WE SET A TARGET TIME ON THE TRAIL....AND WE CRUSHED IT.
When the mind takes over for the legs and lungs
The goal was set and we all thought - we all knew - we could do it. This picture is from the trail head, the starting point. I'm in the blue shirt, KKTV Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe is in the back row, gray shirt. That's his nephew Drake next to him in the green jacket. In the middle is my friend James. Behind him in the black shirt is my friend Jeff and on the far right, my friend Joe.
Six of us started before six in the morning with 6 hours as a written-in-stone summit time..anything longer wouldn't be good enough. That sounds a bit much but we'd all been training for this, and working towards this for months...basically since we did it last year.
When we did it last year it took seven hours. That's not bad but we all wanted to beat it, by at least an hour. We hit it pretty hard, even on the opening steep switchbacks.
We also had weather as a worry. We've had rain and lightning just about every afternoon in Colorado Springs for the last 10 days or so. It helps to have a meteorologist in the group. Brian figured if we were at the top by noon we would have no chance of getting caught in potentially deadly lightning. That's a good reason to get an early start, and to keep up a quick pace.
Barr Camp is a spot where some people stay the night then finish the hike the next day. It's also the halfway point, and by then we knew we were doing pretty well.
But Barr Camp is only half way distance-wise...the 2nd half takes a lot longer than the first. You have to take water breaks once in a while, but we kept them as short as we could. This is one of them after a particularly tough stretch.
As you pass the tree line things get tough. You've already walked about 9 miles, the trail is steep and rocky, the sun is strong and the air is thin. This is when you have the first few thoughts about stopping, waiting, and finishing slowly because it would be a lot easier. That's when going with a group is good. Nobody wants to be the one who can't get it done!
We all kept going, maybe a little slower, but still strong. We weren't too far off the pace we had set lower on the mountain. It certainly felt like we were working a lot harder. We knew there that we would probably easily make 6 hours...and we started thinking about 5 and a half! That's more inspiration to work harder.
At one point it looked like were walking right into the cloud cover that was slowly moving in....below us! That kind of helps you keep going too.
The last last mile and a half is brutal. There's a section called the 16 Golden Steps during which it's like you're climbing very steep, tall uneven stairs. It's really tough on already weary legs. No pictures there because the camera just isn't a priority! This is the point where the mind takes over for the legs and lungs. The latter two are straining and strongly suggesting a long rest to recover. The mind says "No, you're going to finish this, because those other guys are, and they don't want to wait for you!" You finished the steps under the distinct impression that you're almost there...you're not. This is when you really have to push. The summit is easily in sight but not quite in reach. It's tantalizing and frustrating because it looks much closer than it is. Three guys moved ahead a little bit, one guy was back on the trail. Jeff and I were in the middle. We all had an eye on the others and we knew everyone was ok.
Finally we made it...exhausted from 13 miles of trail and an elevation gain of 7500 feet!
The three in front did it in 5:16, Jeff and I finished in 5:19 and the one guy at the back hit 5:30 even! We beat the goal...by a huge margin. I'm proud of my friends for what we accomplished that day. Everyone's been working out, gaining strength and losing weight to make this happen. Here's a final picture at one of the famous summit signs.
I can't recommend this strongly enough. If you've got the time to train and the will to do something you'll never forget, do this. It's not Everest..but it is a pretty good achievement. My friends and I always feel like we've done something good when we do this. Just as importantly, we feel like we've done something good together. Get some friends together, do some prep-work together and get up to the top!
On the train ride down James suggested that we walk down next year...make it a 26-mile day. Maybe we will....maybe not!
I'll end with this picture..one beer with Jeff on the deck at my house...with Pikes Peak behind us..in more ways than one!
We'll talk again soon.
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