Tag Archives: colorado adventures

Conquering my fears

When I was little, one of my favorite pastimes was to climb the tree in our backyard that grew up through the deck. From there, I could play on the roof or just climb as high as I could in the tree. Being up high felt like freedom; nobody can see you and you can look down on everything. It’s definitely a different perspective from where a child typically sees the world on a day-to-day basis.

I continued to scale trees (and houses, and fences, and ladders, and just about anything) throughout my childhood and into my teens. I thought nothing of climbing a ladder to help a friend with his college house painting business, and always enjoyed being up above the world, until one fateful day when I took a road trip with some friends to Yosemite National Park.

Mostly, we went because we thought it would be a fun weekend day excursion. We drove the four or so hours to Yosemite and made our way slowly through the park, stopping every so often to take photos or just play around. At one point, my friends decided that it would be fun to scramble up one of the domes, and I was completely game. Being young, in shape, and relatively stupid, we decided not to use a trail but just to sort of go straight up to the top. I didn’t think I would have any sort of a problem with it, as I’d always been fond of both outdoor activities and heights, but as we started to climb the rock I found myself out of breath. At the time, I was running regularly so I knew I was in decent cardiovascular condition, so I chalked it up to being at a higher altitude. Then, my heart started to race. The palms of my hands got sweaty and my breath was more and more shallow, and I started to freak out a little bit because what the hell, man?

I figured if I just kept going, it would all pass, but the more I climbed the worse it got. Tears ran down my face, and my friends (one of whom was my ex boyfriend, and all of whom were male) thought it was hilarious. But it was really, really not funny. In fact, it was pretty damn scary. I was 21 years old, in great shape, and having a panic attack while scrambling up a not-terribly-difficult dome in Yosemite while my friends pointed and laughed.

We made it to the top, and I was so concerned that I might freak out even worse on the descent that I swallowed my pride and asked College Ex to stick by me in case I needed actual physical help. He realized at that point that whatever was going on with me was actually serious and he stopped laughing. Luckily, I made it down far more easily than up had been, though I did kind of ruin the butt of the pants I was wearing. I didn’t care; I was down. We continued the drive through the park and end up on the Nevada side at Mono lake, and then drove a different way home. I brushed the entire incident off, thinking it was probably just a freak occurrence.

Me, with college ex, on the way back down the dome

A couple of years later, I happened to be in Santa Cruz with some friends, on the UCSC campus. We were there to celebrate a birthday, and the birthday person proposed that we go climb a redwood tree that had ropes and steps bolted on to simplify the process. (Redwood trees are not made for climbing, especially once they get past a certain height, unless you have spikes on your shoes or someone’s kindly provided a ladder for you.) Everybody else merrily made their way up the tree, and I made it about four steps up before I realized that I Just Could Not go any further. Couldn’t force myself to do it. I felt like I was going to pass out and throw up at the same time, when my blood pressure spiked and I broke into a cold sweat and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. What was wrong with me? I loved climbing trees, had done it since I was little! I was no pansy! I wasn’t afraid of heights…right?

It was only after the tree climbing debacle that I wracked my brain to try to figure out why all of a sudden I just couldn’t get more than a few feet off the ground without freaking out. And then I remembered that my mom’s severe vertigo that has kept her grounded for longer than I’ve been alive…was adult onset as well. She’d merrily climbed trees in her childhood, she’d told me, but when she grew up she just couldn’t do it. I’d spent my whole life thinking she was silly when she wouldn’t climb a ladder to go on the roof, or when she got upset driving next to a dropoff…and here I’d gone and inherited the adult-onset vertigo from her. Great.

It’s been nearly 10 years since that Lembert Dome scramble, and my first height-induced panic attack. I did manage to climb Half Dome in 2002, though to be fair the only reason I was able to do it was because it was dark so I couldn’t see the drop as I climbed the stairs and then the cables. (Yes, it was probably less than legal for us to do the cable climb at night, and it was certainly illegal for us to sleep on the top, but to be fair we only slept until about 4 AM (arrived at the top around 11) when the first of the Half Dome trail runners got there. And we didn’t leave any waste.)

At the falls partway up Half Dome trail. Damn, I was skinny.

My friends on top of Half Dome, at sunrise

Since then, I’ve found myself bothered by sheer drops on one side of the road when we’re driving (like the Durango to Silverthorn highway), and I can’t seem to get more than four steps up a ladder without starting to panic a little. I even have a hard time watching scenes in movies that show the POV of a steep drop, since that seems to trigger my vertigo more than being next to a drop myself for some reason. It’s totally irrational, and totally ridiculous, and totally miserable. I miss being able to climb things.

Living branches on a dead tree – how?

It grew new roots post-chop!

On Sunday of this past weekend, Dan and I went on yet another hike, something we try to do at least once a week. He found one in an area we’d never hiked before, west of Sedalia (which itself is southwest of Denver). The point of the hike is to make it to the fire tower, from which one can see nearly 100 miles in any given direction on a clear day. It took us longer to get to the trailhead than we expected, and we had one false start, but once we got going it was a lovely trail, ascending about 1000 feet over 1.7 miles. The weather looked like it was perhaps not going to cooperate, but by the time we got to the tower it was a little bit overcast, and we heard some thunder, but it didn’t seem too bad.

The part that seemed bad to me was the 143 steps on the side of the rock face I was going to have to climb in order to get to the tower.

I looked at the steps, and I looked at the tower, and I looked at the sky, and I said to myself, Self, you can do this. Just go fast. Fast fast fast. I climbed all 143 steps repeating “Look at the steps. Look at the steps. Don’t look up, don’t look down, just look at the steps” and was at the top and climbing across the rock to the tower before Dan even made it halfway up. I didn’t quite run them, but I went superfast, took deep breaths, and didn’t allow myself to be scared. Up in the tower we found an older gentleman who has spent the last 26 summers living in the cabin at the base of the rock and sitting in the tower, looking for forest fires, all day long, every day. It was a pretty neat experience.

The fire tower had a huge lightning rod, so I felt pretty safe on the climb up and the climb down in that respect, but I had to take the stairs down nearly as fast as I’d taken them up, which in some ways was even more difficult because I’d already hiked 1.7 miles and climbed 143 stairs, so my legs were tired and noodly. When I made it to the bottom of the steps, I waited for Dan to come down, and when he reached the bottom I mentioned to him how proud I was of myself for making it up and down those steps. Because damn, yo. I totally did it, and I didn’t have a panic attack. Go, me!


Hiking in a winter wonderland (uphill)(in the dark)(in the snow)

We were invited to a friend’s birthday party on Saturday night. He and his wife live in a house sort of up in the foothills outside of Boulder, and we’d never had a chance to go. Also, we knew quite a few other friends would be there, so we were excited about having some social time to take our minds off more sobering subjects.

The difficult part came when, all day Saturday, the weather went from bad to worse. It looked gross early in the day, and started snowing in the afternoon. We were still feeling OK about the idea of going to our friend’s party, though, as the snow wasn’t accumulating much. We had dinner early (a mock tuna casserole, made with boxed mac & cheese, lots of sauteed veggies, yogurt instead of milk/butter with the cheese packet, and some seasonings) and got ready, then were on our way.

Conditions weren’t great. In fact, in some spots, it was downright difficult, even with the windshield wipers going full-speed. The snow came down harder the farther west we got, and Dan had to do some white-knuckle driving at half the normal speed limit in a few areas. Finally we made it to Boulder and headed up the appropriate highway to get to the party. We drove further and further up, and the road got worse and worse, and the snow came down and down. Finally, we arrived at the turnoff, and realized that there was no way in hell that our car was going to make it up that hill, especially with inches of snow on the road.

I knew from the directions that we were less than two miles from our friends’ house, and we had our snowboots in the trunk (had not taken them out since last spring’s snowshoe adventures). We wanted to go to the party. So we decided to strap on the boots and hike to the house up the road, despite it being quite dark. And despite not having a functional flashlight. And despite not knowing exactly where we were going or how far we had to go because we’d never been there before. And (and this was the clincher) despite not knowing what the road was like.

Let me tell you. We certainly got our exercise hiking up that hill. It wasn’t easy, especially when cars would pass up on the way up and not even slow down, let alone stop to see if we wanted a ride. We made it past hairpin turns and steep climbs, and started to get discouraged, especially since neither of us had cellular reception (being in a big canyon). It was dark and cold and we’d been hiking for 45 minutes with no end in sight.

Luckily, just when we were thinking of turning around, someone stopped. And that someone happened to be two people who knew us from having attended many of the same parties and events, and they gave us a ride the rest of the way to the party! So we partied the night away, ate carrot cake and had tasty beverages and socialized and played Rock Band on the wii. I belted out a few tunes and rocked it on the drums, while I think Dan managed to do guitar as well over the course of the evening. He even kindly waited to sing the Rush song until I was upstairs and wouldn’t be directly subjected to it.

Our friends had plenty of space and setup available for guests to stay overnight, which we chose to do rather than ask someone to drive us back to our car in the cold dark. We had a room and an air mattress (with plenty of bedding), and this morning we woke up to over a foot of snow covering everything in the canyon. I wish I’d had my bey camera with me; it was spectacularly beautiful. Eventually the birthday boy drove us down the hill to our car, and we cleared it off and drove home on plowed roads, another Colorado adventure under our belts.

What fall looks like in the mountains

We went on a hike on Saturday somewhere in Jefferson County. The goal: To get outside, to get out of the city, to find some cool shit to photograph.

I think we managed to accomplish our goal.

Mt. Falcon (updated)

Story here.

August Adventure, Part 3: The Tallest Mountain in Colorado

Dan poked at me.

“It’s time to get up,” he said. “UUUNHHHG” I responded. It was 6 AM. I hadn’t slept well; the altitude had made the small muscles in my chest hurt and I just couldn’t get comfortable. It was freezing cold oustide as well, and I stupidly and groggily changed into my hiking clothes, shivered though the dismantling of the tent and the shoving of our gear into the car, and wished I’d brought gloves. And a hat.

Exiting the campground, we drove a short way up to the main trailhead parking lot, at which point we finished our preparation and began the 2 mile trek up the dirt road to the 4wheel drive parking lot. Moxie could have made it a little way up, we realized, but not very far, so it was just as well we’d left her where we did.

Car after truck passed us as we made our way up the road, but nobody stopped to offer us a lift. We crossed a runoff-swollen stream. We were making good time, we thought, but after a while it felt like maybe we’d gone too far. Then we came upon a sign that told us in no uncertain terms that we HAD gone too far, and we just hadn’t noticed the turnoff. The 14er book had steered us wrong again, and we probably ended up going over a mile out of the way, all told. When we figured out the right path, we stopped to eat some energy bars and bitch a little bit about how much unnecessary uphill we’d done. Then, right as we started on the appropriate trail, Dan tripped on a footbridge and banged his knee up.

At least once we got going, the trail was flat and easy, went downhill a bit, and then took a sharp turn to the uphill and stayed that way. And stayed that way. And stayed that way. It was really, really tough going, and we had to stop pretty frequenly to catch our breaths and rest our legs. The book had assured us that the trail leveled out for a while, which eventually it did, but not for long enough, because then came UPHILL. We passed tree line (side note, the trees at treeline are pretty weird!) and each step was harder, each break more necessary. When you get up that high, the altitude can have varying affects on any given person, and when you combine that with the possibilities of any sort of weather, you never know what you might get.

The trail got rockier and steeper. Dan had slowed down to a snail’s pace and I wasn’t going especially fast my own self. We hit what I estimate to be around 13,900 or so feet and suddenly the summit was just too far to go – at least a half mile further, and nearly straight up. We both felt the beginnings of altitude sickness (in my case, it was lightheadedness and dizziness and a slight bit of nausea) and decided that 14,400, the summit of Mount Elbert, was not going to happen that day. A combination of bad/not enough sleep, going all the distance out of our way, hiking 6 miles to get to the top instead of 3.5 from the 4-wheel drive lot like most of the other people on the trail, the weather (sunny and snowing at the same time!) all conspired to send us back down the mountain before we’d reached the top.

Intellectually, I know it’s better that we made that decision and didn’t try to push through our feeling poorly in order to reach the top. People die every year because they ignore their bodies’ warning signals and are too stubborn to turn around; other people are hospitalized for the same reason. But still, it killed me not to have reached the top of Mount Elbert, especially after we’d come all that way.

Downhill was nearly as difficult as uphill, especially on the steep, gravely parts of the trail. Loose rocks slide out from under you and it’s harder to keep your balance going downhill. We stopped to have a snack when we got to the flatter part of the trail down inside treeline and watched flakes of snow fall from the sunny blue sky. Down doesn’t take as long as up because you don’t have to stop as frequently, but it still takes quite a while, especially on the steep parts.

Finally, finally, finally we made it back to the 4 wheel drive lot, hoping someone would be there from whom we could beg a ride back to our car, but it was not to be. I joked with Dan that as soon as we got to the end of the road, someone would drive past us, and lo and behold, I was right.

We made it back to the car about 8 hours after we’d began the whole trek. We’d hiked around 11 miles up a mountain and back (including the out-of-the-way bit). We were both stinky and starving and a little bit sun/windburned. We got in the car and drove home (stopping in Leadville for Subway sandwiches, in stop-and-go Sunday afternoon traffic for two hours between the Eisenhower tunnel and Idaho Springs).

It was a good weekend.

August adventure, part 2: poop, mud, aggressive chipmunk

Once the car was deemed good to go, we motored back up to the Maroon Bells wilderness area. Normally, cars are not allowed (you have to take a bus) from 9 AM to 5 PM during the summer, but overnight campers get a car permit (yet another reason, besides how amazingly gorgeous it is, to camp there) and even though we hadn’t actually stayed in the campground due to the aforementioned car issues, the people at the kiosk didn’t know that and waved us through. We passed through some beautiful scenery that would have been more spectacular had it not been foggy and kind of rainy. We decided to park at one of the more outlying areas and hike in to Maroon Lake and then do an additional hike from there, but it was pouring rain for a while so we sat in the car and read books to wait it out. Luckily, the weather turned nice pretty quickly, so we changed into our hiking gear and headed out on the trail.

The early part of our hike went through a jungly aspen forest, the trees towering above us, our feet sloshing through thick black or red mud and a ridiculous amount of horse crap. There was so much poop that it was basically impossible to avoid, especially since so much of the uphill trail was slick goopy mud. We wondered at several points just what the fresh hell the people who had ridden those horses had fed them to get them to produce so much; it was seriously every 5-10 feet.

After quite a bit of uphill, the trail began to descend and we came upon a clearing with a hitching post. Not exactly the sort of thing you see every day.

Then suddenly we were at Maroon Lake, where the tour bus drops people off. It was absolutely breathtaking, and photos cannot do it justice, but here are a few I snapped.

We opted to hike a trail to Crater Lake that was rated “moderate” (the other trails were all easy and we wanted somewhat of a challenge), a 3.6 mile roundtrip hike that turned out to be exactly what we were hoping for. The scenery was great, the trail wasn’t too populated, and we finally made it to the upper lake and got yet another view of one of the prettiest parts of Colorado, the Maroon Bells (both 14K+ foot mountains overlooking the valley).

The only real drawback was that right as we arrived at Crater Lake, some very loud men from Long Guyland decided to share their inane conversation with everyone in a half-mile radius. Starving, we found a log to sit on and ate our PBJs and plums and some trail mix. As is usual in populated hiking areas of our fair state, there were plenty of small animals around begging people for food. To our chagrin, a greedy chipmunk decided we’d be good marks and kept running up to us, behind us, and around us, and though we attempted to discourage him from coming near, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I snapped his photo a few times in retalliation, but he wouldn’t stay still so I only got one good shot of him.

Then suddenly Dan screamed loudly, almost making me wet myself, and asked “Is it still on me?”

“WTF?” I said. Or at least, that’s what I thought. “Is what still on you?”

“That stupid chipmunk just jumped on my shoulder!” he said, and we looked but didn’t see the little bastard anywhere. Maybe Dan’s yell scared him off.

Finished with our lunches, we made our way toward the lake and took some photos, glad that the loud New Yawkers had left and it was quiet again. On the way back down to Maroon Lake, we finally saw what had been making the CHEE noise at us on the way up: a pika.

Of course, being me, I had to have some fun with the macro setting on my camera. At least these days I’m only taking photos of flower types I haven’t already photographed.

When we got back to Maroon Lake, we opted to walk along the road back to our car rather than brave the horsepoop and mud again. From there, we drove south from Aspen along highway 82, went up and over Independence Pass, and down to the Twin Lakes area where we found a campground and set up camp in preparation for our big hike on Sunday. Normally I’m not a fan of hot dogs, but turkey dogs, corn on the cob, and a burnt-in-the-coals potato were absolutely delicious. And we looked into the sky and there was the Milky Way, something I hadn’t seen in a very long time. There’s nothing like stargazing to make one feel very small.

Weekend adventure, part 1: Bad luck and good luck

It was time to get out of town again, so this past weekend I took Friday off and we packed up the car and drove west on I-70, tunes a-blazin’, possibilities in the air. We stopped in Glenwood Springs for some weekend food supplies and continued along highway 82 toward Aspen, in phone contact with Dan’s cousin making some dinner plans, arriving at our destination at what we thought was 5 PM (by Dan’s watch) but was actually 6.

Sadly, the Maroon Bells wilderness area only takes cash and checks, so we had to drive back into Aspen to get some of that (Aspen, as one might guess, is full of people driving very expensive cars. It is also kind of twee.), and back to Maroon Bells, set up our tent at Silver Bell #12, then realized we had no cell phone coverage to let Lori know we were set and ready for dinner. So we drove back out to Aspen AGAIN and met up with Lori and her husband, who both got a kick out of the Flying Spaghetti Monster car emblem and learned that it was not in fact 6 PM but actually 7 PM. We feasted at a local watering hole and heard a harrowing tale of the WORST customer service story ever, so much so that my gast was completely flabbered. After dinner, we said our goodnights and our thanks for hanging-outs and got into the car, only to determine that it didn’t want to start.

Like, at all. No turning over. No nothing.

Luckily, they hadn’t gone far, and when I called they turned around and came back to help us get things figured out. We attempted a jump start, which didn’t work for quite some time. Finally, after quite a bit of finessing, Rich got the car started. Both cars sat there idling for a while as we decided what to do. The final verdict: Rich and I would go back to the campground in their sweet-ass Audi TT convertable and break down camp/get our stuff, while Dan and Lori would head to their house in poor Moxie, who up to that point had never given us a moment’s trouble; in case something happened during the drive, Moxie wouldn’t be at the campground out of cell phone range. Rich and I motored up, broke down our camp, stuffed everything in the wee tiny trunk, and made it back into the car just as the crazy rain and thunder and lightning started.

It wasn’t the evening we were expecting: sleeping on the pullout couch, loved on by two doggies, sipping port and watching a guy on stilts on Conan rather than a tent under the stars and me beating Dan at gin. But it was a lovely evening nonetheless. In the morning, we found a place to bring the car, but couldn’t get it started again, even with Rich’s magic fingers. After some internet research, a few more things were tried, but ultimately we determined that poor Moxie was just not going to start. Luckily (and seriously, this was REALLY lucky), Lori and Rich had everything necessary to tow Moxie down to Basalt to the car repair place – tow cables, a Land Rover, tools, etc. and saved us $200 in towing fees.

I have to say here that riding in a car at highway speed when the car isn’t actually on so you have no idea how fast you’re going is extremely weird.

So we got to the car place and about 15 guys ran out and started poking around under Moxie’s hood. While we waited, Lori and I took a 5-minute trip over to a convenience store to get some supplies and when we got back we were greeted by two sheepishly grinning men. “Guess how much it cost,” they asked. “Two dollars!” said Lori. “Off by a factor of ten,” said Rich, relating that someone finally figured out that the floor mat had wedged itself far enough under one of the pedals that it couldn’t engage when we were trying to turn the car on. Twenty bucks for five minutes of troubleshooting, and two red faces, and a bunch of laughing Mexican guys. Hey, it could have been exponentially worse (and ridiculously expensive). I would have been mortified if we’d paid to have the car towed.

So all was well, and Dan and I headed back into the Maroon Bells area to go hiking, laughing and wondering what we could do as a thank-you to Rich and Lori for putting us up for the night and towing the car into town. Any ideas, internet?