The first time I ever flew out to visit Hulk in Colorado, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park and drove up Trail Ridge Road (tops out at about 12,000 feet). Being from sea level, on the drive up Trail Ridge I got totally loopy without knowing what was going on, and felt like I was drunk (later, we went to a restaurant for dinner and I ordered a glass of wine, and I drank half of it and really WAS drunk because of the altitude. I’m not THAT cheap a date). Altitude does funny things to people, even when one lives in Denver.
On Monday, Hulk’s parents kidnapped us from our yard work and drove us up to the top of Mount Evans.
Mount Evans is one of Colorado’s 50+ fourteeners (that means its summit is over 14,000 feet above sea level). It’s the only one with a paved road to essentially the summit. On Monday it was sunny in Denver, overcast and about 50F at 11,000 feet (the ascent to Evans) and 27F and cloudy at the top of the mountain.
Tree line on 14ers is an alien landscape. Some of the trees are thousands of years old and none of them are more than a few feet high. The trunks are twisted and gnarled, as the trees that survive that climate have to bend and bow to the whims of the wind and snow and ice.
Hulk and I have climbed/hiked 14ers before. It takes a few hours (or more) depending on which trail you take, and while you definitely feel the altitude, it’s a more gradual ascent and you’re also exercising, so your blood is pumping pretty good. But driving up to the summit in the car on Monday the ascent was rapid and the effects were crazy. I was soooo loopy, I made sure to keep my mouth shut so as not to say anything stupid in front of his parents. My eyes felt weird (the liquids in your eyes compress!) and I was breathing really fast (there’s a lot less oxygen in the air the higher up you go) and as we got higher and higher above tree line I saw more and more marmots and pikas because the vegetation and rocks got shorter and shorter.
(Marmots, by the way, are really cool. They basically live above tree line in really exposed rocky areas and they look kind of like large guinea pigs with tails. When we were driving back down the road at one point a marmot stuck his head up out of a hole in the pavement and then ducked back down before we drove over him, like a whack-a-mole)
When we got to the top of the mountain, we all got out for about two minutes, braved the freezing wind and took really deep breaths to get all the oxygen we could, and then got back in the car and drove back down the mountain. Getting out of the car I was unsteady on my feet and a bit dizzy. It sure does feel weird to be up that high. John Denver sang about “Rocky Mountain High,” and maybe it was a euphemism, but it didn’t have to be. There is definitely a high to be had from summiting a 14er, weird as it may be. Plus drugs and booze don’t compress the jelly in your eyes and make them feel like they are popping out, so that’s a new feeling.
(After that we shivered through the coldest picnic I’ve ever consumed. We should probably wait to have a picnic at 11,000 feet until the middle of June.)