August 6, 2008

Mts Elbert and LaPlata

I needed some solo time, and usually the only way for that to happen is for me to leave town.

So, with that in mind, I rode the Covington Century outside of Atlanta on Saturday. I cut it short by 9 miles and made it the Covington 91 miler because the century moniker could have described the distance OR the mercury. Including rest stops and a 10 minute late start I was on the course for 6 hours and drank 7 x 30 ounce bottles of either powerade or water without peeing a single time. I was tortured...

After the ride I went immediately to the airport - salt crystals on my skin and all - and hopped on a flight to Denver. I crashed at a nasty rent-a-room just west of the city for a check in to check out total of 6 hours before my 4 am departure to Mt Elbert outside Leadville, Colorado.

Ever since Stronger re-introduced me to the mountains last year, I've been thinking about tackling some of the 14ers. Mt Elbert is the tallest 14 er in Colorado (14440 feet), the highest point of the Rocky Mountains, and the 2nd highest point in the lower 48 states. So, of course, I had to hit the tallest first - that's just the way I roll...

After stopping for breakfast and a couple wrong turns I finally made it to the trailhead about 0830. I threw everything into my pack and hurried out, a bit worried about my late start.

All of the guidebooks suggest being off the mountain by noon because of the prevalence of nasty weather after that. By nasty weather, we're talking hail and lightning and high winds. An 0830 start is definitely on the late side, but bad weather wouldn't be my biggest enemy on this climb...

My route up would cover 4.5 miles and a 4800 foot elevation gain, then a turnaround back down. The first couple miles my legs were feeling a little lethargic but I was making quick progress and passed a lot of people that had started earlier.

But when I got to about 13000 feet, still with more than a mile to go, I started spinning occasionally. Now I don't know about you, but feeling dizzy and spinning on a steep ridge at 13000 feet is about the last thing I want to be feeling. I rationalized, and convinced myself it was only happening after I looked up. Just some positional vertigo maybe...

I kept climbing, slower and slower. It had crept into afternoon when a descending hiker pointed out dark clouds north and warned of a storm in about an hour. But I couldn't stop... Wouldn't stop...

I started getting a headache. I rationalized it was because of the backpack pulling at my shoulders. I noticed I was staggering every once in a while, but surely it was just my legs being fatigued from the climb and the 91 miles yesterday. I kept on...

Finally after 4 1/2 hours on the trail I reached the summit of Mt Elbert! I sat at the top for a few minutes and lamented having forgotten my camera in the rush to get on the trail. I wastched a couple others carve their names into the flagpole at the top.

But more than anything, I thought about how awful I felt. Headache, exhausted legs, still dizzy even though I was sitting down, and starting to feel nauseated. I tried to eat a Clif bar at the top, but after 1 bite realized it wasn't going to stay down so repacked it.

The weather had turned nasty. It was thundering with heavy wind gusts and light rain. Throw the wind in with the cold temps at the top (there was still snow!) and me without a jacket or shell (just shorts and a t shirt, silly me...) and I was cold cold cold.

So I started to descend. I walk/jogged for a little while until I was well below tree-line, then slowed to a less urgent pace. I made it back to the trailhead just under 6 hours.

I got in the rental car and cranked the heater to high, then drove a short way to the first store I came to in Leadville to get some tylenol and a yoohoo. I took the tylenol, then sat in the car with the heater blasting for several minutes before I felt like I could drive anymore. I was so incredibly fatigued and sleepy.

I drove the last 5 or so miles into downtown Leadville only to discover that the streets were all closed due to the Boom Days festival. I had to park several blocks from the Delaware Hotel where I needed to check in.

I honestly wasn't sure if I could walk from the car to the hotel, so I sat -heater still blasting even though it was in the high 60s - for 10 or 15 minutes. I contemplated letting myself go to sleep, but knew that wasn't a good idea.

Finally I made it out of the car and to the hotel, got to my room, checked in with the only person in the world who had any clue where I was, and then went to sleep in my wet dirty clothes. I woke up an hour later feeling a little better and starved.

I wandered onto the street and found myself at the Golden Burro for a barbeque bacon cheeseburger and boston cream pie. I felt great for a little bit while I was eating, but as soon as I got back to the hotel I fell asleep again for the next 12 hours. Yep, 12 whole hours!

I woke the next morning and felt great! No headache, no fatigue, not even sore legs. I ate some breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the La Plata trailhead to climb Mt LaPlata.

Mt LaPlata at 14336 feet is the 5th highest in Colorado. I was better prepared for LaPlata, and even remembered my camera (and realized I had it... It turned out that my camera was in my pack while climbing Elbert but I was too disoriented to realized it...)

Now that I had checked off Elbert, I was much more relzed on LaPlata. I meandered, took photos of flowers, and felt no pressure to push myself.

But I felt great, and I loved the isolation at LaPlata. In fact, unlike Elbert I didn't see a single other person while ascending or descending. My route up called for just under 5 miles and between 4500 and 5000 feet of elevation gain. I climber to a little over 13000 feet - a little up the ridge - before the dark clouds started getting closed and I turned back, content.

It rained and thundered for most of my descent, but I was just happy to feel so good compared to the day prior.

After getting back to the trailhead, I drove east on 82 to Twin Lakes and hopped on the Colorado trail for a run. My 6 mile run took me to the old Interlaken Hotel, a now-abandoned Victorian resort hotel from the late 1800s that can only be accessed by singletrack trail.

Later I wandered around the city, explored the wild west history,

and then caught up on some reading... The next morning ( yesterday) I travelled back home.

I obviously realize now that I was altitude sick. I think I knew it at the time I was climbing Elbert (I had come from near sea level to 14440 feet in less than 24 hours), but I was too proud to succomb. I made it, but I was being stupid. Pride is the kind of thing that gets you hurt or killed... Everything came out ok, but I hopefully won't make the same mistake again.

Thanks for joining me for my daily spin...


Bullet said...

Altitude sickness. No doubt. Can't believe Red Mountain didn't prepare you better for that. They are comparable right? Glad you were able to get away.

Triteacher said...

Wow. Hats off to you for the treks. I KNOW how tough this whole altitude adjustment is.

And gotta say, I've lived here for a whole two weeks and have yet to do a 14er. Kudos.

IronJenny said...

Dude - you're lucky you made that! You are tough. Thanks for sharing. We miss you!

Triteacher said...

9/10/08 I'm back. I now have 4 14ers under my belt. I've been bit by the bug, have the climbing fever AND a new appreciation for your Mt. Elbert situation. Glad you're safe. And hoping you are well.