Tuesday, September 1, 2009

High Altitude Attitude

Mt. Shavano (middle) silhouette in Colorado summer sunset

Gasping for the thin rocky mountain air with an oncoming lightheaded feeling, I look at my brother and good friend Reed as they too struggle for inhalation. "Why did we choose this route again?" I ask them between gasps. It was our first major hiking break of the day as we were attempting to summit Mt. Princeton (14,197ft.). There are two major trails one can take to find themselves atop this beautiful mountain. The first trail, which many prefer, is up the east side of the mountain and may take longer but is more enjoyable by means of difficulty level. The other prominent trail, which very few actually take, is up the southwest side of the mountain and is literally a straight ascent from the trail head to the summit. We chose the latter. It was an arduous climb and was really testing my level of conditioning since just 48 hours prior I was at my accustomed sea level state. There we sat eating oranges, power bars and sipping H2O concluding that one must either have to be really hardcore or stupid to take this arduous trail to the top. Although we would have liked to consider ourselves hardcore, we all humorously knew that we were just plain stupid. How did we get to this point anyways?A little glimpse of the rugged ascent

Several weeks prior when I knew I would be going to Colorado to celebrate my brother's 30th birthday, I realized that I never really took full advantage of the outdoor lifestyle Colorado had to offer. Oddly, it took me to travel to the south of Chile and trek Torres del Paine to help me realize how much I love hiking and trekking. Eighteen years of my life passed with a hiker's paradise in my backyard, yet sometimes you must leave the comfort of home to realize all that was taken for granted. Colorado's fifty six 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet) have become a genuine interest of mine in the last year or so. Therefore, I knew when going to help my brother not feel so old at his 30th, a 14er must be put on the agenda.

I flew into Colorado on Wednesday evening from San Diego (sea level) and managed to sleep very little after staying with an old high school friend. Then Thursday was spent catching up with family and proceeding to catch up with more old friends that night at the local bar until the wee hours of the morning. Then came Friday morning, the day we had planned to ascend Mt. Princeton. With little rest and a tummy full of mixed beverages from the night before, the three of us decided to give it a go. We didn't even arrive at the trail head until noon, typically 'hardcore' climbers begin their ascent at the crack of dawn. Instead, we 'stupid' people prefer to begin the much tougher trail at the crack of noon. All three of us will go down in history as the most prepared climbers, our planning was flawless.... right?Last sign of tree life above treeline 12,000 feet

Standing atop the peak above 13,000 feet, overlooking Arkansas River Valley

There we were half way up the mountain, now my lightheaded feeling was in full effect and I suddenly realized altitude wasn't only challenging for breath but also the blood pressure. The amount of exercise I do on a weekly basis had prepared my lungs enough for the climb, however there was not much preparation I could have done to accustom the blood pressure at 10-14,000 feet higher. I actually surprised myself and stayed somewhat close behind my 'elder' brother who was scaling the ascent like a mountain goat in its natural environment. Step by step, with my quadriceps and calves screaming, I found myself above the 13,000 foot mark overlooking the Arkansas River valley and surrounding 14ers. Unfortunately, the sun was on its way down to the west as the time read 3:15pm when we were still a good hour away from the summit. We decided we had enough on this day. The trek back down to the car took just a little over 1 hour 30 minutes. We proceeded to drive down to the Mt. Princeton hot springs to soak our amateur climbing bodies. The rest of the day was a bit hazy to me as my body was basically in shut-down mode since it wasn't too happy about the combination of staying up late, exercising vigorously up a mountain just 48 hours after loathing in sunny San Diego.
Mt. Princeton from Reed's balcony over dinner and vino, a sweet feeling!

Though it is very unfortunate we didn't summit the 14er, it was a great learning experience of being young and dumb. I mean, after all we were there in the first place celebrating our youth since my brother says 30 is the new 20. Additionally, our flawless planning apparently does need some improvement for the next time we intend on ascending a 14er. As for myself, I have a whole lot more respect for not only 14ers, but altitude in general. In short, it kicked my butt. If anything, it has just increased my respect for the activity and preparation that is necessary to become an avid climber. However, I am even more motivated to get back and summit one of those 56 peaks!