Summiting in the Clouds

I wasn’t sure I’d be hiking at all. I didn’t have a hiking buddy and the weather forecast wasn’t stellar, so I was debating back and forth on going. Then on Friday night Tristina text me and asked if I still wanted to go.  I looked at the weather forecast (not great, but no thunderstorms), and said sure!

We woke up at 3am and were on the trail at 3:50am.  We saw this Columbine growing out of a barrier at about MM2.  I thought it was pretty cool, and at first didn’t think it was a real flower, but it was growing this way, and bloomed just at the opening. 

We made really good time.  Tristina and I hike at a similar pace, and we both intended to hike quickly.  We made it to Barr Camp at 6:30am (that’s about 6.5 uphill miles in 2h 40m).

We talked to a lady I’d seen the past couple of times on the hike.  Her name’s Dana.  She hikes to Barr Camp in the mornings before her grandkids wake up at 9am. After some chatting, she seems like a potential hiking partner in the future.  She’s summited over 40 times, and always by herself.  She asked me if I knew “Larry” (I didn’t, but apparently he’s a frequent hiker too).

We could tell it’d rained last night, which made hiking a bit easier.  The dust on the trails wasn’t present, and there were dew drops on the Aspen leaves.

We made it to the A-frame at 8am.  It was foggy and surprisingly “green” compared to my last visit 2 weeks ago. 

Our usual view of Colorado Springs was lost in the clouds…

We took a break at A-frame and then headed out again.  The clouds just got thicker, and at times it began to rain.  It was surreal hiking with such limited visibility.  We had a hard time gauging exactly where we were on the hike.  At times we’d pass a landmark and be surprised we’d reached it so quickly!  I’m not sure if it was the lack of beating sunshine, lack of visibility, or lack of stopping for slower hikers, but we hiked much faster than normal.

Here’s a picture of the Cirque, a 1500 foot drop you can’t tell it there with the fog… could be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing!!!

Here’s a view of the hiking conditions:

Last time we hiked this rocky area was all under snow.  It’s interesting to see what it looks like sans snow.  You can also tell why we had difficulty finding our footing and experienced a lot of mini rockslides…

I had to get a video of this!  It’s not great quality, and kind of hard to see due to the fog and poor visibility, but this is where we “glissaded” the first time we summited this year.  I plan to get another video next time the weather’s better, but this gives you an idea of how far we went.

Here’s a picture of where we slid…

Here’s where the rain really picked up.  I was so glad I’d brought my rain jacket with hood!  We reached the summit at 9:57am:  That’s our fastest time yet!  Usually it takes about 3 hours from the A-frame to get to the summit, but it took us less than 2 hours!  Total, that was over 13 miles uphill in under 6 hours.  Awesome! We got there just as a train was pulling away.

When we went into the summit house it was deserted.  This is the first time I’ve been there when it hasn’t been ridiculously full.  We attributed it to the poor visibility at the peak, and the fact a train had just left.  The only people at the Summit were those of us who’d hiked up.  There were two men who’d run up (and were looking for a car-ride own), and a father son duo who’d hiked up the “easy” way (the backside, which starts at 10,000 ft elevation).

We stayed for about half an hour, then decided to hike back down.  The fog was beginning to lift and while we couldn’t see Colorado Springs we were able to see further distances. I love how green it is!

We saw a few deer on the way down, right on the trail…

and one of my favorite mushrooms!  They are so cool to see on the trail (no touching though)

I wasn’t sure how it would be going with just one other person, especially since she was one of my Girl Scouts and we have an adult/scout relationship, but it ended up being really enjoyable.  We hike at similar speeds, and didn’t run out of things to talk about on our 11+ hour hike.  I was thankful to have a hiking buddy, and to have been able to hike the peak again! 

The only downside was my hiking shoes… due to lack of traction they kept slipping.  They’ve lasted me 20 years, but I think it’s time to get a new pair. 

Hiking Buddy?

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It’s becoming an addiction, and I think I’m ok with it. 

I’ve summited Pikes Peak multiple times in the past 3 years.  Is it crazy I just summited Pikes Peak twice this week, I’m doing so again next month, and I’m already looking for a way to summit sooner?  This time without a pack to carry supplies:  I’m thinking just water, a bandana, and a few Tylenol.

I have an addictive personality, and I really love physical fitness, which includes hiking.  This hike is 26 miles.  13 of which are uphill, 6 above the treeline, exposed to the elements.  I don’t know of many people who can accomplish the hike in its entirety.  In fact, most people who attempt it with the best intentions fail. 

I’m at the point where I can look at someone and tell if they can summit or not, and how quickly.   It’s brutal, but for some reason I love it!  It’s a challenge, the views are amazing, and it encompasses new (sometimes demanding) experiences with wildlife, weather and nature each time I go.  I’m constantly being challenged by the mountain, and I love winning.

The first time I summited this year I did so with just a backpack and a few supplies.  I was amazed at how much easier it was than when I’ve done it backpacking!  We practically flew up the mountain!  However, I still had to bring more weight than I’d wanted because I was in charge of a group and I couldn’t let anything happen to them because I’d failed to bring necessary supplies. Yes, I realize how stupid that makes it sounds to go without said supplies.

After the hike I was sore, but continued with my normal gym routine: 10 miles a day of cardio and a 60 minute power yoga class 4 times a week.  Yoga was a challenge but I breathed my way through it.

When I summited this week I led a group and brought a 40lb pack.  It was much more weight than I’d wanted to bring for one night, but once again I was in charge of a group; Novices this time.  I couldn’t risk anything happening to them I could have prevented.

Surprisingly however, it was easier to summit this time and I wasn’t as sore afterwards (maybe because we took so many breaks?).  The only part of me that really “hurt” were my feet, and shoulders and lower back where the pack rested.  I now had blisters on top of blisters of course.    Other than that I was feeling pretty good, and when I went to yoga the next day I practically sailed through the class!   It was one of my best yet!

That’s what really got me thinking:  if I make summiting Pikes Peak a more frequent thing it should just keep getting easier, right?  I wonder how quickly I could do it with less gear?  And how about wearing hiking shoes instead of snow boots?  I hike in Laredo’s this time of year due to the snow at the summit…. With proper hiking shoes I bet I could shave quite a bit off my time!

I posted my musings on Facebook only to have people tell me I’m crazy and not to attempt such a feat by myself.  I understand the concern, but this also makes me a bit upset.  I see a handful of people (in great shape and mostly men of course) running the trail on their own.  I feel the trail is well traveled, and if something were to happen to me there’d be people who would notice.  (In a whiney voice) I want to summit by myself too!!!  I want to wear shorts and a halter top instead of warm weather gear, throw my hair up in a bun and see how fast I can make it.

I guess I just need a hiking buddy. 

But I don’t WANT a hiking buddy!  No one I know can keep up with me, and the whole point of this exercise is to do it for time.  I’d be waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for someone to catch up.  Then I’d get frustrated with them for something they couldn’t control when they were helping me in the first place… a viscous cycle!

Hmmmm…. This one needs more thought. 

Troop 2393  Backpacking Pikes Peak

I don’t care how old you are, or how great of shape you’re in, Pikes Peak is a difficult hike.  Strenuous.  Probably the most difficult thing you will ever do in your entire life.  It’s 26 grueling miles, 13 of which are uphill, 6 of which are above the treeline, exposed to the elements.  It’s difficult in any condition, but Troop 2393 did it with 30lb packs!

A week before the trek I talked with the girls to let them know what they were getting into.  I told them it was difficult, explained what would happen at each point in the hike, and told them they would want to give up.  In fact, they’d beg me to give up.  They’d curse me as well for making them continue.  Did they want to summit?  If so, I’d do my best to make sure they all summited.  They did.

Since this was their first big hike we started out earlier than usual.  I woke them up at 2am, we had our traditional muffins for breakfast they’d cooked the night before, and we were on the trail at 3:17am.  The girls were really excited!  We wore our headlamps around our necks instead of on our heads, and moths were attracted to us like flames.  We were batting them away until the sun rose.  

I knew this hike was going to be difficult almost immediately.  About half a mile in the girls started complaining this was harder than they’d thought, and one of the girls was having difficulty breathing.  We took many more breaks than I would have liked and for much longer periods to compensate.  It took us 2 hours to go the first 2 miles (it usually takes about 45 minutes).  

After the 3 mile mark everyone was back to “normal” (breathing was fine, etc.) but we still took it very slow.    I was glad we’d started extra early!

We made it to Barr Camp and the girls collapsed by the stream.  They were already exhausted!  I tried to remind them this was difficult, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listening…

It was 3 more miles to the A-frame, and we were in a bit of a hurry to make sure we were able to “claim” it.  Otherwise we’d be sleeping in caves tonight (one of which leaks due to snow).  I told myself I’d adjust the hike depending on the next 3 miles.  There was a big chance we wouldn’t be summiting at all.  Even with all the prep work it was much harder than they’d anticipated.  Around mile 7 I had a girl pretend to faint.  Yes, I’m sure she was pretending and looking for sympathy.  However, she’s relatively new to the troop and didn’t realize that was the wrong game to play with me.  I totally understood she felt she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t joke around with safety.  I let her know how I felt.  She didn’t have any more issues after that.  

Every 30 seconds or so I’d look over my shoulder to see how the girls were doing, and around mile 8 I had a girl actually faint. Right in the middle of the trail! She had been in the back of the line and none of the other girls had heard.  Luckily we’d only gone about 30 feet or so.  I told the girls to sit down, and ran to the one who’d fainted.  Her skin was clammy and she was a bit cold.  After gently tapping and nudging her a few times she woke up very confused.  She didn’t remember falling.  She must have done so gracefully because she wasn’t hurt at all, just confused.  I’d been “pushing” water on the girls, so I knew she was hydrated, so that wasn’t the issue.  Her body was just really tired.  We took a long break until I was sure she was feeling better and we set off at a slower pace.  I like to lead (so I’m the one who runs into that snake or slips on something), but I figured at this point we’d all take turns leading and I’d be in the back so I could watch the girls better.

It was a tough next mile, but the girls made it!!! Look at their excitement upon making it to the A-frame!

Here we took a REALLY long break.  Over an hour.  The girls relaxed, wrote their names on the walls to record their achievement, and consumed a lot of calories.  Some girls refilled their water (filtered it), but everyone relaxed.  We went over the journey so far, and the girls admitted it was harder than they’d anticipated, but (after their break) they all said they wanted to try to summit.  

So we left all the gear we didn’t need in the A-frame, and set out with just the essentials to hike the remaining 3 miles to the peak.  

I knew this was going to be challenging for them, so I tried to think of a game to keep their minds off the difficulty. Most of the girls had never seen a marmot before, so I asked them to count how many they saw.  Some we may have counted twice and I’m sure there were some we missed, but we ended up counting between 40-50 marmots!  They make a really annoying chirping sound…

After the first half mile the complaints began again. I had one girl adamant she no longer wanted to do this.  She’d brought her cell phone, and wanted to call her mom to come get her (as if that were even a possibility at 12,500 feet 11 miles from the car).  I’m 95% sure she was texting her mom at this time, telling her what an awful person I was.  However, I’ve done this hike many times, and I know this behavior is “normal” at this point in the hike, so I encouraged her to continue.  I knew there’d be more nasty comments to come, and I knew while only one (or two) girls would actually say they were tired, wanted to stop, couldn’t breathe, etc., everyone was thinking the same thing.  This is the part of the hike where I get to be the “bad guy” in the nicest way possible, encouraging them to continue.  Some of them said they really didn’t want to continue, but I knew how upset they’d be if they gave up, so I kept cheering them on. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be bragging rights!

Since a lot of the trail was covered in snow and we had to get creative to continue climbing. We looked like we really knew what we were doing, and had several first timers follow us on the hike.  It’s really cool to have things like this happen!

The changing point to the hike came about a mile and a half from the summit.  At this point the “complainers” realized I wasn’t giving in, and this is also where a lot of the trail was covered in snow.  The girls had to be very careful and work together to navigate the trail. I guess for them this is when it became fun!  

Make no mistake, they were still sore and tired, but from here on out they trudged on without my constant encouragement and even seemed to enjoy the experience.

The small streams on the trail were fun to navigate as well.  The girls asked me to take this picture for fun!

Once we made it to the Cirque (just under a mile from the summit) the trail became unnavigable.  No worries:  I did this hike last week.  All we needed to do was head towards the “16 Golden Stairs” sign and then head straight up to the summit. It was difficult, but the girls seemed to have fun!  We had another first timer follow us on this route as well.

The final push to the summit was really hard, but not one of the girls complained even once!  It was as if a switch had been turned on, they all realized how close they were, and they WANTED to summit.  It wasn’t easy:  we had to scramble on the rocks and make our own trail.  

About halfway to the top from where the rock scrambling started someone shouted “Look!  Bighorn Sheep!”  Indeed, there were 3 bighorn sheep traversing the ridge next to us!  They were robust, confident animals.  We watched them until they were out of sight (about 5 minutes). As an added bonus it was a nice break! The girls commented on how they made rock climbing look easy!

After about 20 more minutes of losing our footing, cheering each other on, and mini-rockslides we made it to the summit!

We tried to stay a good distance apart from each other to minimize rock slide injuries, so the girls who made it first waited for everyone to get to the top before all holding hands and crossing the cog tracks together.  This was their idea:  I love these ladies!!!

The girls were all smiles, enthusiastic, and PROUD of themselves!  They were glad they’d continued on, and celebrating their personal and physical victories.

We immediately went inside the summit house and got donuts and fudge. The girls commented how only hikers who’d summited should be allowed such luxuries…  They’d EARNED it!

After a break of about 15 minutes we went outside for pictures.  

Emily truly wanted a picture with me to show she’d hiked Pikes Peak.  Her smile was all the thanks I needed!

You expend a LOT of energy just breathing at 14,000+ feet, so it’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top.  Adding to that it was starting to get cold and the girls wanted dinner.

After the fun of last week getting down the mountain we decided this time to go down the same way we’d gone up.  I explained to the girls how to keep their center of gravity low while navigating, and we began our decent.  

It was slow going the first half mile or so for safety reasons, but after that we practically skipped back to the A-frame, high fiving ourselves the entire way.  The girls were a bit upset we hadn’t “glissaded” so we found a safe place to do so.  On purpose.

Dinner was terrible.  We had Mountain House backpacking meals, and I’m not sure if it was the altitude or how they were prepared, but the consistency was either way too watery or not watery enough.  They tasted OK, so the girls with extra watery meals added their ramen and were fine with that.  Apparently it was an improvement for the ramen!

Samantha and Olivia were in charge of the fire. Check out what an awesome job they did! One match!

I’m REALLY GLAD we were the first ones there because there was serious competition!  At least three other groups were interested in sleeping in the frame that night, but luckily had brought back-up tents as well.  We made several friends at the A-frame, and invited them to join us in our fire.  

Although this was the warmest night I’ve ever spent at the A-frame the girls all said they had trouble sleeping because it was so cold.  We all set our alarms to watch the sunrise, but due to the fires in the area it was difficult to appreciate, so we all went back to bed.

At 7:30am we got up and quickly dressed.  We were running out of food and needed to get back down the mountain.  We ate our cheerios as we descended.  While better than the hike up, the hike down was still a challenge.  It was hot, the girls were tired and very sore.  We had blisters on top of blisters, and needed frequent breaks.

We stopped about 6 times each mile to rest, and every 3 miles we took an extended break and took off our packs.  However, at the 1.5 mile mark the girls got their second wind, asked if we could stop taking breaks, and booked it the rest of the way down. They were exhausted and excited to be done with the hike!  I told them to pose for this picture describing how their bodies were aching at this point…  They have blisters on top of blisters, and I know every muscle in their bodies ache, but they should be proud!!!

Congratulations Ladies!

Pictures of the journey can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Girl-Scout-Troop-2393-130509316441/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10153424760671442

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

Saving Ourselves

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Let me start by saying these girls were prepared for this hike.  They’d backpacked this trail multiple times before, and were even nominated by Search and Rescue to earn the Red Cross Lifesaving award for rescuing hikers on this trail on another occasion.  They received that award.  They also train for and participate in an outdoor survival skills competition every year. They are experienced, in great physical condition, “pumped” about going on the hike, and I know them and their personalities well. I trusted their abilities.

For those of you who worry, don’t.  Everyone made it out ok without any injuries that needed more than moleskin and a few Tylenol.  

As always the girls spent the night at my house the evening before the hike. They made blueberry muffins for breakfast the next morning, and stayed up way too late giggling.  I checked the weather forecast for the next day:  83-90 degrees with no chance of rain. AWESOME!!!  We’re always worried about thunderstorms above the treeline. We were so excited it wasn’t going to be an issue this time.  We woke up at 3am and were in the parking lot by 3:55am.  

The parking lot was pretty empty, except for two large passenger vans.  As I was paying for parking I overheard a director surrounded by about 20 people talking about how they were all going to hike to the top today, and their goal was to do so by noon.  He prayed for God to bless their bodies and journey.  I thought a few things:How cool for a church group to hike Pikes Peak!

· They do NOT look prepared for a hike like this.  They are in shorts and none of them look like “hikers”

·  Making it to the top by noon was overly ambitious

·  I wanted to get a start before they did because passing them would take forever!

I quickly paid for parking and ran back to the truck.  We grabbed our gear, turned on our headlamps, and got going.  I said a positive “Good Luck!” to one of the church ladies preparing to hike (she seemed confused when she noticed I wasn’t with her group), and we were on our way before 4am. 

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We’ve hiked Pikes Peak before, but this was the first time we’d done so with small packs carrying just water.  We have always backpacked with 30lb packs, so this was a treat!  We made great time!  We hiked the first two miles in about 40 minutes (which is amazing, considering it’s all uphill).  As always, we enjoyed the view.  No matter how many times I try, I can’t capture the beauty.  I need a special camera. 

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The hike up to Barr Camp was pretty uneventful.  The first 3 miles of incline are the hardest, and then the next 3 are gently sloping. No long breaks were needed beyond shedding layers (it was getting warm, and we were sweating). We saw various new flowers that aren’t in bloom when we usually hike in July or August, as well as a caterpillar nest.

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We made it to Barr Camp at 6am (6.5 miles in 2 hours) and had a heavy snack.

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Most of the campers there were just waking up. One man came up to us and asked about the conditions of the trail.  He said hikers came back yesterday saying the snow was up to their thighs in areas and they weren’t able to summit.  They kept losing the trail and getting stuck in snow, but said you could get pretty far if you “kept going left” and asked if that sounded right?

I told him it made sense, but we had crampons, so we weren’t too worried.  His concerned reply:  “I wasn’t worried about you, I was worried about making it myself.  Do you think I can make it?” I thought this was hilarious! I initially thought he was looking out for us, but he was really worried about himself and his abilities. Apparently we looked like we knew what we were doing.  He was worried he wouldn’t be able to find the trail, so I gave him some pointers.

Around the 8 mile mark we saw patches of ice on the trail.  Right in the middle of the trail to be exact. 

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It was 1 more mile to the A-frame, and at this point we were feeling pretty good.  It was so much easier hiking with just water! We made it by 8:30am and took a look around.  It was not as green as it usually is (probably too soon in the season), but otherwise it was cleaner than normal (kind of… still some trash here and there).  We were met by a marmot living under the frame and a young buck!  SO cool!  We never see deer at 11,500 feet! 

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Just as we were getting ready to leave a man came down the trail.  He looked like an experienced hiker, so we talked with him a bit about the trail conditions.  We asked him if he’d summited yet, and he said he hadn’t.  He’d been trying for the past 4 weeks, but there was always too much snow.  Last week the A-frame had 4 feet of snow around it.  He was hoping to summit today.    He also said he’d seen the church group at about 6am near the top of the incline…it had taken them 2 hours to hike 2 miles. There was NO WAY they were going to summit today, but they still seemed to think they could. They had driven in from Oklahoma at 10pm the night before the hike.  The girls and I had flashbacks of saving those hikers form Kansas, and mentally prepared ourselves to help if necessary.

We said our goodbyes and continued with our hike around 9am.  Immediately after the A-frame we lost the trail due to snow. There wasn’t snow covering the ground completely, but huge piles of it covering large parts of the trail.  We knew which way to go, but it was under too much snow to traverse. 

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We could see large switchbacks further up the mountain, so we decided to just head straight for those and continue with the trail there.  Normally I am completely against going off trail and creating new ones, but we really had no choice:  there wasn’t a trail to follow.  We could see where other hikers had attempted to go up, and tried to follow their tracks where possible (all in the snow, so we weren’t trampling ground cover).  If we found the trail we took it until it was buried in snow again.  Many times we “made our own trail” over the previous one.  

We got really good at confidently making our own solid tracks in the very slippery snow. You see, the problem was we had no way of knowing how deep the snow was.  As you can see by the picture below, one step I was on solid ground.  The next I sank to my waist, and was only able to get out because my right foot was in a stable position.  There’s no telling how far I’d have sunk if I hadn’t had one foot in a solid position.  Yes, I was scared the first time this happened!

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Adding to this was the water.  Water trickles down from Pikes Peak into rivulets and small streams, then continues past the A-frame down the mountain. Some of them run below the rocks, others above.  These streams can be heard the entire time you’re above treeline.  You can see them at points, but you can always hear them.  We knew there was water flowing below us, but we never knew if it was under snow or rocks.  We’d be in trouble if it was under the snow and we fell in!

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There were times when I had to make our own tracks and could see hoof prints in the snow.  I followed those tracks, trusting the Bighorn Sheep or Mountain Goat that had made them…

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Did I mention the Marmots?  We saw more marmots this trip than I’ve ever seen before, and they were quite fluffy…

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There tracks were everywhere too… Adorable!

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We eventually found a way to a switchback leading to the Cirque.  Notice how hard I’m breathing?  It’s really hard to breathe at 13,000+ feet!

Just after the Cirque we followed the trail until we found the 1 mile mark, where it completely disappeared.  We could see the “16 Golden Stairs” sign, so we made our way towards it.  At this point we had to completely abandon the trail and just hike straight up.  There weren’t footprints to follow, or any sign indicating which way we should go. We knew how the trail usually bends, but due to snow were unable to get to those spots.   We also knew we wouldn’t be damaging any groundcover because it was all rocks. 

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It was like rock climbing on ice!  Except there were no footholds, so we had to make our own.  And there was nothing to hold onto except for our hiking poles and the holds we made before lifting ourselves up.  And there were a lot of unstable rocks hiding below the snow causing minor rock fall avalanches.    It was really scary and slippery, but the girls confidently made their own trail.  Oh, and crampons for the win!  Those things are amazing!

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We summited at 12pm. It had taken us 3 hours from the A-frame, the normal time is usually does, but not in the traditional fashion.

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Side note: The man we met at the A-frame was with a group of about 10 male hikers.  They followed our footprints, so basically we made the trail for them.  They didn’t have crampons so they were unable to summit.

We summited about 20 seconds before a cog train arrived, so we booked it inside the summit house to grab a table.  We got donuts!!!  I’ve summited Pikes Peak several times, and this is the first the donut machine has been working.  I celebrated!

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We collapsed at a table to take a well-deserved break.  That hike was insane!  We were so proud of ourselves!  We had never done anything like what we just did:  blazing our own trail and climbing through ice and snow for 3 miles up the face of Pikes Peak!

We also noted how scary we must have looked to everyone else there arriving from the train: you know, the ones wearing makeup with their hair curled.  

As we sat there a “Park Ranger” (I’m not really sure that’s an official title, but there’s always a guy in a park ranger uniform at the summit house) came up and asked us if we’d hiked up.  When we told him we had, he said we were the first this season!  Woot! He then asked us if we’d be hiking back down (instead of taking the train) and told us to be careful:  The other day he had someone lose their backpack looking over the edge and it slid 1500 feet down the slope.

A bathroom stop was on the agenda, but the line for the bathroom was longer than the line for fudge (which had about 30 people in it) so we decided to book it down the trail and go at the A-frame instead.

We went outside for a few pictures.  Everyone who talked with us was super impressed we’d hiked up the mountain.  See how proud we are?  The person taking the picture noted the awesome rain shower in the background…

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We’d just been through a very intense hike, and came up without a proper trail.  This time we were at the summit and knew where the trail down started, so we decided to descend using the trail as intended.  The “park ranger” was standing at the edge where we’d summited, presumably discouraging people from taking that way down. All routes from the top looked impassable, but we knew if we could just get past the snow we’d be able to find our route down.  After all, the snow wasn’t “everywhere” as there were patches of rocks in between, and we’d made it up, hadn’t we?

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We hiked for about 40 feet and knew immediately hiking down was not the same as hiking up.  

This is where I need to pause a moment and let you know how we got into the situation that put us at risk.  I am a serious photographer (intense hobby).  Much to the disappointment of my children I take pictures of everything.  I am rarely seen without a camera in my hand, and indeed summited Pikes Peak this trip one handed (with my Canon Rebel in my left hand… yes, I got a scratch on the lens from a falling rock, but it was worth it). In addition, there was no room in my backpack to hold my camera, so I had to keep it around my neck.

Remember that picture from before where one foot was level, and the other sunk to my waist in the snow?  Well, that happened just as we were descending, except instead of catching myself I was off balance (due to my camera) and slid one foot first, one sideways, 600 feet down the face of Pikes Peak.  Things going through my head at this time:

· This is bad

· Don’t start turning!  Do whatever you can to stay upright and don’t tip over!

· Don’t scare the girls!  Keep calm. Talk to them as you’re going down to let them know you’re not scared and that you’re ok.  “I’m sliding down, just wait a bit, ok?”

· Find a way to slow down!!!

· I’m not slowing down, try something else!!!

· This is really, really bad.

About 600 feet later I was able to slow myself down by making a large “V” with my legs and came to a stop just before a rock outcropping.  I’d lost my hiking pole about 1/3 of the way down (my first attempt at stopping was to try and anchor myself… the hiking pole stayed where it was).  

At this point I was scared.  That “glissade” was NOT on purpose, and now I was separated by my girls by 600 feet.  Not for long however, for they decided to follow me, and without thinking I encouraged them:

I hadn’t fully processed the situation when they started, and encouraged them on. I didn’t want them to know how scared I was, but I also realized there was no other way for us to make it down the mountain:  we could not go up.  We had to go down or stay where we were, which wasn’t an option.

Note:  I don’t have pictures of everything from this point on because there were times when our safety was much more important than pictures, so I focused on getting us down safely.  I needed two hands to navigate and steady myself.  

The girls made it to me and we assessed our situation.  We were in an awful spot!  We couldn’t walk sideways because there was a rock outcropping too steep to traverse. In addition that “rain shower” had turned to snow above us (wonderful weather forecast, huh?) and the rocks were really slippery.  The only way down was to slide on the snow another 200 feet.

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So we did.  The glissade wasn’t pretty, as the grade was too steep to do anything but dig your heels in to slow down your descent.  The girls are all smiles in these pictures (I’ve trained them to smile on cue because I’m always taking their pictures), but I know they were thinking “I’m going to DIE!”  In reality, that was a possibility if they didn’t control their descent.  They were fabulous!

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The first thing Tristina said when we got to the bottom was “I’m glad those rocks were there to break our fall!”  It sounds comical, but she was actually sincere:  the rocks provided us traction and gave us breaks from snow that kept us from sliding out of control.  They also ripped a very large hole in her pants, right where you don’t want a hole. She used her sweatshirt to cover the damage.

I was seriously worried about our predicament at this point, but knew we needed to keep going to save ourselves.  We were at an inaccessible spot on the mountain, no one was hurt, we were all together and we could make our way down.  We just needed to be extremely careful and not make one misstep, or we’d seriously injure ourselves on the rocks.  Or tumble and break something and be in serious trouble.

I knew I needed to be a leader for the girls, so I kept up a positive, encouraging attitude while inside being scared I was leading them into danger. For their part the girls were amazing!  They trusted my decisions completely, followed my footsteps, and problem solved on their own when necessary.  I went first and many times had to direct them on the right path from places they couldn’t see me.    

From here on out we tried to avoid snow patches whenever possible, hiking up and around them as we could.  We spent a lot of time navigating large granite boulders. One of my girls was in shock, and we were all on a serious adrenaline rush. None of us were hurt, but we all knew we should have been.  I knew they were scared, but the girls didn’t stop:  they kept hiking down. 

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The group of 10 guys who followed us up was now descending, so we made our way towards them. They weren’t using a trail, but hiking straight down.  This making your own trail irks me, but in our present situation I totally understood. We bouldered and traversed straight down, using them as a reference point.  It took us about 75 minutes to reach them.  One of the guys in the group started talking to us:  he said their group was being led by someone who placed 2nd in a very popular Pikes Peak run.  Impressive!

We tried to stay behind the group of guys (remember that embarrassing hole in the pants?), but they kept slowing down and taking breaks.  This didn’t make ANY sense!  They were all very fit men who shouldn’t have had to take so many “breaks”.

Eventually we figured it out when they asked us if we were anywhere near the trail:  They didn’t know where they were going!  They asked us for help navigating back to the trail. We knew the general direction so we led the way.  

At one point we came to a large expanse of snow there was no way to navigate around:  we had to cross it.  This time we did so more confidently.  I went first, solidly sitting down and sliding feet first.  The incline wasn’t as steep as at the top, so I was able to make a nice smooth slide.  The girls quickly followed.   This time glissading was fun!

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I heard the group of guys shout “Wow!  Those girls are badass!”

I shouted from below to the guys “feel free to use the slide!”

They enthusiastically accepted and we watched them get a running start, jump and slide, obviously having great fun!

Jordan was the one who eventually found the trail that led to the A-frame, and we were back in business!  The guys continued down to Barr Camp, while we took a bit of a rest and assessed our current situation.  We had just been through a very scary experience most people would have needed to have been rescued from.  None of us was hurt, we’d made it out alive, and we were proud of how we handled everything! We considered this trip a very exciting win!  

I am hiking the trail with another group next week, and we are staying overnight at the A-frame, so I “hid” my jacket so I don’t need to carry it up the trail next week. Then and used the facilities (although it was jokingly commented that might have already been taken care of accidentally on that first slide) and we hiked back down the trail.

The rest of the hike was uneventful.  It rained a cold, biting rain the last 6 miles (once again, great weather forecast, huh? I almost wished I’d have kept my jacket). We were surrounded by rolling thunder but no lightening.

We talked with several hikers making their way to Barr Camp, intending on summiting the next day. They all had snow shoes, and said they’d gotten advice from someone on “14ners.com” indicating they were needed.  We assured them they weren’t.  The girls we met who were hiking up were all intrigued and started in on conversation, asking about trail conditions, etc.  The men all seemed amused and acted like they knew better than we did.  The conversation stopped with them there.  Hmmm….

We also saw a hiker on his way up rather late in the day (6pm) with nothing but skis and a water jug.  He looked extremely fit and like he knew what he was doing, but not prepared at all for sleeping overnight, which he’d need to do in order to reach an area with enough snow to ski.

We never did see that church group on the way back down, and their vans were gone by the time we made it to the parking lot, 13 hours and 26 miles later!

My final comments to the girls:  Remember, you can do ANYTHING guys can do, one handed (I summited with a camera in my left hand), bleeding.  Many times while wearing heels..

Troop 931 Backpacking Pikes Peak

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Pikes Peak is an INTENSE hike, made even more so by backpacking. We are all tired and extremely sore, but proud of our accomplishment!

I grow as a person every time we Girl Scouts get together! 

Thank you Girl Scout Troop 931 for teaching me about teamwork, patience, FUN, goals, perseverance, and awesomeness!!! Oh, and for those interested, YES they did help rescue someone on this trip too: a hiker with a broken ankle about a quarter mile from the summit. Troop 931 ROCKS!!!

This wasn’t our first rodeo (we did the same hike last summer and saved some hikers.  You can read that story here: http://lauramclark.tumblr.com/post/95826650834/girl-scout-troop-931-backpacking-pikes-peak-and ) so we started before the sunrise to get an early start on the hike.  The weather changes frequently on the mountain, and we knew it would start out cold, get really hot, then back to cold again as we made it past the tree line.  Here are the girls, all ready to go in their “warm” clothes.  We just layer for hikes like these.  Also notice how happy and fresh they look.

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Along the way we saw different flowers than last time (since we were hiking two months earlier in the season).  I love seeing columbines growing in nature!

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This is a really tough hike.  About 6 miles in there’s a place called Barr Camp where a lot of hikers stay the night.  Our overnight spot was still another 3 miles up the trail.  Here’s Kayla passed out as we took a lunch break.  Poor girl!  This was a much harder hike than she’d anticipated.  She was doing great though!

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Notice this sign posted as you leave Barr Camp.  Unfortunately, too many hikers either don’t see this sign, or don’t take it seriously.  

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About half a mile past Barr Camp we split into two teams.  Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina were hiking fast, so they went on up ahead and were to meet Kayla and I at the “A-frame”.  Kayla was exhausted by this point, but kept on going.  We all knew it would be easier if we separated, and we wanted to make sure we had a spot to sleep tonight since it’s first come (so getting there first was our best option).

Kayla and I made it to the A-Frame about 2 hours after the other girls.  They had already set up camp and rested by the time we got there.

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Kayla immediately unpacked her sleeping bag, and fell asleep.

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The other girls had already rested, so by this point they were ready to talk.  I walked around the campsite to get some pictures. 

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The A-Frame isn’t very big, and we didn’t want to put our things on the ground because there were a lot of critters around, so we weren’t as “tidy” as we could have been.

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Jordan and Tristina got to work sanitizing water and making dinner.  The site has a running creek year long, so this time we decided not to hike with as much water (conserving weight), and we planned to filter water at the top.  The girls boiled the water, then placed the container of water in the stream to cool down before drinking it.  I just have to say, as I was talking this picture I kept thinking to myself what awesome ladies these girls are!  They were totally able to do everything themselves on this trip, and they did so without complaining.  They have skills and they were having fun!

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I mentioned earlier we weren’t very tidy in the A-Frame.  However, we are Girl Scouts, so we do leave places cleaner than we find them.  We brought trash bags to haul trash down the mountain (yes, even stuff that wasn’t ours), but we realized there was so much trash we couldn’t bring it all down.  This was odd/not cool because we’d camped in the same spot less than a year before and totally cleared it of all trash.  We decided to make the best of the situation and just burned as much as possible. Since there isn’t any wood to burn at the site (you have to haul it up from down the mountain) this had the added benefit of keeping us warm.

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Have I mentioned the view at night from tree line is absolutely amazing!  If winter didn’t exist on the peak I could live there. Enough said. 

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The sunrise is equally beautiful. We set our alarm just so we could watch the morning glow.

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After a breakfast of Mountain House eggs and bacon (gross by the way, we’re never doing that again), we were off to climb the peak!

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About half a mile in we decided we’d split up again.  Kayla was having a lot of difficulty with this hike, and we were at the part where you have to keep going or you’ll never get started again.  This is a very mental hike, and you have to know how to psych yourself up to continue.

Even though it’s July there is still a lot of snow on the peak.  These drifts are much larger in person than they look from Colorado Springs.  They are about the size of a football field, and they are very slippery!  We saw many people fall because they were over confident.  Kayla fell on each one (there were 7 or 8), hard, but she kept going!

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The 16 Golden Stairs are anything but.  This is the hardest part of the hike, and it took us about 1.5 hours to do (even though it’s only about ¼ of a mile).  We kept stopping every 2 or 3 feet because Kayla really didn’t want to continue.  However, I wasn’t going to let her give up.  She told me at the beginning of this hike she was doing it for her dad (who passed away the week before), and I wanted to help her reach her goal.

There were a lot of tears and frustrated words said (never towards another person), but Kayla kept going.

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I’m very, very, very proud to say she made it!!!  Many (ok, most) grown men cannot complete this hike.  It was hard, it hurt, and she was tired, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other and made it to the top.

She was exhausted when we got there (we both were).  As soon as she crossed the cog tracks she stopped, raised her hands, looked up, and started talking to her dad in heaven.  I couldn’t help it, I started to cry.

All of the work to get to the top was totally worth it!  When she was done she turned to me, gave me a big hug, and said “Thank you Ms. Laura for helping me get to the top.  I’m sorry I yelled at you!”.  I cried some more.

Then we walked the 20 or so feet to the Summit House and Kayla fell asleep for the next 45 minutes.

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We met the other girls there, got some donuts, drinks, and fudge, and told about our separate climbs.

Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina told me they had helped rescue a man who had broken his ankle about a quarter mile from the top.  He wasn’t a hiker, so he wasn’t prepared.  He had driven to the peak and was hiking down to take selfies when he tripped (yes, he had a selfie stick).

They tried to give him an ice pack, but it exploded so they did the next best thing:  They used their ace bandage to wrap his ankle, then got a ziplock bag and filled it with ice.

Then the girls helped him up and he hopped on one foot (his good one) to the top with one of his arms around each of the girls shoulders.  He thanked them profusely when they arrived, and promised to get in touch when he made it home.

I woke Kayla up after 45 minutes because her body needed a rest:  You burn just as many calories sitting at 14,000+ feet as you do running at sea level, so she needed to move down the mountain so her body could rest properly.  We also needed to finish our hike:  it was only half over! 

As Alison Levine says: “Getting to the top is optional.  Getting down is mandatory”.

We posed for a few pictures (we were too tired when we got there at first to take any), and were on our way down.

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This is where the real teamwork began.  Kayla was very tired from this hike.  We all were.  I run 5-10 miles a day, Jordan is captain of the Ice Hockey team, Tristina runs cross country, and Ruth Ann runs as well, so we were more conditioned for this hike (don’t get me wrong, we were still aching).

Kayla however wasn’t conditioned, and was exhausted.  She wanted to stop and rest every 15 feet or so, and that just wasn’t possible if we wanted to make it down the mountain. 

So the girls helped to keep her motivated.  They held her hand as she navigated tough rocky areas and the slippery slopes of snow.  They let her hold onto their backpacks for support, and held her hand to help keep up her momentum.

They also kept praising her progress and success!

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When we got just about to the tree line we started seeing marmots.  3 or 4 were chirping to each other, and some stayed still long enough for us to get pictures!

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I love this one:  you can see the Garden of the Gods below!

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At tree line Kayla remembered we forgot to take a picture of her celebrating at the peak, so we took one now:

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She did it!  Great job Kayla!  She looks filthy but proud of her accomplishments!  She probably lost 5-10 pounds as well from the beginning (did I mention this is an intense 26+ mile hike?  We did a mountain marathon in less than 36 hours) 

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Girl Scout Troop 931 Backpacking Pikes Peak and Saving Lives

My girls call me Leader Laura.  I have been privileged to be the Leader of Girl Scout Troop 931 in Colorado Springs since 2007, where I have seen these girls learn, grow, and mature into self confident young adults. These girls take cookie sales very seriously: They set high goals, achieve them, and enjoy their success by planning activities and adventures paid for from the profits of the sale. 

Troop 931 has sold tens of thousands of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and used the proceeds to perform community service and go on some amazing trips.  This year a few of the girls in the troop were interested in backpacking to the top of Pikes Peak.   This 14,115 ft. mountain towers over Colorado Springs, and is a constant source of pride for our community.

 

The hike to the top isn’t for the faint of heart.  The Barr Trail to Pikes Peak is the most difficult hike in the area.  It is an advanced trail that gains 7,800 feet in altitude in 12.5 miles, not to mention the 12.5 miles back down to your vehicle.

Colorado weather is dangerously unpredictable.  It can be extremely hot hiking the beginning of the trail, and the average temperature at the summit in the summer is forty degrees below the temperature at the base of the trail.  Electrical storms and rain are daily events, and it is possible to encounter snow and ice even in the summer months.

Three girls in the troop were interested and able to go on the hike:  Jordan, Rebecca, and Tristina, all who have been Girl Scouts since elementary school.  All of these girls take honors classes, Jordan is active in Ice Hockey, Rebecca is captain of her High School Color Guard, and Tristina is in cross country and cheer.

In addition to being physically fit and enthusiastic about the hike, the girls train for the Girl Scout “Reach for the Peak” outdoor skills competition every year, where they compete in events such as emergency first aid, campsite set up, emergency survival, knots, lashing, outdoor cooking, etc., so they had the skills and training necessary to take such an adventurous trip. 

We all met at my house Friday night.  The theory being they would be able to go to bed as soon as possible Friday night and get up early for the hike the next morning.  We put together our food for the trip (lots of nuts, dried fruit, cereal, breakfast bars, Ramen, freeze dried meals and water), and distributed necessary gear amongst the girls (tents, camp stove, water filter, emergency first aid and fire starting supplies).  Then the girls used the computer to check the most recent weather forecast and trail conditions (50% chance of storms after 11am), printed a detailed description of the hike with landmarks and places to filter water along the way, and planned to get up at 3am to leave by 3:30am to get an early start on the trail. 

Saturday morning we had a quick breakfast of coffee, cinnamon rolls, and sausage.  The girls were excited and awake at 3am, even though they did not go to bed early as planned (they are all good friends, so I figured they’d be up talking most of the night, and they were).  All 6 of us piled into my truck (the three scouts Jordan, Rebecca, and Tristina, Thomas (a brother and a Boy Scout who wanted to hike too), Liane the Troop co-leader, and I) and headed to the trailhead. 

 

Barr Trail is located in Manitou Springs, close to the Cog Railway that travels up Pikes Peak.  It was still dark as we parked at the base of the trail, along with many other hikers looking to get a head start on the trek. At 4:30am we donned our backpacks, head lamps and good attitudes, took a picture for posterity, and began hiking. 

The girls had researched the trail, so we knew the first few miles would be a difficult uphill climb, but after about the third mile it would even out for a bit.  At around 6.5 miles we would come upon Barr Camp, where many hikers choose to spend the night either before or after hiking the peak.  There would be water to filter at Barr Camp, and emergency supplies to purchase if needed.  Our research told us there would be a cabin about a mile past Barr Camp that sleeps 6, available on a first come basis, and a popular spot to stay in the summer months.    After reaching the cabin the hike would get more difficult, especially once we made it past the timberline.  The last 3 miles was supposed to be the most complicated, due to lack of oxygen and stress from the hike.  It was recommended to summit and be back below the tree line before 1pm to avoid summer thunderstorms.  It normally takes about 8 hours to summit (without backpacking gear).

It became obvious about half a mile into the trail the group wanted to hike much faster than Liane.  We were worried we wouldn’t make it to the summit before the required time unless we hiked at a faster pace, but we wanted to stay together.  Liane had quite a heavy pack, and after some discussion we decided to separate and meet at the cabin a mile past Barr Camp:  She never planned on summiting, the trail was heavy with hikers, and we all felt confident she would be safe hiking “by herself”.  So it was decided Thomas and I would continue the hike with the girls, Liane would hike on her own, and we would communicate every so often through texting.

 

The first three miles were indeed aggressive, but we pressed on knowing the trail would eventually get easier.  It was dark when we started out, and along the way we had views of the night lights of Colorado Springs, hundreds of twinkling stars, and the bright lights that were Venus and Jupiter shining just to the left of the crescent moon.  I took pictures with my camera, knowing they would never represent the true beauty of the night.

We stopped many times for a few seconds here and there to admire the view.  At about the 3-4 mile mark the sun came up and we started seeing really cool red and white mushrooms.  The girls identified them as Amanita muscaria, more commonly known as fly agaric.  These mushrooms are poisonous to the touch, so we became concerned when we found some had been uprooted.  We followed a stream for a while, and the girls took turns identifying several trees, mushrooms, and flowers (to get ready for the plant identification part of the Reach for the Peak competition in 2 weeks). 

Around the 4 mile mark the trail indeed became a bit easier to hike, but only for about a mile.  Then the incline picked up once again, and the five of us started stopping more frequently to rest.  We were all hungry despite breakfast, and broke into our snacks earlier than anticipated.  We were glad we packed plenty of food:  it began to look like we were going to need all the calories we could get!

 

Tired but feeling accomplished with the hike so far, we arrived at Barr Camp at about 8am.  Barr Camp has a nice stream running through the area, and we noted several places we could camp if the cabin a mile up was occupied when we arrived.  It was at the cabin we planned to take a longer rest before tackling the second half of the hike.  We knew the hike would get a bit easier from there, so we didn’t rest, but continued on up the trail. 

We expected a gradual climb to the cabin.  After about a mile we were discouraged by how steep the climb was becoming, and in our lack of locating our designated spot to rest.  We went back to our notes, verifying the cabin’s location. We started wondering:  Had we missed it?  Was it hidden?  We were getting pretty tired by this point, so we stopped to take a rest and have a snack (peaches!). 

A hiker passed us, and we asked her if we were close to the cabin.  “You mean the A-frame?  That’s at least another mile” she answered.   We were taken aback.  She had to be mistaken. She indicated she had hiked most of the way to the summit on another occasion, but had to turn back because of a storm.  However she did remember seeing the A-frame at Timberline, and obviously we were a ways away from that yet.  We looked around, and indeed we were still in a heavily wooded area, nowhere near the timberline.

This changed things a bit.  By this time we were at least 2 miles past Barr Camp (with our gear), and about a mile from where we had planned to meet Liane (the cabin I will now refer to as “A-frame”).  We were pretty tired at this point.  The group discussed the options we now faced: We could go back and meet Liane at Barr Camp, or continue with our hike and plan to sleep at the A-frame no matter what, knowing Liane wouldn’t go that far.  We knew if we hiked back to Barr Camp we would not be summiting, and that once Liane found out how far away the A-frame was from Barr Camp she would stay at Barr Camp.  Jordan indicated Liane had her own tent, sleeping bag, food, and stove in her pack, so we all decided to continue with our hike and text Liane to let her know our decision. 

On we hiked.  The mile more we had to hike to get to the A-frame took us quite a while.  We were tired and sore, but with the knowledge the A-frame was located at the Timberline felt like we were on a mission. 

Finally, after what seemed like forever, we saw about 15 people scattered on rocks, looking down at the A-frame below.  It was beautiful.  A small wooden platform covered on three sides with an open view of Colorado Springs below.  It was situated in a small valley, with a stream running through the area and 3 or 4 obvious campsites directly nearby.  This meant we would have a place to camp, even if the A-frame was occupied.   The girls took off their packs, and despite their fatigue immediately began to inspect the site. 

 

There were belongings already in the A-frame, but no one seemed to be around.  It looked like the sleeping bags inside had been left by previous backpackers (they were old and worn), and the shelter was littered with trash.  There was a fire pit directly in front of the cabin, so we would be able to have a campfire at night if it wasn’t too windy.  A quick inspection of the area indicated there was no firewood so I made a mental note to try and collect some on our way back down. 

 

The girls seemed to have a new sense of energy.  At 9:30am we left our sleeping bags and tents in the A-frame (we would be ok without these supplies if they were stolen, but we figured they wouldn’t be), put on our packs with the rest of our supplies, and headed up the trail to finish our journey.  We were at 11,500 ft in elevation at the A-frame, and needed to get to 14,115 ft.  It was 3 miles to the summit, and more difficult than we could have imagined.  The hike just kept getting harder and harder, the air thinner and thinner, and just when we thought we were at the summit, we would round a corner and see what looked like miles and miles of trail still ahead.  The air was much colder here, and without the trees the wind was brutal.  We could see storm clouds quickly curling over the mountain above us and forming into thunderheads.  We put on our hats, jackets, and gloves, and trudged on. 

Every hiker we passed on their way down would congratulate us, smile and say we had about half an hour to go.  Every.  Single.  One.  Despite the fact we kept advancing on the trail, for about 2 hours every hiker would tell us we had half an hour to go.  It was maddening, but we made a joke out of it to help pass the time.  At this point we could hear the horn of the Cog Railway, indicating passengers should board the train to head back down.  To us it was a sign we were getting close.  We saw several mountain bikers riding down the mountain, and commented on their bravery/foolishness. 

 

When we had about a mile left on the trail, the hike was no longer “fun”.  It was here we would hike 5 or 6 yards and need to stop and rest for a minute (or five) to catch our breath.  I felt like I was a coach pushing the girls to “keep going” because we were “almost there!”  They became each others’ cheerleaders, taking turns saying “We got this!”  and “We can do it!”  We reminded each other if this was an easy hike, everyone would do it, and that its difficulty built character.  And awesomeness.  On we trudged.

It was brutal.  No one wanted to give up, but neither did we want to keep going (resting felt wonderful, and it was so hard to start hiking again).  At long last we saw a sign indicating the “16 Golden Stairs”.  We had no idea what those were, but they didn’t sound good.  They ended up being switchbacks that were more like rock climbing than actual stairs, and vicious on our already aching legs.  Rebecca announced this hike brought new meaning to the term “thunder thighs”.  We all laughed, and kept climbing.   

After the last “stair” we stopped to catch our breath (again), and saw we were about 200 yards from the summit.  Although we would have loved to have run, skipped, or jogged those last yards, it just wasn’t possible.  We lumbered the last few feet, and almost cried tears of joy as we crossed the cog train tracks and stepped onto the deck.

I asked the girls “Do you want to take pictures now or after we rest?”  “Now!” was their answer because once they sat down, they didn’t think they would get up again.  We took some pictures at the summit sign, walked in the door of the gift shop, and almost fell upon the nearest empty booth to the triumphant arm pumping cries of “We made it!” and “We did it!”.  The girls were elated.  We all were!  It was 12:30pm, and it was snowing.  We made it from Barr Trail up Pikes Peak in 8 hours, with full gear. 

 

During our 45 minute reprieve at the summit we spent most of our time resting and commenting on how difficult the hike was and how awesome we were.  The Summit House consists of a restaurant, gift shop, and deck area.  It was extremely crowded with tourists milling about, waiting in lines to buy souvenirs indicating they had “made it to the top”.  There were two guys in the booth next to us who had just hiked up as well, but were waiting to take the train down the mountain.  The girls told them about some of our other Girl Scout adventures (our trip to Alaska, learning how to surf in Texas, heading to Wyoming for Frontier days, rafting, spelunking, rock climbing, etc.).  They were impressed we were Girl Scouts, and one even indicated his 11 year old niece was “getting bored with dance”, and would love to do some of the adventurous things we did.  He didn’t know “older girls” could be Girl Scouts too.  I gave him information on joining a troop. 

I text Liane, and she had just reached Barr Camp.  She indeed decided upon hearing it was 3.5 miles past Barr Camp to the A-frame to stay at Barr Camp for the night.  She already had an adventurous 6.5 mile hike up to Barr Camp and was equipped with plenty of food, water, and supplies.  We would meet her in the morning at the campground. 

We ate lunch (Ramen!), used the restroom, filled all of our empty water bottles, enjoyed a cappuccino, and bought some fudge to celebrate for dessert later that night.  Then it was time to head back down to our campsite (hopefully before a storm hit). 

Now that we were rested we took a few more pictures as we made our way back to the trail.  I don’t know if it was our rest or the fact that the storm seemed to be coming over the mountain so quickly, but the hike down was much faster than the hike up.  We could practically run down the trail without needing to rest (we walked).  We heard a chirp-like barking sound, and were delighted to discover it was a Marmot perched on a nearby rock.  The girls posed for pictures (it’s an inside joke for the troop: We love Marmots because the Troop won the “Marmot Award” five years in a row in the Reach for the Peak outdoor skills competition). 

 

The hike from the A-frame to the summit took us 3 hours. We made it back down in about 45 minutes, stopping along the way to gather some precious firewood.  There wasn’t much, but we collected what we could, knowing the night would be cold.  We correctly informed hikers still ascending of the actual time to the top, and as we got closer and closer to Timberline became fearful for hikers beginning the hardest part of their trek with night coming.

As we descended I kept hoping no one would be there to greet us at the A-frame.  It is a first come camping situation, and barely big enough for the six of us to set up our sleeping bags.  I hoped our leaving sleeping bags inside the shelter would “claim” it for us, but was unsure as to the protocol for such a situation.

Then I heard voices.  It seemed there were people at the site already, so I braced myself for the best way to handle the situation.  I mentally told myself confident and positive was best. 

As we rounded the corner and crossed the stream I saw what appeared to be a man wearing cotton sweats and a t-shirt crouched down beside the fire pit.  Inside the pit were 2 branches that had obviously just taken off a nearby pine tree, complete with short green needles and sap oozing from the branches.  He was holding a match under one of the green pine needles, trying to get it to catch.

I smiled warmly and shouted “Hello! We’re the ones sharing the site with you tonight.  It looks like you could use some help.  Do you mind if we help you start the fire?”

“Y-y-y-es, if you think you c-c-c-an do it” he stammered.  “I’m f-f-f-reezing over here, and c-c-c-an’t get it lit.”

“Ok, give us 10 minutes.  Ladies, start the fire.”

The girls dropped their gear near the A-frame and separated into two groups: One to start on the fire, the other to look for more of the scarce firewood (we hadn’t found very much, and would obviously need more).  Thomas helped the girls gather wood, and found some tinder and kindling under a nearby tree.

 

I wanted to get to know our fellow campers better, so I began asking questions.  Right away it was obvious something was wrong.  He started babbling.  It seem he had a gallon of water open and spill inside his pack 2 miles down the trail, but he kept hiking until he reached the A-frame.  His clothes were soaked, and due to the cold water, powerful wind and dropping temperatures, he was having a bad reaction. In addition he had a terrible headache.  His friend had one too, and was throwing up near the shelter.  

I saw this as a dreadful situation but a wonderful teaching opportunity.  “Girls” I said, “what do you think is going on here?”

They quickly assessed the situation.  The young man was obviously suffering from hypothermia:  His clothes were soaked, he had goose bumps all over his skin, he could barely walk, and he was chattering and stammering.  He also had a mild case of altitude sickness, and his friend more severe. 

The girls knew what to do:  get the young man out of his wet clothes and into a dry sleeping bag.  Did anyone have spare clothes he could wear?  The wet injured party did.  Apparently he was in shock as well, as he had been wearing his wet clothes even though he had dry ones in his pack.  The girls got the fire started, and treated one boy for altitude sickness, while I continued to ask the young man questions to keep him awake as he was warming himself up in his sleeping bag near the fire.

They were in more trouble than I had thought.  It seems they drove 8 hours from eastern Kansas (where they lived at 1000 ft elevation) the night before and arrived early that morning to hike the peak.  Neither he nor his friend (the one throwing up) had made it to the peak.  They were in High School, and had three other friends hiking with them, but got separated along the way.  At one point between Barr Camp and the A-frame they were so exhausted they slept beside the trail for a few hours (another sign of altitude sickness).

These two young men took a wrong turn but ended up finally finding the A-frame, so they figured they were ok because they made it where they were supposed to end up.  They had left their dinner (hamburgers) in the car, but at least they had water to drink (from the creek!).  At this point I was seriously wondering who had authorized this trip for these boys when one of the missing three showed up.  He had indeed also gotten lost, and was suffering from a pretty bad headache.  The girls treated him as well, and then began bandaging their own blisters. 

It was now starting to get dark.  These boys had no food and no tents, but they were getting along pretty well with the girls.  Well, the two who were awake with headaches and hypothermia were talking with the girls; the other boy had passed out inside a sleeping bag, and we all figured that was the best thing for him at the moment.  The girls set up a bag near him in case he needed to vomit again anytime soon.   

Troop 931 made the decision to share the A-frame and what food and filtered water we had with the boys.  Our new friends had been hiking all day with no food, and would need to eat something if they planned to hike down the mountain the next day.  The girls talked them out of hiking to the summit and taking the train down in the morning.  We got our freeze dried food, and brought out the backpacking stove to heat some water.  Just as we were finishing dinner their other two friends showed up. 

These “friends” were actually an adult male and female who were “supervising” the boys on the trip, but none of the party of 5 were related.  They had 5 apples and 5 brats in their bag, which was better than nothing but nowhere near enough in our opinion.  They also had a 2 man tent, which the two went to set up at a site nearby.  They seemed amused when the boys told them they left their food and gear in the car, and thanked the girls for treating the boys.

About half an hour later the woman cheerfully came back to the A-frame.  She had heard the girls were Girl Scouts, and wondered if they could help them start their fire.  They had a lighter and had been trying for half an hour, but couldn’t get it going.  At this point I need to mention the girls didn’t really pack much in the way of fire building materials.  We hadn’t expected a fire ring, and only brought a few supplies in case of an emergency.  The man was eager to help the Girl Scouts with the fire:  “Just tell me what I can do to help and I’ll do it!” he said, then asked them how to keep it going.

The girls quickly got the couple’s fire started as well.  As we were sitting there, I heard the woman say she didn’t know Girl Scouts did outdoor stuff, or that you could even be a Girl Scout in High School. She thought Girl Scouts was just about selling cookies. She also said she was “definitely buying lots of Girl Scout cookies” the next time she saw girls selling, and sincerely thanked the girls over and over again for their help. 

Back we went to the A-frame.  The girls re-assed the boys conditions, and noticed the ones who were awake were improving.  The other boy was still sleeping, but didn’t have a fever.  The girls decided to practice some Yoga to stretch their sore muscles from the climb and to prepare for the descent tomorrow.   We shared the fudge and celebrated our success as we watched the sun set and stars come out.   Together we pointed out landmarks and reflected on how awesome the whole experience had been.  We had to be the luckiest people alive to have this view at night.

 

Just after the sun went down, two soldiers from a nearby Army base came up to the A-frame.   The two had decided over breakfast to hike the peak, and headed out that afternoon.  They wanted to know how far it was to the summit. We strongly encouraged them to hike in the morning.  It was snowing on the peak, not to mention at least a 3 hour climb through difficult trail to get there.  “Well, we aren’t really convinced we can’t make it tonight” one of them said.  They didn’t seem to believe us, and kind of smirked when we told them of the difficulty.  We wished them luck and warmly let them know they were welcome to set up a tent anywhere nearby if they’d like. 

One hour later they were back from their attempt and setting up their tent (they had gone a little ways, began to believe us, and decided to turn back).  However, they couldn’t start their fire.  The girls were happy to help yet again!

Back in the A-frame things were starting to get fun.  The new friends were discussing books, High School classes and sports, and college prospects.  It was now about 10pm, and starting to get windy.  We put our fire out, and with one side completely open to the elements it immediately got very cold inside the A-frame.  This was not good for the boy still chilly but recovering in the sleeping bag, or anyone else for that matter:  It was supposed to be in the 20s on the peak that night.  The girls used their knot tying skills to attach a tarp over the opening, which kept out most of the wind, but unfortunately took away the view of the city below, and also the light.  The girls took the notorious water jug and attached a flashlight to the top, making the small light into a wonderful lantern, and brought out a deck of cards.

 

The group of teenage girls and boys were getting along pretty well.  At this point, I thought they were getting along a little too well.  Realizing I was the only real adult in this whole situation, and that most of their parents would be upset with the kids “sleeping together” no matter the extenuating circumstances, I decided to put my foot down with sleeping arrangements. The girls had their sleeping bags set up where their heads were facing one wall of the cabin, the boys on the other.  I was in the middle.  While I was really tired, I knew I should stay awake while the teenagers were awake, so I listened to them talk and have a really fun time comparing Kansas to Colorado until 2am, when they finally got to sleep.  By this time I was freezing, and unable to sleep myself, so I listened to the wind howling outside the shelter.  4am came, and along with it, some pretty powerful wind gusts.  One gust tore the rivet off the tarp, and with a loud and obnoxious crumpling and flapping sound started flailing noisily in the wind.  I am proud to say the knots the girls tied remained in place, even though the tarp had torn.  The tarp was replaced, and luckily that seemed to be the worst of the wind for the night.

 

The girls set the alarm for 6am so we could watch the sunrise, eat breakfast, pack up and go.  The two boys with headaches were doing much better, and wanted to pose for pictures with the girls.  The boy who had pretty severe altitude sickness was better but still miserable (he would be until he descended the mountain), and planned to sleep for a few more hours.  We briefed the adults on what to do for altitude sickness, gave them some supplies, and told them if the boys ended up getting sick in the near future to research Giardia.  They were very appreciative, thanked the girls over and over again, and let them know if it hadn’t been for them, they “probably wouldn’t have made it through the night.” 

The A-frame had been filthy when we arrived, so being Girl Scouts we decided to clean it up before we left.  Since it is quite a hike to reach the shelter from both the top and bottom of the trail, it is unlikely others would come to clean up the mess.  Luckily we had brought some trash bags along in our packs (in case of intense rain they work well as ponchos).  We filled the bags with empty water bottles, dirty plates and utensils, empty fuel canisters, socks, and other “trash” and decided to carry the bags from the shelter 9.5 miles down the mountain.

It took us about an hour to hike down to Barr Camp, where Liane was waiting for us, ready to go.  She had a fabulous time talking with dozens of hikers she met along the trail, and a peaceful night sleeping in a tent by the stream, watching a campfire of her own.  We had quite a few stories to share with her on the way down.  We couldn’t believe how many unprepared hikers we encountered.  They all agreed “someone should write a book about this trip, or make it into a movie!” 

We had 2 more miles to hike when Thomas yelled back to us “Come quick!  Ms Liane fell down!”  We rushed back up the trail to see that she had indeed taken a pretty hard fall, and was lying face down in the dirt.  She had lost her footing and was off balance due to the pack she was carrying (which gave momentum to her fall) and fell face forward down the trail.  We were all afraid she had broken something, but she assured us she had just fallen quite hard, landed on her nose (ouch!), hand, and knee, and while she was shaken up, nothing seemed to be broken.  Bruised pretty badly, but not broken.   Liane was a brave and excellent role model through the whole experience.  She handled the fall like a champ, didn’t complain, kept positive, and after cleaning her cuts we were on our way back down the trail, a little more cautious this time.

 

We made it to the parking lot at 11:30am, took a celebratory picture by the Barr Trail Sign, and headed home.  We were all exhausted, dirty, and smelly, but so proud of our accomplishments! 

The whole way home we would look at Pikes Peak and say ‘We were just there!” and “We climbed that!”  Every time we look at Pikes Peak we will think of the adventures we had this weekend, and how we conquered the mountain.

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

Mt San Antonio

Mt San Antonio, 10,064 ft. 3904ft
elevation gain in 5.1 miles

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To date, this is by far the most
difficult hike I’ve ever done.  It isn’t
the tallest summit in Southern California, but the exposure and elevation gain
were brutal.  It’s also the most fun I’ve
had on a hike thus far, and I came back with some really cool stories to tell!   The total hike was somewhere around 11 miles,
but as you’ll see, that’s approximate because we got lost…

Mt San Antonio, affectionately referred
to by locals as Mt Baldy, is the most easily seen summit from most of Southern
California.  On the rare instances it’s
covered with snow it’s breathtaking.  I’ve
taken many hikes around the base of this mountain, and was eager to make the
summit. 

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We woke up very early and drove up to
the trailhead, stopping first at Denny’s for an early breakfast.  After signing the trail register we were off
around 6:30am.  

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The trail seemed to follow a service
road, and probably a ski run during the winter. 

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Check out this awesome yucca! 
Beautiful!

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We watched the sun rise around the mountain
as we hiked.  It was cool watching the
shadow on the mountainside lower as the day went on. 

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Even though it’s July, there were
several patches of snow along the trail. I found this interesting, since I hadn’t
seen snow on Mt San Gorgonio last September, or much on Mt San Jacinto last
year, and this mountain is lower in elevation. 
I didn’t know there could be snow at 9000 feet in July?

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As I said before, this hike was
brutal.  The elevation gain of almost
4000 feet in 5 miles was a killer!  I had
to keep stopping to rest, and couldn’t help but think there had to be an easier
way.  

However, summiting felt amazing!  Someone had properly placed an American flag
at the summit.

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Because it was only a 5 mile hike, we summited
early in the day, and had the rest of the day to “play”.  I took advantage of the rare site of Southern
California snow. 

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Check out these Bighorn Sheep!  They were grazing at the summit.  I tried to get closer, but as soon as they
heard me the entire herd bolted to the right. 
I was shocked and amazed to watch them run directly over this cliff and
about 1000 feet straight down, out of site! 
Wow!  Amazing animals!  They didn’t come back the rest of the trip. 

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We only saw one other person on the peak
that day.  He was wearing a full backpack,
which seemed odd as he was obviously on a day hike.  As he approached the summit we greeted
him.  He took off his backpack and
unloaded about a dozen cantaloupe sized rocks. 
He smiled sheepishly and said “I’m training for backpacking.  I get these rocks from the wash at the base
of the mountain, and unload them when I reach the summit. I’m going to
seriously confuse some future geologist some day.  Can you imagine what they’ll think when they
find these here?” 

Around 3pm I set up the tent near what
appeared to be a rock wall and decided to take a quick nap before making dinner
and exploring again. 

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I was only in the
tent for about half an hour when I awoke to a loud buzzing sound.  I opened the tent flap and quickly realized I
was surrounded by a swarm of bees!  I
dashed outside of the tent and drug it to safety.  Apparently these bees lived in the rock
wall.  They’d been gone for the day doing
their thing and had come back to rest for the night. 

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I found a better place to set up
camp.  And check out those views!

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The sunset was by far the best one I’ve
seen to date.

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We were completing a loop, so the next
morning after breaking down camp we headed west down the Devil’s Backbone,
aptly named.

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Somewhere along Miner’s Bowl we lost the
trail, or it disappeared on purpose?  Even
after studying the map several times I’m not exactly sure which, but I could
tell where we were, so we descended the obvious ski slope until we found the
trail again.

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All in all, this is my favorite hike so
far.  It was intense, but summiting early
allowed me to really enjoy the mountain. 
I’m so glad this wasn’t just a day hike!

Mt San Gorgonio

Mt San Gorgonio (11,501ft) via Fish Creek, elevation gain 3390ft

For those of you who
don’t often hike mountains, the hiking of 11,501.6 feet (and I say that so
precisely for a reason) may not know what an accomplishment the hiking of Mt.
San Gorgonio is for someone who lives at sea level.  Well, it’s a big deal, and I’m going to gloat
for a bit 🙂

OK, gloating done.  Here’s the story. 

Because California backcountry
trails are so regulated I had to apply for a permit to take this hike months 3 ago.  If you’re caught on a trail without a permit
(or a shovel) you can face a hefty fine. 
I was so excited when it came in the mail!

Friday night we left at
about 10:30pm and drove to the trailhead so we could get a fresh start on the
trail in the morning.  We made it there
at about 12:45am.  It was dark and cold,
and we were the only ones there.  This
tired mama didn’t much care, and fell asleep instantly. 

At about 7am I woke up
to noises outside the car.  Other hikers
had arrived and were ready to go. 
Literally.  They just parked their
cars, put on their hiking gear, and were gone. 
I should stop here to note they were all day hikers, hiking with just a
water bottle.  We had heavier backpacking
gear, intending to spend the night at the summit. 

Well, I woke up, brushed
my hair and teeth, made sure I had the map and keys, and we were on our way by
7:30am. 

We immediately hiked
through a meadow, and came upon the namesake of this trailhead:  “Fish Creek”. 
When you look at the creek you wonder about the name… it doesn’t look
like any fish could live in that creek! 
It was really more like a trickle, and from the looks of it, even heavy
rains probably don’t make it much bigger. 
Maybe one time someone caught a minnow or something and thought to name
it Fish Creek.  Or the guy who named it
had the last name of Fish and thought it would be a fun joke. 

Well, Fish Creek was the
last place that had any water on the entire trail.  The trees were all dry, and the ground looked
like it hadn’t rained or snowed for years. 
Dry, dry, dry.

Here’s the first glimpse
of the peak.

It looked so far away,
and I knew it was even further than it looked. 
At the halfway point I noticed the trail was really poorly marked, so I
got out my orange marking tape and marked some of the trees.

Here I noticed someone
had left their water bottle (presumably to use on the way back down), which
seemed like a genius idea!  This is so
much smarter than carrying extra water all the way up.  That is, as long as you don’t run out with
what you have and someone else doesn’t take it first. 

We continued hiking, and
came upon a plane wreck from WWII.


It looked like a nasty
crash.  There were plane parts and debris
scattered all over the mountain.  When
the wind blew, the pieces of metal swaying in the wind made an eerie
sound.  We sat there for a few minutes
and wondered if it fell while trying to climb the mountain, or if it hit the
mountain straight on.

Now began the
switchbacks.  As far as I’m concerned,
switchback is a four letter word. As soon as I thought we were at the last one,
another one came into view.  There were
3.2 miles of switchbacks on this trail! 
UGH!  There has to be a better
way!!!


As you can see from the
topo map, once we were done with the switchbacks we had to circle the mountain
to summit.  That part really wasn’t too
bad, except we were at the end of the hike, and pretty tired by this
point.  Every time we made it around
another turn we just knew we had to be there, only to see more schist, slate,
and shale.


Finally I saw a sign
that said we were .4mi away.  I wanted to
start running, but couldn’t. It was all uphill and I was out of breath.  I took a bit of a break and noticed there was
a lot of Bighorn Sheep scat on the trail. 
I hoped we’d see some animals too.

This was where we were
passed by an INSANE person.  He was all
by himself, dressed in red, carrying nothing more than a water backpack and two
hiking poles.  He was RUNNING across the
trails.  He looked as if he were cross
country skiing sans snow!  This guy was a
maniac, and he was doing all 9 peaks in one day!  Later, when we talked to a ranger below, we
were told he does this weekly.  He parks
his car at the trailhead and leaves his bike at another.  He hikes, runs, and then bikes back to his
car.  Insane I tell you!  And it’s about 50+ miles to boot!

The view from the summit
was incredible! I could see a complete 360 degree view of all of Southern
California. 

I saw freeways, and knew
there must be cars on them, even if I couldn’t see the cars themselves. I found
the summit box with journals to write logs of our hike, and to sign the
register announcing I’d made it to the top. 
There was also a box with an American Flag inside.  I was a bit upset to find it all rolled
up.  I took a few pictures with it,
folded it up properly, and put it back into the box.

I met a lot of nice
people at the summit.  Some who hike all
the time and had tales of the Grand Canyon and the like.  I even talked to 3 older men (in their 60s)
who were currently on their way to Mount Whitney.  Can you believe that?  And we thought our hike was long!  More power to them!  There was a group of students there from Cal
State Fullerton who were there for a geology class, and a bunch of brothers who
were on a family hike with their father. 
Everyone was nice, and the conversations were great!  It was a really enjoyable time. 


Being really tired, we
set up and slept in the tent for about half an hour. Then we went out on the
summit again to look for the elevation market (we hadn’t been able to find it
before).  A couple of guys had actually
found it, and clued us in.  It was pretty
hard to find, only about 2 inches in diameter.

It did say the elevation
of Mt San Gorgonio (as of 1989) was 11501.6 feet.  This is a big deal because maps like to quote
it as being only 11499 feet, and so does the patch you can buy at the ranger
station.  When you hike mountains, and
want to brag, every inch counts. 
Seriously, this is a big deal!  I
talked with a ranger after the hike and he told me the mountain is actually
growing, so it’s probably taller now. (Edited in 2017 to add it’s now measured
at 11,503 ft).

The last hikers left at
about 4pm and from then on new had the whole mountaintop to ourselves!  We cooked dinner and ate on the peak and
walked around surveying the area.  Some
really smart people had set up walls of rocks, kind of like makeshift Indian
ruins, to block out the intense winds so you could set up your tent out of the
wind.  So we could hear, but not feel,
the wind all night.

After dinner we went to
bed early.  Mainly because we were
exhausted, and we could go to bed:  no
kids to take care of J  We had
mummy sleeping bags that kept us pretty warm, even in the 20 degree
temperatures.  There was no dew on the
inside of the tent thanks to our waterproofing it last week.  All in all, a pretty enjoyable night… much
better than the one on Mt. San Jacinto.

I woke up at 8am to
bright sunlight and amazing views.  After
breaking down camp and eating breakfast I looked for some small rocks to bring
back for the kids.  I took in a last view
of all of Southern California, and started back down.  We breezed down the mountain.  It’s so much easier to hike down!  We made it back to the car by 1:30pm.  Amazing!

On the way down we saw a
bunch of day hikers.  Mostly people who
had slept at Dry Lake the night before and were hiking the rest of the way
today.  We talked to about 30 people who
had over-nighted it at Dry Lake, and concluded it must be a pretty full
campground. It was cool to know we were the only ones on the peak, with no one
there to bother us.  I don’t think I
would have wanted to camp with so many other people I didn’t know. Interesting
conversation, I’m sure, but not too peaceful.

We also met up with a
guy who was carrying 40lbs of water.  For
just a day hike.  Nuts!  He had two 20lb jugs of water on his back,
and was debating whether or not he could make the climb. He also said he was
sure he needed that much water.  I told
him to leave host of his water halfway up, and he could claim it if he needed
it on the way down. 

Next we came upon an ill
prepared scout troop.  By this time they
were only about 3 miles from the trailhead, and these boys already looked
exhausted!  They had just begun their
ascent, and it was already past noon. 
The boys were red in the face, lethargic, and more than a bit
grumpy.  It was really hot, and they were
thinking only about half of their troop would make it.  I doubt any of them did. They were only
carrying one water bottle each and they were already worn out.  I hope they made it, but seriously doubt they
did.  I told them maybe the guy with
40lbs of water could help them out?

After that it was an
easy hike to the bottom.  I spotted a doe
with two fawns, and some bear markings on trees (but no bears). We passed Fish
Creek again, and caught a frog.

That last mile was a bit
grueling, but only because we had hiked for so long already.  Estimates vary, but we hiked an entire 25
mile hike!  Woohoo!  We made it!

We hopped into the car,
threw on the air conditioning, and drove to the rangers’ station, where we
bought out traditional souvenir patches, and this time we bought pins to put
onto our backpacks (replicas of the marker on the summit).  I looked in the mirror and noticed I had
quite the sunburn.  I was red all over,
and there were blisters on my nose, despite my use of sunscreen.  Oh well! 
We ate at a really greasy spoon, and then headed home.  We were back home by 4pm, greeted by hugs and
kisses from the kids. 

So, compared to Mt. San
Jacinto, I would have to say this hike was a bit easier.  It was definitely longer, but less aggressive
elevation wise. Except of course for those switchbacks!  Mt. San Gorgonio is about 667 feet higher
than San Jacinto, and considered to be more difficult.  So I’m thinking maybe it was easier because
we knew what to expect?  Or maybe because
we were expecting it to be more difficult and thus planned accordingly. 

I found it was actually
easier to hike with a pack than with the water pack around my waist I carried
last time.  (Last time I was always off balance). 

Just remember:  It’s higher than it looks.  It’s longer than it looks. It’s harder than
it looks.  I had a great time, and
besides a few easy backpacking hikes though San Mateo Canyon, Mt Baldy is
next.  Anyone wanna join me?

Backpacking Mt. San Jacinto

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We
made it!  Check it out… we hiked Mt San
Jacinto:  10,834 feet and back again in 2
days!  Read on for all the exciting
details…

 

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It
all started Saturday morning when we left for the hike.  We stopped by the rangers’ station to use the
restroom one last time and to find out if there was anything else we needed to
know about the hike.   It was going to be
long, and when we asked the ranger how long it should take to climb to the top
he responded “If you ask me, 7 days”.  He
was being facetious, but towards the end of the hike I realized there was some
validity to his statement. 

To
hike in California you need a permit.  We
secured ours months ago…

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I
bought a couple of patches that said “I climbed Mt San Jacinto” and we were
off.

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We
parked one car at the Deer Springs trailhead and took the other to the Fuller
Ridge trailhead, which happened to be about 8 miles down a dirt road.  We parked the car, displayed our forest
adventure pass, and donned our hiking gear.

 

I
held the water, snacks, and first aid kits. 
Matt and Tim had packs too.  I had
the least to carry out of everyone, which is why I didn’t tire as fast as
everyone else.

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Matt
and Tim did their exercises while I took some pictures.  I should have warmed up, but I foolishly didn’t
think it was necessary for a hike.  That
would come back to haunt me later.  We
began the hike at a pretty steady pace. 
The elevation began to climb continuously, and after an hour we realized
this was going to be harder than expected.

 

After
about 2 hours of steady climbing we reached Castle Rocks, which was an
elevation of 8600 feet, and had a great view of both sides of the
mountain.  At about this time I noticed a
sharp pain in my right thigh (by the Iliopaoas and Pectineus muscles… in other
words, right where your pelvic bone and thigh meet).  It hurt, but I figured if I just kept walking
it would smooth itself out and eventually go away.

 

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We
continued hiking.  After about 2 more
hours we found a spring with running water! 
The guys rushed down to it and began soaking their head.  The water was ice cold but felt great!  It was a nice, refreshing interlude.  And, since our campsite was supposed to be
near a spring, we figured we must be getting close.  My thigh was really starting to hurt, and I
was beginning to think “walking it out” wasn’t going to work. 

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We
finally hit the “5 mile mark”!  Oh boy,
were we excited!  This junction meant we
were more half way and we might even make it before dark!  Before we’d set out, our plans were to hike
to the campground, set up camp, and then hike to the peak.  Then in the morning we were going to hike
back down, make a side trip to Suicide Rock, and head back.  However, by this time we were revamping our
plans.

From
the 5 mile junction things got a little more difficult.  We began another ascent, this time to the top
of Newton Drury Peak, and every 5 minutes or so we kept thinking “We have got
to be almost there…”.  We passed a lot of
people who were hiking back down.  All of
them had smiles on their faces (while ours were set in determined lines) and
they promised us we were “almost there”. 
It was amazing how they all seemed to be enjoying ourselves, when we
were crawling along, taking breaks every 5 minutes to catch our breath. 

We
came to despise those overly optimistic people. 
Especially when we didn’t make it in the hour in a half they’d promised
us it’d take.  Why did they have to lie
to us?  Couldn’t they have told the truth
and said it would be another 3 hours of grueling, uphill switch backs that
never seemed to end?  Literally, these
switchbacks were killing us!  They were
probably only 10 feet long and seemed to climb forever!  They just kept going, and going, and going…

 

We
struggled up the last mile.  There were
times we seriously didn’t think we were going to make it.  I knew from the beginning this was going to
be a difficult hike, but this was getting ridiculous!  We could hardly breathe, let alone move our
feet.  By this time I was using my hands
to help lift my right leg over each and every uphill step, which was every step
I took.  I could only lift my right leg
about 2 inches off the ground if I didn’t use my hands to help.  It was awful. 
I hurt.  I hurt.  I hurt!!!

 

And
I wasn’t the only one!  I could only
imagine how much the guys were hurting, since they were the ones carrying the
packs!  I tried not to complain, but
complain I did.  Luckily for them I wasn’t
complaining as much as I’d wanted to.  I
was screaming and cursing inside but I felt like I had nothing to complain
about, considering I wasn’t wearing a pack. 

 

The
last mile was a killer, and once we finally found the campsite we crashed!

 

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There
were patches of snow around where we were sleeping, so I figured it was going
to be a bit cold. 

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We
hurriedly set up our tents, had a quick canned dinner, and fell asleep while it
was still light out.  It couldn’t have
been later than 5pm.  Gone were our plans
of setting up camp and hiking to the top. 
We just wanted to sleep.  I don’t
think any of us could have made it to the top, no matter how much we’d wanted
to.  I was sore from head to foot, and I
thought (hoped) sleeping would help my thigh 
After lying down in the tent I knew I wouldn’t be getting up for quite a
while.  It hurt just to roll over!

 

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Sleep
proved difficult.  It was indeed cold,
and I was in pain.  The one thing I didn’t
pack was the painkillers.  I had
EVERYTHING else you could possibly need, but the painkillers I’d forgot.  However, I did get more sleep than I would
have at home with the kids… it was just more painful.  And cold. 
Water droplets formed inside the tent and seemed into the sleeping bags…

 

In
the morning (the sun wasn’t up yet) some adventurous Boy Scouts began hiking by
our campsite… multiple times.  These guys
had to be crazy, hiking (LOUDLY) before the sun came up.  I wanted to yell at them to go back to
bed.  However, I got another 1-2 hours of
sleep, only leaving the tent when I had to pee so bad I couldn’t wait any
longer.

 

Matt
and Tim had been up for a while already, so I got ready to hike the peak.  I didn’t actually think I was going to make
it due to my thigh.  It wasn’t any
better, and I knew it was only going to get worse.  But I’d bought those patches, and gosh darn
it, I was going to make it!  I wanted to
be able to wear the patch proudly, knowing I did indeed make it to the top. I
wasn’t going to get this close and not finish. 
Matt and Tim decided they weren’t going to hike to the peak (altitude
sickness) so I decided to hike it alone. Nathan didn’t want me doing that, so
he set out with me.

That
last 1.6 miles was the hardest of the entire hike.  It felt like 5 miles, and I wanted to cry in
pain with every step I took.  I’m sure I
uttered a few explicative’s along the way. 
I don’t know who came up with the idea of switchbacks, but they should
be shot! 

 

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We
finally made it to a little cabin and looked inside.  It seemed to be a place to crash if you made
it to the top and got stuck in a storm, or if it was too late to hike back to
camp or something.  It was a little cabin
with two sets of bunk beds.  No lock on
the door, and a lot of names on the walls obviously written from others who’d
made it this far. 

 

There
was a log book to sign your name, and some Boy Scouts had left a piece of wood
to carve your name into.  I got out my
sharpie.

 

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Now
for the ascent to the top.  There was no
trail to the peak but we could see it 20 yards away so we began climbing.  It was basically an all out, have fun finding
a steady rock to climb on scramble, but we made it!

 

I
spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and resting with a view from one of the
highest mountains in Southern California: 10,834 feet!  It was awesome!  Since it was a clear day I could see Big
Bear, my house, the desert, and all of Southern California!

 

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I
sat down for a minute, and suddenly bees came almost out of nowhere.  There were dozens of them, and that was enough
of a reason to begin the descent. 
Immediately I noticed how much easier it was to hike down than up.  It took about half the time to hike back down
to camp, where we had breakfast and took down the tents.  We all wanted to get back down the mountain.  Soon.

 

Everyone
was tired and sore.  We unanimously
decided the Devils Slide trail would have to wait for another time. We realized
why everyone hiking down when we were hiking up had smiles on their faces:  hiking down was easy!  No problem! 
We were still tired, but hiking down was much preferable to hiking
up.  We exited through a different trail
than we’d entered.  The last 2 hours or
so were difficult (due to my thigh), and I just wanted it to be over with.  Everyone was hurting, I had 7 or 8 blisters
(tried not to complain too much).  I
noticed everyone else was having a much more difficult time than I was, so
while I wanted to yell and gripe and complain I tried to keep it low.  I’m sure I was annoying everyone anyway.  

 

Matt
had blisters.  Tim had blisters.  I had blisters.  When we spotted the car I wanted to cry.  I was aching all over.  I had a hard time just getting myself into
the car.  My left side was no problem,
but I could barely lift my right leg without screaming.  We drove back to the second car, raced out
the 8 mile dirt road, and went to a late lunch. 
We were filthy, but apparently they were used to hikers.  At least they let us eat inside…

 

After
lunch we drove home and the guys went in the spa.  I am really glad I went.  It was tough, but definitely a conversation
piece.  How many people can say they did
what we did?  It was a real learning
experience for me.  I tested my
endurance, and didn’t give up when I could have.  I made it, and I’m proud of myself.  I plan on taking my Girl Scouts when they get
older. 

 

Yes,
I would do it again, but at a slower pace. 
19 miles in 2 days on this trail was grueling.  “Strenuous” and “Aggressive” don’t begin to
describe the difficulty of this hike.  It
was wonderful!  I learned a lot about
myself and what I can do.  I can’t wait
to go backpacking again!  Next time I
want to carry a pack and distribute the trip over more days…