Once the snow stopped falling in late June (yes – late June!), I was able to get up in the mountains. Like way up. Like up to the continental divide at 12k feet. That’s where the magic happens.
I love hiking with a goal. A lake, a waterfall, a mountain top, or just a great view. The Rockies have all of that! I spent most of my time this summer hiking up to the divide. I enjoy the long hike, the workout, the views, and just doing something most people don’t do.
The wildflowers this summer have been spectacular. Every week, a new species has been in bloom. It often looks like a garden that’s been intentionally planted.
The colors, shapes, and sizes of the flowers are astounding and pictures just can’t do it justice.
Getting there though has not been easy. I’m still struggling with a high heart rate (170+) just hiking. It’s both frustrating and depressing. The good news/bad news is that my lab work is now perfect. PERFECT. So…what could possibly be the reason? Back to doing more research.
Meanwhile, more hiking, more views, more lakes, streams, waterfalls, and joy.
It was New Year’s Eve, the night you make your resolutions. I knew in my heart what I wanted – I wanted to go back to Colorado. The majesty of the Rockies, the 300 days of sunshine, the seasons, the opportunities were all calling me. I made a resolution to spend the summer there somehow.
Waiting at the start
It was only a week later that I received a call from my sister asking me to come back for more work in Vail! I had a previous commitment until the middle of the month, Rally in the Valley – a three-day race with camping in Nevada’s Valley of Fire. I set my schedule to leave the day after that finished. Rally in the Valley was my first race in quite some time. Having not been well with Hashimoto’s, there was no motivation to put myself in a position of likely failure, or at least a disappointing performance. But, I had been feeling well and the race went great. I enjoyed the views, the friendships, and just being outdoors for three straight days.
I took off Monday morning for Vail with alpine skis, cross country skis, and snowshoes in tow. Staying again at the hotel I was working at in Vail, I spent the weekends trying new winter sports. I went skate skiing a few times and snow shoeing a few times. Apparently, my alpine skis were quite the hit in the ski shop and they thought they belonged in the local museum, haha. After that, I was afraid to use them since they were so old, even though they looked in perfect condition!
Looking out over Horseshoe Bend
I did spend more time with my date, who I feel so compatible with and so comfortable with. We even traveled together to his 50 mile race in Page, AZ. I had done the 50K version previously and had also been to Page a few times, so I got to be the tour guide. Along the way, we stopped at Moab, Monument Valley, Glen Canyon Dam, Horseshoe Bend, and Marble Canyon. During race day, I met him at the aid stations, making sure he got what he needed before he left. He ended up placing 17th out of about 260 people! He’s an animal.
In all, I was there another two months, but made solid plans to come back. While on a hiking Meetup, I met a new friend who invited me to stay with her for May. I can’t wait to come back!
Although I had a terrific summer, it seemed (healthwise) that something was off. I was, again, sleeping 9-10 hours every night, sleeping and working with my heating pad (I was back to being cold), and gained about 7 lbs. It was in late September, when I had labs done, that my endocrinologist told me my TSH was 5.6 – higher than it was when I was first diagnosed. I was so grateful I could have kissed her! I thought for sure she was going to say my numbers were fine, it was all in my head. Luckily, she had me double my dose of levothyroxine.
Shortly after that appointment, my sister called to ask me to come work with her in Vail on a short-term project. She thought maybe one month (it ended up being 9 weeks). I jumped at the chance. Having had such an amazing time in Colorado back in August, I was eager to return. So I cleared my calendar, dropped off the dogs, packed my things, and headed back. I joined her to work on the renovation and reintroduction of the Hotel Talisa in Vail. It was a wonderful experience, outside of what I normally do. Part project management, part repair girl, part gopher girl, it was really fun and the days flew by.
Stunning fall colors
While I was there, I was sure to get out every weekend to hike and explore. One of my very first hikes was to Lake Deluge. It was a 10 mile roundtrip with 3000 feet of climbing. It was a beast! But, oh, the fall colors. It was as if the aspens were blooming. Colors of yellows, oranges, reds, and greens against a bright blue sky was just stunning. Though it was a difficult hike, it was well worth it. The pictures don’t even do it justice!
Quirky ski fence
When I wasn’t hiking, I was taking road trips. About mid-October, I took a drive up to go see the Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, it had snowed the day before and they just closed most of the park. I decided to go ahead and get out to see what I could. I left Vail heading east on I-70 then hit the Peak to Peak highway, as the quickest (and most scenic) way to Estes Park. I had no idea how beautiful that was going to be. Around every bend, the views were jaw-dropping. The mountains were out in their full glory and there were quirky sights to see along the way.
Cabin at Lake Deluge
Another memorable hike I did was to Gore Lake. The few snows we had did not melt on that trail. I was in snow for about 3/4 of the whole hike, including up to my knees near the top. The snow made the 13 mile roundtrip with 3500 feet of gain topping out at over 12000 feet, even more difficult that Lake Deluge. I could walk 10-20 steps at a time before stopping to catch my breath. But it was such a zen time to be outside. The sun was warm, the snow was bright, the sky was blue, and everything seemed right with the world. I live for moments like that.
I decided since I was a captive audience and since I love the Colorado mountains, I would see if there was anyone I might be interested in on one of my online dating sites. Unfortunately, you have to comb through pages of profiles, many of them not serious ones, to find a few gems. One of those gems that I reached out to, wrote me back and actually sounded like a decent guy. I’ve had my share of flakes. We met for dinner at a brewpub in Frisco and talked for several hours. It was such an easy conversation. We agreed to meet two days later for a hike.
Saturday, we met just east of Loveland Pass to do a 6 mile roundtrip hike up Herman’s Gulch. We walked, talked, and learned about each other for the next couple hours. He kindly waited for me when I stopped to catch my breath. At the top, we found a beautiful lake. After a brief snack, we continued over to a ridge with a great view both south and eastward. After returning back to our cars, he asked me to lunch in Georgetown, a very quaint, old mining town, where we continued to learn about each other. That’s when I found out he was leaving for 3 weeks on a trip and wouldn’t be back until just before I was to leave Vail and I wasn’t sure if there really was anything there yet.
Bighorn sheep rutting
On my final week in Vail, Thanksgiving week, my daughter came to visit. She and I worked at the hotel every day except Thanksgiving, when we took a trip north, past Winter Park. We had planned to make a big loop before heading back to our dinner reservations in Dillon, but we had so much fun exploring, that time ran out on us and we drove straight back from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. But, that was after we saw some great things along the way! Pulling off I-70 to hit I-40, my daughter saw bighorn sheep on the side of the hill. I quickly pulled over so we could take a look and take some pics. As we were watching, they suddenly began ramming their heads – it was rutting season and we got to witness it! Later on, we also saw a heard of elk.
Herd of elk
Friday before I left, I had to take her back to Denver to the airport. I knew I would be passing by the area that my date lives in so I asked if he wanted to meet for dinner. We met up in Golden, which I had never been to before. It is a charming town! Super cute, super walkable, young, and vibrant. We ended up at a little Nepalese restaurant at the top of the hill. I had never had Nepalese food before but it was terrific. I even tried the Yak. After sitting there for probably 3 hours, we got up and walked around the town for another hour. It was as if neither of us wanted the night to end. When he asked me if I wanted to go hiking in the morning, I happily accepted.
View from Golden Gate Canyon SP
We met at his house and hiked in the state park that his property bordered. Afterwards, he made me lunch and we shared pictures and stories from our pasts. Dinner, breakfast, hiking, dinner, breakfast again, and I could feel I was falling for this guy. But, the time had come that we had to part ways. I had to go back to Vail so I could pack up and head home. It was an awkward goodbye that felt very unfinished. In subsequent conversations, we haven’t decided where this will go – or if it will at all.
Back home, back to reality, it almost seems like it was a dream. If so, it is one I will continue to replay for days to come.
Well, it’s been an interesting summer, to say the least. Not having much in the way of paid work in August, I decided to take a 3-week road trip. It’s ungodly hot in Mesquite pretty much all summer long, and August was no exception. So, I dropped the dogs at the dog sitters, and took off.
First stop, Grand Junction. I spent the evening with good friends who also have a home in Mesquite. They are just such fun to be around. We enjoyed dinner and a nice neighborhood walk, looking up at the Colorado National Monument that is just outside their back door. She showed me the damage a recent flash flood had done to the creek behind her house. Fortunately, the homes were high enough that they were ok.
Next stop, Vail. My sister is on a long-term work project there and invited me to come stay with her. A free place to stay in Vail for the summer? Sure! Vail is gorgeous in the summer time. Mountains and meadows, lakes and flowers. Fresh air. I have always loved the mountains. There is something so majestic and strong about them. And, there’s that feeling once you complete a climb to the top that is just so satisfying. It’s raw beauty and nature at it’s finest.
Hiking in Vail
I hiked and explored the town and trails nearby. My sister and I went out for happy hour at nice restaurants. I attended a wonderful concert on the lawn in nearby Avon with some good friends I’d known in Seattle that moved to Colorado. I was even there for the eclipse and got some great pictures. My 10 day visit was amazing and so special. But, it was time to move on. I spent one night with my same Seattle, now Colorado, friends who suggested I drive up Mt. Evans, a local 14’er.
View from Mt. Evans
The next morning, I did just that. The narrow, winding road dropped off steeply. There were no guard rails. Fortunately, I was often on the inside lane. Once up top, the views were astounding. 360 degree views of all of Colorado. A mother mountain goat laid on the rocks with her two babies. There were remnants of an old structure made of rock. On the way back down, I stopped for a herd of bighorn sheep. They were just feet away from me, cautiously watching as I took pictures.
Iceberg Lake in Glacier NP
My adventure continued as I drove in to Denver, having lunch with friends and then dinner and a sleep over with another. It’s moments like these that I really treasure. The sights are one thing, but friendships are very special to me. That is where memories are created. Speaking of friends, I left Denver the next morning and headed north to Glacier NP to see my friend Karen who took a job as a park ranger there.
My friend Karen hiking in Glacier NP
Karen and I have become fast friends, having so much in common. We enjoyed the days hiking in the park and the chatting away the evenings of a glass of wine. We talked about hiking, working, dreams, goals, friends, and everything else two girls choose to talk about. I saw a black bear, a female moose, a male moose, a grizzly bear (through a telescope), a mountain goat, and many smaller critters. Unfortunately, there were terrible wildfires nearby that clouded the view and even made it hard to breathe.
We made way for the mountain goat
Heading back home, I stopped at one more friend’s home in Park City, UT. What a beautiful place. We also shared good times, thoughts on the world, had dinner on her deck on a warm summer night, and did some hiking. And, just like that, it was over. I was back home and back to the daily routine. Memories safely tucked away to recall again in those quiet moments.
I giggled to myself with excitement when the plans were confirmed. We were crossing the Grand Canyon again!
Karen, Gary, and I set a date, or rather the availability of rooms set our date for late October. Just after the North Rim closed. Given my health issues this past year and how I had been feeling, I was anxious to prove I was still ok. Also, I was anxious to show my new friend Karen the Canyon as a one day trip. She had backpacked across previously but never done a single day crossing. She wasn’t sure she could!
We decided to camp out the night before at the North Rim campground. Karen got there first and saved a spot. Gary and I drove up together, arriving just after her. We set up camp, then wandered around the campground and visited the lodge. Looking across the canyon, I anticipated the next day’s crossing. I was sure it would go well.
My trusty companions
We started just after sunrise, about 7am. It really wasn’t cold and we had a nice jog down the first few miles. That is, until Karen took a spill and powdered her face and cut her hand. She was ok and we continued on. It was a pretty day and mostly uneventful down to Phantom Ranch where we stopped for a snack and drink.
From there, we started up the hill. Bright Angel trail is a beast and the day was warming up. I soaked my shoes in every stream crossing but they dried quickly. I was doing really well…until I wasn’t. With four miles to go, at Indian Gardens, I started falling apart.
It was like all of the sudden I had nothing. Nothing but a gut ache. I had no energy left and felt nauseous. Karen and Gary were a ways ahead but then would stop and wait. I would take 10 steps and was out of breath. With three miles to go, I threw up but there was nothing there but the remains of the water I was sipping. I think it took three hours to go three miles. It was sheer misery.
Having waited for quite a while at the top, Gary came back down to look for me and coaxed me up. It was long after dark. Just out of the canyon, I had to throw up again so crouched by the sidewalk trying not to be noticed. We waited for the bus to take us to the lodge, but when it came, it was packed. I tried to wave it on, but the people on the bus offered seats. I prayed I wouldn’t throw up on the bus.
I made it through the 20 minute bus ride and we got checked in. Unfortunately, it was another half mile or more walk to our room. I suggested we get food at the cafeteria before heading to the room. I sat with my head on the table while Gary and Karen ate. A wave of nausea hit me again and I threw up on the table with my head in my arms, hoping no one would notice. Once I got back to the room and laid down, I started to feel better.
Grand Canyon never disappoints!
The next day I was totally fine. We had a nice breakfast, except for the horrible service. It was so bad, I complained to the manager and she comped our meal and gave us lunch free too! We toured the canyon having a completely enjoyable day. Karen and I even earned our Junior Ranger badges!
Spectacular sunrise on South Kaibab
Heading down the canyon on South Kaibab at sunrise is always a treat. The views are spectacular and you feel one with the canyon. I did my best to stay hydrated, even chugging my water bottle empty as we approached Phantom Ranch. I avoided their lemonade and drank another bottle of water instead. As we geared up, my stomach suddenly felt ill. I quickly ran over to the bushes and threw up again!
Crap! Now what? There is no way out except up. And, I certainly didn’t want to hold back my companions. What the heck? After sitting for a few minutes, I felt better. But now, I was angry. Why me? Why do I have that body? I offered to take Gary’s hiking poles and then stormed ahead. I hiked fast and hard. It’s funny what anger can do. I stayed 10-15 minutes ahead of them all along Bright Angel to the ranger station.
That’s where the climb really starts. I have always done fine here, surprisingly. This time was fine too. A little tougher but ok. The last two miles were tough and they were out quite a bit before me, but I made it. We hit Jacob’s Lake for dinner and a room with a shower.
Overall, it was another wonderful but challenging crossing. Karen did excellent. Gary was strong and supportive as always. Me? I’m still a work in progress.
Every run we go on is influenced by the natural world around us. The weather, the terrain, the type of surface we are running on, flora and fauna, and the visuals of everything around us all have some level of influence on every mile we run. I think this is the number-one thing that makes running such an appealing activity. In a sense, because of these influences, every run we do, to varying degrees, is different than any run we’ve ever done before. This can play out in very subtle ways, and it can play out in very extreme ways. Geoff Roes – Ultrarunner
The sun was setting, we were stuck, and I was ready to call search and rescue — it was that extreme.
Nice start to the trail.
June is always hot in Mesquite, with most days being over 100 degrees. But this week, was unusually hot. Temperatures were expected at about 116 making Dirty Thursday on the fully-exposed mesa not very appealing. Fortunately, there is a nice area in Utah, about an hour and a half from here, called Pine Valley. It sits at about 6200 feet and is fully forested, so it’s much cooler. I have been there once before and decided to try another trail in the area. This one would be about a 14 mile loop, that tops out over 10,000 feet.
Lush forest of aspens and pines.
Gary, my friend and running partner, met me at 6:00am and we hit the trail at 7:30. It was beautiful. The air was cool and, there were wildflowers and lush grasses. It was so close, but so very different from the desert. We hiked up the trail, which climbed over 4000 ft, and began seeing views through the trees that you would expect to see from an airplane window.
At one point, we came to a fork in the trail. There was some signage, but the names and arrows meant nothing to us based on the trail name we were on and where we were going. I knew we needed to keep left, and it was the right choice. I really wished the map I printed from the forest service website would have shown the little side trails for reference.
We could see for miles at over 10K feet high.
We topped out near Mt. Burger, but the trail forked again–the left fork continuing to climb and the right fork dropping. No signage this time. After a few minutes spent questioning and analyzing our options, we heard some voices down the right trail fork. We started down the right fork, but lost the voices as we came into a clearing where the trail seemed to disappear. We sat on a log, had some food and drink, and tried to pull up a more detailed map on my phone–which, oddly enough, got great reception at that point. I noticed some people out on a point, so Gary went to ask them if they knew which way.
“Keep going on this trail and follow the cairns,” they said. We set out again, looking for cairns. We would find one and have to stop and look around for the next. Was that a cairn or just a pile of rocks? There was no real trail, but we were able to carry on, finding what we believed to be cairns. We even came across a few leftover patches of snow.
At about mile 7, the trail opened up onto a beautiful meadow! The trail was cut neatly through the grasses and seemed so obvious. We joyfully trotted down the trail, which followed a nice little creek. It was gorgeous. But that all came to a screeching halt as the trail faded away.
We wandered around looking for signs of a trail but found nothing. Gary suggested going back the way we came, but I was not keen on climbing back up and I really wanted to make the full loop. Having been on the other end of the ridge, on a similar meadow, I was sure this creek and meadow would lead us in the right direction. I convinced Gary I was 90% sure this would work.
Navigation the boulders and treefall.
And then, the creek went underground. There was no more grassy meadow, just a forest floor littered with hundreds of fallen trees that we began to pick our way around. At this point, we knew we were off trail but didn’t think we would have time to turn around and return the way we came. We continued down the creek line, scrambling down boulders and climbing over fallen trees.
In the back of my mind, I worried at some point we might come to a cliff we could not manage. Every time this appeared likely, we somehow managed to get down. Thankfully, he is tall and can get himself down and then help me down. When it wasn’t boulder-scrambling, it was log-hopping and making our way through the densest underbrush, complete with stinging nettles, stickers, and biting ants. The underbrush was 4-5ft high and fallen logs crossed our path by the thousands. It was extremely slow going as we continually climbed over and under logs, pushed brush out of our way, and crawled over boulders. We were moving at about a mile every two hours. Barkley ain’t got nothing on us. Gary must have hit his head 5 times crawling under logs. I took a nasty fall when a log I was on broke, and a couple other falls when branches I was holding onto on the hill broke.
And this was the easy section.
At 14 miles, my watch died. My cell phone had a low battery warning, so I turned it off. My hydration pack was empty, and I had about a half-bottle of water left. Gary was completely out. Things were about to get worse – way worse. We finally hit the wall. The one we could not get down from. The sidewalls of the canyon narrowed and the creek dropped at least 20 feet. I sat and cried, though the tears were dry. Gary yelled cuss words into the wilderness which seemed to echo off the walls. Feeling defeated, he sat next to me. I apologized for my poor, selfish decision.
I thought to myself, “This is how people die. I am one of those people.” I was not prepared to be there any longer, let alone after dark when temps would be in the 40’s. With all seriousness, I suggested we call search and rescue using the only ounce of battery left on my phone, but Gary was not ready to give up.
It was about 7pm local time and the sun was low in the sky as he scrambled up a steep side hill behind us. He didn’t know if we could cut across and back down the hill, below the cliff, or if we would again meet the cliff with no way down. It was worth a try and he told me to follow him. The hill was steep and we were holding on to any plant or rock we could so we wouldn’t slide down. I was so dehydrated at this point, my mouth felt like paper. I was nauseous and dizzy, and couldn’t think straight. We were in the last hours of the direct sun and just wanted to lay down. But, I knew I had to keep going while we had daylight and pushed ahead, taking one or two steps and then resting a moment.
Route before watch died.
We got to the ridge line of the steep hill and tried to go down below the cliff, but weren’t confident we could get below it yet. So we continued higher on the ridge and looked over the edge. I was so afraid it would be another cliff but it was just a very steep, forested hill. We could see town about a mile and a half away. If we could go over this hill and down, we would at least be on flat ground. We weren’t sure if there would be more dense underbrush to navigate though. We went over the ridge and diagonal across the other side, slipping down and getting lower.
As if it were sent from heaven, we reached an open, grassy flat area and our spirits were lifted. Although we weren’t ready to celebrate yet as we still had a ways to go, the cow pies told us we were probably going to be ok. We followed the path the cows had left and found a more defined trail. Soon we came upon a house and it was then we felt finally that we were “out of the woods.” We got back to the car after 11.5 hours on the mountain that should have been more like 6. Our bodies are beaten and scratched but we were ok. Best part was that we didn’t end up on the news.
Lesson learned is that no matter whose trail it is and how confident you feel about it, always bring items for emergencies. At the very least, I should have brought a flashlight, a cell phone we didn’t use, more water, a light jacket, maybe even a knife and twine. Second lesson is, if you reach a point where you can’t find the trail, do NOT keep going.
Totals: 11.5 hours, 17 miles, over 6000 feet gain.
For the past two years, I have gone with my two adventure friends Candy and Gary on an epic journey. First it was running/hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in eight days in 2012. Then it was a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (R2R R2R) in 2013. So, when Candy asked about climbing Mt. Whitney this summer, it was game on.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 49 states, taller than Mt. Rainier but shorter than Alaska’s Denali. There is an 11 mile (22 round trip) trail that takes off from 8000 feet before topping out at 14,496 ft. It wasn’t the easiest trail, being mostly of granite steps, boulders, and 99 switchbacks. The grind only made reaching the summit that much sweeter.
Mt. Whitney is in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in southern California. This is where the famous naturalist, author, and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness, John Muir spent so much of his time. His words resonate with me so much that I thought it fitting to use them in this post with pictures from the trip. Be sure to enjoy the video that follows.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!
Sunrise on the trail
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
In my zone
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.
Junction of the John Muir Trail
Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.
Summit of Mt. Whitney
It was the afternoon of the day and the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the mountains into the sunset.
It took a lot of nerve to sit here
Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
Pristine lake just off the trail
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
One of the 99 switchbacks
Now that you are inspired, go watch the full (4 minute) video. (For best results, view in 1080HD in full screen)