I began to write pieces of this shortly after my hike, but fatigue quickly kicked in. In other words, the timing may not quite add up as you read it. Thankfully, the excruciating pain in every part of my body has now been downgraded to regular adult-like pain.
Mt. Yale: July 26, 2021
I’m writing while I’m in a great deal of physical pain after taking on a couple of, “Yeses”. I am somehow supposed to bowl in four hours, because I also said, “Yes” to being in a bowling league. I’ll have to admit that the bowling league has been fun now that I have my own ball and shoes. This post may be a little longer than most, but this week has been full of great adventures in which I never knew could exist.
I almost hopped in my Jeep and drove to Colorado a couple of weeks ago to hike Mt. Yale which is 14,199 feet in elevation, but the climbing weather was not looking good. It’s monsoon season for Colorado believe it or not, and there are a lot of unpredictable storms in the Rocky Mountains. I have attempted approximately twenty-two 14,000 foot mountains and have successfully summited sixteen of them. The times I’ve had to turn around were either due to altitude sickness, bad weather, or knowing that I was incapable of taking on difficult climbing routes of the mountain while putting myself at an increased risk for injury or death. I take my hiking and climbing very serious as I don’t want anyone to have to put their lives in danger in order to save mine. Plus, the hikes aren’t very enjoyable if you don’t plan ahead with an amazing victory protein cookie and Honey Stinger Waffles!
Early Saturday morning, I checked the weather to see if there would be a possible window of clear weather to climb as I knew my hike would take a minimum of seven hours. The smoke from the Canadian Rockies was another ordeal I was keeping an eye on as no one wants to climb with less visibility and poor oxygen quality. My packed gear sitting less than twenty feet from the door stared at me as I saw a good weather window to climb on Monday. At approximately 4:13 a.m. CST, I packed up the last of my gear, put it in my Jeep, and I began the long nine-hour drive to Denver where I tend to hang out to adjust to the altitude before heading up to 10,000 feet the following day.
In all honesty, climbing a 14,000 ft mountain is a very serious decision, so I do have to argue a bit with saying, “Yes” to everything. Mother Nature is not one you fight with, and if you have never hiked or climbed at high altitudes, it is a never-ending mind game. The pain you feel in your legs and feet – is that fatigue or is it an injury? The dizziness – is that dehydration, signs of acute mountain sickness, or both? That fork in the trail – does the left take you to the summit, to private property, or to an incredibly dangerous route that may require assistance from search and rescue to get you down? What do I do if I encounter wildlife? What do I do for water and food? How do I heal a wound? There are many variables to high-altitude adventures that new hikers don’t think about, so yes, the prep work is incredibly exhausting in and of itself. It is also one of the reasons why I’m the one on the mountain checking in on every hiker – especially the ones taking a break.
I have unfortunately seen and heard too many scenarios on these mountains that I hope no one will ever have to endure. One experienced hiker I wanted to hike with was rescued by a helicopter two years ago as a boulder fell on her hand. The multiple breaks in her hand lead to multiple reconstructive surgeries and putting her adventures on hold. Thankfully, her and her dog are back at it again. I have seen one hiking partner get hit in the head with a rock and somehow lived to tell about it. I have seen people being rescued from a lightning strike with second degree burns while their dog was killed because the storm clouds looked fine to them. I had another partner who I almost witnessed fall down the ridge of a mountain two times while only 300 feet from the summit as he failed to inform me about a nerve problem in his foot while also dealing with severe dehydration. While my protective side was fuming, I had no choice but to chase him up the mountain with the unexpected 60-65 mph wind gusts while lacking oxygen in order to get him to stop walking. I needed to somehow get him to sit down and rehydrate. If tackling him was the way to go, then I was prepared to do so. Yes, he definitely heard it from me that day as he also put my life in danger. For the people who have never hiked a 14,000 feet mountain, I’m always proud of myself whether I reach the summit or not. Yes, I break down into tears if I have to turn around, but in the long run, I know I made the right call. I take a great deal of time to keep myself safe and alive to seek out some of the tallest summits in the United States – not many people can say that. The altitude can mess with the most physically fit person and make you incredibly dumb. Two years ago for instance, I thought a 12,500 mountain next to my tent was the 14,000 foot summit I was searching for. I soon realized that was not the case once I went around the corner and saw another 1,900 feet of climbing. Don’t even get me started with the mountain lion following me in the willows at 3:30 a.m.
Time to Ascend
On Sunday, I checked out of my hotel after setting up my GPS, and I headed for the Denny Creek Trailhead near Buena Vista, CO to set up my car camping arrangements for the evening. There weren’t many people as the weather wasn’t looking too great, and it was getting dark. Usually I love chatting with fellow hikers and figuring out their plans for the next day, but after driving for several hours over the past two days, this introvert needed a little peace and quiet. Suddenly, an SUV from Texas pulled up near me, and I was pleading, “Please don’t be loud like my neighbors from back home. Please don’t be loud.” Thankfully, it was a very nice woman who was traveling around Colorado to hike before the new school year as she owns a business to help students succeed. This actually led to a great conversation about me working with children with autism in the past and now wanting to go into writing for businesses as I am passionate about wanting to see small businesses thrive. Stephanie, if you’re reading this, I hope you made it up that boulder field, because I had tight calves for three days conquering them! I am also very jealous of your hobo pot and stove with the Trader Joe’s soup. As you can guess, I summited this gorgeous monster that overlooks the beautiful Sawatch Range to make it summit #17 for me. I found it incredible to be overlooking quite a few other mountains that I have successfully summitted, especially Mt. Harvard which is one of my most incredible journeys. Everest Base Camp is always going to be my greatest accomplishment primarily because I survived that altitude and running to the bathrooms in the frigid temps while meeting the great Russell Brice in the middle of the Himalayas! Some people are star-struck over Brad Pitt, I’m star-struck over Russell Brice – an amazing guide for people seeking to summit Everest.
After a painful ten and a half hours of walking up and down Mt. Yale with minimal foot problems, I finally reached my car and was ready to get a good burger and then soak in the hot springs. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to hike that much, you definitely need a decent victory meal followed by the natural hot springs to help yourself recover. I always tell my friends who visit Colorado to take a risk of venturing outside of the resort towns for a day and see some of the backcountry. That doesn’t necessarily mean go hike a 14,000 foot mountain or isolate yourself, but go adventure out to some of the smaller communities in the middle of nowhere and meet some of the incredible people. I’m always happy to support a business that provides magnificent views and a taste of how hard the locals work to make ends meet while the roads are still open before the long winters approach. You never know who you’ll meet. It could be anyone from a Texan who’s looking for a writer, to someone who has climbed the seven summits of the world, or even a person who lives less than ten miles from your home. Yes, that happened too as I ventured off into the middle of a desert to see the Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, CO.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park
After staying at a wonderful hostel (more like a bed and breakfast) that sadly double-booked my room, I woke up early to venture off to Mosca, CO. It was about an hour and a half from where I stayed, and it was incredible to see the landscape change from a forest and alpine tundra to a desert as I neared New Mexico. After seeing a friend share his adventure to The Great Sand Dunes, I knew I had to fit it onto my bucket list as who in the world would not want to sled down sand with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background? It was perfect as a nearby store rented out sleds for $20 for the day while the national park charged $25 for a 7-day pass. For those who have never been here, it is a must-see and quite a hidden gem if I do say so myself.
As I began walking the half mile through the sand to begin climbing the dunes, I noticed several children sledding while the parents were sitting on top of the dunes. My mind began to question why they weren’t joining in on this incredible opportunity to be a kid again? This was an adult Disney World with no long lines! Even I was excited to do this despite the lack of flexibility in my legs after hiking a 14,000 foot mountain! Apparently, I spoke too soon as I began to walk uphill through the sand with the temperature slowly rising. Sand temperatures can reach as high as 150° F in July and August, so it’s best to be there early morning or in the evening despite remaining at a higher altitude which is another reason why this place is incredible. It’s not very often you find a desert near alpine altitudes (above 10,000 feet in elevation).
I decided to slide down the tallest dunes in North America for a few hours as the store also provided wax for your board in order to slide down the dunes more quickly. I would have done anything for a rope lift that you see at small ski resorts, but I’m a firm believer in leaving nature as is and not dismantling the mountains or dunes by placing poles in the middle of them for my own convivence. Each one of us sliding down the dunes had to earn that ride down, but it was well worth it. Cheers to those who climbed the 700+ foot dunes and lived to tell about it! I would highly recommend bringing along close-toed shoes, sunscreen, a hydration pack, sunglasses, a hat, and a Buff or bandana for your face as I most certainly was eating sand for breakfast after my first tumble. It’s been over a week, and I’m still finding sand in random places despite showering, brushing my teeth, shaking out my shoes, doing laundry, and cleaning out my car. The sand is safely being stored in a baggie until I can bring it back while likely collecting additional sand in every article of clothing and body part – highly recommend protecting your ears and teeth. Truly, The Great Sand Dunes National Park is an incredible place. I have not found a place quite this fascinating since seeing the Himalayas in Nepal in regards to the uniqueness of the environment. When I do make a trip back out there, I will be saying, “Yes” to watching the sun set and rise on the dunes while searching for elk and listening to the humming of the dunes.
Congratulations to my former co-workers for finally convincing me to get on TikTok. Enjoy a few of my “Yes” adventures! No, I am not addicted to TikTok quite yet.