Pre-climb training in Colorado
We just returned from a pre-Kili climbing in Colorado to play around at altitude and see how our physical training has improved our stamina. It felt amazing to be in the mountains! We truly are a mountain family at heart, and one day we’ll live closer to our heart’s desire.
We eased ourselves into altitude. After all, we were coming from Dallas which was at sea level. Denver is at about 5300 feet and our friends home in Westminster where we stayed was around 6100 feet. The day after our arrival, we ventured up Mount Evans, which involved one of the only vehicle drives up to 14,000 feet. North America’s highest paved road took us all the way up to a parking lot just a couple thousand feet short of the summit. From there, we did a very short climb to get to the most breathtaking views!
Our 5 year old son Evan climbed what he claimed was his mountain — Mount Evans. Our 8 year old daughter Hannah got a headache at about 13,000 feet and it got worse once we got to the parking lot just short of the summit. I stayed with her while the group climbed to the top. Our friends were nice enough to bring the kids down while Jeff came back up to the top so we could admire the gorgeous summit together.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great in the Rockies while we were there. Our first minor climb was up Chief Mountain with the kids. It was a nice 1000 foot gain in altitude, and just as we got close to the summit the thunder claps immediately degraded our kid’s confidence on their first Colorado climb. I had just gotten above tree line and had the summit in my sights when Jeff told me to get down quickly. Oh, what a view. And I was so close! You can see the bad weather behind me.
Hannah was so freaked out by the thunder and lightning – which then was followed by rain – that she screamed the whole way down, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” I had that Momma Bear feeling of needing to get my cubs down as soon as possible. And we did. By the time we got down, the bad weather had stopped. That’s the mountains for ya!
The real climb that we had planned was Mount Massive. Jeff figured that this climb would be fairly close to the last day up Kilimanjaro, so it would test our ability to climb at steep incline with similar terrain. We set up our camp at Turquoise Lake, which provided us a phenomenal view of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.
The rain began to fall when we were setting up the tent. It’s hard to know how long rain will last in the mountains. As it turned out, we ended up experiencing an entire night of rainfall. The tent leaked with water, which made for a very interesting night! As we laid there, Jeff decided that Mount Massive may not be the best option for us. A very steep incline combined with wet rocky ground made for a more dangerous effort than we wanted to attempt. So, we decided to go up Mount Elbert. Jeff and Kurt had already summited Mount Elbert a few years back, so we chose a different route to change things up for them.
The morning started out pretty clear. What threw us off was the bad night’s sleep, which resulted in a slower start than anticipated. Everything was soaked. We made the mistake of going to a local diner in Leadville to have breakfast. Although the food was great for our energy need to climb, it delayed our start even more. We set out onto the trail up Mount Elbert just before 9 am. This late start would prove to come back to haunt us later in the day.
It was a beautiful trail with a nice, gradual incline. Our dear friend Chrisie, who is also going to climb Kilimanjaro was with us on this climb along with our friend Kurt. Chrisie did a stellar job, but it was a really big challenge for her. We all supported Chrisie as she had to stop frequently to catch her breath. We soon realized that if Jeff and I were going to summit, we were gonna have to climb ahead and keep in touch with Kurt and Chrisie via radio. Kurt, an avid mountain dude, volunteered to stay back with Chrisie. So, we climbed ahead. I got some amazing photos above tree line.
Jeff and I were climbing at a pretty good pace when the thunder started around 14,000 feet. Jeff immediately says, “I do not like the sound of that at all.” We continued to climb. The second clap of thunder happened about 10-15 minutes later, which made us think the weather was far enough away to continue climbing upward. We got about 200 feet from the summit of Mount Elbert when we passed a man and his teenage son coming down from the top. They told us that the entire summit was “electric” and that their hair was standing straight up while they were up there! Jeff immediately said, “That’s it, We’re going down!” We did an about face and started our quick trek back down to tree line.
The weather got worse and worse. Suddenly, I found myself trying my best not to panic. You do NOT want to be up above tree line when there is lightning. You have no safe place to go. The conduction of electricity will get to anything that touching the ground. We get to an area of the trail where it is briefly level instead of going straight down. Jeff yells from behind me, “Run the straight aways!” So I began to run, trying not to panic. All of a sudden, I hear Jeff yell, “NO!!” I turn around and he is airborn. He twists his left ankle on the way down and lands chest down with his hand cocked in the wrong way. He broke one of his fingers.
So here we were, at 14,000 feet. Jeff has a twisted ankle and a broken finger and the weather is very threatening. We are about 3,000 feet north of tree line with the steepest decline before we are struck off the mountain. I have to tell ya, I was really torn between my concern for Jeff and my desire to get down to tree line!! I began to run ahead of Jeff, but didn’t go so far that I didn’t have him in my sights behind me. If he were to fall again, he would surely incapable of getting down alone. Jeff was a trooper; he limped down and was actually passing able-bodied people along the way. His ankle was severely swollen.
I am happy to report that we got down to tree line, and also the rest of the way down without being struck by lightning. But what an adventure we had these last 24 hours of camping in the rain and then dealing with bad weather so high up on Mount Elbert. We were super bummed to be so close to the summit (we got to about 14,200 feet and the summit was about 14,400) and not to have gotten there. But I think we made the right decision turning back. Jeff’s sprained ankle is doing better everyday, and his finger is slowly healing.
What did we learn? We learned that it’s all about the experience. Jeff and I had such a fun time together, and had a blast with our friends. The ride out to Leadville was filled with lots of jokes and laughter. Our dinner was followed by a crazy search for bears out at the local dump. We saw a black bear there! And we had such a fun time playing cards in the tent before going to sleep. We were reminded that regardless of how we do on the great mountain of Kilimanjaro, we are sure to have fun. We look forward to building great memories that will last a lifetime, and that’s what it’s all about.