of galleries, ate green chile dishes, hiked the hills, visited the Taos pueblo, and found time to sit around, draw, read, talk and watch TV.
Jody (Maile’s lil brother) is getting married Aug. 9th and he planned a trip for all his groomsmen for us all to go to Estes Park, CO, where he was a YMCA councilor for two summers after college and has returned several times. There is a hike there that he takes everyone he can get up there to do with him.
So we were all in a cabin, me and five late-twenties athletes, Thurs – Mon. It was a great bachelor-party weekend that revolved around a killer hike we did Saturday. When I say killer, I mean it was stunning terrain, AND it nearly killed me. I’m exaggerating, but I was certainly at the edge of my ability for most of the hike and am amazed I completed it uninjured.
Our cabin was at 5K ft. We drove to 9K ft. to the foot of the mountain and ended up hiking to 12K ft and back over 8 hours. From the beginning I was just trying to keep up with these competitive athletes. There was snow and rivulets running across the trail almost immediately. We all carried about 20-30 lb. packs of food, water and clothes for the changes in conditions.
After about 3 hours, I could definitely tell the air was getting thin and by the time we stopped for lunch, not too far from the top, I had to breathe so deep and hard that it felt like hyperventilating. As long as I focussed on not getting dropped (reminded me of cycling days, sticking to the wheel – now the heel – of the guy in front) and breathing as deeply and rhythmically as possible, I could keep nausea and a headache at bay. If I exerted myself too much or even just stopped the huffing to talk I would feel one or both coming on.
By the time we were approaching the top the winds were 60+ mph and I was now literally drafting off the last guy, trying to not let a foot come between us. As everyone else on the trail turned around, we made it over the switchback top to a flatter area where the trail ended.
Now we were all making our own ways across rocky fields and I took a spill, pushed over by the wind and exhaustion. Though I hit my head mildly and was afraid I sprained my wrist catching myself, I was OK. When we made it across the plateau we arrived at a steep dropoff covered in snow. This was part of Jody’s plan that I had seen videos of: slide down the snowy embankments.
The slides (two of them) were fun, but also soaked our butts and socks and pant legs. Walking in the snow was harder than jogging down it, so I made it out of the snow first, elated that I’d made it past the top, the hard part. And then it got harder as we were really without a path now.
We crossed a boggy area filled with runoff streams and fallen trees, climbing through, trying to find the easiest way, in vain. It just kept getting harder! Then we had to make our way down rocky forested hills trying to find the trail again. Finally we found it, took a break to replace wet socks and pants, and it did finally start to get easier.
By this time I was TOTALLY spent but elated to have made it and not: got hurt, bonked, cramped up, blistered, quit, or got sunburned. The one thing that I seemed to get right was drinking and eating all day. My legs, back and energy held out.
Now I could literally breath easier and the scramble down the trails was a blur of exhaustion and pride. When we came to the .5 mi. marker till the end, we were all relived and then tortured one last time with one last .5 mi. climb. I was encouraged when everyone else was as pained by it as I was by the end.
We fell into the van, found a Mexican cantina and gobbled down cokes, beers, chips, queso and buffalo tacos and enchiladas. I was comforted that everyone else seemed to as ragged out and sore for the next two days.