Tag Archives: 14ers

Mount Antero

I am too hard on my body. I don’t mean in the sense of pushing myself too hard physically, though one might argue that I am guilty of that as well. In this instance, I mean the relentless judgement I apply to the flesh doing the work of carrying me around every day.

I had this realization as it dragged me up the side of Mount Antero at a pace I deemed too slow.

When I run ten miles, my pace should have been a minute faster or I should not have taken a breather. When I complete a barre class, I didn’t hold a plank long enough or squat low enough. When I summit a mountain, I did it too sluggishly. When I lose 10 pounds, it should have been 10 more or 20 more. When I grow, birth, and feed two beautiful children, I didn’t rebound and snap back well enough. I could go on in the pathological and cyclical pattern of the thoughts.

As ludicrous as I know the thoughts are, they persist. I had them even as I had the realization that I judge myself far too harshly as my body hoisted me up a 14,000 foot mountain. I cannot roll my eyes hard enough at myself, in that my moment or now reflecting back on it.

But to the hike…

We have not hiked a 14er since the ill-fated (for me) Decalibron Loop in 2018. We managed Cheyenne Mountain last summer, but that is only a 13er so does not exactly count. So this was my first 14er since hip surgery and altitude sickness. We had stayed out of the mountains for most of the pandemic summer but wanted to sneak one in before the season ended (or the world imploded with the way 2020 is going).

We left home when it was still night by my definition to arrive at the trailhead before daybreak. We knew from trail research that we could opt to drive nearly to the summit; however, we did not want to make quite that easy on ourselves. Nor, did we want to start from the base eight miles down. We bounced my vehicle up the rocky trail until it met the stream, leaving us a couple miles before treeline.

Since the trail was “driveable,” it was wide and relatively groomed with sections of small, ankle-testing rocks. Initially, the path just eased straight up the side of the mountain, peppered on the side with campsites.

Once we crested treeline, other peaks emerged in the distance. We had driven through my typically favorite part of the 14er journey in the dark, the meadow in the middle. However, as the Antero trail began to climb the bare hillside, it did offer gorgeous views of peaks bleeding orange with rust. Clouds played in the sky, keeping the temperature low.

The trail, like a mountain road, wound up in long and lazy switchbacks, which are much more boring to hike. The grade was gentle enough. With the cloud cover, I kept thinking to myself how easy the hike felt, which I knew is usually a trap. Like thinking a run could be easy.

When the trail crested the ridge, it opened up the view to all the peaks on the other side of Mount Antero. The trail cut back against the mountain, bringing us along the opposite face. The sun finally decided to make an unwelcome appearance as the clouds below frothed and steamed as if coming off a cauldron.

At this point, we could see what could be mistaken as the top and would ultimately be revealed as the upper parking lot. The switchbacks shortened across the white stones.

Our pace finally slowed. The hike finally did not seem so easy. Altitude and grade began to wear on us. I fell farther and farther behind my companions. Initially, I felt drained, “out of gas.” I kept stopping to eat to perk myself up. It would work at first then burn off quickly. I assumed it was just being out of hiking shape since I had not put boots on a mountain trail since Cheyenne Mountain a year ago.

We pressed, slowly, through the upper parking lot. Past the point of vehicles, the trail went from practically being a mountain road to barely being a trail. Multiple path options spidered through unstable rocks and patches of scree. The first section balanced on a ridge, leaving us largely exposed on both sides. This tightrope walk bridged the parking lot to the final ascent to the summit.

I had felt drained if not weak when we approached and passed the parking lot. As we moved into the actual climbing past the gate, I started to feel decidedly shaky. Whenever my heart rate rose, whenever I had to truly engage my quads to hoist myself up, my head seemed to swim. It felt very reminiscent of when the hike over Mount Cameron went so terrible, and paranoia swelled over me. I fell farther and farther behind, cursing myself.

The trail wrapped around the final peak then turned up to the summit. As I was hiking up, I questioned my sanity; I questioned my ability. I did not think I could make it, and I did not think I could do it ever again. I thought something was truly wrong. Yet when I finally caught up with my companions at the summit, I could not believe that was it. It was a strange contradiction.

At the top, I felt fine. We sat down as clouds enveloped the mountain. All edges around us dropped off into nothing but swirling gray. We quickly enjoyed our brunch and our summit beers before turning back down the trail to beat the impending storms in the forecast.

I had been fantasizing about the descent during the entire ascent, and descending is always my favorite part of hiking; however, I was still not right. I felt wonky, unstable. Whereas I usually prance ahead of my party like a mountain goat across the boulders, I continue to struggle slowly through each step.

I told my husband that my legs were not doing what I told them to do, that they felt shaky. He said he thought I was not trusting myself. That seemed like a reasonable explanation, especially after my swell of altitude sickness paranoia, so I attempted to fall into my usual downhill cadence. I promptly fell.

By some stroke of sheer luck, I landed perfectly in a pocket between many jagged rocks. My hips, my shoulders, and my head all touched down between sharp, hard, and unforgiving edges. After I fell, my hands were numb for probably another thousand feet of descent. I felt better and better as we descended but still just off. When I spoke, it felt like the words came out slow and lethargic, half a sentence behind where my mind was. My hands did not execute tasks well; when my husband needed his hat, I struggled with the zipper of his backpack. I remained wobbly and unsteady.

I believe the altitude affected me again, and I think it happened around 13,500 feet. I believe if we had been attempting multiple summits, as we had on the Decalibron Loop, it would have unfolded the same way. After I got home, I felt normal-ish as long as I did not move. If I walked again, I again had that swimming head and unstable feeling. I did not recover fully until sleeping overnight.

Unfortunately, this may mean that I can no longer summit 14ers. I did fine with the 13,000 feet of Cheyenne Mountain and for the first 13,000 feet of Antero, but I could definitely feel the difference. It was like hitting a wall on the trail. And it is definitely not worth pushing through to risk another experience like Decalibron or to feel so shitty for the second half of the experience and rest of the day. It disappoints me to consider giving up the ambition or cutting off the consummation of the goal and watching the rest of the crew attain it as I wait, but it really feels like my body is saying no.

This hike was a test. My first 14er after hip surgery and altitude sickness. The hip passed. My blood oxygenation did not seem to.

That has to be acceptable. What my body can do, all it does for me has to be acceptable. Maybe I can find a way to summit another 14er; maybe I can’t. That has to be OK. The thousands of feet up to 13,000 are still beautiful, even if I don’t get to see 14,000. Just because the final ascent makes me sick doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hike at all.

Never being satisfied with myself physically has nothing to do with the performance or appearance of my body, but it does prevent me from appreciating and experiencing these things fully. I have gotten to a place of forgiving and accepting myself mentally yet have not been able to translate that to the physical, so I waste chunks of my life on imaginary shit that does not matter, especially in times like these when everything matters more.

So the hike was good, even if it is the last time I look down from the summit above 14,000.

 

Christina Bergling

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Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, and Altitude Sickness

After the poor planning and research of our Mt Harvard hike and my poor life choices before our Quandary hike, when we decided to tackle to Mt Democrat-Mt Cameron-Mt Lincoln-Mt Bross loop in one day, I made a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes and prepare properly. In the end, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

We started our trek early under perfect weather conditions. I had gone to bed early and slept well. I had put down a bunch of water on our drive out. I had even eaten breakfast (which is something I no longer do). As we took the trail toward Mt Democrat, I felt good.

My ascent was slow and steady, as always. I know I will never be fast uphill. Not running or hiking. Just never. But we made it to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron easily enough, veering off to ascend Democrat first.

After the trail branched, the incline increased dramatically. As it always does when it is too high for any life to grow. The hike started at 12,000 feet, well above treeline, so the entire route was the hard part of hiking 14ers. Yet it was all so much shorter than the previous hikes that started lower that it seemed like it would be easier.

Seemed.

We made our ascent up Democrat at a reasonable pace. One of us was struggling with motivation. I always struggle with incline. However, overall, it went surprisingly smooth and well. Considering how painful the previous ascents had been, Democrat came fast and easy.

We took a quick rest to have a snack and enjoy the view then turned to the descent. Like always, I bounded down ahead like a mountain goat and fully enjoyed the way back. By the time I reached the saddle to take the turn for Mt Cameron, I was feeling great. The same euphoria at the base of every hike coupled with the motivation to move to the next mountain.

Yet this is where my hike began to unravel.

As we regrouped and turned to take Mt Cameron, my struggle with the incline steadily increased. It felt different than muscle fatigue, but I dismissed it. Then a nagging headache started tapping on my forehead. I adjusted my hat, adjusted my pack, drank more water, had a snack. Yet the headache persisted and burrowed deeper until nausea bloomed in my belly.

At this point, things did not feel normal or right. Something inside me kept whispering, something is wrong…something is not OK. But I dismissed it. The headache and nausea increased, and hiking became suddenly daunting. More daunting than usual, more daunting than at my most exhausted. It did not feel like normal fatigue. Instead, it felt like I had absolutely nothing in me. No go, no gas, no juice, NOTHING.

I dismissed it and pressed on anyway. At shameful and unimaginably slow pace, we made Cameron.

Once we summitted and turned to the gradual saddle between Cameron and Lincoln (the slight distance that disqualifies Mt Cameron as an official 14er). I did not feel great, and the headache and nausea did not abate, but I could at least move. I figured I could make it the 300 feet to summit Lincoln since we were already there.

I was wrong.

A few steps up the final ascent to Lincoln, I simply could not. My body had nothing. It felt like I could not breathe. My chest hurt as if something was compressing my lungs. I sat down on the trail, and that was all I had. I shooed the rest of my party on to summit and stayed exactly where I was.

In all honesty, I don’t remember much vividly from when the headache started. I know I stumbled my way up Cameron. I know I sat down on the trail. I know I was struggling to breathe and just wanted to lay down on the rocks and sleep so I stood as I waited for them. By the time they returned (which was not long), I was in rough shape, barely functioning.

We turned to Mt Bross to make an immediate descent. If I could not make 300 feet of Lincoln, I could not make anything but back to the car. Unfortunately, we made a wrong turn. Instead of following the trail that cut across the top of Bross’s stained and scarred face, we wandered down a dead end. With the risk of mine shafts anywhere, we had to turn back around. Trying to ascend again destroyed me. When we returned to the top of the trail, I had to collapse briefly.

Finally, we made it across Bross’s mangled face and began to actually drop in altitude. I continued to struggle. Whenever my heart rate climbed, my headache pounded harder. Whenever the headache increased, the nausea pressed on the back of my teeth. I still could not breathe, but moving downhill, I did not need to fight for it as hard.

However, Bross was a terrible descent. Huge boulders and slippery scree the entire length of the mountain. Everyone suffered. Everyone was miserable.

I refused to vomit as we descended the rocks. I knew puking would make me shaky, and I did not know if I could navigate the terrain with unsteady legs. However, once we finally reached the grass, I sat down and puked my guts out. I wish I could say it made me feel better.

The valley where we started was still gorgeous. My favorite flower (the columbine) was everywhere. I wish I could have actually seen and enjoyed it. I suffered severe tunnel vision. All I wanted to do was lay down in the car.

When we did finally reach the parking lot, I took off my boots and lay down in the passenger seat. The rest of the group had their celebratory beers and make PB&J sandwiches, but I just wanted to die. The ride down the trail was not much better. I had to vomit again when we reached the highway. Then I passed out for the rest of the trip.

Altitude sickness.

It took me about three full days to recover. I felt better after my car nap but still miserable. It was difficult to walk. I got winded just moving around the house. I have lived in Colorado, skied and hiked frequently my entire life. This is the first time I ever remember experiencing altitude sickness.

Maybe it was because I was in Dallas, near sea level a few days earlier. Maybe it was because I was still suffering a lingering cold. Maybe it was because the hike started above tree line. Maybe I wasn’t hydrated enough. Honestly, I have no idea. Altitude sickness can really strike anyone at any time under any circumstances. I can’t say it makes sense in this instance, unless it happened just to punish me for thinking I was prepared.

I feel like I should be super frustrated and disappointed to have made it so close and been taken out. I guess I am disappointed that I did not get to enjoy the hike, that I got so sick. However, I was so utterly miserable that I don’t really care that I couldn’t make the last summit (or two). It was unpleasant enough to overshadow any ambition I had.

Part of me wants to redo Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. Part of me doesn’t care. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m just relieved that the sickness has passed and I can breathe again.

Christina Bergling

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Mt Harvard and Quandary Peak

In October, we embarked on my husband’s goal of hiking 14ers in Colorado. We decided to press on it this summer. We started off by hitting it hard, doing two 14ers in two weekends.

Mt. Harvard

First, we decided to tackle Mt Harvard. My father, who avidly hiked 14ers at my present age, warned us that it was going to be challenging. While we believed him, we overestimated ourselves and underestimated the snow.

As my father forecasted, the hike began gently. The first couple miles wound lazily up gentle forest switchbacks. Snow began to appear on the edges of the trail or hidden in the shadows of the trees. I was so excited to see snow after such a disappointing and fruitless winter. As we continued to climb, the snow patches thickened into drifts that began to slow us down.

The winding forest trail eventually sprawled into a large valley beset by the breathtaking peaks of the collegiate 14ers. As the sun show brightly in a vividly clear sky, the scenery was sublime, and our spirits bordered on euphoric.

 

As we moved out of the gentle valley, the snow increased. We navigated through drifts that were mostly crunchy on the top, yet when my leg plunged through the surface, the snow came up to my vagina. The struggle started comical but gradually grew more arduous as the drifts grew deeper and wider until we faced long, uphill spans of slippery snow. Anxiety crawled on my skin as my paranoid steps tempted exacerbating my hamstring/hip injury.

At the first ocean of snow, I nearly declined to continue. I did not want to get more hurt, but I decided to give it a try. It was less challenging than I expected, so I pressed on. We broke past treeline and approached the rocky step switchbacks.

As we ascended the large, flat rock islands amidst shifting gravel, I wondered how I would ever descent such terrain without killing myself. I fought the increasing incline with decreasing oxygen and remembered that there is a distinct reason trees do not care to grow that high.

We made it all the way to the final ascent, the last cairn where we could see the summit. I saw a trail of steep and slippery snow and large boulders. Here, I decided to accept my limitations. It felt ridiculous to come so far, to be 1 mile and 1,000 feet short of the summit and stop. Yet my instincts banged and hollered to not risk it. So, for once, against who I am, I didn’t.

While I am exceedingly stubborn and often push my body too far, this 14er pursuit is not my dream. I am a supportive partner who will take any excuse to be active, punish myself, and be outside in the mountains. But it’s acceptable if I don’t make every summit or I’m not there for every hike. I am a tourist and a tagalong here, the support staff doing the planning.

Two of us stayed at the cairn for three hours while the other three continued.

Then, the weather decided to turn on us. The morning sun folded under thick clouds, and a piercing wind battered us. We sat on the cairn, had a frozen dance party, and waited. For a while, we could watch their tiny forms ascend. Then they vanished for what seemed like an eternity. We almost resigned ourselves to migrate lower when we finally spotted them–a red shirt, a white shirt, and a black shirt–hiking and sliding back down.

Only one of us was able to fully summit (my husband). One was 10 feet short. One was 100 feet short. It sounded quite intense at the top, so I made the right decision to stay behind. I am no rock climber. I am uncomfortable with heights.

Since we only hiked up Pikes Peak, Harvard was our first decent of a 14er. Turns out, my body is built for coming downhill, just like running. As we approached the boulder stairs that made me so nervous coming up, the footfalls suddenly made complete sense. My feet, never entirely graceful, just knew where to go. I bounded down the hill like a mountain goat and had so much fun doing so.

The descent was never-ending though. The snow had softened during the day, and we continually plunged through the surface. It was daunting and repetitive, and the miles just dragged on. But many hours after we projected, we made it. We did our group hug in the parking lot and hurried off into the night for real food and sleep.

Quandary Peak

The next weekend, we aimed a little lower. We went up to Breckenridge, stayed overnight, and set out early to attack Quandary Peak. An easier and shorter hike (recommended by my father).

This trail started narrow and quite steep as it climbed up the hill. The switchbacks drew up the side of the mountain quickly. The sun had just broken the horizon, and the temperature hovered in the limbo where I roasted in my fleece but shivered without it.

I, in my infinitely stupidity and relentless affinity for poor life choices, got to carry a pretty severe hangover with me. What could have been a gentle and pleasant hike was instead quite uncomfortable for me. My thighs balked at the activity immediately. Nausea flirted with my throat. I suffered for my foolishness.

After a couple miles in the trees, we arrived at the customary rocky stair-like switchbacks. We also reached the snow, but it did not compare to Harvard. These drifts were ankle-deep rather than vagina-deep. Instead, our unexpected challenge was the wind. By the time we broke treeline, the wind was near unbearable. At points, I had to struggle to move against it.

There always seems to be one factor that we did not plan for on these hikes. Every mountain seems to teach us something new. Don’t underestimate the mountain. Don’t trust trail estimates. Don’t forget your yaks. Don’t forget your windbreaker. Don’t get drunk the night before. So many lessons.

By the time we passed treeline and battled the wind, I thought my hangover had broken. The trail flattened out a bit before the final ascent, and I was feeling good.

I was wrong.

The final ascent of Quandary did not have switchbacks. No, it climbed straight up the ridge to the summit. And it was terrible. At tackling the extreme grade, my hangover resurged over me. Every four steps, I stopped to evaluate my need to vomit. I moved painfully slow up the final ascent. But I did make it.

We crested the hill and enjoyed a nice flat portion before the summit. The wind even finally died down for us to enjoy our celebratory beers.

Then the descent. My favorite part. All the euphoric rush of victory floating on down the mountain.

The snowy descent did make me a little nervous. Again, I did not want to slip and further injure myself. But I found that sliding down the mountain (in established butt trails that didn’t go off the side of the face) was a much quicker and more fun way to get down. Aside from the horrendous stinging of the cold. Worth it.

The descent was pleasant and so much shorter than Harvard. The wind had died down, and the weather was temperate. It was just nice.

We made it back to the car by lunchtime and were able to enjoy the hot tub in Breckenridge before heading home. While Quandary was not as scenically gorgeous as Pikes Peak or Harvard, it definitely was a more pleasant hike overall. If you subtract the idiocy of my hangover.

Currently, we have two more 14ers scheduled for the summer. Perhaps another one or two in the fall. If nothing else, we have made strong strides on my husband’s goal. And I have seen some beautiful things.

Christina Bergling

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