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Quandary and Massive, a rookies' perspective.

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Quandary and Massive, a rookies' perspective.

Postby joshs2000ss » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:28 pm

I will get some pictures and post this in a trip report, where I'm probably supposed to post it, but thought I would add my story here. Sorry, it's a bit long.
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Several months ago and friend and I discussed the possibility of heading out to Colorado to do some mountain hiking. We wanted to take a trip to get away for a few days and do something different than what we could find to do around home. He had experience in climbing but I wasn't sure what I was getting into, I just knew that I enjoyed being outdoors. In Colorado on two “fourteeners”, I found out.

The four of us, three firemen and myself, the IT guy with the desk job, boarded a plane bright and early on Wednesday morning in Nashville, TN, headed for Denver. We hopped in the rental car from the airport and drove straight into Leadville. The drive was beautiful. A huge change in scenery from the normal rolling hills back home in Kentucky. I had seen the Rockies before, but this time I knew that soon I was going to have a different perspective on the mountains. A view from the top.

Instead of going straight to the hotel we planned to stop off at an ATV rental place for a few hours and do some riding up in the hills through some old copper mine areas. It had been years since I had done any sort of 4-wheel off-roading. We had a good day of exploring the area on an unguided ride. We left from there and checked in at the hotel, grabbed a bite to eat and called it a night fairly early. We were heading to Quandary Peak in the morning.

Leading up to the trip, we went back and forth on which summits we wanted to try to make. After some discussion we had narrowed it down to Quandary, Massive and Bierstadt. Start with a shorter climb, do a harder summit and then tackle the last on the way back to Denver. Once we narrowed it down, I posted to the 14ers.com forums about the plans for the trip and the mountains we were going to attempt. Most of the replies gave me the impression that we may have been biting off more than we could chew, but I was optimistic about the plan and we went ahead with it.

Thursday morning, we rolled out of bed at around 4:30 a.m. and got to the trail head around 6:30 a.m. It was cool, about 36 degrees, and the weather forecast was perfect. No chance for rain in the area. We put on our packs and started up the trail. As we headed up the first 200 yards into the woods, I thought, “Man, I’m already breathing hard, I’m in better shape than this...” Apparently, the altitude was just saying hello.

Up until the time we left home, I had been training off and on to prepare myself for the trip. I was running a few miles here and there and training on steps at the local college football stadium once a week or so. Looking back, I regret not having prepared more. I thought I was in good enough shape. The fact that I was traveling with three firemen worried me a bit, because I knew that they were in shape, for the most part, due to the requirements of their job, but I did not know to what extent. I am good friends with one of them and knew of his abilities prior to now, but the other two, I had only met once, before we were all on a plane to go climb some 14ers and had no idea of their capabilities.

We continued up the trail at what felt like a decent pace. I found myself having to slow down or rest more often than the others. Physically, I felt fine, but I was having a hard time breathing. We pressed on, up through the trees where we were met by a mule deer, a buck with velvet still covering his antlers. He was not concerned in the slightest that we were stomping and gasping for air through his serene wilderness. As he ventured off, away from us into the trees, we continued up the trail, wondering what other sights nature might have in store for us that day. As we broke above the tree line, we encountered a couple who had gotten started before us that morning. They were moving at a much slower pace than even I was. We pressed on and left them as we moved through the increasingly rocky terrain of the trail. Soon, I found myself several minutes behind the rest of my group. Two of us were obviously well prepared for the task we were undertaking, the other was in good shape, but not as good as them and then there was me. I was making it, and that was about it. The four of us continued up the mountain but not as a group. We had decided to go it more at our own pace. I pressed on, stopping occasionally to turn around and enjoy the view or watch a marmot scurrying around the rocks or simply just to breathe. Finally I made it to the top. It was cold and windy and the fatigue from the effort to reach the summit all but subsided as I stood and took in the world around me from over fourteen thousand feet. I felt great. We took our time on the summit since there was no sign of immanent weather and just enjoyed being there.

Finally we were ready to begin our decent. I knew that going down the mountain was not easy but thought that I would be able to handle the decent much better. All was well for about the first thirty minutes and then I started to become a bit nauseous. It wasn’t terribly bad, but I wasn’t expecting it. I had read quite a bit about altitude sickness and it’s affects but assumed that if I was going to feel anything, it would have been on the way up. The nausea got worse but was manageable with occasional stopping to rest. My pace was slowed but I eventually caught up with the rest of my group just above the tree line, the sick feeling went away, and we continued down off of the mountain.

Once we reached the trailhead we all loaded up and headed back into Breckenridge for the rest of the day. I was exhausted.

The rest of that evening the other slower hiker and I were debating what we were going to do from that point. We had planned, as a group, to attempt to climb Massive the next day, but the two of us weren’t sure we could hack it. The next morning, I went ahead and loaded up my pack and got ready. The entire time, driving to the trailhead, I was thinking I would just drop the other two off and head back to the hotel to rest some more and then find something to do until they got back down off of the mountain. Once we got there, the two of us decided we’d at least go to the tree line, and let the other two just go on at their own pace. Seemed easy enough.

The trail through the timber was pleasant, not too steep and at a slower pace, much more enjoyable than the pace we were trying to keep the day before on Quandary. Once we reached the edge of the tree line, the first high ridge was in sight just off in the distance. We decided then to continue on to that point, see how we felt, and stop to eat. I was ready to turn back for most of the climb but kept going. We reached the ridge, hunkered down behind a rock outcropping and took some time to rest and eat. From that point, the thought of summiting didn’t seem so unreachable anymore. We decided to push a little farther. We were stopping frequently, checking the altitude on the GPS and just taking it easy. About halfway to the last turn before the terrain changes to a steeper traverse, we got a text from the other two that they were on the summit, four hours from the trailhead. We could barely make them out from where we were, but could tell that someone was up there. We continued on, setting small goals, “to the next big rock, to the next switch back, to the next spire...” Eventually we met up with the others on their way back down and we took some time to chat, at the bottom of the summit push between the South Massive summit, and the rest of the scrambling climb to the top of Massive. They encouraged us on and at that point was no way we were going to turn back. What started out as an attempt to just get out of the car and reach the tree line, turned into a 6 hour climb to the top. WE REACHED THE SUMMIT!

I sat down on the top and smiled. I was proud of myself for stepping beyond my personal bounds and doing something more. Then the smile went away, and a strange feeling in my gut replaced the feeling of pride. I was getting nauseous. Suddenly I remembered the feelings from the day before, during my descent, I remembered why I didn’t want to do this mountain. Only this time, I had several hours of descent in front of me. I told the guy I was with that we needed to head back down. So after only a few minutes on the summit, we began our descent.

Once we reached the point where we had paused earlier to talk with the other guys from our group on the way up, we stopped to rest. I took off my pack and sat down and the nausea overwhelmed me. I expelled the contents of my stomach. After what felt like an eternity of barely being able to breathe I started to feel a little better and continued on down the mountain. I felt pretty good for the next 30 minutes or so. I was drinking water as much as I felt comfortable doing and working my way down the trail. Then the nausea hit again. Another round of sickness, and this time, it was all of the water that I had just consumed. A feeling of fear came over me. I knew that I still had a few hours left to get off of this mountain, and I wasn’t keeping anything down, not even water. I felt a boost of energy after this round and took off as fast as my legs would carry me. I moved with a sense of urgency but also tried to be as careful as possible since I knew banging up an ankle or knee would only worsen the situation. I left my climbing partner behind.

I continued down toward the ridge where we had stopped earlier in the day to eat. I paused for a moment and got sick again. Immediately after, I continued on as before, moving swiftly down the trail. I knew that the energy I had would only carry me so far down the mountain before the lack of fluids would become an issue. I pressed on, eventually meeting up with the two members of our group that had made summit earlier and had stopped to wait for us in a meadow just before the tree line. We had been texting back and forth about my condition. When I reached them I told them I didn’t want to stop so they waited there for my summit partner and I continued on. Once I reached the tree line, I was exhausted. I stopped and sat on a log for several minutes until the rest of the group caught up with me. I had used up all of my water supply. One of the group shared his Gatorade and fortunately, I was able to keep it down. He offered to carry my pack the rest of the way and I took him up on it. (I had turned down the same offer earlier when I passed them coming down the trail). I pressed on, stopping occasionally until what seemed like an eternity later, I made it to the trailhead, 11 hours after heading out that morning. I walked over to the fence and sat down to wait for the rest of the group to catch back up. We loaded up the car and returned to the hotel where I laid down on the bed, motionless for the next couple of hours. Finally some semblance of normalcy returned and I felt somewhat better.

At that point, all of us decided to forego our attempt on Beirstadt or any other 14ers the next day and head back into Denver for the rest of our trip. Although I seem to have been the most troubled by the altitude, we were all feeling the effects and were ready to get back to a lower elevation.

Though I struggled through most of the climb and decent, I am proud of the accomplishment. As I look back at my pictures from the summit, it brings a smile to my face to know that despite all that happened, I was able to make it to the summit of two fourteen thousand foot mountains. Conquering Mt. Massive was probably one of the greatest instances of overcoming adversity and self-doubt that I’ve ever experienced.
Last edited by joshs2000ss on Thu Jun 21, 2012 2:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Quandary and Massive, a rookies' perspective.

Postby Brian Thomas » Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:12 pm

I was parked next to your group at the trailhead and we crossed paths on my ascent and descent. The standard route up Massive is almost 14 miles round trip and is not a good place to learn about how well you acclimatize to the altitude, regardless of physical condition.

My friends from the low-altitude Midwest visited a few months ago and felt sick at Kite Lake (12,000 feet) but had no problems hiking up to 10,000 feet within 48 hours. Next time you come to Colorado give yourself more time to acclimatize and you will be able to actually enjoy the summit.
"I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them" - Bob Dylan

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Re: Quandary and Massive, a rookies' perspective.

Postby Fairlight » Wed Sep 08, 2010 3:20 pm

Congrats on your accomplishment! I too went out for the first time in July with similar plans and with very little acclimatization summited Elbert and Quandary. I didn't get the woozies but took on a big headache the higher I went on both (I was afraid to take a Tylenol or any other pills b/c I didn't want to risk upsetting my stomach--in retrospect perhaps that would have helped). Didn't knock me out but just kept me from enjoying the climbs as much as I would've liked. I also had to take it very slow. Interesting how the altitude affects everyone differently. In prep for next summer I'm researching how I personally can better prepare, both before and during the climb, to ease the lack-of-air effects. Obviously spending some time at altitude before the big push would be preferred, but there are other little things too that can be personalized. Interested to know other's experiences-specifically what has helped beginners/flat-landers prepare and deal with altitude (i.e. how did you acclimate, what altitudes, how long, etc.; preemptive measures and treating nausea/headaches on the mountain).

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