Saturday, July 02, 2005

Up and Down in the Rockies

Andrew and I just climbed Quandry Peak in the Ten Mile Range. It was his first "Fourteener."

The old school 48 states contain about 70 mountains over 14,000 ft. 54 of 'em are in Colorado.

I've had a chance to climb 20 of them in Colorado along with Mt. Whitney in California and quite a few similar peaks in the Sierras and the Pacific Northwest and in Latin America and Africa and Asia.

Last summer, when Andrew was 11, we climbed up to the source of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park. That one got us up to 12,000 ft., and he did so well I thought we could take a shot at a big peak this summer.

I wasn't sure how he'd deal with the higher altitude or the extra physical and mental effort necessary to get to the top of a much larger mountain.

Altitude sickness is a strange thing. Some people, no matter how fit, get hit by strong headaches and nausea and irregular heartbeats when they get up high. And even if folks don't experience those symptoms, it's just a lot harder to breath and exert yourself when you're climbing a steep incline in an oxygen depleted environment.

He did great. Some headache and nausea symptoms, but he punched right up to the top. I think he only complained a couple of times and didn't quit when he was really struggling near the summit. He even slogged through a steep hundred yard snow and ice field at the very end without getting panicky.

We got to know some very cool people on the way up. Folks doing high altitude hiking and mountain climbing treat each other with a lot of affection and respect--everybody is your new best friend on a mountain. If we all had to live with each other every day I'm sure the bloom would go off the tundra flower quickly, but it's nice having some small moments in your life when relating to people seems surprisingly easy.

On top the views were astonishing as always.

About ten others climbers joined us up there. When they heard it was Andrew's first 14,000 ft. summit, they made big like it was his birthday. A very nice moment for both of us.

I've also been picking up on my new mountain biking skills. I took up the sport a couple of years ago.

Little by little I'm gaining greater skills and confidence, and at this point I'm a pretty decent intermediate rider. I'm hoping to kick it up to an advanced level in the next 2-3 years.

One of the things I like about mountain sports is the unpredictability.

A few weekends ago I took my bike up one morning to a single track trail close to where we live. Conventional wisdom says that summer mornings in the Rockies are always good--sunshine and no threat of the thunder and lightning storms that can appear suddenly in the afternoons.

I got about 5 miles into the ride and one of those storms hit big time.

I've had some close calls with lightning up on exposed ridges while hiking and climbing, but I've never had a storm come up so fast or so violently before.

I ended up bailing on the bike and ditching in a gully. The lightning flashes and thunder claps went off simultaneously, meaning the strikes were right on top of my part of the mountain.

I knew that crouching down and trying to squat on one leg was the best prevention against an indirect lightning strike. Very few people get hit directly by lightning. Most folks get fried by the electrical charge that radiates out along the ground from the strike point.

If you're on two legs within the strike radius, your legs create a nice circuit. We all know how uncomfortable a plasma flow in your pants can be.

So I squatted for over 15 minutes in that very uncomfortable position while waiting for the hot spot of the storm to pass.

Of course, the squatting-on-one-leg thing was mostly wishful thinking.

It was a little like the nuclear war drills we used to do when I was in elementary school during the height of the Cold War. We were supposed to kneel under our desks to protect ourselves in case of a direct nuclear hit on San Francisco.

Nonsense? Sure. But hey, we've all got to maintain some illusions of control from time to time

But nonsense or not, the whole thing made for a pretty interesting bike ride. Rarely a dull moment here outdoors in the summer, up or down.


Blogger TPB said...

Awesome! That's a great picture of the two of you.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Biotress said...

Cool picture!

10:59 PM  

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