The hike was quite exhilarating with many highs and lows.
The day started out great, got started about an hour later than we'd planned (what's new?), but the weather was perfect. Mostly sunny skies and little wind, we weren't about to complain about the late start.
The initial part of the continental divide trail was windswept with gradual rolling slopes so, no extra foot attire was needed. We stowed our crampons and snowshoes on our packs and made great time over to Cupid's summit, stopping twice to remove a layer as it was getting hot. After Cupid we stopped and donned our crampons and headed over to the next 12er. We slowed a bit ascending that and Grizzly Peak (13,427) as the ascents and descents were getting noticeably longer, steeper, and slipperier...(is that even a word?)
On Grizzly the weather turned a bit. It began to snow lightly and the wind picked up so, we stopped and put on the previously removed layers. A short time later we stopped (again) to add face masks and goggles to our sporty attire. The constant stops and changing conditions were getting a little frustrating, but that's all part of the charm on these hikes, n'est pas?
Grizzly was awesome and would have been reward enough, but I really wanted to hit Torreys. So, we descended the ~500 ft down to the saddle and started the ~1600ft ascent up Torreys...that was an unexpected mental challenge for me.
John was doing great, but I started having a major anxiety attack as we went up in altitude. I was convinced my face mask and goggles were suffocating me. Even though I could prove that I could breathe through my mouth just fine, the slight restriction on my nasal passages was unbearable at times. I desperately wanted the items off my face, but it was far too cold to do so. Instead I kept stopping to pull them away from my nose while I bent over and gasped for air. I had never experienced anything like that before...I was freaking out and no rational thoughts would subdue it. John, unaware of my issues, patiently waited as I plugged along. The summit was very near and I was not about to turn around when there wasn't a rational reason to (although I probably wasn't in the best frame of mind to make such a call).
Once on the summit, I had a temporary reprieve...I think just the exhilaration of making it and the views (although limited) helped me forget my troubles for the moment. We looked at Grays, and given my "issues" the .6+ mi trek over might as well of been another 100 as far as I was concerned. Not today...I'll have to meet up with that one on another day....
We stayed at the summit for ~15 min, eating and taking it all in, then headed down. During the descent, the feeling of suffocation kicked back in again, but lessened with each step down in elevation.
On the way back we crossed back over Grizzly Peak. John had on crampons, but I had taken mine off and out of laziness, didn't put them back on (despite him telling me to). I slipped on a few sections and really thought about stopping to at least pull my ice axe out...I did not...5 steps later I REALLY regretted my lazy behavior. I slipped traversing the side of Grizzly's summit and slid about 10 ft on my stomach. Fortunately, there were 2 inches of powder on the hard snow to stop me, else I wouldn't have been able to stop. Fifteen feet below me, the slope dropped straight down with jagged rocks at the bottom. I just layed still on the slope, unable to move as I would start sliding again and I couldn't dig in at all. I called for John, but didn't think he could hear me. He'd gotten ahead of me around an outcropping and my face mask was muffling my calls. I knew he would come back for me eventually, I just didn't know how long I could keep from sliding. He did hear and came back swiftly. He anchored his ice axe for me to grab and took my ice axe off my pack for himself. He then stabilized my feet with his crampons so I could scooch back up the slope on my stomach...where I hung my head low, donned the crampons, and tightly clutched my ice axe. I was very angry with myself, but very thankful I didn't get hurt.
It was a valuable lesson. I shant be lazy again.
The remainder of the hike was fairly uneventful, but I slowed significantly. The stresses of the day and altitude gains and losses had taken their toll...and I admit, my cardio isn't what it should be these days. We ended up hiking down in the dark for the last 45 min (10.5 hours later). The temperature dropped and we had to put hand warmers in our mittens. Carried those things in my pack for years, never used 'em before...and I'll never hike without 'em again...they were heavenly!
We got back to the car and headed down Loveland Pass to I-70. Traffic on I-70 was at a near stand still so, we pulled over in Idaho Springs to have a late dinner and stay the night.
All told, it was a great day. Can't wait to go back and hit Grays.
"So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."
--Peter Gibbons (Office Space)