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

Friday, November 26, 2021

A double at Mt. Yale

Mt. Yale stands at nearly 14,200 ft in the Sawatch range. It is technically a very easy, straight forward, class 2, and relatively short climb as far as 14-ers go. I had nothing better planned for Friday, November 19th, so I decided to go bag it. Well, as the day neared, the weather forecast seemed to be getting worse as far as the wind goes. I was hoping they were wrong, or that at least I can top it off by the time the gusts increase to anything too crazy. I was too optimistic to say the least - or the forecast lied big time. It was a full moon night, and the drive was uneventful.

I got to Denny's creek TH by 6:30 and ready to roll. The temps were relatively mild, 18F, and in the trees I felt wonderfully cozy, even if already sensed the wind is out there. 

Parts of the trail had ice patches, but as far as hiking goes, it was mild, and my mind wondered off, as always. More often than not I am bewildered that I chose adventures, ask myself "why", yet once my feet settle into a rhythm 10 min in, I am in pure paradise of moving, surrounded by nature. It is truly a remarkable thing, never fails. I guess deep inside I know how it will feel. About 2.5 miles in, half-way, give or take, I got a glimpse of the mountains around me, and also about the wind I am about to face...

At 3 miles, I popped above the tree line - and man, it was brutal. I mean, it was pure torture. Frigid air, and the wind was way more than 25 mph predicted, with gusts increasing strength as I kept climbing. All I could do was look straight under my feet, eyes barely open, and trying to suck in a breath. In half a mile of that, I found a rock pile I crouched behind, and put on my second jacket and spikes. It didn't help much, but felt that I did something to assure my stability grab to the Earth. The peak of Yale was looming high above, hidden in clouds. It'll be a serious undertaking to get there...
The trail was well defined, not too much snow or ice on it, it's the wind that made everything miserable. I hated the idea of having driven 2 hrs and turning around, and I kept pushing. My poles quickly became useless, being nearly ripped out of my hands - which were severely frozen by then anyway. I dragged them behind, head down, ice on my face, left eye feeling frozen, snot hanging off my nose and being blown off from time to time. I reached the ridge gap, and with one of the over-50 mph gust got simply thrown on the ground. Twice. I crouched low, and stashed my poles between the rocks. I knew ahead was a rock pile for a quarter of mile, and poles will be hinderance big time - they were already that. I pried my phone out of the pocket, and took a picture of myself. My hands had a hard time pressing the button, and got even more popsicle if it was possible, being in open wind. I began my rock scrambling further up, being seriously pinned to the rock on my left. It was a saving grace that the wind direction was exactly the way I was plastered over the mountain, not towards the open space. As the ridge opened up, it got really scary. Oh, I could only compare it with my very first winter mountain climbing experience on Mt. Washington...and the next time I tried to get my phone out for the top photo op, I simply couldn't press correctly on anything, and the phone nearly got ripped out of my hands. Screw that, I thought, it's time to go back.
I crawled off the rock pile, found my poles, and began the way off the ridge. The wind didn't let up, and I had to bend over, occasionally feeling that I can't take a breath, now facing the wind - it simply forced me so hard I couldn't open my mouth. That lasted a mile, when I finally came upon a guy whom I passed on the way up. I briefed him on the wind up the top, and kept trying to move towards the tree line. 2 more brave souls were on the way up after him, but I didn't stop. The sky parted just enough to give me a view in front, and I thought, man, it's beautiful, wish I had a better weather!
It is once below the tree line, did I feel safe and secure. I took my spikes off soon and tried to jog down to speed up the process - yet it turned out I took them off too soon. Just a mere mile out of the parking lot, I slipped on the ice patch, and fell on my left thumb, which quickly swelled up and hurt. A nd thus was my ending, some severed ligaments and a frostbite, but a great adventure nevertheless.
I got home before lunch, though, so that much was good. As Larry put it, me going to the mountains pretty much means I am coming back with something to show for it. As long as I'm alive:)

On Saturday, I totally nailed a 12 mile flat trail run. With only 2 weeks of running workouts, the ones I used to do but haven't done "by the book" in over 8 years, the progress is mind blowing, almost scary. The paces on my tempo, intervals, hill repeats, the ability to handle them - it all got so much better, I am not even sure how to look at it. At the same time, the wisdom in me brings to mind a thing to compare to: when one is very overweight and begins a quest to lose weight, the smallest adjustments in the first short period of time gives tremendous benefits, seemingly rolling off pounds at will. It's the farther in the quest one goes, the more difficult and slow it becomes. So, just like I am right now at the point where I can't seem to shake off those damn 5 lbs I gained after July, I am sure my increased speed will slow down big time once I reach some kind of leg turn over I forgot in years. Yet I have to be honest, right now, I am thrilled, and not taking things for granted nor do I undermine the work I am doing.

This week is, of course, a Thanksgiving weekend, and we both added Wednesday to the time off work, which allowed us to plan a getaway from home. We picked a local town of Buena Vista for the overnight, and since we try to do those 14-ers together, I offered to go back to Yale with Larry. It is, after all, a closest mountain to BV, so there. Well, the weather, yet again, decided to not cooperate with our vacation plans...and it predicted snow, wind, and temps in single digits. Bundle up it is!

We should have known what we're about to face once we drove into BV coffee shop at 7 am. The snow was falling hard, and the road to Cottonwood pass/TH was thickly covered, with no other tracks on it. But, notorious to not back off the planned adventures, we forged on. We were the only car parked at Denny's creek, I wonder why...
The beginning of the hike, just as 5 days ago, was inauspicious. The snow fell, but inside the trees, it was quiet and actually nice. It was a winter paradise, with just a warning of what we're to face...
The trail was completely covered ankle-deep, but still well defined. I briefly thought what it would mean above the tree line, but assured myself - I was just there, I know where to go. As we neared the 3 mile/tree line, I told Larry we better put on our spikes. Not that we couldn't walk uphill without them, but putting them on out in the open wind would have been far more difficult, if not impossible. I learned my lesson last time, and was trying to avoid extra burdens. I was so right.
As got out on the bare mountain slope, the wind picked up, and there was absolutely no trail, no tracks, no nothing. Larry has a thing about needing to know his exact location, and at first he tried to follow something that he would think resembles the correct path. I, on the other hand, having done a number of winter ascends (thanks, Pikes Peak challenge!), don't really care for that. I have this innate ability to sense the approximate direction towards the ridge, that I caught a view of a couple of times when the sun lit the sky for a moment or two, and I simply pointed my feet straight up. We argued a handful of times, of course, but in the end, there was nothing he could do besides trusting that I would bring him to the saddle. He did see it, as well, and he's well oriented in direction, enough to follow my gut instinct. It wasn't fun, the whiteout was real, wind at 20 mph, and snow everywhere one can see, and it was bitter cold, but at least this time, we were not thrown to the ground with the gusts, and, again, I just did it, so I was determined to get us there, on this day, as well.
Finally, we gained the saddle, and I crouched at the same spot I did on Friday, waiting for Larry. Once he showed up, I pointed him where to stash the poles, and took my nose towards the ridge scramble. Larry followed. Even with the wind half the strength comparing to 5 days ago, we had to grab hold of the rock and figure out where to put our feet, especially with fresh snow covering the holes between the rock and the path that normally is more obvious. It wasn't ever dangerous, just taking precise movement and attention, as we continued towards the summit. Eventually, the last turn, and a clear shot at the top.
We didn't linger, took a couple of photos (my phone died from cold, but thankfully Larry's phone - and hands - were functioning alright), and turned back to get off the coldest, and not providing any views, Mt. Yale summit. Such is luck I had, but really, it's all good:)
Once we got back to our poles, it was time to get off the ridge proper. We actually found resemblance of a trail, fully wind-drifted with blown-in almost knee deep snow, and I tried to follow it, for Larry's sake, breaking the trail. But, alas, I lost it in half a mile or so, said "screw it", and went straight down, as I have done so many times in the mountains in the snow. It is actually less dangerous at times to be off trail than on it, a known fact, and somewhat faster/less snow/navigation process.
A mile of that, and I spotted the tree line, the outlines of snowed in, yet visible, trail outcroppings, and soon after, a sunny spot to wait for my honey. Turned out, Larry fell, following my steps, and his back seized up, so it was a slower going than he would have wanted to, but we were reunited and safe now.
The clouds parted just enough to give us views all-around, including a sneak peek at the Yale top, and we celebrated. A heck of an accomplishment, I must say. Makes up for great stories.
This whole thing took us longer than we anticipated, so we dashed to BV for our hotel, checked in - and oh, my, what a great place it was! Total splurge, we both well deserved it. Hot showers, coffee in the room, local trail gear store, and a nice meal - such an awesome ending to a hard day (and I happen to get a frostbite on my big toes, go figure, no adventure without a little something).
It was another frigid morning when we woke up - it was Thanksgiving, though, and nothing but being blessed and grateful was the main feeling. We put all our clothes on, and took a hike on a local trail by Arkansas river, right next to the hotel. Such pretty views, such gorgeous place to be.
We drove home by lunch, and, apparently, our side of the pass had the first snow, as well. It was all white around on the drive, and some remnants of snow dust on the grass at home. I quickly shoved holiday dinner into the oven, as our friend Annie came to visit - and we truly enjoyed 3 hrs of uninterrupted talking just about everything and anything. She's a beautiful young soul, a quality we most appreciate and cherish about this girl. 
The Black Friday has had a tradition already - it is a free entry to the Colorado State park, and seemingly the only time (besides races) we venture to our local Cheyenne Mountain park. I had 12 miles on my schedule, and it was such a gorgeous morning, I ran in a bliss, strong, and happy.
We have more friends coming to visit this weekend, and life is truly wonderful. Thanksgiving is all about feeling grateful, indeed, blessed, fortunate, living life to the fullest.