Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mt. Democrat-Possibly the Hardest Hike of My Life!

Mt. Democrat
14,148 ft.
April 20, 2008


Humbled by the Mountains


The plan was to complete the Decalibron on this sunny Sunday morning. I was, however, humbled by these deceiving peaks. Three in the group, Zach, Karen and Andy were successful in completing the circuit-they were amazing! Brian and I, as it turned out, just didn't have it in us. It killed me to have been up there and not finish what I set out to do, but to be honest, I'm not at all disappointed with what we did accomplish, and at the end of the day, I was able to look back and think, what an epic adventure!


Karen and Andy spent the night at the trailhead-which maybe we should have done too-but instead we got up at 3:30 am (ouch!), packed up and were on the road by 4am. It was just Zach, Brian and I, as a couple others canceled at the last minute. It was a nice drive up, not many people out on the road at that hour, and we made it to the trailhead a little after 6am. Met Karen and Andy for the first time and two others, Sam and another Brian. We packed up our gear, layer up and were ready to hit the trail. We had to park about 3 miles below the Kite Lake trailhead b/c the road wasn't plowed, so that added a little extra onto our trek, but it was worth it.


We started on the trail by 6:30am. The sun was rising, hitting the peaks, revealing their splendor. We were in the shade, however, for much of the beginning of our hike.


From L-R, Me, Zach & Karen

with Democrat in the background


Taking a quick water break.


Brian, Zach, Andy, Karen & Brian in the corner.There it is...man we have a looong way to go...little did I know what was in store!We finally made it to the real trailhead: Kite Lake. This was the last time the six of us were together. We stopped for a picture and then continued on our journey. From this point on, Zach, Karen and Andy were consistantly ahead of the rest of us and were really making great time! There they go!


The sun continued to rise, and I got this sweet video of Brian hiking above.



video


So this is where is started to get hard. We were above 12,000 ft, not usually difficult for me, but the altitude we were gaining for the distance we covered was crazy and it just kept getting steeper. I didn't take many pictures from here to the summit, unfortunately, but to be honest, I was most of the time just too tired! I chose to forget that I had been up since 3:15am!


It was one of the strongest mental battles I had fought in a long time. I kept looking up at the summit and getting so discouraged-it looked so far away with so much ground to cover. Plus, I saw Zach, Karen and Andy gaining ground slowly and thought, if they're having a tough time, how in the world will I ever make it?! It was easy to let my mind wander like that, but I wasn't going to turn around, I was going to make it. It's times like these, though, that I really have to ask myself, why the heck do I do things like this?! (keep reading for the answer)


At about 13,000ft or so, I called over to Brian, who had been struggling all the way up, and asked how he was doing. His back was killing him and he was able to push through for a while, but at this point, he called back and said that he needed to turn around. On the ride home later, he told me that he was feeling sick from the altitude and really having a tough time. I commend him for getting as far as he did! Well done, my friend!


I continued on as the slope got increasingly steeper. The other Brian caught up to me around 13,300 ft and I was so grateful for his company and encouragement. I was still in my snow shoes and wished I had my crampons with me. I tried to hike up this last section, but it was so steep, I ended up "bear crawling" on my hands and feet up as best I could. Some spots brought me literally to my knees as I rested, getting ready for the next push. Some spots the snow was packed from the wind and pretty easy to find your footing, but other parts were beginning to melt from the sun and it was like climbing up sand where you lose two-thirds of whatever ground you're trying to gain! Talk about discouraging! Plus, beyond that, there was a new kind of exposure I was dealing with.


I've hiked on some sketchy scree (Harvard-Columbia) and along steep cliffs (Long's), but never have I hiked up a mountain of snow off of which I could have slid all the way to the bottom going God knows how fast! This was a new kind of fear-I couldn't lose my footing because I don't know where it would have sent me! This is where I really have to thank Brian for talking me through the last bit of this climb. With his periodic altitude readings from his GPS, his coaching and direction as to how I should make it up were what helped me make it to the summit-I don't know how I would have made it without him!


Just before the summit, we ran into the three muskateers descending from the summit. We had a brief check-in where we discussed the rest of the circuit. They were all still game to complete it but I knew that if I went for it, it would have been a terribly long day and we never would have made it back to the Springs so I decided to take my one summit and be done. Karen offered to drive Zach back to the Springs so Brian and I could make it back in time for our Paradigm meeting we had that night. With that, I bid them good luck and be safe as they continued down the saddle towards Cameron and I turned to face the wind and the summit just ahead... Slowly, with every step we were one step closer and finally, at about 11:45am, we summited Mt. Democrat! Victory! Here is the obligatory Summit Photo! Was I ever relieved to make it to the top! As I said before, I think this was one of the, if not the most difficult climb I've ever made. Of course, it didn't help that I grossly underestimated what I was going up against...I guarantee, that's the last time I'll do that!

Mt. Bross is behind me, the peak I had intended to end on, but it looks like I'll just have to save that one for another day...


We didn't hang out on the summit for too long b/c it was unbelievably windy! Brian and I started to head down and this is where we went our separate ways. He had stashed his snowboard a little ways down and as soon as he was reunited with it, he was gone! I, on the otherhand, went down the hard way! I decided that going down to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron was my best bet-there was no way I wanted to go down what I had just come up, though maybe I'd have made it down a lot faster... ;-) I did get to glissade down a little bit, but the conditions weren't exactly ideal, nor did I feel comfortable enough just yet. I'll wait for the Angel next month for more glissading. The little bit I did get to do was fun and next time I'll make sure I have my ice ax with me! It was a long hike down, but I took my time, enjoying the beauty of God's creation!

I fianlly met up with both Brians again down at the Kite Lake Trailhead. We hung out for a bit and I was grateful to rest-I so wanted to be done!!

The wind wasn't that bad down here, but we'd get these crazy gusts every now and again that literally almost blew me over! We waited for a little bit, trying to decide whether or not to wait for the other group and finally realized they were at least a few hours behind so we went back to the cars. These last two and a half miles were possibly the longest of the entire day! The end of the hike is always the worst when you want to be back at the car, but the trail is a neverending trek. To make it worse, these relentless gusts would come and freeze us for about 5 minutes and then die away at which time we would boil in the sun. It was riduclous, I finally just left my jacket on, convincing myself that were were almost there! A little before 3pm, we returned to the cars and I was so relieved to be back, I can't even put it into words! We packed up and decided to go ahead home. As we left in the shadow of these majectic peaks, I remembered why I do this-I don't know of many other things that are as truly gratifying as climbing a mountain!