Last night Taido warned us all that he would be waking us up very early for the final adventure of our Crested Butte vacation: Climbing Mt. Crested Butte.
He and the kids made a list of everything we would need to take for our climb.
The big kids (ages 6, 8 and 10) picked out their clothes according to the discussion. Taido told them that it would be cold when we started out, but it would warm up throughout the morning.
So he woke us up at about 5:30am.
He fixed us coffee, eggs and French toast. We hit the trail a little after 6, right from the condo.
It was pretty much straight uphill from the get go. I wondered as we hiked that first half hour if there was any chance we would make it all the way to the top.
Between us and the top was over 5 miles of trail and 3000 feet of elevation gain.
I wasn’t sure we would make it. I was already tired and the kids were already whining. However, everyone was still a little sleepy, so it was too early to judge.
As we climbed slowly through the deserted ski resort, we saw a couple of mountain bikers, two utility trucks doing mountain maintenance and one trail runner. Other than that, we were the only ones on the trail.
We had the whole mountain to ourselves, which may account for the the fact that we saw four deer, two fawns with their mama. (This was Mary Polly’s favorite moment of the day by far.)
At our first snack break, Taido pointed out a large raspberry bush. From then on the kids and I were spotting raspberries every few feet up the trail. Mary Polly and I could not resist stopping to pick the bright red berries.
When Taido become frustrated with how often we were stopping, I told him that I am first a berry picker, and much further down the line, a mountain climber. But he had a goal in sight, so eventually we had to quit stopping and press on. We sneaked a few more here and there, ones that were just too beautiful to resist. Ben even found some wild strawberries.
After we had climbed about 3 miles, it was difficult to be motivated to go a few more steps, even for the raspberries.
The air was thinner and we were tired. Simon began to get tired of being in the pack. He had napped early and was now ready to be free from his perch.
The views though! It was amazing as we got higher and higher.
Taido kept promising that we were going to stop soon for our big snack. We had packed a lunch, which we were all ready to eat by 10 am.
Our lunch spot was 4.3 miles from the bottom, at the top of the only running lift on the mountain, the Silver Queen.
We sat at the picnic table and watched families and couples and groups get off the lift to hike the last mile up to the top of Crested Butte.
Look at all the lightweights, Taido said to the kids. He was proud of us for hiking all the way from the bottom, but we were too tired and too busy cramming our faces to respond much.
And mostly, we were all wondering how much we had left to go.
This last part is really easy. It’s a really nice trail, I think. You guys are going to be just fine.
Now friends, these words or words similar to them, are words that I have heard more times than I can count from the men in my life.
I have heard them on ski lifts, on mountain trails, on four wheelers, in forerunners and even in rafts and canoes. And since i have heard them so often, I suppose it is my own stupid fault that I continue to believe them.
Because, friends, they are lies.
The real truth is that the men speaking these words (my husband and father) have absolutely no idea what the upcoming trail, road or river is like. They are just saying whatever it takes to get me to go just a little further, often to the point of no return.
But since I am taking my grandmother’s advice this week, to go with the flow, I shrugged my shoulders, stood up on my aching legs and said, C’mon kids. Follow your dad up that mountain.
And so on we went.
Now among several other hikers, we weren’t far before we could really see the top of the mountain. There’s something about being able to see the top that makes you feel like you really can make it. All of a sudden, I became committed, even though the trail was getting steeper.
The rest of the hikers on the mountain were dropping like flies as the incline grew more and more intense.
Clearly, most people had ridden the lift up just for the views, which were seriously amazing, and lots of folks weren’t really dressed for hiking steep, rocky paths.
But we pushed on, with the kids asking to please stop wherever other people seemed to be stopping and resting. Taido stayed enough ahead of us that we had to just keep following him. Every once in a while he would turn around and say,
Keep walking. Don’t sit down! We’re not sitting down yet.
But mostly he just kept going.
If you know Taido, then you understand that even with Simon on his back, he was not even breaking a sweat on this climb, which except for the comfort it gave me that my baby was not going to go toppling off the mountain, was rather annoying to me. His gazelle-like climbing is sort of discouraging when you are counting out steps.
Counting Out Steps is a method I have used to get my mind over the altitude in climbing since I was a teenager. I learned it from my dad. It isn’t really complicated, but somehow it has helped me to drag my rear end up several mountains.
When you get high in the mountains and the air gets thin, you begin to have trouble breathing. If you aren’t used to this feeling, you can kind of panic and feel like you can’t catch your breath so you should probably stop climbing. When you stop walking to catch your breath, it’s really hard to convince yourself to get going again.
The trick is to let yourself breath before you are actually out of breathe, and you can do that by Counting Out Steps. You can actually catch your breath in about five seconds. You just don’t hang onto it for very long.
So you take 20 steps and then stop and breath for five counts. Or you can do 50 and 10 if you are stronger than me. Whatever works for you as long as you aren’t completely out of breathe before you stop and as long as you only stop for 5-10 counts. This way, you keep moving forward up the mountain. Slow and steady.
I did this with each of the kids when they got too tired to go any further today.
If you sit down and give up, then it’s so hard to start again, so instead of losing your breath completely, you just take 20 more steps. Then you count to five, but you stay standing up.
It really works, even very high up. You catch your breath enough to take 20 more steps. Sometimes my five counts is a little prayer asking God for just 20 more steps.
The altitude is such a mind over matter thing. People who are in great shape get tripped up by altitude.
But I’m telling you, at high elevations, slow and steady wins the race. Or in this case, gets you to the top.
About 100 yards from the top, our trail completely disappeared among the rocks and we had to climb with our hands grabbing the next rock in front of us.
There is a word among climbers that I don’t really care for. That word is exposure.
Basically, exposure means the amount of distance that you would fall.
This word is relative of course, kind of like four wheel drive roads.
Even though the experienced mountain climbers in my family would disagree, I definitely felt that we were having a good deal of exposure for the last bit of our mountain climb today.
Mary Polly especially got very scared climbing that last bit and I had to keep my eyes off that baby carrier in front of me.
Just too scary.
Don’t look down, I said to mp. and of course I was taking my own advice.
Just look at the next place you’re going to put your feet. You can do it!
The boys had reached the top as MP and I took the hardest part of the rocks, but we finally made it.
I am so proud of these amazing little climbers.
After we hiked the mile back down to the top of the lift, with the kids begging to please ride the lift back the rest of the way down, Taido says, Ok, let’s go! and pretty much just jumps onto the first available chair, again with my baby in a backpack!
So I had no choice but to get on and ride down on the next chair with the other three. Riding down a chair lift is really scary. I was super tired and emotional from our day, so I pretty much closed my eyes and prayed the whole way down. Thank you God for the mountains. Thank you that we made it to the top. Thank you for my sweet babies, who are not afraid to ride this lift. Thank you for our nice hiking shoes.
Side note: I really love my boots. They are the best I’ve ever owned. I remember when my mom bought them for me, I was pregnant and I had not yet admitted that fact to her. I was thinking that it was dumb to be buying hiking boots, because it would be forever before I could really use them. Now I am so grateful to have them! Thank you Mama!
Even though riding the lift down was not my favorite, it was, of course, worth it to save the four mile hike down.
However, I was going to pick the rest of those raspberries.
Oh well, next time.