Sunday, July 08, 2012

The fourteener circuit

Photogenic mountain goat. Photo by Beat
We didn't come to Colorado to bag a bunch of 14er's. Personally, I waver between thinking the whole concept to be a little silly, and wanting to see the tops of all 53 Colorado high points myself. I thought the weather would chase us lower today, but we awoke to partly sunny skies and a diminishing chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Daniel was interested in doing some "speed work" and invited Beat and I to saunter along at hiking pace somewhere well behind him. Only later did we find out that Daniel was after an unofficial speed record — on the circuit that connects Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. 

 After my hypoxic episode yesterday, I committed to not exerting myself as hard today. I love steep climbs on foot, and it's mentally difficult to feel like my legs aren't even getting a workout while my lungs threaten to explode. But as much as I kinda enjoyed the short-lived glimpse into the rapture, I did not want to actually black out, nor did I love the reality of killing a bunch of brain cells or the remote possibility of stroke. So I didn't push my pace ... too much. Because of this, we had a decidedly less eventful hike than Quandary, so this is mainly a photo post.

 View from Mount Democrat, elevation 14,148

 View from Mount Cameron, elevation 14,239. Mount Cameron doesn't have enough topographic prominence to be considered a real peak.

 Beat at the top of Mount Lincoln, elevation 14,286. As I staggered toward the top, still gasping for air, Beat said "A Democrat and a Republican in the same day. Who says you can't be bipartisan?"

 To prove we were there? Because no one made a nice laminated sign with the date for any of these peaks.

 We were caught in a few short rain squalls, but the weather was substantially better on Sunday than Saturday. After spending a couple of hours near or above 14,000 feet, I came down with much less fun mountain sickness in the form of nausea. Even though I know better by now, I couldn't force myself to eat anything the entire time, and only managed a few sips of water. I think acclimation is coming along, although we did force it the hard way. For his part, Beat is doing much better with the altitude. He has been using a breathing device for the past several weeks, as well as taking Diamox to help with acclimation. But of course altitude tolerance is highly individual. Even when I was living at higher elevations, I usually felt okay until I topped my personal ceiling, which seems to be around 12,000 feet. I've always struggled beyond that.

We rolled over Mount Bross, elevation 14,172, after two hours and 45 minutes. I was at that point deeply nauseated and didn't want to aggravate my shin, so I inched down the talus slope. Here, the route loses 2,000 feet elevation in just over a mile. It was brutal. We met Daniel hiking back up the trail. He told us he succeeded in "tumbling" down Mount Bross in 16 minutes (two thousand vertical feet!), wrapping up the circuit in 1:49 — which, according to a Web site that tracks such things, bested the fastest known time by six minutes. Wow, Daniel. As for me, it took damn near an hour to stumble down the whole descent, and we finished at a comfortable 3:39. I wouldn't mind descents like that if I could at least climb well. Ah, well. In good time. All in good time.

My sore shin doesn't like descending. But the condition hasn't deteriorated at all in the past two days. Now we're entering our work week, in which Beat is going to taper for Hardrock and we're all going to try to be productive even with these mountains taunting us from every angle (Frisco is a scenic town.) I think I may find a bike to borrow and take at least a day off my feet, but I'm more optimistic about injury recovery.