Monday, July 09, 2018

Bit of a mountain bender

Every week, when I say I want to take it easy and spend more time sitting in air-conditioned coffee shops and catching up on writing I want to do, I really mean it. A weary moodiness sets in, and I can only conclude that my cumbrous body just doesn't want to do a bunch of stuff right now. Then there's the other side that asserts this is just a hormonal wave, we can ride it, no big deal. Then friends from out of town come to visit, and we want to show them our favorite places. Adventure desire burns hot enough to snuff out the weariness. 

Then another seven days pass, and I realize I've schlepped this clunker body through 95 mountain miles, with their exhausting rocky descents and 13,000-foot summits and wheezy meanders through pine forests. It sometimes takes a few hours, but I'm always grateful I went out, and not necessarily worse for the wear afterward. So I get up and do it again the next day.

 Friends from Australia, Roger and Hailey, came into town on the Fourth of July. After serving up a bunch of " 'Merica food" — burgers, sausage, corn on the cob, watermelon, and ice cream — we dragged our severely jet-lagged friends up Bear Peak to watch fireworks displays over a wide swath of the Front Range. While we awaited the close-range show over Boulder, a thunderstorm moved through and graced us with beautiful natural fireworks. This lasted about five minutes before we decided the lightning strikes were too close for comfort, and beat a quick retreat in the rain.

 Roger is in Colorado to race the Hardrock 100 in two weeks, so we helped him jumpstart his acclimation with a trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness on Thursday. The loop between Buchanan and Pawnee passes is a local classic that I hadn't yet experienced. The route covers 27 miles with 7,000 feet of climbing through a variety of gorgeous settings. There's not a bad mile on that route, but they're all hard.

Roger started out strong, then was noticeably hit by the altitude. I imagine this was a little frustrating for him, with Hardrock on the horizon. Altitude affects everyone differently, and the lucky can handle big jumps more easily (Hailey, who has been injured and opted for a shorter trip over Mount Audubon that morning, had few issues with her jaunt over 13,000 feet.) Roger still has two weeks to acclimate before his race, but I don't envy him. I remember how much I struggled when I jumped from sea level in the Bay Area to much more moderate races at 8,000-9,000 feet.

 Roger was able to experience a best-of-Colorado tour, though, including a moose family along Buchanan Creek.
 Lunch break near a roaring waterfall.

 Hiking in the shadow of Thunderbolt Peak as thunder began to rumble in the distance.

 Heading toward Pawnee Pass. Looking at the wall of mountains in front of us, I wondered where, exactly, the pass even was. I continued to be confused until we were standing on top of it.

Nearing the pass, and still just walls in front of us. 

 Nasty weather to the northwest. The clouds and thunder seemed to be moving laterally to the east so we continued toward the pass, but there was a bit of urgency in the talus ascent.

 Views from Pawnee Pass. It was well-hidden but surprisingly non-technical.

 Descending toward Brainard Lakes to close out the loop. One of the advantages of being out all day — beautiful evening light. With thunderstorms surrounding us all afternoon, we didn't experience even a drop of rain, so lucky all around.

 On Friday we took Roger and Hailey on another alpine jaunt to South Arapahoe Peak. I admittedly felt awful for the first two miles. It was like last summer all over again, with labored breathing and stumbling dizziness. Although I continue to have ups and downs with my fitness, I really believed I was past this level of weakness. It was a case where I would have turned around had I been alone, but I do have that unfortunate fear of missing out.

 Happily, I perked up as we gained altitude. Possibly a reaction to pine pollen? The frequent question of "why can't I breathe?" has so many possibilities, and the answers most people expect — like high altitude or fatigue — often don't have much correlation. During my recent outings, I've felt the worst early on, and improve with distance and time outside, so fatigue or exposure to allergens don't offer much of an explanation. The lack of understanding frustrates me, so I just continue to be grateful when I can breathe.

 Beat and Hailey at the summit of South Arapahoe — 4,083 meters, which is the number that impresses our friends from across the ponds. (14,000 feet doesn't mean as much to them, so they're just as happy with a 13'er north of the 4,000-meter mark.)

 Roger and Hailey were on their way to Durango as our friend Gabi from Switzerland arrived, so we had another friend to drag around the mountains. On Sunday, Beat wanted to show Gabi his favorite route, climbing to James Peak (4,054 meters) then continuing along the Continental Divide before descending into the lush and magical valley of Forest Lakes.

 From the start I said I was just going to hike slowly to James Peak and back while they did the 21-mile loop. My breathing was better than the previous day, but my mood was in shambles. Why? I don't know. Nighttime temperatures have been quite hot and I haven't been sleeping well, but I have been overly moody for a few weeks now. Sunday morning rivaled the sadness I felt after I returned from the Iditarod Trail in March, when the world was such a dark place and life was unravelling. Meanwhile, my body was just hiking through a beautiful forest, and the logical side of my mind was chiding me, "What is your problem? There is no problem." I've mentioned before that I believe these brief bouts of what might be mild depression are related to a hormonal cycle, but I have no concrete evidence. There probably is a connection to physical fatigue as well. What I do have is confidence that these moods go away, and so I don't give them any credence. Shut up, stupid sadness.

 Even though I felt like I was just plodding along in a gray fog (that also included a real hail storm), I somehow reached the summit just minutes after Gabi and Beat. Gabi was exuberant in the high mountain air, and urged me to join them on a traverse along the Divide. The thought of stumbling along uneven tundra in my already ponderous state made me want to cry, but I held back on pouring my dumb emotions onto this beautiful place. I considered the traverse as we descended James Peak, and concluded that I didn't have anything to lose by spending more time in the mountains with friends.

 Predictably, I perked up as I followed Beat and Gabi along the ridge, where we stopped with frequency to gaze down the cliffs and express awe.

 For the rest of the day, my mood continued to improve. The darkness retreated as swiftly as it moved in. The real weather shifted from gray and drizzly to sunny again. My legs felt strong and I didn't roll my ankle once. My breathing was calm, and I ran the descent better than I had during our outing here two weeks earlier.
By the end of 21 miles I felt great, and grateful that I pushed through the low point and emerged triumphant on the other side. As I concluded last week, resting and hiding indoors really isn't what's best for me, but I realize there's a better balance between nothing and all mountains all the time. Now it's Monday following a long holiday weekend, and I need to spend the day indoors catching up on tasks I neglected last week. This place is nicely air-conditioned and the coffee is delicious, but what sparks a smile is new memories of scrambling up the loose rocks of South Arapahoe, laughing at marmot antics, listening to Roger say "Woooow" at least eight dozen times, drinking sweet water from a stream, nailing a rocky descent on the other side of weariness. Bodies are a frustrating mystery but they still take us through life, which is what matters. 


  1. Looks like some incredible hiking and views. Beautiful!

  2. Tho there may not be a cure for come and go blues, you found the right treatment. I've yet to come home feeling worse after a day spent above timberline...excluding my aging body :)
    Lovely photos, especially the "moody" ones...
    Box Canyon

  3. I'm jealous that you got to see Roger!

  4. Great country and great views. Like a good endurance athlete you pushed through and things got better! Good work Jill. I've been in that place too.

  5. Ah, the Front Range can be paradise in the summer.

  6. Cathing up on reading your blog. So glad you pushed through your feelings of sadness and came out feeling better on the other side!


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