Within 100 feet I was breathing heavy. And I realized this was going to be a long, slow hike. We hadn't even been in Colorado for 24 hours and our lungs were obviously working overtime at the higher altitude.
The darkness around us was still. At one point we stopped and turned our headlights off. The forest enclosed around us in silent darkness and it was both eerie and calming at the same time. Looking up, the stars were bright and there were so many! Never had I seen the sky like that.
Throughout the first two miles we hiked steadily but took more breaks than we were used to. I ended up taking off my fleece layer and I felt constantly thirsty.
After two miles, we crossed over a log bridge and entered the "alpine tundra." (There was a sign that told us so.) Without the trees, the air was cooler and I put the fleece back on, as well as the hat I borrowed from our cottage hosts. The hike hadn't been easy, but now we started going up steps - rocky steps - and my body was tired from the lack of sleep. We stopped and I took Advil - my head hurt bad. Hubs constantly checked in with me to see how I was doing. I wasn't having fun, but it wasn't horrible.
We were hiking on and on, switching back as we went up the mountain. Of course, we had no idea what the terrain looked like but as we looked up and down we could see lights - other hikers at different places on the path. I liked that we weren't alone. It was apparent that we were taking more breaks than most, but we got used to people passing us.
As the sun came up, I began to fade. It was helpful to take our head lights off and look around. We saw the silhouette of Long's - it was still far off. I ate some dried fruit snacks for the sugar, which helped, but I was tired and very cold. I started moving slower and my eyes were drooping.
As we approached the boulder field, the sun was up. I could see where we would reach the sunlight which meant warmth. I was starting to feel nauseous but kept pushing through to get to that sunlight. It was getting harder and I stopped frequently through the boulders. Hubs was wiling to turn around if I needed, but I wasn't ready. It got to the point that I felt awful and I was over any desire to reach the summit. But I also knew it would be so disappointing the next day if we hadn't reached the summit - the whole purpose of the trip. So we kept on, even slower than before and taking more breaks. My body and mind were tired, my hands were cold. Hubs kept lightening my pack and traded glove with me - whatever he could do to keep me going. I stopped eating & drinking - the boulder field was taking forever. My thoughts were jumbled and my words were unclear. Not surprisingly I lost my balance and Hubs caught me before I fell.
The tears rushed out while Hubs held me and prayed. I felt so sick but we were almost to the keyhole. I had to keep trying but everything inside wanted to quit. I ate 3 bites of a cliff bar and took 3 gulps of water. We were going to make the keyhole and then reassess.
I took about 5-6 steps, then rested. I concentrated on taking deep, long breaths of air in and pushing it out. This was helping. Even though I was still out of breath, I was starting to feel better. We were in the sun now and I started warming up. Finally, we reached the keyhole. I sat down and knew that we were going to make it.
Before Hubs could ask, I said, "Let's go. Before I change my mind." So we started on the Ledges. Although the ledges might be more precarious of a spot, they were less work. We even went downhill at times and it was a break from the constant uphill climbing. Richard started to feel the effects of the altitude though. We stopped and had a Powerade and the rest of my cliff bar. We finished the ledges without complaint. Sure, we were slow, but we were feeling better...and my nauseousness was gone!
When we reached the Trough, the boulder field looked like a cake walk in comparison. We slowly tacked this section, climbing up for what seemed like forever. "Smart steps," was Hubs' constant reminder. One stupid step could be your last. I was happy if I could take 4 steps/climbs and rest 30 seconds. It seemed like we weren't making progress, but we reached the top and moved on to the narrows.
As its name describes, the Narrows are narrow and you instinctively lean into the mountain as you go along. Again, this happened to be one of my favorite sections because it was easier and surprisingly the height and sudden drop to death did not bother me as I expected it would.
Still very tired and working hard at breathing, we reached the Homestretch. This was it! It was very steep and more smooth stone than the trough. This was a challenge in skill, but also with the altitude. As we reached and passed the 14,000 foot mark, we both started getting dizzy. Not the right place to get dizzy or faint. Deeper breaths & even slower pace until finally we both were standing on the summit of this giant mountain.
It was worth the pain. We had conquered through adversity which made the view and the accomplishment much sweeter. At the summit we snapped photos, at, drank, logged our arrival and enjoyed the view of God's creation. A lone marmot joined us, waiting for our leftovers.
After an hour, we decided to head down. I could have taken a nap instead, but we still had a long way to go to get back to our car. Although I could go on about the journey down, it is enough to say that it took a long time to go back the 8 miles we had come. It was easier though. The further down we hiked, the better we felt. Headaches disappeared and spirits were lifted. It was like hiking a brand new trail since we hadn't been able to see it in the early morning darkness.
While hiking, I never thought I would climb that mountain again. It was my nemesis. After a few days, it doesn't seem as bad and I would consider doing it again. I highly recommend a few days of acclimation to the altitude before attempting it. Since we didn't have that, I am very happy with our accomplishment of 16 miles & 4,854 feet in 14 hours. And most of all, it was so fun to do this with Hubs!