I notice the pinks and purples of the sun set. The mountains are all around me. I see a lot of trees destroyed by beetles. Sad to see in such a beautiful place, but that is the cycle of nature.
The sun finally sets and I am unable to take in the scenery. But what awaited for me, was well worth the wait. We originally decided to stay at a camp site for the night then go to the trailhead in the morning. However, since we got a late start, we decided to just go straight to the trailhead and sleep in the vehicle. We were halfway there, when we come upon what looked like a crater. We try to see if we would be able to make it through. After much consideration, we decided it was best to back the vehicle up and park at a pull off spot since we were only in a Toyota Camry. We both get out, with Motown, to stretch.
As I am stretching, I look up. What I saw before my eyes is something so beautiful, it took my breathe away. All the stars. So many stars. Now, living in the Pennsylvanian countryside, I have seen stars and the Milky Way but nothing prepared me for this. There were billions and billions of sparkly little dots. Some faint and small, some bright and large. I just stood there looking up and slowly turned around to get the full wonderful view.
Now it is time to try to get some rest, that never really came. We dosed off and on throughout the night but poor Motown was so uncomfortable he couldn’t lay still. Dawn approaches, the sky is a grey and temperatures are chilly. We are on our way to the trailhead. We get to the crater and it wasn’t anything like we thought it was. Yes it was about as wide as the road but not as deep as we thought. Yea, we went right through it, no problem. We just looked at each other and shook our heads, chuckled and continued going.
We get to the trailhead just as the sun was starting to rise. We finally get on the trail and let me tell you, the trail is not smooth. Around here (PA), the trails are just dirt and grass, some stones but nothing like this. I am glad I wore my heavy duty Montrail hikers. They protected my feet and ankles from slips and bruises. Can you believe people run on these trails?! I saw a runner and my mouth dropped, I looked at Angela and said “WTF”. She proceeds to tell me people do it all the time there. I was absolutely astonished. First 10th of a mile, I would have fallen flat on my face with a broken ankle.
The whole hike was just incredible. I hiked past forest after forest of aspen trees. I actually learned from Angela, that the Aspen tree is the largest living plant. The trees' root system is all one root base. How crazy is that!
At this point, the elevation isn’t effecting me as much as I thought, but I still get winded. To prep for this trip I started jogging to get my endurance up to help with altitude sickness. Angela instructed I needed to workout so the elevation wouldn’t effect me much. (I tested my hard work by walking 1-2 miles to Arvada’s shops, from Angela’s house. On the walk home I noticed I was having a little difficulty catching my breath. I just stopped a few minutes to catch my breath and was on my way.)
On the trail we were only averaging 1-1.5 miles an hour. We took our time so I could take everything in. My body was handling the elevation fairly well. My muscles weren’t screaming, but I did have to stop a few times to catch my breath. It took us a whole six hours to walk 3.8 miles. The trail was steep in a few places, making me breathe harder and having to stop more. This is typical for your first time in the Rockies. So don’t be discouraged if your first trip takes longer than expected.
As mentioned above, altitude sickness can be serious, even deadly. There are three forms of altitude sickness. Mild altitude sickness is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS feels similar to a hangover, headache, nausea and fatigue. I am sure most of you have experienced a hangover. AMS may effect some people very little or a lot. If you start to experience AMS take these symptoms as a warning that you may have problems further in elevation.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE ) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) are the last two forms, that are extremely serious and normally occur together. HAPE is fluid in the lungs. You cough up foamy spit, have breathlessness while resting, which is not normal. HAPE can even cause a fever. HACE occurs next if measures are not taken. HACE is fluid on the brain. This causes confusion, stumbling and instability. Symptoms you will see first are uncharacteristic behaviors, laziness, excessive emotion and even violence. Drowsiness and loss of consciousness occurs shortly before death. When you start to notice symptoms of HAPE, descend to lower elevation immediately. If available, give Dexamethasone and Acetazolamide. There is your public service announcement for the day.
We finally get to our campsite and again I am blown away. Mount Sopris was our view. All its snow-capped glory was calling our names. We set out to hike above tree line, after setting up camp, of course. We hiked past the pristine waters of Thomas Lakes at 10,265' in elevation. (By the way, that water is COLD!) We billy-goated* up the mountain, across a large talus field**, then finally made it above tree line.
I couldn’t believe it, I made it above tree line with no problems from the elevation and I am still alive. I see the top. We hike along a red rock path with cool wind whipping around us. Dark gray clouds are starting to move in. We reach as far as we could go, about 11,000'. The view was astounding! All I saw around me were more mountains, as far as I could see. I was able to see Capitol Peak at 14,130’ and the Elk Mountain range. I made it! Holy s#*t I made it above tree line on a mountain in the Rockies, one item to mark off the bucket list!
Unfortunately we couldn’t summit because of a storm rolling in. Colorado is well known for afternoon thunderstorms, so I learned. On your trip ALWAYS know what the weather is going to be. To be safe, you could carry a NOAA radio that will sound an alarm if there are any warnings. The radio also allows you to listen to the forecast, just as a safety precaution. If a storm rolls up on you or looks like one is rolling in, head below tree line as quickly and safely as possible. With that information in mind, we decided to abort and head back to camp. We made it back just in time before the storm hit. Yea, the storms in the mountains come in quickly and pack a punch. We climb into our tent to wait the storm out. However, we dosed off and slept mostly through the night as we were exhausted, with not much sleep the night before. We woke up in the middle of the night got out of the tent. Crystal clear skies and twinkling stars are all around us.
Getting a chill we get back into the tent for the rest of our slumber. We wake in the morning and break camp. We hike out the same path. Once at the vehicle, we change into fresh clothes and start our journey to some much needed R & R at the Avalanche Ranch Hot springs.
As I see Mt. Sopris in the side mirror getting smaller, I reflect on my first backpacking trip in the Rockies. Let’s just say I am hooked. The splendor of the area, everything so new to me, I felt like I was on an expedition. Now I am anxious to get my first 14’er in and see what else I can conquer.* A slang term meaning to hike back and forth, across the mountain to the top. ** A slope formed by an accumulation of broken rock debris, as at the base of a cliff. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talus