As you already know, I turned 50 this year. Not a milestone that everyone wants to herald but I see it as a threshold to the banquet that is my life. Five decades! WOW! How cool is that?! There were a few things that I wanted to accomplish this year since it is a ‘significant’ birthday year. Only one of my goals appeared to be manifesting. These are the ‘special’ goals I had for this year.
1. Make a trip to the Grand Canyon to hike and camp. We made a plan with our small group to go together since several of us had decade birthdays.
2. Climb a “fourteener” – one of the 54 mountains in the state of Colorado that is 14,000 ft or more. It meant being disciplined and training.
3. Decide what God wants me to do with the rest of my life, now that I am truly grown up.
I figure if you aren’t grown up at 50, you have a challenge that may need professional help! There will always be a kid inside but I am trying to be grown up on the outside, just to make those around me feel more comfortable. It is a hard thing at times!
You undoubtedly read about the trip in May that resulted in the most fabulous of vacations to the Grand Canyon with the love of my life. I had been sick so much the early part of the year that I was not exercising or staying in shape in any way. I hiked the Ute Valley Park pretty regularly but that is not enough to challenge a ‘14er’. The summer was winding down and there was no ‘14er’ looming on my horizon. That is, except Pikes Peak, right in my front yard. I was soon to learn that I needed to tackle what was right under my nose……..
One of my small group members, Doris Hartley, called one evening to ask if I would consider volunteering at the Pikes Peak Ascent, a race run to the top of America’s Mountain, Pike’s Peak. She explained that we would pack in the Barr Trail to the ‘A Frame’, camp there, and support the racers running up Pikes Peak the next day and then pack out. I was flattered she had thought of including me and challenged by the possibilities but wasn’t sure that was feasible for me. I was fighting a kidney infection and Candida at the same time and had not hiked in our backyard (Ute Valley) for a week. I was not in ‘14er’ climbing condition, I thought. I had a peace, however, about considering it and I told Doris I would pray and hike. I would give her an answer in a week. There was a mere 10 days to consider it, get in shape, pack, and do it.
The peace continued as I began hiking everyday and then added my pack with roughly what I would carry up the mountain. Doris was willing to add the 5# tent to her pack. That was a relief! I was already carrying 23# and working pretty hard. Arnica and ice became my friends! I decided the Wednesday before the race that I would make the Friday hike. Matt had been volunteered to drive us to the bottom of the Barr Trail in Manitou Springs at 5:30 in the morning. Thank You, Sweetheart, I know mornings are difficult at any hour. Your contribution helped make this doable for both Doris and I!
All geared up, we headed up the switchbacks that are carved into the mountain with Doris in the lead. The sunrise was one of the most gorgeous I have seen. Clouds in the right place and the colors….so many hues of pink and orange. It was breathtaking! Hard to hike up the switchbacks and look at the sunrise as it continually changes at the same time. I needed to pause quite often as the elevation changes rapidly so I paused where I could see the sunrise.
It is 13 miles to the summit and with the exception of a couple of short stretches before Barr Camp, there is no real ‘level’ space to give your body a ‘rest’. Most of the Barr Trail is rocky and vertical. The elevation gain is over 7,000 ft. I have included a website if you want more information on the trail. http//www.trailsandopenspaces.org/trails/pike-barr-trail.htm It is an awesome hike but not for the faint at heart.
We reached “A frame”, one of the known stopping and camping points around 11:30 that morning. Not a record but a good time for me! That was our initial destination so there was some elation as to my having ‘made it’. We shed our packs pretty rapidly eager to be rid of the extra weight, sat down to a picnic lunch and interacted with a couple of teenagers who had packed in the day before. Over our lunch, we decided it was still early enough to make the summit and probably miss the afternoon thunderstorms which are always a summer hazard at such elevation.
Without our packs, I thought this would be a little simpler. It was at first but the elevation gain increases rapidly again and the thin air becomes a different type of challenge than the steep, rocky trail we experienced up to that point. Shortly above “A Frame”, there are no trees. The terrain changes to the unsure footing of granite – some solid and some crumbling sections where it becomes loose, pebble size pieces. There are places that the trail is a little difficult to find in the rock but mostly it is just a winding trail back and forth up the last 3 miles of the great mountain.
We pressed hard, drinking, snacking, and sucking hard candy to help our bodies deal with the extreme conditions. I am told, this is a key to making it up the mountain without being sick. There was enough thunder around us to make Doris uncomfortable and pick up the pace a bit but there was no action over us until almost the last mile when it started to snow. Moderately it fell melting on contact and making the trail a bit slippery. We were becoming a bit on the chilly side so it was fortunate that we were close to the summit house. My mental clarity was affected a little by the elevation and I fell somewhere in that last mile to the top, skinning my knee. Felt quite silly as I just lost my focus, misplacing my feet and tumbled forward! I even had an audience! Quite humbling but I know it happens. The elevation is nothing to take lightly. We emerged on the top around 2 and went straight to the Summit House for WARMTH!
We had warmed a bit and were lounging when we heard there was another fairly large storm coming up quickly. We had no choice but to get back down the mountain to assist in the preparation for the following day. We left almost instantaneously. The thunder was starting to rumble and we were stepping along pretty quickly as you do not want to be out in the middle of those three miles when there is lightening about. Still feeling a bit foggy mentally and walking quickly on wet granite, I fell AGAIN on the 16 Golden Stairs. I was very grateful that God was protecting me as I fell in such an odd position that I should have injured myself. It was one of those slow motion events where you watch yourself fall and see your body go in unnatural directions and yet get up uninjured. I got up with only another skinned knee!
We met folks on their way up that were doing a first-time walk or run in preparation for the two races over the next two days. Having just arrived from all parts of the country, some were unprepared for the harshness of the conditions. One man making the ascent was visiting from Georgia. We met him and couldn’t help but notice that his color and demeanor weren’t good. He was without food or much water with almost a mile to the summit. Doris gave him one of our water bottles and some of the food we had left and blessed him as we moved on. The rest of the trip down was pretty awe inspiring! It is an opportunity to realize where you have been, what you have accomplished, as well as, the unbelievable beauty from the top.
As we arrived at “A Frame”, our camp for the night, we turned to see a thick fog and snow boil down over the mountain summit. It was almost as if the mountain summit had erupted and the flow came down like lava, billowing, tumbling, engulfing. We were glad that we had not lingered at the top any longer than we did. Doris told me as we were descending the mountain that making the Summit was my birthday present from the Lord. I knew she was focused on getting me to the top but until that moment I was not sure why she had pushed hard. Doris was a real trooper allowing me to slow her down and emotionally ‘pulling’ me up the mountain at times! Thank you, Doris, you made something important to me a reality. I couldn’t have done it without you!! I am so grateful for your loving gift and your obedience to God’s directive!
This was a life changing moment for me and has propelled me through the rest of the yearlong challenge to get my body healthy. I look at the Peak differently now. I know how breathtakingly gorgeous she is from a distance, as I gaze at her from my dining room window, and also her beauty when I am up-close and personal with her.
With every outdoor experience, I understand more fully the truth that we, as sometimes thoughtless humans, fail to consider the seriousness of facing nature. We often think of Bambi and Thumper and a frolic through the woods without making the realization that ‘simple frolic’ when unprepared, mentally or physically, can kill you. We must not underestimate the power and fierceness of this beautiful creation – Bambi and Thumper included. Genesis tells us we were ‘created to have dominion and subdue the earth’ but first we must understand and respect the ways of the creation. No, I have not become a tree hugger in my 2-year time here. 😉 I have come to be more aware of my surroundings and appreciate living in an Urban Wildlife Interface – deer in my yard, bears who wander the streets occasionally, coyotes prowling the neighborhood in the wee hours. The facts about their nature as well as the geographical area in which you ‘frolic’ must be understood. Knowledge is, after all, power when utilized properly.
Don’t let my seriousness deter you from loving and enjoying any great outdoor adventure, please, just be cautious and prepare properly. Living here has given me an emotion that I have been unable to articulate even yet, it is beyond awe, majesty, or appreciation it is, however, intermingled with caution and a reverence……….I’ll let you know when I finally do find the word. The emotion increases and the words elude me still. Oh geez, I am too intense for my own good sometimes but then you knew that!
Oh and I am still working out goal number three……..what God wants me to do with the gifts and talents He has placed in me. There is still time before the year ends! 😉