Healthy Altitudes

The Mountains are calling and I must go It was a lazy kind of Saturday. Yes. I said a lazy day. I slept in till 6:45 and decided it was a great day to enjoy a slow breakfast of plain fat free Greek yogurt, Optimum Nutrition Blueberry cereal, and a splurge with the addition of some cinnamon and honey. After a leisurely breakfast, I heard something. I couldn’t quite make out what it was that I heard, so I opened the door to listen closer. It was the mountains calling.

I had to answer the call and I had to answer quickly because the weather can change quickly at 14,000 feet and it is not a good place to take chances when summer storms can roll in quickly. I looked up the weather and packed my gear within 15 minutes. I keep my gear easily accessible so I am ready to go whenever the call comes in. I try to pack smart and light as to make sure I can stay nimble on the rocks that almost every 14’er has near the summit. I grabbed my PRO Bars, caffeinated PRO energy blocks and 2 liters of Nuun for my hydration pack. Food is important on adventures but the right food is even more important. I skipped packing the beer on this one (although some others didn’t-keep reading to learn about that). After food and water, came the non-negotiables for every 14’er I climb. I bring a headlamp, compass, gloves, hat, sunscreen, whistle, a small amount of duct tape, toilet paper, and a spare sandwich bag for garbage. The things I bring might vary from what some others bring because I like running on the mountains when I can. As a trail runner (or as I prefer to be called, a trail yogger) I try to get up and down as smoothly and efficiently as possible. When going faster you need different food that is easier to digest, you need less food, and you need to stay hydrated because you will sweat more.

Plate of oatmeal cookies at the table
Click here for a simple oatmeal cookie recipe made for the trails

Off I went. One foot out the door, the other followed and the keys were in the ignition for the 90 minute drive. I love the drive because it gives me time to decompress from work, home, life, and it allows me to listen to audio books or podcasts (if I am flying solo). The 90 minutes gives me time to get excited for the fresh air I am going to enjoy. Today was a leisurely start and much later than I would normally recommend. I left at 8:30 AM. As a yogger, it is possible to leave a little later as it is a little faster to go up and down the mountain and it limits exposure to bad weather and decreases the need for lots of extra gear and food.

So the drive was smooth and I was off on my one daycation. I drove up the 3 mile dirt road that is very rough and very bumpy but I was lucky enough to find a parking space at the top lot. I arrived at 10 and hit the trail at 10:15.A picture containing ground, outdoor, sidewalk, watch Description automatically generated By the time I was heading up, most people were already on their way down or leaving the mountain. Most people start hiking at 4:00 AM and if the parking lot is full they have to turn around drive back down the 3 mile dirt road and hike back up and add that dirt road hike to the overall distance up and back. It makes an 8 mile hike a 14 mile hike.

It was a bluebird day with not a cloud in the sky. I forgot a couple things like my inhaler, sandwich, and apple but I had enough other snacks and fuel for the adventure. Sometimes you learn that the things that are nice to have are not necessary and they are a luxury in the mountains. It becomes a good exercise in appreciating the simple things when you finish a trip to the mountains. Showers, sandwiches, cold water, and chairs are all much more comfortable and appreciated after being in the mountains.

The trail was in great shape and there was even a crew maintaining it. This is the third time I have done these peaks so I kind of knew what to expect. It can be a pretty simple combo hike or trail yog. It is important to start slow and to stay in the aerobic zone. If you go anaerobic and get too out of breath too fast this can set someone up for failure later. After a slow warm up, I was already 8 minutes in and ready to go right where the trail leveled off. I was able to start a more efficient yog. Then as it started to climb again, it was all about keeping my arms moving quickly and efficiently and the feet followed. (Did you know that you arm cadence is what makes you run or hike faster?) At the steep sections, I tried to stay efficient… except… when I came across the mountain goat. There are times to slow down and enjoy the scenery. I took some pictures and then it was back to climbing like a goat. The trek up to Gray’s gets steep and rocky and it was very crowded so it required some slowing down and power hiking. On those slow breaks I had my snacks handy and sipped from my hydration pack to save me from trying to do that while I yogged up the hill and tried to watch the rocks.

As I got closer to the top, as any endurance athlete would do, I watched my watch… I was so close to beating my noon summit goal. I picked up the pace which took the wind out of my sails but I made it. I reached the summit at 11:50. I’m not as good as I once was but I can still get that time when needed. I took the obligatory photos from the summit and then headed straight down to the saddle to work across to Torrey’s Peak.

On the saddle I found some snow, marmots, wind walls, and cairns. It is so cool to climb down to go up again and it is even cooler to stand on snow in July. I climbed across the saddle and started up again on the rock stair stepper to the summit of Torrey’s Peak. There were a lot of people on the summit. It was fun to see all the people enjoying the outdoors and taking pictures. One guy asked if I could take his picture with his girlfriend and while I was taking it, his phone rang. I realized there was cell service so I called my family to say hello and show then what the top of a 14’er looked like in real time. There were four other guys drinking beer and talking about smoking marijuana and going to see a Grateful Dead tribute band. One of them almost fell off the mountain as he tried to take a selfie. It was an eclectic mix of people wearing jeans (not recommended) and people wearing helmets (they took a technical rock climb route to the summit). It is such a cool place to people watch and see what gear people use and what gear people should be using. I took my obligatory photos on the summit of Torrey’s and opened my pack for a snack. Then after some fuel and fluids, off I went to descend to the saddle and then to the trail down from Gray’s. The trail down from the saddle was pretty slick and took some focus because there was snow and in sneakers it was very soft and very slippery. Focus is key in the mountains and especially on the descent. As a famous mountaineer, Ed Visteurs, says, “Going up is optional but coming down is mandatory”. As a trail yogger I have trained for years with BOSU balls, balance, leg strength, and stability and core exercises so I can stay balanced and have strength in my joints to prevent ankle rolls, knee impact, and hip extension and most importantly to come down from the mountains. Even with all the training I have done for these mountains, accidents can still happen and you can never get too confident going down a mountain when you are tired from going up. Strength training is such an important thing for insurance on the descent from the mountains.

I made it back to the truck in just under 50 minutes on the way down. I loaded my stuff in the truck and had a protein bar and banana for recovery as I would after any strenuous workout. I drank some more water and Nuun to get my hydration back on track so I could squeeze in a swim on my way home. It was about 2 PM by now and I was ready to take the 3 mile 4 wheel drive road back down. As I left the lot, there was a group of three that had parked at the bottom of the road at 4 AM and they were too exhausted and dehydrated to hike all the way back down on the dusty dirt road. They put their thumbs up for a ride as I left the lot. I quickly stopped and without batting an eye, hopped out and opened the tailgate for them to get in. They were very appreciative for the lift. On the way down, within the next 500 yards, we picked up two more and then another 1000 yards, two more. We were loaded up with all 7 people in the back of the truck and we were on our way down. I asked what was the highlight of their day and they all said that getting a ride down was their highlight. All I could think of was a few years back when someone did this for me. It is such a simple easy thing to do and it is so easy to pay it forward for these other people years later. I hope we all can do just a little more to simply help each other when they are tired.

All in all, it was a good daycation and sometimes that’s all it takes. A one daycation to get away, breathe, turn off the technology and ‘goat’ for it without letting limitations, excuses, or other obligations get in your way of doing what will make you happier and healthier. It all starts with putting one foot out the door and the other will follow.