Our week long vacation in Colorado was supposed to be a bit of a training ground for Kilimanjaro. Joe told me he’d “run me ragged” or something like it. I imagined I would struggle to get to the top of the mountains we chose but that my stair climbs, weekend hikes and runs in New England would have provided at least a base of athleticism that I could start from.
I may have been a little overconfident.
After spending a fantastic day with on of my favorite humans, Milo…
…and a great night catching up with middle school friend Jaclyn, who was amazing enough to let Joe and I crash at her house for a night, Joe and I woke up at 3:30 am to drive to the trailhead for Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache, which we wanted to hike that day.
Despite my foot injury (and of course the very obvious lack of oxygen at 10,000-12,000 ft.), things were going rather well on the hike. It was gorgeous. The trees were so varied and differently spaced through the entire hike that we easily got confused — and about 45 minutes in we started saying silly things like “oh, i think treeline is right ahead!” Over and over again. It was not.
when we finally *actually* reached treeline, we were thrilled, especially with the view below…
and with the goats(!)…
but not as much with the view of the top, which, right after this picture was taken, began to be overtaken by gray clouds.
I was also starting to worry about my foot, which was aching more than usual. not wanting to miss out on the summit, though, we sat and watched the clouds for a while to see whether we could divine their purpose. I ended up convincing Joe to head down, more because of my feet than the clouds.
And it turned out to be quite a good thing that I did, because just about 30 minutes later on the descent, I started to experience altitude sickness.
I had read all about altitude sickness in my book about Kilimanjaro before leaving for Colorado, but hadn’t given it a really serious thought in relation to Colorado. I had lived there before, climbed mountains, and neither Joe nor I had ever experienced. In my mind, there was no reason to imagine that I would be struck by the severe headache and nausea that altitude sickness brings.
What was interesting, in retrospect, about my altitude sickness was that it hit WHILE i was descending, when descent is usually the quickest way to “treat” altitude sickness. Head feeling like it was trapped in a vise, I stumbled as well as I could back down to the car, where I collapsed into a heap and began to experience terrible nausea. With no other option, we kept driving, trying to get lower in altitude as quickly as we could.
It’s an interesting (and, in the moment, very scary) feeling to be so physically helpless, as I felt when altitude sick, and as I’ve felt for much of this injury-ridden year. It’s humbling to be brought to your knees by your own body’s inability to handle the stresses you put on it, and to be reminded in a not-so-gentle way that you are not a teenager, you are not invincible, and you are at its mercy.
And I was at my body’s mercy until we reached about 7,000 feet, and the symptoms began to subside, and I started to be able to breathe and feel and think again.
From that day on, our trip was different from what we’d planned. No longer were we going to “run me ragged.” Instead, we played it safe. We slept at 9,000 ft to help me acclimate to the altitude and then we went on a hike to Lower and Upper Mohawk Lake. And my gosh, it almost made me happy that I got altitude sick and we had to change our plans, because wow, this hike was an absolute stunner.
but the best part was the approach to Upper Mohawk Lake. the path leading up to the lake just fit one person astride, and was lined with brush adorned with wild goat fur that had gotten stuck to the branches as the herd nudged through. then all the sudden, the path ahead suddenly opens to an outcropping of rock, and one step more and you are eye level with the entire jewel-blue Mohawk Lake. A few more steps and the lake is at your feet, surrounded by snow-dappled peaks on one side and rocky, grassy slopes on others.
We both were stunned by this hike’s beauty, and that night, as we camped near Guanella Pass, watched meteors bigger than we’d ever seen stream across the sky, and played with taking astrophotography shots, we were both pretty smitten with nature, and with each other, despite the turn our vacation had taken.
What’s so funny to me, though, is that when both of us look back on the trip now, a month later, our favorite moments didn’t come from this hike, or those meteors. Instead, they came the next day in Boulder, as we gallivanted around campus and revisited our old haunts, and then again the days after, when we dug in the garden, played with his dog, and spent time with family in Pittsburgh. Just goes to show that things like injuries and mishaps can’t stop you from having a blast anyway.
An awesome week. ‘Nough said.