TIL – Incidental Mountain Climber

I get informed upon waking that our friend Pajamas is in town, which is a rare treat – he’s building a climbing center in Nepal, and only gets a few months off a year. He comes over to hang out, asks Spesh and I if we want to go hiking. Sure, I say – it’s gorgeous out, and my student for the day has cancelled on me, so I’m definitely interested in doing something outside-ish. Between the winter and the knee recovery and whatnot, I haven’t done much in the way of hiking since I’ve been back, and I think it’s time to test the healing out. Pajamas did Green Mountain yesterday, so he’s wanting to do South Boulder Peak, maybe Bear Peak today. Alright, I’m down. So we load up the car and set out into the morning.

I’m not really sure what I’m in for before the magic words “1500 feet in a mile” come out of Pajamas’s mouth. Uh-oh. I’m about to be in for it. But the sun is shining and the climb up the Mesa Trail to the Towhee Trail and back to the Mesa Trail isn’t so bad – I’m keeping up with the gents, which is not something I do, certainly not having hiked in a while. I’m feeling pretty fine.

We get to the Shadow Canyon Trail – dun dun dun – and while I’m concerned, it still seems to be okay. Maybe I’m just misremembering. Maybe 1500 feet in a mile isn’t so bad. Or maybe my thinking is just wishful thinking.

And then Pajamas says Welp, here we go, and I find out that yes, yes indeed, that was wishful thinking on my part.


a respite in the climb

The 1.2 miles to the saddle between South Boulder and Bear try their best to murder me. I don’t do stairs. I barely do ramps. And while usually, I’d just sit my ass down for like a half an hour to eat, we’re on a vague sort of schedule, trying to make it back to the car before dark. Plus, we’ve barely brought snacks, a grand mistake on my part. Guess I just have to stop on the ups when I have to stop on the ups.


Maiden: A popular local climbing spot

When we’re near each other, Pajamas talks about his time in Nepal, about how the trails are much like this. About how just breathing up at 12,000 feet takes some getting used to. I feel less bad when he tells me that, even though I’m sucking a lot of wind between 7000 and 8000 feet. Different strokes, I guess.


We’re about halfway up when I start to get frustrated with myself and decide I’m not a mountain climber. There are people who climb mountains, bag fourteeners all the time for fun; I… just don’t think I’m that person. I’m enjoying myself in a way – I’m outside, I’m stretching muscles long underused, it’s pretty out – but I’m not sure I’d call this “fun”. I mean, I’ve climbed mountains before – I saw sunrise on Whitney, for goodness’s sake – but I think I’m more of an incidental mountain climber than anything else. Climbing mountains is incidental to making miles, and this… this is the opposite of making miles. This is less than a mile an hour. This is a study in how quickly one can lose one’s conditioning. Well, “quickly”. I guess it’s been five months since I was on trail for realsies. And that’s what I seem to be unwilling to forgive myself, even if it is what it is. My body’s accepted it; I don’t know that I can.


I think you can see Denver in the distance to the left if you click the picture

I break into the burn area all by myself, the gents already at the saddle; only a couple hundred more feet of struggle to go, and then I’m there as well. Hilariously, as soon as I arrive, throat raw and lungs tired from sucking wind, my legs are purring, excited at what we’ve done so far. Well, good, because we have another few-hundred feet to go in just a couple of tenths of a mile.

They are less than happy to have to deal with more straight-up and, just to make things interesting, slick snow; I get about halfway to the summit before I want to turn back, am afraid I’ll turn my knee trying to come back down. The gents will wait up there for me, though, and I’m so, so close – I didn’t struggle all this way to stop short.


The last bit is a rock scramble, and I’m so tired that I don’t trust my feet; I sit down probably 20 feet of elevation shy of the actual summit.


I yell to the gents that this is as far as I’m going, feel like I’m pouting/making an ass of myself. Maybe I am.


Pajamas at the summit

Well, I can’t abide being a pouter or an ass, so it doesn’t take long for me to scramble over to them, slowly, oh-so-slowly.

Nice view, though.


Spesh. I never think to take pictures of myself in these instances.


Mountains to pancake flat in just a couple of miles. Crazy.

And then comes the reason I don’t think I’ll ever be a mountain climber: now, we have to go back down.

My knee has started to ache, to argue, and it takes me forever to scramble back down to the trail-not-trail, mostly a steep incline covered with snow or rocks or both. I’m still moving stupid-slowly, concerned I’m gonna hurt myself: there is still so much down yet to go. The boys have frolicked off the mountain, and soon they’re a quarter-mile ahead of me. Bear Peak is supposed to be like this, and while we’d talked about maybe going up that peak to go down the other side, I’m not interested. I’ve already tweaked my knee twice slipping, so I glissade down short sections of snow, knowing no better way to get down the hill. I feel terrible about “making” them wait, even though I told them to go on ahead.

I get to the saddle and inform them I’m not climbing Bear; they’re not either. Really? I think they could probably make it and get down by the time I get down the hill, but I don’t say so. I take off down the hill, stretch my legs, enjoying the relatively-clear switchbacks of the burn area before the trail closes up to become a rocky stairmaster once more.



My legs start shaking; I’m almost at muscle failure. I haven’t felt this tired in a good long while. It takes me an hour and a half to go the 1.2 miles to where the trail chills the hell out, wheezing and carefully stepping and trying not to aggravate my muscles into actual failure – and I’m not proud of it. I’m hangry in pain defensive whenever I see the gents, and it’s not a good look. They finally get the hint and meet me at the bottom of the hard stuff – and when I’ve arrived, my knee is swollen and angry, but I’ve probably only really injured my pride.

They let me sulk as long as I need to, let me find my own way back to myself, and I appreciate that.


By the time we hit the Mesa Trail again, I am back to myself, talking and smiling and laughing and thankful for people who get me, people who are willing to be patient with me. I may not be a mountain climber, but I should probably have a sample size of greater than one before I determine something like that. Mama does like to make miles though, and Mama proves it by making the last three-odd miles back to the car in a little under an hour. Probably doesn’t hurt that it’s mostly downhill.

I’m kind of stunned with myself when I check my Fitbit back at the car – we did 2960 feet of climbing in about 5.25 miles, with 10.57 miles total for the day. And me right off the couch, and not quite feeling like dying – though I can tell I’m going to sleep well tonight.

That I have friends who have forgiven me my trespasses makes my not-so-incidental mountain climbing all the sweeter.

Today I Learned (TIL): When someone tells you you’re going to climb a mountain, believe them. Bring food.

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