A few years ago for our anniversary, my husband and I went to Colorado to hike up a mountain. I was fortunate enough to take a trip out there in 2016 to conquer a different peak. This time, I went alone. Before you tell me how dangerous it is and how nuts I am for going out there alone, it’s really not that big of a deal. I lived there after college for a few years; it was like going back to a familiar place to see what was new. And I had a really nice time!
There are a series of mountains in Colorado called “fourteeners”, which means that the summit is 14,000 feet or higher. I chose Grays Peak (elevation 14,278 ft) because it was close to where I was staying in Dillon, CO (elevation, 9,111 ft). I drove out and tried to acclimate to the higher elevation as much as I could before starting the hike. Denver is 5,280 ft above sea level, and Eau Claire, WI is about 787 ft above sea level for comparison. Torreys Peak is a short hike from Grays Peak and most people try to get to both in one day, which was my intention. I was a little worried that being alone I would be attacked by wildlife, but someone in one of the forums for hiking fourteeners said of my fear: “The most threatened I have ever felt in my dozen or so trips to Grays is getting anywhere near the outhouse on a busy weekend.”
It’s about 8 miles round trip from the trailhead to the summit of Grays. Doesn’t sound like much but if you are not used to the altitude, it is a struggle. And oh boy was I on the struggle bus. I started at 4:00 am to avoid the crowds and to make sure I finished at a decent time. It was dark but there was a full moon so I didn’t need my headlamp. At about 7:00 am, I was lucky enough to see the sunrise over Mt. Edwards. That’s when I started to feel sick to my stomach and really slow down. I tried to rest and drink every 30 minutes. Everything I tried to eat tasted horrible.
When I got to the summit of Grays, I could barely enjoy the view as my head was in my hands and my eyes were closed, just like in 2014 on top of Mt. Elbert. I figured that my nausea was due to the altitude so I made the decision to forego Torreys Peak and get down as soon as I could. I do not regret this decision. I forced a smile for a few pictures before trying to hightail it back to my car.
About half way down there was a small, flat section with few rocks and a little bit of grass. I decided to lie down, rest my head on my backpack and try to eat. A piece of sweet, dried mango sat in my mouth for a minute before I forced myself to swallow it. As soon as it went down, I knew it was coming back up. I scurried over to the edge of the mountain and promptly christened the Grays Peak trail with a little bit of dried mango and a lot of water. I felt so much better; I wish this would have happened much sooner.
To make a short story long, I made it down, got to my car and fell asleep in the driver’s seat for an hour and a half. The sun was just too warm coming through the windows and I was just too tired. I woke up, picked up some hitchhiking kids, and drove back to where I was staying.
Did I make it sound like a horrible time? It really wasn’t. It was a challenge, exciting, beautiful, and a personal accomplishment. I’m already planning my next trip. Plus, I got to see this little weasel! Next time, I’m going to stay out there for a week before hiking.
That was my big adventure for the year. I love taking “active” vacations so I can get away but also not just sit around all day. What’s your next big adventure?