Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pikes Peak

I'm back from Colorado. I didn't have much time to write while I was out there...spent too much of my free time playing Wii. I also didn't have my usb cable to get files off of my camera, so there wasn't much reason to post while I was there. Anyways, here goes...

I got out there Sunday night at around 10pm. The drive wasn't bad at all, went by really quick. I had decided before I got there that I was going to try to hike Pikes Peak on Monday. Mostly because the forecast called for rain in Denver Monday but not in Colorado Springs. So, I got to bed around midnight on Sunday night and got up again at 4am on Monday morning to drive down. I knew I'd need lots of rest since the hike was going to be tough...good thing I got it, all three hours of sleep.

So, my plan was actually to run as much of the trail that I could. Pretty stupid. I did Barr Trail, which starts around 6,500 feet and ends, of course, around 14,100 feet at the summit.

Barr Trail is easy to get to, just drive through beautiful Colorado Springs on I-25 at 45 miles per hour (WTF!?) then head over to Manitou Springs where the speed limit is like 20mph everywhere. These people don't like driving fast.

The trailhead is just past the Cog Railway parking lot. There's a specific parking lot for the trail as the folks at the Cog will tow your car if you park there, at least, that's what all the nice signs say. Anyways, there was plenty of parking for me at 5:30 in the morning at the trailhead. Now, this was later than I wanted. I had actually wanted to head up right at sunrise, but I didn't expect the drive down 25 to go so slow, or the drive through Colorado Springs or Manitou to take so freaking long. Whatever. Around 6:00 I got all my stuff put together and headed up the trail.

Now, the really cool thing about the trailhead is the signs that remind you that mountain lions have been sighted recently and/or how bears are in the woods and how you should deal with them. There were some kids (I say kids, they were probably 22, God I'm old...) who were joking about the signs. They said: "You know what the trick is when you're hiking with your friends and see a bear? Bring a friend who is slower than you are". Now that's just spectacular advice for someone hiking alone. They noticed me, by myself, and gave me this pitty look of "you're totally screwed dude". Dumb kids.

The trail is very easy to follow. It's very non-technical and marked quite well. The only hard part is the grade. It's a 13% (~7600 feet of gain over ~11 miles) grade...uphill...the entire way. There's very little flat or downhill sections. Being the bold, intelligent, determined ultra-runner that I am I figured I'd start out running it and would see how far I could get. Yeah, how do you think that worked out for me?

The route from the trailhead to Barr Camp was pretty uneventful. My run was more like a really, really slow shuffle. I walked some of the sections that involved navigating some rocks or psudo-stairs. I think it took me about an hour and a half to get to Barr Camp. The cool thing was when I would get passed by people running up the same trail I was. That felt awseome! I'm pretty sure that trail, up to Barr Camp, is a pretty popular running/hiking destination for the locals. Especially those who train all year for the Pikes Peak Marathon (something I'd actually like to do at some point). I was sucking wind like it was my first time running and these folks were just movin along chatting and laughing like it was a normal run for them. Pretty amazing.

Anyways, I hung out at Barr Camp for a bit. It's a pretty neat place. It's more-or-less a store where they sell some supplies, food and drinks. They were making some amazing pancakes when I got there and offered me as many as I wanted, at no charge! I bought a gatorade and hung out on the deck with a pile of pancakes and just relaxed for a bit...waiting for a bear to come ask me for some of my pancakes. Never happened.

After about 30 minutes of enjoying the scenery and the food I started back up the mountain. I was above 10,000 feet and was having a pretty tough time running, so my run turned into a walk.

There's really wasn't much to talk about. The scenery was beautiful, the trail was easy to follow, I didn't see a lot of people. I really couldn't ask for much more.

Once I hit 12,000 feet I was hurting pretty badly. I imagine the low oxygen concentration was really taking a toll on me, as I couldn't walk but a few yards without getting short of breath. I was walking, not running, mind you. I was taking breaks about every ten minutes at this point. Just stopping and sitting on a rock.

I was also taking a lot of pictures. This is a sore subject for me as not all of them came out. I have no clue why. I got some pictures, not nearly as many as I took tho.

So, up to 13,000 feet I went, struggling along, stopping a lot. Around this point you hit this section called the "17 Golden Stairs". Bullshit they're golden. It's more like the 39 gates of hell. Whoever named the stupid things was oxygen deprived and couldn't count. Each stair is really a switchback. A steep switchback. In a boulder field. Not easy hiking.

I stopped a lot through here. First off, I had to since I was getting so exhausted so quickly. Secondly, the view was absolutely stunning. You could see forever. It was honestly unreal. Plus there was literally no noise up there. Occasionally the wind would pick up, but that was about it. It was amazing.

After what seemed like forever I finally saw the peak, and all the people carelessly frolicking about on top of the mountain after riding the cog up. I hated all of them. I heard a few "hey, look, there's someone hiking up", I heard one "why would you do that?". Lazy assholes.

I made it to the top. People looked at me funny. I probably didn't look too super but I wasn't up there looking for a date so I didn't care. I had a pretty bad headache, I imagine I was in pretty bad shape at that point. So, I sat down on a rock and ate and drank some water and thought about my hike down. Then it started snowing. Yeup, June 23rd and it's snowing. Super. It's ok, it's not bad, I'll hike down in the snow. Then it starts thundering and lightning. Nope, no way I'm hiking down in that crap.

So, I walk over to the cog ticket office and ask how much for a ticket back down the mountain.

Me: "Hi, can I get a one-way ticket?"
Her: "Sure, $20."
Me: "Cool, when does the train (that's literally right next to me) leave?"
Her: "Oh, that one is full, you'll have to take the one in two hours."
Me: "F#@k that."
Her: "(mouth agape)"
Me: "Thanks. I'll find another way down. Have a super day."
Her: "(mouth still agape)"

No way I was waiting two hours to get off that pile of dirt. Lesson learned here folks, if you're going to do this hike, buy a one-way ticket down at the bottom of the mountain.

So, I was kinda stuck. Then I met another pair of hikers and we engaged in a five minute bitch session about the weather and the annoying cog railway. They had done the hike a few times before and suggested that we hitchhike back down. Now, white-bread me from Kansas is not big into hitchhiking. That's about as sure a way to get man-raped as is federal prison. They assured me it was safe as usually the only people who take people down the mountain are other hikers. Well, I didn't feel good, I was tired, and I really felt like I needed to get down from that altitude. So, I figured I'd try anything.

So, we sat by the road at the top of the mountain and waited for folks to drive by. I let them go first, and I caught the next person who drove by. It was a very nice and very old couple from Florida. They asked me what I was doing (hmm, I had on a jacket, shorts, a small hiking pack and smelled like ass...I wonder). I told them I hiked up and didn't feel safe hiking back down and was looking for a ride. They said sure. So, I went on my first hitchhiking adventure.

They really were very nice. We talked the whole way down the mountain...well, I talked when I didn't feel like I was going to puke. The further down we got the sicker I got. I wasn't about to blow chunks in their car, so I was having a fun time holding it in. Once we got further down I noticed that we were on the West side of the mountain, not the East side. I didn't really realize it but the road down is in a different place than the cog. Dammit. I asked them about this and they confirmed that the way up the mountain wasn't in Manitou Springs. Hmm. They quickly offered to drive me over. Damn, that was nice of them.

It was even more nice of them considering how bad I smelled. The guy driving kept rolling the window down every once in a while. I'm sure to get my rank smell out of the car.

So, we made it over to Manitou Springs and up to the cog railway parking lot. It was about another 100 yards to my car from where they dropped me off but I really felt like I'd puke if I didn't get out right then. I thanked them a ton, wished them luck on the rest of their trip, etc and got my butt out of that car as quick as possible.

I managed to make it to my car, after stopping several times, without puking. I got my stuff off, sat on my hood, and just tried to relax. Yeah, my stomach had a different idea. About a minute later it all came up. Bread mixed with red powerade. Interesting combination. I puked and puked and puked. I was puking up nothing eventually. That's when I really started getting worried. I haven't thrown up in a while, but when I did it was usually just once, just to get something out of my stomach. This was violent dry-heaving.

I stopped puking eventually, sat down on the ground, and closed my eyes. After about ten minutes of not moving I figured I should get some water in me and see if I could keep it in. I did, it stayed down. All told I sat there for about an hour, barely moving, trying to recover.

Now, I'm not sure if I came off the mountain too fast or what. But something about that hike made me really sick. It really scared me too. I had this horrible picture of me dying because my dumbass got the bends or something while trying to be tough.

The next nightmare was the drive back to Denver. I had to motivate myself to get into the car and start driving. This ended up being harder than motivating myself to finish that 100km race a few weeks ago. I just didn't want to move. But, I tempted myself with a warm shower and a nap. It worked. I got going, managed the drive somehow, and found myself back at Chris's house.

Surprisingly, by the time I got to the house I was feeling pretty dammed good. So good that I called a friend of mine in Boulder to see if she still wanted to meet for dinner that night. During my dying hour back at the trailhead I had convinced myself I was going to sleep until Thursday at least.

So, I took a shower, didn't take a nap, ate some food, and drove an hour and a half up to Boulder. Go figure. I was fine all night. No leg pain, nothing. Heck, I even had two beers and didn't even feel the alcohol. I was really surprised.

I survived my first fourteener. Wonder what the next one will be.

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