High mountain air
Well, I'm at my allergists' office for my first round of "cluster" immunotherapy, where I'm subjecting myself to five courses of shots over the next three hours while monitoring allergic reactions. Should be fun! I figure while I'm waiting, I'll update my blog.
Just had my first round of shots. Suddenly my shoulders feel sore and I'm lightheaded. I wonder if this is an actual reaction or in my head? With my recent health issues, I'm conflicted about what's real and what's imagined. That uncertainty extends to most aspects of life, when you think about it.
On Friday, temperatures at home rose into the sixties, and I wondered whether I could find more of that tasty winter air. I set my sights on an easy 13,200-foot peak that I hadn't yet visited, Mount Audubon. The previous day I'd felt overheated while walking a mellow grade in 35-degree weather, so I admittedly packed too lightly — a softshell jacket, cap, mittens, and buff. I headed up to the trailhead in the mid-afternoon.
The temperature at 10,000 feet was 37 degrees, and the wind was breathtaking. It ripped through the parking lot as I stuffed a couple of granola bars into my pack. I knew I was a bit underprepared, but I'd driven all the way there and paid ten dollars to enter the park. I figured I could at least hike to treeline and see how things went.
Predictably I heated up considerably while wading through thick slush in the forest, bolstering my confidence. At 11,500 feet, the wind hit gale force. It swept down the mountain with such ferocity that I could scarcely breathe when I faced it directly, and felt like I was pushing against a wall of ice. But I was intrigued. My experiences with cold weather have made me more bold than I probably should be, but I wasn't anywhere close to my limit and decided I could turn around anytime. So I continued to crawl upward with my chin buried in my light jacket, eyes squinted almost shut behind sunglasses, ears becoming slightly sore beneath a flimsy hat. The thin cover of snow was heavily drifted — bare in spots, knee-deep in others. I couldn't find the trail so I followed one set of tracks. I found the maker of the tracks reclining just below the ridge. He was heavily bundled up with his back to the wind, but looked comfortable. I asked him whether he went to the top. He had, but the upper slope was "very treacherous."
"It's snow around boulders," he said. "Easy to fall through."
I knew exactly the kind of conditions he described, so I told him I planned to go for just twenty more minutes before turning around. That was my time limit for returning before dark.
On the way down, I moved extremely carefully to avoid twisting my ankle again. Without the heat-generating effort of the climb, I slowly lost feeling in my fingers. My shoulders ached with cold. But I felt as centered as the day prior. The frosted mountains were tinged with pink light, and a vast expanse of now-familiar hills and plains spread out in front of me. It was calming to be in this place in this moment, even with temperatures in the low 20s and a relentless wind pushing against my back. I should have brought a coat.
"Probably just four miles or so," I promised my Alaskan friends — who live at 1,000 feet. "We can take it slow."
"We should hike to King Lake," I suggested, knowing it would be 12 miles round trip. "It will be longish, but worth it."
Third round of shots. They keep upping the dose and this one sort of burns. Well. It's all an experiment, or experience. Meanwhile, I'm scheming my next return to the high country.