Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2011
Date Climbed:   07/13/2011
Author:  twotyerfryer

 Handies Peak / how I freaked out my cardiologist  

Life has a way of throwing things at us all that often have a way of changing our outlook. This year has had several of those events for me. Back in May I was diagnosed with Supraventricular tachycardia which the heart monitor I wore for over a month recorded my heart rate at 197 beats per minute while at rest. This is apparently not uncommon to many people, but whenever mine would hit, I felt as though I had run a marathon. This isn't a big issue I was told. Needless to say I ended up having heart surgery the middle of May in which the doctor burned the "extra" electrical signal from inside my heart. Being awake for such a surgery is an event in and of itself.

Two weeks later an F5 tornado hit Joplin, MO so I went with a small group from church to help out. To see such destruction of life, to meet people who were still in shock and fear has a way of challenging me to prioritize life again. A month after this, I was asked to speak at a youth camp south of Lake City.

Saturday morning, July 9th my family and I loaded up the van and left Kansas City bound for Lake City. It was a relief to be leaving to say the least. Image
Me being serious about mountains and stuff

Arriving at Camp Redcloud was great. Almost 800 miles and we were finally surrounded by the mountains!

My wife found out that some of the staff was going to go up Handies via American Basin. I was able to go up Boulder Gulch last year with the teens from church, so now another route! I was excited as I knew American Basin was easier than Boulder Gulch but I didn't know how my heart would do.

A friend of mine from camp has been in SAR for several years. He told me a story of a gentleman that started Handies late and was caught in a storm. He was near the summit when he was hit by lightning. He fortunately was able to get back up and walk, though in pain, back to the parking lot and drive back to Lake City. When he walked into the emergency care place, my friend said they removed his boots to find his synthetic socks were melted to his feet. They had to be scraped off before his burns could be treated.

Now, I have been notified that we wouldn't leave Redcloud until 6:00 a.m.. I wasn't too excited. While I lived in Colorado Springs I learned to respect lightning in a couple close calls. So we left Wednesday morning at 6:00 and got to the A-Basin trailhead a little after 7:00. Image
A-Basin panorama with the Ipod

Our climbing party included three staff members, one of which tried to summit the five fourteeners in one day, his sister, another staffer, then a mom, her two kids, my wife and our boys and myself. The hike started out well. No snow, good weather and my heart was doing well. The higher we got though, the more snow we would start running into. Several places the trail was covered. Image

Our oldest boy (8 yrs) has asthma and has a difficult time breathing back home. In the mountains though, he's a new kid. He would run up the trail a little ways and then sit down waiting on us. Image
Trail snow and our asthma patient

Our youngest boy (5 yrs) had very little difficulty on the ascent except for the snow. His little shoes kept slipping so here Brie was helping him cross. Image
Crossing the snow

When we got to the saddle I was breathing hard. Real hard. Considering the relative ease of A-Basin, I was sucking air as hard as I could. My heart was pounding but I wasn't going to stop. I needed to make it. I've read of high altitude climbers who take two steps and then stop, trying to breath and that's where I was. I would make myself take ten steps before I would stop to try and catch my breath. Every step though brought me closer to the top. At one of my rest stops I looked up to see our youngest on top! Now I had to make it.

I would imagine that making a summit brings about different emotions for different people. For me, on this trip, it was a big deal. I thought back to the destruction I saw in Joplin. I thought about the "close call" during my surgery. I thought about how I had wasted so much of my life. Now I found myself fighting back tears. We made it to the top! Image
top panorama
Even my boots made it!
Me with Materhorn and Uncompaghre

We left the top and headed back down the trail only to find the snow had softened a lot. I was glad I wore the gaiters as I kept punching post holes. They also came in handy when we crossed a couple small "rivers" from the snow melt. Image
Working down the snow

The next day I took the boys into Lake City as they wanted to play at the park. I was sitting there on a bench nursing a sprained ankle and blisters when I overheard a conversation between our five year old and another little boy. Easton said to the other little guy "We climbed a mountain yesterday." The other little boy looked at one of the surrounding mountains and said "That's a mountain." Easton replied "That's not a mountain. That's a hill." Perspective means a lot.

We finally left camp, Lake City and the wonderful state of Colorado to come back home. I drove through the night as daytime temps were now over 100 degrees with high humidity on top of that.

I went in for a checkup with my cardiologist three weeks ago. He asked me how I was feeling since the surgery. I said I was doing really well and handed him the photo of my boots on top of Handies. His eyes became quite large as he expressed in his Indian accent "Oh my god! Oh my god! This is bedy, bedy risky! You did dis?" I responded "yes, is that a bad thing?" "Oh, no. It tis not bad. Oh my god! I will never do dis. I will say here where it is flat." I shook his hand and told him "Thank you for fixing my heart."


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Craig Cook

Well done!
09/17/2011 20:05
Very inspiring trip report. My wife had the same heart procedure you did, about 5 years ago, and I was a nervous wreck. From one Kansas Citian to another, way to go out and get Handies afterward!


Bedy Bedy nice!
09/17/2011 20:06
Steve, thanks for sharing. And from now on ”Don't waste your life!” Great perspective indeed.


That's Not a Mountain ... That's a Hill
09/19/2011 20:36
Not only does your son have the right perspective, so do you. It's never too late ... sounds to me like you've got your head (and heart) in the right place. Thanks for sharing yourself with us. Happy trails!

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