| Happy Anniversary! My wife's first 14er
Disclaimer: This is an unusually long trip report for Mt. Bierstadt, but there's good reason for that. First, it's a story 4 years in the making. And second, it's a very emotional story that I felt compelled to write down, even if I'm the only one who ever reads it. So with that, here's the TR.
Over the past four years, I've gained a true passion for climbing 14ers, and I owe it all to my wife. In 2009, we took our first vacation to Colorado. During those few days, we rode the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak. While planning our 2010 vacation the following year, Kellie said, "Wouldn't it be fun to climb up Pikes Peak?" I initially thought she was crazy, but did a little research. We agreed to give it a shot.
Upon arriving in Colorado Springs and seeing the weather forecast, we had to improvise. We would be hiking Barr Trail the morning after arriving in Colorado. Not exactly a plan for success, but we were excited and clueless as to just how tough a hike it would be. Class 1 or not, 26 miles in a single day is a LONG hike.
After endless switchbacks and a fun rest at Barr Camp, Kellie decided to stop her climb at the timberline a-frame. There she ate, napped, and soaked in the scenery while I continued to the summit. At the top, I refilled our water and ran almost the entire three miles back down to the a-frame. There, a refreshed Kellie joined me as I made by far the most painful descent of my life. The 26-mile trip lasted from 4 a.m. until 7 p.m. Kellie had hiked 20 miles herself, which is an insane distance to walk without getting a summit.
26 miles in one day? Sure, why not?!?!
Fast forward to September, 2011. Kellie and I had the chance for a quick weekend getaway, and having been to Manitou Springs twice, we opted for somewhere different. Georgetown fit the bill, and we planned on hiking Grays & Torreys (again, the morning after arriving). I learned from the forums here that a snowstorm had hit the peaks earlier in the week, but we decided to try anyway. The day started off poorly, as we parked at the winter trailhead, and hoped to hitch a ride. No such luck. Only four drove by - three were full already, and the other passed as one of us (I don't remember who) was heeding nature's call in the woods.
By the time we came to the summer trailhead, it was already 8 a.m. We made our way up the trail, only to see Grays coated in snow. We pushed on regardless, and as we ascended the north slope, we began trudging through foot-deep snow, without the benefit of microspikes. It remained that way all the way to the summit. With the summit achingly close, Kellie once again decided it would be best for her to stop. The altitude was getting to her, and the snow had made her feet very cold. She put her backpack in the snow and sat on it while I rubbed her feet to warm them up, then put a new pair of wool socks on her. I dropped my pack, and literally ran/slipped my way to the summit (she could see me the whole time), snapped a couple pictures, then slid back down to her. Then we made the trek back to our car.
Kellie's second attempt hadn't ended with a summit either, and I could tell she was frustrated. I told her both climbs were under bad conditions, and promised her we would get her a summit sometime soon. Pregnant with our second child last summer, she didn't get to climb with me, so that summit would have to wait. Which brings us to...
Foot-deep snow with no microspikes? Sure, why not?!?!
With a daughter who turned five last week, and a son who will turn one at the end of this month, alone time is a rarity for Kellie and I. So when an opportunity presented itself that allowed us to take off for a couple days for our anniversary, we pounced on it. Dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Denver was a given. Of course, I wanted to get Kellie her first 14er. Having hiked Mt. Bierstadt last year, knowing there would be little to no snow, and easy trailhead access, I made it our goal. We made hotel reservations in Georgetown, and were off.
We spent our anniversary (Sunday, June 30) driving to Colorado. We arrived in Denver at about 3:30 p.m. and ate at The Old Spaghetti Factory. We then called in an order to Beau Jo's, and picked up the pizza on the way to Georgetown - not to eat, but to pack for our hike.
When Monday rolled around, we drove up Guanella Pass and arrived at the trailhead at around 6 a.m. The plan was simple. Go slow, eat and drink plenty, and take lots of breaks. We weren't there to break speed records, we were there to get Kellie her summit.
The morning was crisp and gorgeous, with many others were at the parking lot already as well. We set out, hiking the slow descent to Scott Gomer Creek. After that, as the trail steepened, we took more breaks, and simply took our time. Kellie felt great, and I had high hopes for this day.
A Beautiful morning
Kellie making her way up the rocks
As the summit grew nearer, we were both excited. Kellie kept talking about how close it seemed, and that she was actually going to make it. I led the way, and when the trail would vanish in spots near the top, I would guide her up the boulders. We even ascended a short snow field near the top. Not to fear - no ice axes or microspikes are needed! My only fear was that she had already drank all the water in her 3-liter camelback. But I had mine, and we each had a Gatorade, so I put it out of my mind.
The summit nears
No ice axe required!
Frozen Lake is, well, half-frozen
Kellie rests before the final push
At roughly 10 a.m., we reached the summit. Not exactly speedy, but we didn't care. I gave Kellie a high-five and a hug, and congratulated her on her first 14er! Third time was a charm, I suppose. There were, of course, many other up there, and we took turns getting our picture taken and taking pictures of others. One guy even handed us his cardboard Mt. Bierstadt sign, which randomly asked, "What's up, cracka?" I've never taken a summit picture with a sign, but it was funny and since it was Kellie's first, I gave to her for a photo.
I've had the pleasure of both doing 14ers solo, and meeting random people to hike with. Last year, I even got to guide my mom up her first two 14ers (Mt. Sherman and Mt. Evans). All of those are wonderful experiences, but they were nothing compared to finally being with my wife on a summit - after all, she started this 14er addiction for me. It was a wonderful time.
But it wouldn't last...
Happy 6th anniversary!
"What's up, cracka?"
Shortly after taking pictures, we sat down to enjoy some Beau Jo's. I was ravenous, and grabbed a piece and tore in. Kellie took another, took a bite (maybe two), then got this strange look on her face.
"I think I'm going to be sick," she said.
Her ability to predict the future was eerily accurate, and before I knew it, I had gone from being ecstatic to being terrified. I was panicked, but didn't know what to do, so I just stood next to her while she emptied her stomach. I did my best not to let it show, but seeing your spouse have a sudden bout of serious altitude sickness is a frightening thing. To make matters worse, I could see storm clouds forming in the distance. It was time to go.
Time to head down
Such a beautiful area
Kellie being a trooper
After a while, Kellie managed to stand up. I told her I would take her backpack along with mine, so she could simply concentrate on walking. It was painfully slow going, because I think any movement at all made Kellie nauseous. As we slowly descended, I kept one eye on Kellie and the other on the storms clouds moving in. It was really a catch-22. We had to move slow, or risk Kellie getting even sicker. On the other hand, we needed to move quickly to avoid getting soaked by the approaching storm. We had rain gear, but that only goes so far. The last thing Kellie needed was to get cold and wet.
We stopped at regular intervals so Kellie could get a sip of either my water or Gatorade, and so I could sit down the extra pack. We were racing the clock, and I felt like we were losing. Nasty clouds were moving over the top of Mt. Spalding. The ridge to Evans had disappeared within a rolling black mass. The winds suddenly got colder. And yet we weren't even back to the willows yet. During this time, I was praying for both Kellie to be strong enough to make it back down, and for the rain to hold off just long enough for us to be relatively safe. The prayer ran on a continuous loop in my head on the way down.
Storms moving over Evans and the Sawtooth
Glad to be off the summit
Eventually, we returned to the willows. I was grateful to be a bit safer from potential lightning, but the rain was still a major issue. In a bit of irony, when we returned to Scott Gomer Creek, there was a brief moment of sunlight directly above us, while all around the sky was dark and brooding. For the first time since the summit, I thought we were going to make it okay. After taking both packs across the creek, and making sure Kellie got across okay, I asked if she could take her pack the rest of the way. She said yes. It appeared the drop in elevation had helped her sickness somewhat (makes sense, but doesn't always happen). With the sky getting worse by the minute, we made the final push back to the car. By the end, I was running the last part of the trail and parking lot, throwing gear in the trunk, and getting ready to go. Kellie arrived, and as we put her stuff in the trunk, the rain started.
Scott Gomer Creek
Kellie felt a bit better at this point
We hopped in the car at 2:26 p.m. as the skies opened, finally safe. The timing was uncanny. I told Kellie about my prayers, and she told me she had been doing the same thing. She even felt okay enough to eat a slice of cold Beau Jo's. I honestly think God was watching over us this day. There's really no other way to describe it.
And I can't say enough about my incredible wife. After seeing her so sick on the summit, I was sure she'd even be able to stand, let alone walk all the way back down. But she was a trooper. She never once complained. She even apologized for getting sick, as if she could have done anything to prevent it. Altitude sickness can hit anyone in the mountains, from beginner to veteran. It certainly threw its best punch at Kellie. But she punched right back, and for one day at least, it went down in defeat.
At one point on the way down, I asked her if she thought she'd be okay. She responded, "I don't have a choice. I have to get down the mountain." It reminded me of the saying, Going up is optional. Getting down is mandatory. She'd never heard that saying, but it was obvious she knew the inherit truth behind it, even if the descent actually took longer than the ascent.
Sitting in the car, out of the rain, we talked about our adventure, spending some quality time together in an unusual way, and how much we must love each other - whether it was her spending our anniversary giving a 14er another shot after her two prior attempts had failed, or me awkwardly carrying two backpacks all the way down the mountain. I told her she never had to feel obligated to do another 14er with me, and she said she might just take me up on that.
With that, we pulled out of the parking lot, drove down Guanella Pass, stopped at Starbucks to buy Kellie a celebratory frappucino, and headed on to Denver for a second straight night of dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory.
Thanks for reading!
One final photo-op, with storms quickly moving in
Get to the car!
At Starbucks, safe from the rain
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