It was a regular day at work in September 2011 when my boss randomly called me into his office. What’s your work out regimen, he asked. You in good shape?
Not particularly phased by the question – we are a fit office and workout routines are a common conversation topic – I launched into a litany of my cardio and strength training regimen. Sometime over the spring I’d amped up my fitness schedule so I was excited to talk about it.
Great, he said. How about on Thursday we climb a fourteener?
My initial reaction was no. No. NO. I had a heart transplant a mere five years prior. Had this been forgotten? And what about all this business about my speed? I was slow…way slow… excruciatingly slow. Oh, and my heart rate is cray-zee. Like interval training – it would speed up to the top of my target range while climbing and then I would need to slow down until it hit the bottom before starting the process all over again. It took at least an hour for it to settle at a steady rate. I was a hot mess on a mountain plus, most importantly, I had never even been over 12,500 feet outside of a car.
So of course I said yes.
Planning was quick and for once, the work week flew by. My husband and I spent the night before in Fairplay – arriving at nearly midnight and waking after a restless night at 3:30. I’d brought instant oatmeal which we ate liberally loaded with nuts and drank hot tea. I desperately hoped this would be enough to power us through the start of the day. We had a store’s worth of REI gear on our persons. I’d bought anything and everything – I had no idea what to expect.
Was I actually going to climb a fourteener?
At 5:00 am we met Mike (my boss) and our friend Brian at the Kite Lake trailhead. It was dark, and Chris and I were quickly outfitted with borrowed headlamps, gloves and poles. All of my extra weight had been redistributed among our crew. Adrenaline quickly replaced my knotted stomach and my four-hours of sleep addled anxiety.
OMG. I was going to climb a fourteener.
The first thing that Mike told us was that we were going to go slow. Really really slow. Even slower than I thought I had ever gone before. So slow that we would be frustrated and want to go faster. That slow. Did we get it? Slow.
The second thing was to remember to breathe. Breathe deeply and continuously. This might sound elementary but have you ever noticed when exercising that you sometimes forget to breathe? It is key as you start gaining vertical feet.
As we started getting closer to the ascent part (the trail was very long), I began to notice something particularly troubling. Everything was coated with a thin sheet of ice. By everything, I mean the trail had turned from dirt to rocks. And the rocks were solid black ice. Yikes.
The darkness finally eased into light and someone commented that it was like being inside a ping-pong ball. We were in a cloud of fog – or maybe just a cloud – we were already at about 12,000 feet.
Um, hello. I was freakin’ climbing a fourteener!
We stopped at 13,000 feet to check pulse ox rates. Mine had slipped to 85. Breathe, I was told. Don’t talk, just breathe.
We powered up with electrolyte gels and water as we hit 14,000 feet. Another check of the pulse ox showed mine back up to 95. It never fell below 94 for the remainder of the climb.
One foot after another and all of a sudden, we were there. We were at the top of Mt. Democrat at 14,155 ft. We’d climbed two miles and 2,300 vertical feet. That’s a 20% grade. My pulse ox was 95, my heart rate was about 145.
I had just climbed a fourteener!