Uphill Battle (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Why I had a hard time on this Pikes Peak Hike.

We Made It, But It Was Hard

For the 6th year I gathered a few friends and set out to climb a mountain.  We started early this year because we knew incoming weather would be an issue at and near the summit by noon.  We hit the trail at 5am on Friday.  The group included two meteorologists so were were pretty well-informed. Here are Branden Borremans and Brian Bledsoe from the 11 Weather Department pretty sweaty a couple of hours into our trek up Barr Trail.

We made really good time to start (by our standards).  We made it to Barr Camp 7 miles up in 2:28. We thought we were going to get a pretty good time to the top. Here we are at that traditional spot to stop for a break. In the back row is my friend Jeff who was a TV news cameraman when I was a reporter at another station in Colorado Springs..21 years ago!  That's me in the middle of the back row.  Next to me is my old buddy James.  We went to Sabin Jr. High, Doherty High School, and we were fraternity brothers at CU. He's a lawyer in Texas now.  Front row: Brian and Branden from the KKTV 11 Weather Department. 

It was all going very well to this point.  Then I made a major mistake. I had eaten very little and I thought I should eat more to keep energy levels up.  I ate too much at this quick stop.  When you do that apparently your body can spend too much energy working on digesting food. For that reason I got severely light-headed and even dizzy, then my legs were somehow affected too. I trained for this much harder than last year but I found it much more difficult this time. 

The next few miles were brutal for me.  We had to stop much more often than normal.  It was costing us time but I couldn't bounce back.  Between Barr Camp and treeline it's difficult but it shouldn't have been this hard.  Still, everyone understood and no one was angry.  For us this hike is as much about having a good time as it is about making good time. 


After treeline I started to feel better but my legs were shot.  We moved at an ok pace but with with too many stops because of my problems. We knew our best time of about 5:15 was way out of reach.  I was hoping just to equal last year.  (In 2011 because of various schedule conflicts it was just me and Jeff and we both acknowledged we hadn't trained enough - it took us 6.5 hours.)

This time we were still having fun, laughing a lot on those breaks, but pretty quiet while we were moving.  It's hard to walk and talk at the same time with so little oxygen!  Below:  The Weather Brothers laughing about something in the thin air well above treeline.

The last couple of miles are very difficult even without having struggles like mine...this time was no exception.  The other guys were doing better than me, but they were tired too. 

You look up and think about the fact that the summit doesn't seem that far away...but it is.

You have to take a moment now and then to take in views like this one of the city below. A view like this always seems that much more breathtaking when you've worked for it.

We saw some weather starting to move in too, just as predicted so it was time to get going. I was feeling better but it was too late to get a decent time.  Legs and lungs both screaming...summit still tantalizingly close...but still work to do.   While it didn't go as well as I had hoped for (and trained for) it's still rewarding to reach the top.  It's always great to spend time with friends trying to accomplish something together.  I don't get to see my old buddies James and Jeff as often as I'd like so that's always an important part of this annual tradition.  

The weather got cold, the wind picked up and we kept going to get to the summit. It took us 6.5 hours.  That was the same as last year in terms of time, but not in terms of struggle and difficulty for me.  The other guys figure they could have cut off about a half an hour if I hadn't had to stop so much.  A time or two I told them to go ahead if they wanted to.  They didn't want to because part of this annual accomplishment is to accomplish it as a group.  

We got inside the summit house to relax and wait for our train down just as the wall of clouds covered the peak. The temperature dropped to about 38 degrees..just as predicted, and we beat it, if not by as much as we had hoped. Once we stopped I felt ok, still not very hungry though. 

The other guys were pleased to be finished and relieved that we beat the weather. If they were frustrated by my slowing them down they were too nice to say so.  That's part of why it's best to do this with friends.   I'm going to start training soon for next year and I'm going to make sure I get the whole food thing right next time.

If you've never done it, try it.  Talk to some good friends, train for it together and then take a hike together.  You end up with a new understanding of America's Mountain, and a new understanding of what you can accomplish.  You also end up with a picture like this one!

It's worth the trip!

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward


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