Experience necessary hiking tool
September 26, 2009
The clearest memory, the one which stands out above all others, and there are many beautiful ones, was the beginning.
5:15 a.m. Cold to many. Not to me. And we started up the mountain.
In all there would be 450 of us. But some of us, who deemed ourselves slower, chose the earliest leaving time available.
The beginning three miles of the hike up Pike’s Peak constitutes a series of switchbacks and a rapid rise in elevation. Thus, in the still complete darkness, the eerie sight of flashlights and headband lamps criss-crossing back and forth, below, as far as one could see them.
The surrealism of this resembled a procession of Druids, or others enacting a ceremony, moving in slow cadence.
Perhaps in a way, we were enacting a ceremony. Having each taken pledges to make this hike, financial offerings from friends and family, and then donated those pledges to the Colorado Head Injury Institute, we were ceremonially advancing against traumatic brain injury.
I had signed up for the hike believing I knew none with TBI. Then I stopped to think about it.
I remembered at least three people of importance to me who live with TBI, and a small child whom I loved, a victim of abuse, who also suffered TBI. He does not live with it — it proved fatal.
I am not a neoprene and vinyl, synthetic materials, aluminum walking staff, hiker. I am wearing leather combat boots, fatigue pants, a wool sweater, and carrying a wooden stick. I am old school, in this part of my life, and proud of it.
Numerous lean, synthetic-clad younger adults are part of our ceremony. Some of them move to the forefront with such rapidity, I wonder if they actually stop to appreciate the sound of the stream flowing to our left, a stream one cannot yet see, which adds its own air of mystery.
Reflectively, 25 years ago I might have attacked the mountain the same way. Glenn, a friend of my grandson, asked me this past week whether I won, and I explained to him that this was not a race we were part of. (Since Glenn’s parents read this column, I thought he might like to see his name in the paper.)
As light increased, I remembered the closest brush in my own life with a TBI. I was riding in the Ride for the Roses bike ride, and I went down while climbing a hill on the return to Austin.
I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of other riders, to keep me from being “car bait.” Nonetheless, had I not had a helmet on, the least I could have hoped for would have been a concussion.
As we neared Barr Camp, the slightly more than halfway point up the trail, it was 9 a.m. The organizers had set a turnaround time of 10:30 a.m.; anyone reaching Barr Camp after that, would be turned around and sent back, to avoid being above timberline in the nearly inevitable afternoon lightning.
When we reached Barr Camp at 9:30 a.m. they had moved the turnaround time up to 10 a.m., due to sleet, snow and winds predicted as imminent. Technically, we were still under the wire, but ...
I was hiking at that point with a fellow named Darrell, a wiry 70-year-old retired biology teacher from Denver who has hiked the trail eight or nine times. Darrell was in contact via cell phone with his wife, at the summit, and she confirmed the bad weather warning.
Reminding me that the last two miles, boulders above timber line, were more steep switchback and large rock, and what that would be like if covered in frozen rain and snow, he said, in typical schoolteacher fashion, “Let’s think about this. You can do what you want, but I’m not gonna risk it...”
Being too old to confuse independence with stupidity, and too young not to take the advice of a guy almost 20 years older who had done this many times, I allowed as how resting and eating some snacks, then starting the seven-mile hike back, seemed the best option.
Weather is weather — what can one say?
Conversely, every “keeper” photograph I took , was shot on the hike back down.
Great end to a great experience.