Part 3 of the Great Summer adventure- After our start in Moab, Utah and then some rough acclimation in Ouray, Colorado, we headed up to Leadville to camp in San Isabel National Forest and tackle some of their 14ers. Our other goal was not to get eaten by bears. Or eat our weight in carbs.
First up, Mt Massive. At 14,421 feet, this is the 3rd tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. I like to set my goals high. After a slightly sleepless night of waking up to everything that went “bump” (or crash and growl), we were bobbing around the parking lot at 4:45AM trying not to blind other hikers with our headlamps. We hit tree line pretty quickly and then the long, slow tedious process began of hiking up to the ridge. Once again, a group of runners passed us sprinting up the trail with single granola bars and a water bottle. Damn them. I was beginning to feel like North Face was filming a commercial of super athletes and I was photo bombing the background with my slow, plodding hike.
At 13,000 feet, we decided to take a lunch break, bond with the little marmots that had stalked us, and get amped up for summit. I noticed a little headache building but passed it off for being hungry and went at devouring some pasta. Summit in less than an hour! We started climbing our way to the top. Head started hurting more. Oh wait, now there’s some nausea. I had just eaten. Probably just started hiking too soon. Now were about 50 feet away from the summit. All we had to do is climb around a boulder and make our way there. I stared down a massive drop off and all of a sudden it felt like my head was in a vice, face being pounded in, and large black floaters were dancing across my eyes. Crap. Hello acute mountain sickness. We were so close to the summit; I could have thrown the rest of our cold pasta at it. However, the thought that I was going to die on the summit was also going through my head. There was no pushing past the pain. At this point, I was wondering how I would make it down to tree line. Part of me wanted to collapse right there and sob and the other part of me was screaming “get me off this damn mountain!!” Ugggghhhh, I can’t begin to describe the disappointment of not standing on that summit. Even though I knew we were above 14,000 feet, I needed to stand on the point and say we peaked. I had never been let down by my body before. I was sick. I was sad. I was mad. I really wanted to push through but was pretty sure the dizziness would cause me to, at best, fall and break my knee or at worst, just fall off the mountain and die. So turn around we did. For the next 2 hours the bf guided me down the mountain as I dry heaved and tried to breath through the worst headache of my life. And just like that, we hit tree line and it was like this whole thing never happened. Hey AMS, nice knowing you. Please never come back. I promise to drink more water next time.
The rest of the way down I spent my time apologizing to the bf for another rough climb and tried to deal with the disappointment of not standing on that point. I’ve never handled failure well and up to this point, had never had my body fail on me. I just turned 30 this year. Was this part of it? Am I peaking on what I can do physically? After drinking more water and downing some Snickers, I realized I had been pretty lucky. Physically, I’ve always been able to push through heaving lungs and tired legs. Mentally, all I can say is “bring it.” I love the game of trying to figure out how to push myself through the challenge of giving up. I realized Mt. Massive was a good reminder of what I’ve achieved. It was hard admitting defeat but wow, if this is the first time I’ve ever had to tap out, I’ve been lucky. All this did was motivate me more to push myself physically and mentally so I can keep up with challenges in the future.
Here are some of the views I remember before the head pounding/floaters/nausea began…..