Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Sunday, July 20 -- You see that mountain over there?

Well someday, I'm gonna climb that mountain (-ountain-outnain-ountain...)

6:00 am. Sniktau day. I could tell that being here since Thursday afternoon and camping friday and saturday night at at least 10,000 feet, we were starting to get acclimated to the altitude. Didn't know how Mark'd do on Sniktau before we got here, but judging by how he got around, I was pretty sure he could make it. It's mostly psychological anyway. Just start early, take it easy, and enjoy the view on the climb and rest a lot. The goal is the top, but it isn't. If he wants to stop, I've done it before and I'm just happy to be outdoors on such a beautiful day in the Rocky Mountains on the Continental Divide. The bog was soaking wet from last night's rain (another few hours of it), but the sun was shining. Still, that cinched any ideas of not climbing today. No fun to hang out in a wet willow bog all day.

Fortunately, the seam sealer seemed to have helped Mark's tent leakage problem and he had a decent night's sleep.

So we grabbed food and water and headed into Idaho Springs. Got coffee and split a breakfast wrap at the Two Brothers Deli (good stuff!) and headed out. Didn't get there as early as I would have liked, but the weather cooperated nicely and it didn't matter. Started the climb at 10:00 AM. Just the drive up to those majestic mountains on the divide gets my blood pumping. It is practically a religious experience. We got off on US 6 and headed up to Loveland pass. Not too many sheer drops for Mark. I THINK he's starting to trust my mountain driving skills more, but that really doesn't overcome a true phobia. He's doing very well, really.

Sniktau is a great beginner mountain for high altitude climbing. I'd never been there on a weekend, though, and the parking was practically full. There's room for maybe 15 cars, and there are about that many there. Still, nothing but nice people up there. We started our ascent at 12,000 feet. I kept saying that the first 1/3 of this climb is about 2/3 of the effort and takes just over half the time of the whole climb, as it is fairly steep and relentless in slope. Once you get to the ridge, there's up and down so you never get completely wiped out by the lack of oxygen on the second 2/3 of the journey. It's kicking my butt, and I know it's kicking Mark's, but he's got it down. Don't try to talk while you're walking. Concentrate on steady, relataively deep breaths. Breath out more slowly than you breathe in to maximize oxygen use from each breath. Set short goals, stop and rest. If you can't pick a spot for a goal, set a number of steps, like 20 or 30 depending on the slope. Rest, catch your breath, THEN take a drink of water (not before! takes longer to catch your breath if you do) and set another goal. It is really quite strange because you don't feel different when you step out of the car, and the hike looks easy until you start it.

There are several groups of people on the pass. Most climb up for 10 or 15 minutes and turn around. A few more determined souls make it to the ridgetop. And then a few more groups head for the top. We meet a few on their way down. We're both relieved to reach the ridge and Mark notes that as promised, it is easier. Later he told me that there was one point on the first 1/3 of the climb he was ready to throw in the towel, but apparently determination and the promise of an easier climb at the ridgetop pushed him on. The view is ever changing and more and more spectacular the higher you go. At first, all you can see is the mountains surrounding the pass. Soon, more peaks peek out from behind them and before long you can see the divide stretching from horizon to you, and from you to the other horizon, and all kinds of ranges to the west. You can see the Loveland and Keystone ski areas --- swaths cut in the trees. Not the prettiest site, really, but I don't begrudge skiiers their fun. It is interesting to note that you can see famous places, though, like the Eisenhower tunnel below and the little ants running up and down I-70 below. Fortunately, the rest of the view makes up for the fact that such an obvious sign of civilization is 3,000 or 4,000 feet below you.

We were the last group (of 2-- if you can call that a group) to go to the top. Got there (13,243 feet) just after noon, had lunch, took the requisite "here I am at the top" pictures, and the "Here's what you can see from the top" pictures, and got several shots of a pika and a couple of chipmunks. Last year's marmot was nowhere to be seen. But we did get some shots of the chipmunks catching and eating wasps. That was pretty amazing. It's cool out, but it feels good. The view is great. The sense of accomplishment is satisfying. It's good to be on top.

As we headed back down, there was a thunderstorm somewhere between Evans and Gray's/Torry's peak. Mottled sunlight and my changing angles kept me taking pictures of the two brothers as the thunderstorm slowly drifted behind them. We stopped at the top of the ridge to head back down the steep first part of the trail and talked to a group of brothers and sisters who had hiked up to there and wanted to know how long it would take to get to the top. I told them, but I advised against it today. To late, and thunderstorms near. One of the men had a "Missouri Golf" T-shirt on so I asked if they were from Missouri. The man lived in Kansas City and one woman lived in St. Louis. They had been at Mizzou about the same time Mark and I had. We hiked down with them... that's when we found out it was a group of 4 brothers and sisters. Their spouses were at the bottom as were most of their kids. I thought it was cool that the siblings wanted to do that together and weren't held back by their families.

We were tired, but it was a good tired. We drove around the west side of the pass, and through the tunnel so Mark could see it. 2 miles of road cut through the rock of the continental divide. Pretty neat. It was raining on the east side when we broke through, and I pointed Sniktau out on the right to Mark. "You were THERE." Now he was REALLY impressed.

Note: Sunday afternoon in the summertime is not a good time to travel east on I-70 on the east side of the front-range. All those Denver-ites trying to escape the heat and play in the mountains are now headed home. It took about 1.5 hours to go the 30 miles back to Idaho Springs. We were going to do a little gift shopping for the wives (nothing big) and wouldn't have any time to do it. A couple of stores were open. We got some things and headed back to camp.

Took our bath in the evening this time so that we could get up in the morning and break down camp and get out. I figured if we got out by 8:00 am we'd be doing good. We turned in about 8:00 pm. It did not rain, and got down to about 45 that night as opposed to 50 the previous two nights.