Peak(s):  High Dune - 8691
Dune 8860
Date Posted:  08/21/2014
Date Climbed:   08/17/2014
Author:  bergsteigen
 Grains of sand over time -OR- Baby steps to recovery   

High Dune & Dune 8860

Mileage: 7.95
Elevation Gain: ~1,327'
Cameras: Canon EOS-M (color), Leica IIIC 1946 (B&W)
Beta: jdorje TR
More Photos

With a great TR by jdorje describing the route, I'll focus more on my personal journey and the photography.

Summer 2014 has been a unique one for me. Instead of hiking 13ers and rock climbing, I find myself seeking out other, easier activities while my leg heals. National Parks and Monuments have wonderfully easy and well maintained trails that allowed me to hobble along with my aircast and crutches. So far I have visited 3 NP's and 2 Monuments. It's also been a journey in terms of increasing abilities and endurance. First week out of surgery, all I did was sit on the couch. Moving and standing was painful. The next month saw improvements almost daily in what I could tolerate and do. Soon standing and cooking was possible. Eventually crutches became less of an annoyance (even though they are always annoying). At one month my Dr said that I could start weight bearing, but slowly. Weight bearing activities along with Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin-D (ie sun exposure) encourage bone growth. So walking outside is encouraged. Of course, I don't think my Doc knew what I was doing, exactly.

One month of rest was perfect timing, since previously, I was too exhausted to do much of anything. At a month, I started to get antsy, very antsy. Good thing my leg held me back just enough, and told me when I was "done". It was pretty clear when I had done enough, or too much!

Week 5 - 2mi, 17' (crutches)
Week 6 - 4.2mi, 700' (1 crutch)
Week 7 - 7mi, 973' (1 crutch)
Week 8 - 8mi, 846' (1 crutch)
Week 9 - 11mi, 1,527' (no crutch)
Week 10 - 20mi, 4,543' (no crutch)
Week 11 - 15mi, 2,153' (~3mi no cast)
Cast Total: 64mi

Since I'm still building back endurance and need frequent breaks, expanding my photography hobby is a brilliant way to get in all those extra breaks! Plus interacting with an old range finder film camera adds in extra time, as I need the digital camera to be my light meter, and then I have to manually set each item on the camera. Playing with B&W film adds in the added fun of having to use filters to help the images not look muddy and boost the contrast. This was my first weekend out with B&W, and using contrast filters (yellow, orange and red), so it had been quite a learning process! I mostly used a red filter, hoping for the most dramatic contrasts. I probably should have shot more with the orange and yellow, and taken more time. I also see now that I need a lens hood, and to clean my filters and lenses better. And maybe get the camera itself cleaned a bit! So I get all the breaks I needed for my leg/ankle to not scream at me too much on all my excursions.

I arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park just in time for sunset, after a fun day in the Springs at Garden of the Gods and then at Red Rock Canyon Open Space, shooting Mike and Eric climb. The sunset this evening was not everything I had hoped for with all the clouds, but it was still pleasant. Sunrise... yeah even more disappointing. I should have just hiked up a Dune for sunrise! Live and learn. It will make returning this fall with friends for a camping trip, more fun then!

Sunset over the Crestones and Dunes


In order to get to the dunes, you have to cross the Medano creek. In the early morning, it wasn't flowing very strongly, so it was easy to get across without getting my feet wet. The return in the afternoon was already on my mind. That would be fun!

I figured walking on sand with my aircast would be annoying at times, and it was. One step up 0.8 step back down. Plus I don't have great articulation in the left knee, and none in the ankle. So it took some time to figure out how to walk uphill effectively. At first, it was quite the workout! Up until this point, I haven't been able to move fast enough to even remotely get out of breath or increase my heart rate. Sand walking is a great workout! It took quite a while to get up the first hill where I ran into 3 gals either sand boarding or saucering down the slope. From there, it was a long slow process to get up the initial uphill of the dunes to get the first views of the summit and surrounding area.

Approaching the Dunes

Long shadows

Ridge walking

High Dune




Dunes photographer selfie

From the summit of High Dune, I had some decisions to make. Hike over to Star Dune, which looked kinda boring, or hike all the way over to Dune 8860, through a lot of green areas with lots of flowers, and then hike back in the cool stream. Thoughts of the stream made that decision easy. On to Dune 8860!

View from High Dune

Playing with Depth of Field

Summit Ridge area

Hiking down the dunes was quite a bit easier, as long as the sand wasn't too firm or too steep. So navigating around proved a little interesting as I navigated soft and hard sections of sand. But soon as I dropped down into the middle part of the dunes, I was rewarded with seas of flowers! A lot more than were in the previous TR. I spent a lot of time with the flowers, as I don't remember them being this pervasive when I visited back in 2001.





Shot of the trip

Shot of the trip, part 2

Tracks to follow

Dune 8860 in middle ground


Once out of the oasis of the center dunes, it was time to start going uphill again. I started noticing that my right boot seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. I knew some sand had gotten into the boot, but I didn't know how much. I took off the boot, and a bunch of sand came out! Once back on, the boot had toe room again. Score one for the aircast having plenty of spaces for sand to get in and out! The uphill was relentless and tiring, and I even had to crawl to get up the last bit of the way up the western summit ridge. Once there, the views were quite worth it. I could easily see that the east and south summits were lower, but that north was just enough taller. So after a bunch of photos, I walked the ridge to the final destination.

Check out that mirage!

Crab walking the spine of dunes

North summit

South Summit

High Dune from West summit

Once on the summit, took a short break, drank some mineral water and sat on part of my aircast (I happened to be wearing rather short board shorts so I didn't want sand in the nether regions). Took a quick summit pano, and then headed down the north ridge to my exit off the dunes to the east. I had been taking so many photos with my Leica, that once down off the summit, I had to rewind and reload the film. This was going to be problematic in a sea of sand! How to not get sand into the camera was going to be tricky. Especially as I have to cut the film for it to be able to fit and load into the camera itself. Miraculously I didn't get any sand on the film or in the camera, and off I went to find my descent down to the cool waters of Medano creek. Cool being rather relative!

Summit Pano

Photographers nightmare - cutting film in a sea of sand!

East face of Dune 8860




I got to the edge of the Dune field, and saw that the stream was not always the wide sandy bottomed affair I had been assuming. So I contoured a bit more south to hopefully get the stream wide and flat. Good thing about getting down a steep dune, plunge stepping works well. Down at the stream I took off my aircast and hiking boot and stowed it in and on my little backpack. First few steps in the stream were glorious! This would be wonderful PT for my weak ankle!

Unfortunately, the stream got narrower in places, and I had to navigate fallen trees and some rocks. But as I have been stream walking barefoot from a little kid onwards, it was only a minor hassle. I could have done with a little less mileage on the return for my ankle. I only had to take a few breaks along the way to rest. The walking was easy, even though the sun was rather hot at this point, and walking on non wet sand burned the bottoms of my sensitive feet. The trailhead area had 90% of the visitors at this point, since the sand had gotten hot in the midday sun. It was quite the mess of people, so I left to make my lunch, and returned a little later to take the last of the shots of the day.


A shot for the Geomorphologists


Hanging up the aircast

Wrinkly free toes!



Now that my Doc has given the official OK to be done with the aircast, my progress will be back to the start almost, as my ankle is pretty weak and won't be able to handle the mileage and uneven terrain for a while. But I've rehabbed an ankle from a Type II sprain before, so the hard part of waiting to heal is over now. Prom now on, it's all final strengthening progress!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Comments or Questions
08/21/2014 19:20
You are one amazing lady, Otina!

Jon Frohlich
Keep it up!
08/21/2014 19:26
Very cool to see you getting back out there. Obviously I can relate very well to my leg telling me when I had done too much! It's been cool seeing the film camera photos too. The idea of changing film in the middle of the dunes makes me shudder a little. Compared to what you've already done rehabbing an ankle should be a piece of cake.

Awesome photos
08/21/2014 20:33
Great job on hitting High Dune. I really like the composure of your pics. Very creative.

I recall all to well the agony of hiking in that sand. A few years ago I took my son up Star Dune and then across to High Dune.

Again Nicely done..

08/21/2014 22:35
...back! Well, not quite but it's a great start. Nice account and great pics. Can't wait to see more such progress reports.

Way to go
08/21/2014 23:57
Very impressive! Your determination is inspiring. I had to stop hiking, running and such activities for the month of July due to a foot injury, but that pales in comparison to what you've had to go through with your ankle. Thanks for posting!

Wow, Otina!
08/22/2014 01:58
You are the bravest person I know...changing film in the sand dunes! After the sand horror story I told you about, I was never brave enough to even take my film camera to the sand dunes.

Thanks for sharing. I especially love the flower shots.

I'm glad you were able to join Eric and I at RRC, it was great seeing you again. Let's do the flatirons soon!

Jump Roper
08/22/2014 03:53
Nothing helps a girl recover better than a Gurlz Hike! This years them could be casts and we could pull you in a sled. Wait...youre Otina, youd be pulling us in a sled. Ha ha.

i agree with jump roper :-)
08/22/2014 07:01
some awesome pics of the flowers. didn't know they could grow in such numbers there! you have the best attitude ever.

Fantastic pics!
08/22/2014 13:46
Love the photos of the flowers and dunes. Excellent stuff. Leica's have a solid reputation, and you have a good eye.

Glad to see you're making progress!

When I was recovering from a fib fx, starting to do easy hikes, I would fall over without warning when my leg was tired and done. I wouldn't feel the fatigue or pain, would topple over, BOOM! Even with poles. A little disturbing, but it, too, gets better!
Dunno if that'll happen to you, but just a heads up, in case!

Carry on!

Looking forward to this..
08/22/2014 18:08
Won't have time to really read this thoroughly until I get back home next month, but great to see you're out and about again!

Thanks everyone
08/22/2014 20:10
Jay - Thanks, trying to keep that smile on my face!

Jon - The legs knows what it needs, just have to listen!

summitbound - Have a new respect for sand hiking!

rajz06 - Have to start somewhere! At least it will be a fun bump in the 13er road.

DanielL - I got many comments like that on the trails. Always gave me a smile! Hope your injury is all fixed, and that you're stronger now.

Mike - Brave photographer - yes. I kept thinking about your sand scraped eagles! I should be ready for Flatiron action very soon, very soon. In fact, I probably could 'one leg' the 2nd right now

Jump Roper - Oh the Gurlz hike is ON! I'll announce next week.

Sara - I was beyond surprised and excited to see so many flowers! It's hard to have a bad attitude when 90% of the people I meet on the trail are amazed and inspired by me. A bad mood turns good in a few short minutes!

sunny1 - The Leica has been a learning curve! Glad I have a good eye for composition, as it can make up for my many other mistakes. I'll get better. Interesting problem, I'll keep an eye out for it!

MtnHub - Thanks Now you see why I couldn't do breakfast last weekend! Hopefully our schedules match up before you head home

Nat - Something tells me my legs might be stronger this ski season than last, with all these darn squats! Funny how it was one of the first weight bearing exercises I could do!

Welcome Back!
08/25/2014 18:16
Missed your photos and reports this Summer!

these pics...
08/28/2014 16:36
...are pretty awesome! nice report Otina!

Great pics
08/28/2014 19:58
Its nice to see the recovery process is progressing.

Beautiful Otina!
09/18/2014 16:33
Finally found time to read this thoroughly (I'm waiting around in the Brighton library until my wife's cousin takes me to the airport this evening). Great to read your reports again and see your beautiful photography. Next year! Wishing you the best!

Great seeing you yesterday
04/02/2015 19:45
standing on both legs and looking all healed up! Great recovery story. Keep doing those squats! yeah, Gurlz hike with everybody on crutches (but you) would be sweet -

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