Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting High is Never Easy

Handies Peak, a 14er in the San Juans of Colorado is the highest I have ever been.  But first you have to get to the trail head.  We stayed in Durango (Downtown Durango Innhttp://www.durangodowntowninn.com/  right on the Animas River, dog friendly and a one block walk to restaurants and shops).

It is about a one hour drive to Silverton through beautiful mountian switchbacks.  This was Labor Day weekend and a few Aspens were already turning Colorado gold.  The temperature was a perfect not too hot, not too cold and the sky turned blue as we climbed out of the clouds and then descended into the funky mining town with more character than most any place I have ever visited(see earlier blog http://karenlynnwilliams.blogspot.com/2012/04/writer-and-her-setting-silverton-co.html).  I would have spent the day drinking at The Avalance Cafe a tiny restaurant ringed in a fence made of old skis and poking in art shops and quirky antique joints or just taking in the ambience of the one horse town but we had work to do.

"I don't want to sound like a wus,"  I told our friend who has hiked several 14ers this year, "but really how bad is the off- roading to get to the trail head?"  I had heard of her other adventures, getting hung up on a rock for example at the edge of a two hundred foot drop when she found herself contemplating leaping out and letting the dogs go.  Obviously she made it through the pass that time.  But that was another story.

We had to go to American Basin and then 4 wheel it for about an hour through Cinnemon Pass.  I admit the sceneray was breathtaking...so was the cliff along which we drove.  I was certain our rear wheels were fishtailing off the edge everytime we made another switchback.  No fear, my husband has added "Oh shit handles"  to our jeep and I had my fist white knuckled around them.  Our little two door vehicle with short wheel base and high clearance did just fine.

There we were parked at the trail head looking up at Handies surrounded by mountain peaks, peaks behind peaks for 180 degrees.  There we were with at least 30 other hikers who had picked the Labor Day weekend for a possible last hike of the season.   There we were with at least 10 hikers who were under the age of well...10, some toddlers in backpacks, some a tad older on their own two feet.  Reena was with us and she had plenty of canine friends too.

This was going to be a cinch.  We were already at about 12000 feet with only 2000 to go.  I figure at 60 I was the oldest one on the mountain that day...it kind of felt like Everest on that fateful climb with all those groups going up at once, too many as it turned out....well at least the image came to mind for me.

The trail began fairly easy, level in fact but quickly turned to up hill scree.  Scree is a good way to sprain an ankle.  I take it slow.  I also have trouble breathing at 12000 feet even though I live in Chinle Arizona at 5500 feet and walk everyday.  Like I said I was the oldest one on the moutain and I suspect everyone else there lived in Durango at at least 6,500 feet.   They all had the advantage.

Steve coached me up..."try taking 60-100 steps and then stop for a breather."

"That's what I've been doing only I shoot for 10 -30 steps."

I was the tail as usual.  More scree, more switchbacks, the air got thinner.

We were about 500 feet from the top.  We had already made it passed the saddle.  "What does it mean if your fingers are tingling?"  I asked Steve.  At first I thought it was from the cold.  It got chilly up there pretty fast.

"You're breathing too much,"  he said.

Really?  I should have been climbing AND holding my breath?  I sat down in hopes that my heart would stop trying to pound it's way out of my chest.  500 feet from the top was fine with me.  I didn't feel the need to make it to the top. (Competition is not my middle name).  It gave the few stragglers who began later than we had plenty of time to pass me.    Those coming down, the ones who had trotted up earlier all declared I was nearly there and wouldn't regret making the summit.   What did they know?  The view from here was just fine.

When my fingers felt better than completely numb I started to the top.  After a 15 minute sit down, the final assent was a peice of cake...well anyway not too bad.  The veiw was worth the brush with death from hypoxia.

We had just enough time for a few photos, some trail mix and suddenly dark gray clouds were threatening rain.(I am the one who looks like she is going to pass out).

The way down was faster with...obviusly less labored breathing and no tingling fingers.  We did get some hail which our friend told us delightedly, "I am so glad you got some weather. Everyone who hikes Handies gets hail."  Right and then it rained.  All that remained was to four wheel out on slick rock and mud.  I could hardly wait.

The Pale Ale at The Avalanche Cafe was the best I've ever had and I really don't even like beer all that much.  Getting high is another thing.


gailr said...
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gailr said...
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gailr said...

great story Karen!!! I'm so proud of you! too funny and so typical that steve told you were breathing too much. We jeeped Cinnamon Pass last year - it was pretty scary in some places!

gailr said...

great story Karen!!! I'm so proud of you! too funny and so typical that steve told you were breathing too much. We jeeped Cinnamon Pass last year - it was pretty scary in some places!