Prediction? Pain

Reporter: Clubber, what’s your prediction for the fight?
Clubber Lang (as poignantly played by Mr T): Prediction? Pain.

Now there’s no way to write about being in the Rockies without, at some point, tying it in to the Rocky movie franchise.

Now there have been times in the past when running, triathlons or other sports, where I felt I could beat another opponent. I’ve even felt I could “beat” a course I was familiar with. If you try to beat the mountains though, as Clubber said, you just get pain. Or, as Adrian screeched at Rocky as he was headed to Moscow to fight the big Russian, “You can’t win!” (By the way, thanks for the support there Adrian.)

The Rocky Mountains can not be beaten. They are too tall, too vast and have the staying power of….hell, a mountain.

For the first two weeks of this trip, I was “winning.” I had created a schedule to follow and was not only meeting it, despite various foot/ankle injuries, I was beating it.

Day 15 brought me back to reality. I was hiking into the Collegiate Mountains. After packing up a wet camp from the night before’s rain, I was looking at two huge climbs. Straight from camp there is a 1,400 foot climb that took me near 12,000 feet onto Mt Harvard. (That’s quite a bit higher than Mt Saint Joe or Mt Adams in Cincinnati.) between the climb and the intense sun above tree line, I was feeling worn out and it was only 9 am.

Day 15 Mountain

After a short drop, it was back up Mt Columbia and maybe a couple community college peaks as well. A long downgrade had me having a late lunch down around 9,000 feet. There was some nice camping spots there, but my schedule had me getting past Mt Yale yet that day. The climb was the steepest I’d ever encountered and I was suffering with every step. Yale’s entrance exam was more than I could handle and the mountain may have discovered my “Achilles Heel.” Ironically enough, that was my Achilles’ tendon, which was hurting worse with each step.

I finally decided that I needed to stop trying to meet an arbitrary schedule and just take what the mountains would give. Thankfully what the mountain gave me was a beautiful alpine meadow about halfway up Yale. A stream was nearby, but far enough away to not draw mosquitoes. A small grove of pine protected a flat area just right for the tent, but left in enough breeze to dry the day before’s rain off the material.

Also on the site was an old abandoned cabin. It seemed rather symbolic of the mountain’s infinite patience. The cabin was about halfway back to being reabsorbed by the mountain and Mt Yale had all the time in the world to finish the project.

Day 15 cabin

Back On My Own

The morning of day 14, sunny and warm of course, I was back on my own. Dan and Bob drove me back to where we had stopped the day before, helped me on with my pack and left me with words of encouragement. Even though I’ve always known it, it’s nice to be reminded how much they care.

Walking along Twin Lakes first thing in the morning I got some tremendous views of the mountains reflected in the water. Soon however, it’s time to start climbing, which is getting less fun each time.

Twin Lake

Part of the route was along Forest Service Roads and through their camping areas, which are pretty basic. Due to the holiday, they were fairly crowded though. As I was walking through, a guy ran up and asked if I were a thru-hiker. When I said yes, he told me I was off the trail. He stated I probably missed the turn about 100 feet back because, “those assholes are camped right on the trail.”

I walked back with the guy and sure enough, there was the trail, right between an mountain bike outfitter’s big wall tent and some bike trailers. As I thanked him and turned to leave, his wife/girlfriend came up offering me a banana, some juice and to take my trash. Now that’s pretty friendly.

After walking a few more miles of FS roads, I began to drop into the Clear Creek Valley. In stark contrast to the forests I’d been walking through, this hillside, with a full southern exposure, only supported scrub growth and even some small cacti. Of course, to be consistent with everywhere else I’d been on the trail, the cacti were in bloom.

Cactus

As I ate lunch by the creek, another guy walked by and asked about my hike. After a few minutes he offered me some bottled water. Not sure he believed me when I pointed at the creek and said I had plenty.

After lunch I started on the first of several major climbs to be “conquered.” Climbing close to 3,000 feet over 4 miles slowed progress to a crawl. Worse yet, short rain showers were hitting about every half hour, forcing me to put on and take off rainwear regularly as well.

As I finally arrived where I had planned to camp for the night, it began to sprinkle. Rather than rush to put up the tent, I thought I’d wait out another “short” shower, then set up. A half hour later, I was still standing under a pine tree watching the pouring rain turn my chosen spot into a quagmire. After an hour an a half, a short break in to rain lasted just long enough to throw up the tent and pile everything, including myself, inside to wait out the next downpour. The weather finally cleared at dark. It made for a late dinner, but freeze dried sweet and sour pork is worth the wait.

Hiking With Family

Day 12 starts, like nearly every day, cool and sunny.

Going through Mt Massive Wilderness area. Much of the day in spent in heavy pine forest, with just an occasional glimpse of the rightly named Mt Massive. At 14,421 feet tall, it’s a few feet shorter than nearby Mt Elbert, tallest in the state, but appears to be a bigger rock.

Hiking with family 2

My brother Bob has flown out to visit and he and Dan are walking towards me from the other end of the section. With 4 miles left in a 17 mile day, we meet up. It’s great to see them. Even better, Bob shoulders my pack the rest of the way to the car.

Hiking with family 1

First we drove to the Twin Lakes General Store to pick up a box I’d mailed to myself. Other than looking like it had been kicked from Cincinnati to Colorado, it was fine. After checking in at the Leadville Super 8, (the only thing we overlook is the slag heap,) it’s off to the Golden Burro bar n grill. We all got bean burritos, though they should not be served to anyone over 65; at least not if you share a motel room with them.

Day 13.
Another sunny day, getting warmer. Almost like taking a day off. Hiking a short (12 mile) section that’s relatively flat. and the best part is my brother Bob is carrying a daypack with everything we might need for the day. I’m carrying absolutely nothing and I feel like I’m floating. Dan walks with us for a the first mile or so, then heads back to the car so he can meet us near the end of the day’s hike (after a nap).

With no pack and easy conversation, the miles fly by. The scenery alternates between conifers and huge groves of Aspen, with occasional glimpses of Mt Elbert and Massive. After about six miles we start seeing Twin Lakes. Despite its name, there’s really only one lake that gets pretty narrow in the middle. Regardless, it’s a pretty sight as we drop out of the woods to walk along the bank. You’d think that would be an interesting section, but it’s 4 miles long with absolutely no shade. It’s around noon and the sun is starting to roast me through the sunscreen.

Hiking with family 3

With about two miles of lakeshore to go, Dan comes walking up with another hiker. Marvin is another thru-hiker that skipped the snow area and is now hiking back toward it. Dan took great pleasure in letting him know he’ll still be dealing with snow (though much less than even a few days ago).

The afternoon job for me was the laundromat, though I can’t say the washing got my socks to smell fresh. While I was out, I also picked up some “liquid skin” to paint over, and hopefully protect my blisters. Dan and Bob filled the time catching up on their beauty sleep.

That evening, it was back to the Golden Burro, but no one was allowed the get burritos. After buffalo burgers all around, there was still time to find a TV and watch the Rockies lose another game. All in all, a great change of pace. I’m 180 miles deep into the hike