Katherine Lee Bates wrote "America the Beautiful" (originally titled "Pikes Peak") after taking a train ride up and being so inspired.
For years, I've thought about hiking to the summit and knew that "someday" I'd go. I FINALLY got around to it yesterday. And, OMG, it was beautiful. I know just how Katherine felt!
|A view of the summit from the trail, once the sun came up|
I went up with Chaco, who's hiked it twice before with friends. Wolfgang has also gone up twice when participating in The Ascent. The three of us originally planned to go in early September, but that was right when my allergy-induced balance problems hit me. It was a task for me to just walk out to the mailbox, let alone climb a mountain, so we kept moving our trip date out.
Wolfgang, in the meantime, used a couple of those "lost weekends" to instead take mountain biking trips with the university. He ended up coming down with a bummer of a cold, so thought better of making the Peak trek this weekend. Chaco and I decided to go ahead with it, though, as the nice weather days are slipping away. Meego would've gone, but he's deep in the throes of marching band season, and alas, Magnum wasn't sure if his knees could put up with it.
So, Chaco and I hit the trail in the wee morning hours, temperature around 35 F. The stars were still out, and it was actually kind of awesome hiking in the dark. Despite our headlights, I did bite it once when I forgot to watch where I was going and tripped.
It was a beautiful fall day to be out. We took our time enjoying the trail, and Chaco shared with me stories from his previous hikes and information he'd learned while researching.
After about 9 miles, we hit treeline at around 10,000 ft. In a lovely clearing just off the trail is an A-frame shelter that, I think, the forest service built in case of getting caught in storms or just wanting a way cool spot to hang out on the mountain.
A plaque there is dedicated to this woman who died near this spot just shy of her 88th birthday during her 14th hike of the mountain. I thought a lot about her as I worked at dealing with the hike and the elevation, thinking she'd died doing something she obviously loved doing.
I knew that the final three miles were pretty much a boulder field, and expected it to be a rather desolate place of no vegetation. Oh, how wrong I was! That portion of the hike proved to be the best part for me.
What looks like a lifeless area of grey rocks and dirt from below is actually a beautiful environment of unique geological formations. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't just the lack of oxygen making me feel that way!
|Taking in the scenery|
Cell phone photos can't do justice to the area. The rock formations are like nothing I've seen before. Couple that with the amazing views to the east, and it was a sort of magical place. Everything even sounds different. We weren't sure if the thin air has something to do with that, or if it's just that it's just so quiet there.
We definitely felt the effects of the elevation by this point. We continued to slog along the trail's many switchbacks. Our movements would easily qualify us for jobs as extras on "The Walking Dead".
With about two miles left until the summit, the trail skirts the deep Cirque, to which my acrophobia doesn't allow me to give the appreciate it deserves. Chaco said it's a great view into the 1500' glacial formed bowl. I'll take his word for it and instead take a pic with the sign while facing away.
|Note my vice-like grip on that sign!|
Continuing onward, we eventually made it to the "16 Golden Steps", the final series of switchbacks until the summit, so named because the climb becomes a bit steeper. Nothing like scrambling over rocks at nearly 14,000' with legs that just say, "Stop already!" into your oxygen deprived brain. But I thought, "what a lovely name".
Here, Chaco warned me that there were "a lot of false summits". Just when it looks like we'd made it, we'd switch back and realize we hadn't (I wasn't bothering to waste energy on counting golden steps). "You're not at the summit until you see the train", he continued. This the cog railway train that we would ride back down.
And soon enough, there it was - the train! We'd made it. Thank you, baby Jesus, and much thanks to Fred Barr, whatta guy!
What an amazing day.