If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Oops, I did it again.

So much for not going after Pikes Peak summit for 7 weeks, until the end of April...but I just couldn't pass on opportunity and at least try. Larry had planned a road trip to Lubbock to visit his son in college for the weekend, the weather stayed nice, and I signed up for a 50k for one of the later April weekends when my original ascend was scheduled. Besides, I was due for an adventure. Plus, I had some seriously bad shit happening this week in my personal life, I needed some serious mind-taking physical punishment. So, there, all my logical explanations lined up for it. 

I checked on Alex Nichols , the man who gave me this stupid idea for Pikes Peak monthly climbs, if he had done his March trot up. Indeed, he had, just past Sunday, according to his Strava, and his description and photos freaked me a bit. There was no trenched trail above Bottomless Pit, mile 7 on Barr trail. Looked like nobody trudged up between my ascend and his. The snow just gotten deeper, with all our dumps in the weeks between. Not encouraging information. The whole week prior Friday attempt I was anxious like never before Pikes Peak.

Photo by Alex Nichols
Anxiety aside, I still had to get through my weekly runs and yoga and gym, including the Incline, which I moved to Monday - it was a nice morning that day, and Tuesday, of course, we had some drop in temps and snow flurries. I really wanted to see the steps - and jeez, wow, no snow on either Incline proper or Barr trail! All dirt! Incline is SO WIDE, I forgot about it, being stuck on a single thread of footsteps up all winter!
Full moon over Tava
It was a gorgeous full moon morning, and the sunrise didn't disappoint either. I was glad I switched it.
The rest of the local routine runs on Tuesday-Thursday were slow. My energy was down, whether it was no back-off week since mid-February (when we went skiing for 3 days in Durango), cumulative increase in mileage, or added emotional baggage that transpired. Plus the worry about my hamstring status. I did get electric stim at work (with decompression of my slipped vertebra treatment), and I kept on rolling. I think the stiffness and pain are not as bad as it was last week.

The weather for Friday was predicted warm - in fact, the whole weekend ahead down in town was promised to have 70F and sunny. However, the intel on Pikes Peak was showing clouds all day Friday. Could I have picked Saturday or Sunday? Sure. But I really like to have 2 days to back off after such an effort before week work begins, plus Larry and I are both signed up for a 25 k race here the following Saturday. The whole Pikes Peak is a dumbest idea anyway, moving it even closer to that race day didn't seem coherent. (As a side note, between the fact I never had any speed in my legs in the better day, short distance is not my thing, plus that hamstring, I frankly have little care  about how that race will go. I signed up to support Larry, who signed up to get more consistent with his running training).

4 am wake up call, and I am at Barr trailhead parking lot not too long after. Half-moon was giving odd glow, almost like Northern Lights (of course, not nearly as awesome), and I tried to take a photo. Another odd thing, while I was the first car parked, there was a man standing there, still, in the corner, not a runner, not really very homeless looking (there's a homeless camp about half a mile up Barr, to the side of the ditch). Just standing. Freaked me out. I texted Larry to check on my car when he gets a chance after his morning run, before his road trip, and started up Barr trail - without a music on, and without a headlamp on. Weirdly enough, I could see the trail just fine.
I kept looking back, just in case someone's catching up, but I was alone on the trail. It was an interesting feeling, dark, quiet, not something I am used to. Reminded me of my backpacking mornings. Eventually, the sky behind me lit up just a touch, then I caught a glimpse of my precious, Tava - Ute for “Sun”, the Pikes Peak. Oh, what a glorious view!
"Sun Mountain" When the sun hits the opposing slopes, the Alpine Pink Glow is absolutely magnificent. I always feel so fortunate if I get to see it in that moment, when the view opens up between the trees. It is difficult to time it so specifically, but I've been lucky last few trips.

The trail conditions were so much better than 4 weeks ago, when I plowed from pretty much mile 1 in all that fresh overnight snow dump! First 3.5 miles were dry. Then I encountered a mix and match of either hard packed snow or iced up trench - but it was still possible to navigate the ice with only shoes with screws. I got up to Barr camp, mile 6.2, so much sooner than in March, and in such a better mood!
I even stopped to finally locate the pipe spitting spring water - it was an obvious sight, I just never took time to look down, right under the bridge leading towards Barr camp.
From Barr camp forward the trench changed - it became a deeper more narrow trail with only 2 sets of footsteps: Alex Nichols and Brandon Stapanowich, from last Sunday. Yep, just like nobody went after my March 5th summit bid, nobody showed up since they did theirs. Although it is more understandable: only 4 work week days passed since they were here. The temps were cold enough that I was able to keep mostly above the crust on that trench, without punching in too deep. I could see the point where Brandon turned around, and now there was only one set of steps left. Thanks, Alex!
At mile marker 8.5 I found some dirt and decided to finally put my microspikes on. Figured I am about to face more snow - and some gusting winds, which I did. By mile 9 I lost Alex's steps. Thankfully, my last trip I had NO steps whatsoever, so I felt confident in my whereabouts and where I could go, regardless if I was following the official trail or not. I wasn't. 
I made it from Mile 9 to mile 10 just wondering around in the snow. Somehow I looked up and saw a metal mile marker 10 sign. From there, there's the section of about 0.7 miles that is easily possible to follow no matter how much snow covers it - it sort of runs across and is obvious. However, after being on it for just a few minutes, I came upon my own tracks from 4 weeks prior when I took the gully straight down. I looked up and decided to go straight up, shooting to mile marker 11  and skipping about 4 switchbacks. From there, there was a straight shot to the sign of Golden steps (although across a bit scary wind drift covered field), and here I was, last steep pitch with nothing.
After navigating some of those Golden steps (randomly turning), I saw my own steps across that last pitch I tried to avoid on the way up last month (when I took some rock-climbing to get to the top). That was another sketchy part, I couldn't punch through the hard snow on this steep slope. I was slow and deliberate in making my steps across. Another climb up, and I am at the top, where the construction fences are finally removed. Another side note, it didn't seem to have had much progress, how are they going to open up by May? Oh, well, not my problem.
Glory of Tava top, Pikes Peak summit #4 for the year, in 4 months. Crazy! I was right about last time being worst experience, nothing so far topped that, and fingers crossed, this was my last winter conditions ascend this year (depending how the November-December snow fall happen). On the way down, I plunged my heels into the snow, sat on my butt, and carefully made through the first steep sections, then continued in the gully, just as last month, all the way to A-frame. Who needs extra miles?
Once there, I finally ate my burrito - not at the top as the tradition calls, just too windy there. Soon inside the trees, the sun finally came out, as I began shedding layers of clothes and spikes into the pack.
Once back to Barr camp, I actually had time and energy to stop at the camp proper, and found the new keeper, Travis. I introduced myself (I see him every trip and wave, but never talk), and he said there're a few folks who do monthly Pikes ascends. I guess Alex managed to get others hooked up as well.

I felt great the whole day, never too tired, weirdly enough. Once past Barr camp, I managed to jog most of the next couple of miles, despite slipping in slushy snow. With 4 miles to go, when the dirt was all there was underneath my feet, I really tore it off - freaked out even myself, yet along all those casual hikers going up and down (mostly down) on Barr trail in this very popular section. That was fun! It was scorching hot those last miles, amazing at the temperature swing between altitude sections. Burnt my face big time, and sweated a lot.
I finished in a really good mood, and with plenty of time to shower, have a cup of coffee, and cook random vegetables for dinner. That was surprisingly a great day, so much anxiety prior it, but hey, another Tava under the belt, and only 21 miles with cutting off downtown Manitou access and nearly 3 miles above tree line. A much better outcome, considering I sort of have some kind of effort expected of me next weekend in that 25k race? Plus, I still have plans for the reminder of the weekend!
On Saturday, I felt a bit stiff at first, but not for long. I made my way to Palmer Park, where Rattler race is held. While I hiked and ran plenty of trails in this park last Spring (a mere 3 miles away from the house), I never visited that far corner of the park  where the official entrance is, and wanted to at least familiarize myself with the trails on the "other side". It was boring  in those lower parts of the park's entity, with huge parking lot. I ended up driving to the high point of Grandview, and hiking/jogging the trails I knew already. Well, sort of. I reminded myself why Larry and I both don't go there for our runs, even though it's so close. "Spaghetti bowl" Larry calls it. 
A total maze of short dirt single track (looking like it could be in Arizona), with constant bumping into a 3-way intersections, which are not marked. I mean, you're never more than a mile or so from your car, but my God, it's discouraging to even try and figure it out! It's going to be a sad race for me for many reason, though I am pretty sure (I hope) they'll mark the course well. Plus, those trails are relatively technical for someone (yours truly) who "loves" to fly Superman. And, it's consistently rolling up and down, nothing ever challenging, but you can never get in a groove of some kind of pacing. I have never been a runner to begin with, mountains work to my strength of power hiking long uphill and letting go on the downhill sections. I can master a bit of flat running, but this up-down-repeat pattern is far from enjoyable for me. Well, I (we) signed up for this. Gotta suck it up. One thing for sure, we are going to have amazing views - what this park is famous for.

This is MY city!
The rest of the day was just pure doing nothing. Besides taking a hot yoga class, where I didn't put a mask on, and nobody said anything!

Life is moving ahead, people! I chanced it due to their statement online, and it worked. Somebody has some sense to leave it up to an individual. Well, technically speaking, my gym had that "sense" from the very beginning, since they opened back up last June.

I hung out in the backyard with a book a lot, trying to soak up the 75F sun and get my summer tan acclimation going. I also ate lots of salads (no cooking when the man is not in the house😋), and hiked around the neighborhood testing out for the first time my very new backpack. About time I begin to do that, starting with 25 lbs in, to prepare for some "twisted" summer fun. Gosh, I forgot how much I love just walking, not running, just power-walking and hiking. So looking forward this summer, again!
Sunday was a little fun thing I planned for myself. I always wondered what those people who do double (and triple, and so on) trips on Incline feel. I mean, even being there weekly it feels quite de-ja-vu, almost like going to work. Doing it twice? I figured, Easter is a good morning to see for myself. I booked 3 different slots in case I wasn't coming down from my first in time, which turned out unnecessary. The rule is, once you start, you can make as many rounds as you pleased. Ha.
My first climb up was at the usual time, starting 5:30 am at the bottom, but already I heard behind some  folks hollering and carousing. So different from the normal quiet work week's outings... I got up in a good time, and took 3 miles of Barr trail down, per usual. At the bottom, after chatting with attendants (they were the ones who told me just go circles without taking slots online), I went back up. So, so many people...so bright, so hot, so weird. I managed to feel pretty good and was only a minute and half slower than the first go.  
Once done, at the top, I thought - I could see how it might become addictive, making loops on Incline. I was feeling rather normal, not worse for wear. But my Lord, that'd be boring! Plus, who's got the time? I tentatively planned to take a longer detour on the way down, but decided I have better things to do with my time for the day, so I went down Barr half-way, then popped on the Incline going down, to cross over 0.15M later to a new connecting trail at the other side I wanted to check out. Jeez, I confirmed all the thoughts I had about insane people who go down Incline! I had vertigo, tripped twice on the tall funky steps - and the consequences for either could be pretty bad here - and had to stare at a mob of tourists struggling on each step going up. Dragging little children (WTF?). I forget how I take for granted my fitness, and dwell on what I was. Here I was seeing regular folks, half (and third) my age, yet so out of shape. Dang. Sadly, for 99% of those who climb Incline, it's one and done. And nothing will change...The new connector was the same length as Barr from the other side, but more exposed to the sun. Checked that off my list.
Well, I satisfied my curiosity, and I don't have to do it again. Because of the 3 Incline trips and Pikes Peak this week, I ended up killing the elevation gain - all off 15,600 feet up, in only 67 miles. That'll never happen again, I bet. 😋 Of course, as always, the highlight of my early morning was an absolutely beautiful sunrise on this Easter - best God's creation ever. So thankful the Earth rotates just right, and we get to see it every morning, so worthy 4:30 am wake up. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
The rest of the Sunday was more of the Saturday repeat. Back to yoga (that was neat, 3 classes this week, I never take yoga on the weekends, because it's family time). More salads. More hiking with a backpack.
I guess April is here, Spring is in full force. A good, sort of quiet, grown up, way to start with it. I don't always have to do crazy things. I finished a great book, started on another. I never turned on TV. I ate all my veggie meals outside. I didn't have to talk, besides on the phone with my sister and with Larry, of course (who's on his way back home, having had a great weekend with his kid back in TX). I feel truly blessed being right where I am, despite some of the things I can't control. To appreciate things I have and do myself is the real zest of life's path.