Last July I stood at the Manitou Springs Trailhead, peering through the 4 a.m. darkness with my super-human hiking chums.
We were there for adventure — five grandmas geared up with backpacks and uber-sexy headlamps — prepared to traverse Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak.
We lugged water and first aid kits. We hauled rain coats and sunscreen.
We packed trail mix and energy bars, and bagels pilfered from the hotel breakfast bar.
We had emergency whistles, hiking poles, bug spray, and topographical maps no non-hiking person could possibly translate into usable information.
You never know what you might need to tackle a Colorado 14’er.
Pikes Peak is a brute. Standing 14,115 feet above sea level, it isn’t Colorado’s highest peak, yet holds the state’s largest elevation gain. It stretches 7,800 vertical feet above Manitou Springs, in a horizontal distance of 7.25 miles.
Referred to as America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak is a handsome chunk of rock.
The song “America the Beautiful” was written at its summit, which we promised to warble when we reached the top.
Barr Trail winds 13 miles from trailhead to summit, and features switchbacks, forests, meadows, bald-faced boulders, and breath-taking views.
The views aren’t the only thing swiping your breath. The air shrinks Twiggy-thin the higher you climb, until each step requires herculean effort and steely-eyed resolve.
My companions met the challenge with aplomb, sidling up rocky slopes with confident ease. I, on the other hand, was a mitigated disaster — a long-shorted, boot-wearing flatlander in a strange, altitudinal land.
The summit was elusive. After hours of hiking, someone pointed to a dot on the horizon and announced, “Oh cripes, that’s the summit!”
It was far away-tiny in a speck-on-the-rear-of-a-flea kind of way.
My panicked brain conjured images of five women lying spread-eagled in the brilliant sun, moaning in dejected homage to a merciless god of granite.
It wasn’t my first crack at a Colorado 14’er. I once attempted to summit Mount of the Holy Cross with family, only to be turned back by altitude sickness a mile short of our goal.
Since then we refer to the beast as Mount Holy (insert hot, miserable place here).
Pikes Peak had me fretting a repeat defeat, and I soothed my jangled nerves by cracking awful jokes.
“I’m pausing for dramatic effect,” I slurred when I stopped to catch my breath. I’d rest my forehead on my hiking pole, and gasp mightily to fill flatlander lungs.
It was dramatic indeed.
We soldiered on, even overtaking a family of younger hikers who called us the “Gaining Grandmas.”
“We watched you advance for quite a while,” they told us as we passed. “You are an impressive group.”
I made sure my pauses for dramatic effect were taken well out of their sight.
Gaining Grandma sounds better than Winded Wheeze-Bag.
Hiking reveals surprising facts. In the right circumstance, trail mix tastes like steak and potatoes.
Water truly is the elixir of life. Sunscreen and bug spray are worth their weight in gold.
Thank goodness we didn’t have to test our rain jackets or emergency whistles.
We completed outdoorsy tasks like filtering water from a tiny stream, and answering nature’s call deep in the woods while hoping a bear wasn’t around to correct our techniques.
Conversations dwindled, until silence announced the need to devote every ounce of effort into simply moving forward.
Mile-by-mile and switchback-by-switchback we conquered that trail, until the summit finally burst forth like priceless treasure.
Happy bawling and group hugs ensured. Sweaty-faced, tired-legged pictures were snapped.
Tee-shirts were purchased at the summit gift shop. Donuts were consumed by the dozen. I don’t recall warbling “America the Beautiful,” but it is indelibly etched in our hearts.
Pikes Peak taught me the value of good friends, setting goals, and moving forward with occasional dramatic pauses to catch a breath.
I can’t wait to do it again.