August 13, 2013
The Project is still alive; just moving a little slow this year. After a rained out attempt to bike Pikes Peak earlier this season, I finally found a few days to sneak away to try to get in a couple of peaks. With my usual partners tied up with family or on vacation in Hawaii, I headed down to Lake City, prepared to attempt these peaks on my own. At least I thought I was prepared and all set as I left the Fort. However, just before the Copper Mountain exit on I-70 I suddenly realized that I had forgot my pack, with all of my hiking essentials inside, and my hiking poles.
Now what? I was too far from home to go back and then head out again. I just past what of been my best chance of finding a pack in Dillon. I figured I would at least go to Leadville and look around for a suitable pack, hopefully without breaking the bank. Strolling around downtown Leadville I only found one real gear store, but the packs were more money that I wanted to spend. Maybe Buena Vista? It was only another 30 minutes or so down the road, plus I can easily head home from there if I had no luck. B.V. was the same story as Leadville: one store and way too expensive. Now I had to make a decision. Push on even longer to Gunnison in the hope of finding a pack, or call it a day and head home. Gunnison is a college right? They have to have something there. Just as I left B.V. I remembered that there was a pawn shop at the edge of town. A quick stop there and I found an L.L. bean school-bag backpack that would do in a pinch.
The drive from Salida to Gunnison is absolutely beautiful! It was my first time in this part of Colorado, even after living here over 15 years. I can’t wait to bring the family back down this way. As I drove onward I started thinking, about what I had in the car to replace my essentials that I left behind. I knew there was a headlamp in the Xterra, as well as a first aid kit. I figured I could pick up some 1 liter water bottles at a gas station if nothing else, though I thought I had a few Nalgenes hiding under seats somewhere. I was happy to find out that Gunnison had a Walmart. Being such a gear head (not a gear snob) I had looked at other Walmarts and noticed that they carry a good selection of hiking backpacks and the Gunnison store had a much larger selection than I had seen in other stores. After trying on several I decided on one that actually came with a water bottle. Bonus! From no, to 2 packs within 90 minutes. The climb was on!
I was a little worried about the drive up to Handies, out of Lake City. I figured that Xterra could handle anything this road threw at it, but I was not as assured about my off-road driving abilities. As the road climbed and serpentine its way toward American Basin, I hugged the non-drop-off side. My wife would not have made it up this road! I only had 1 really sketchy spot before reaching the turn-off to American Basin. I actually got out and walked the road ahead to make sure that I could make it over a small rocky section. As I drove over the rocks I could feel the wheels spin a little before gripping and pushing me forward. The reported crux of the drive was reported to be once you got off the main road and head into American Basin. I must say I did not find this section to be any worse than anything I had already driven. What was a great surprise was how quickly the scenery went from beautiful to spectacular! This was why I choose the route, even though it is a little short of the 3000’ elevation gain. American Basin’s beauty lived up to everything that it was hyped up to be, and better yet I had it to myself, as I was the only car in the parking lot. Within 30 minutes I was joined by another car, whose occupants quickly headed up the trailhead for an evening ascent of the peak.
I spent the time before turning in for the evening, cooking dinner and scrounging though the Xterra for supplies to fill my pack. I was happy to be here as I was not sure if this trip was going to come off. Colorado has had a really wet monsoon season this year, and this area had been getting heavy rains this past week. However, this evening there was not a single cloud in the sky. As I bivied in the back of the Xterra for the night I was optimistic about a blue sky day for tomorrow.
The alarm sounded, once again way to early, at 5 a.m. Peering out the window, I could see a sky full of stars, and decided to push my luck a little and get a little more sleep before heading out. Memoires of past storms though, had me out of the sleeping bag and on the trail by 5:30. It was light enough that I did not need my headlamp, which was good since it did not want to work correctly. I set off at a slow pace. My legs felt good, but my breathing was labored.
Even though the trail was never overly steep, my mind was full of doubt. Could I make it on my own? Was my mind in the "game”? Do I want to make it? At times, as I ascended it was really tough to keep myself motivated. A great reason to have a partner along. While I did not get noticeably stronger as I climber, I did not get weaker either. I kept a steady pace all the way to the summit which I reach at 8:15, which was a little ahead of my schedule.
All my doubts disappeared as I set my feet upon the summit. I had made it all on my own! Mental toughness often is much more important the physical toughness. I do not know how one develops mental toughness, other than with experience. It is not something that can be taught, only earned. I had the summit to myself for 30 minutes, when I was joined by a couple who had come up from the Grizzly Creek trailhead.
The descent went quickly. I stopped and sat by Sloan Lake. While the lake bottom looked sterile, the water was a beautiful aquamarine. I could have spent all afternoon lakeside, just staring into the water and at the ridge above it, but a few clouds were beginning to move in, and I still had places to go today, so I headed down after a 30 minute break. Shortly after the lake I ran into a group of marmots that paid me very little attention, even as I passed within 2-3 feet of them. There were several young marmots in the group. This was the first time I had ever seen young marmots, during my mountain ramblings.
Shortly before reaching the car, a light rain moved in. Not enough to cause me to stop and put on a rain jacket, but enough to make me glad I was not in the group that just passed me on their way up at this late hour. I made it back to the car about 5 hours after beginning my day. This was the easiest 14er that I have done, along with being one of the most scenic. It was a great one to officially start my season off with.
The drive out of the basin back down to Grizzly Creek trailhead, for Redcloud and Sunshine peaks tomorrow, went much smoother than the drive in, with gravity working in my favor. There was more traffic than I passed on the way in yesterday, but I did not have any difficulty passing on the narrow roads. Once to the Grizzly Creek trailhead, I would spend the rest of the day, resting and preparing for tomorrow’s peaks.