Too often we lose sight of what is good, what is pure, what is clean. As for myself it was the presence of school and the absence of the mountains that blurred my vision. Adventure is necessary...
The feeling of isolation came over me as my friend Grant drove away (7:00AM, Friday). I felt isolated, not lonely or even alone. I felt free to be as intense as I wanted to be for the next three days. The purpose of this expedition was to start from Carbondale (6100 feet), not the actual trailhead of Mount Sopris, and trek and then climb to the summit of the mighty mountain (and to do it solo). It was a goal that would take all of my strength will-power if I was to be successful. The road-march to the trailhead was brilliant with spectacular views of Mount Sopris the entire way. The temperature was mild and very comfortable. At around 7:20AM I had my last human contact for the day. Two boys waiting for the school bus motioned hello as I trekked by. It was a pleasant passing.
The going was quick. Before I knew it I was on the dirt road and shortly thereafter (an hour) I was at the winter trailhead. I took a 5 minute pack and eat break to refuel after the 6.3 mile road-march. Continuing on the snow was strong and did not facilitate the need for snowshoes. I felt strong and able. I felt that this expedition was in the bag, no questions asked. The snow continued to be boot pack able until about 9000 feet at which point I put on my snowshoes and slogged on with my 50 pound pack in foot deep snow. The trail was distinguishable until 9500 feet. Upon losing the trail, I dug into the deepest recesses of my mind and broke trail from memory (I have been to Thomas Lakes at least a dozen times). Though monotonous and a bit of drudgery the pace was relaxing and meditative. "This is what I live for!" I kept telling myself. The weather was continually beautiful, clear and warm, almost balmy at times. Continuing on to the lakes… I reached the lakes 2 hours quicker than I could have ever hoped to. I had decided earlier in the day that I wanted to set up my assault camp as high as possible if I had the steam. I assessed my options of ascending onto the standard ridge of Sopris and opted for a direct line up onto the ridge. Upon gaining the moraine of the east lake I took a hard left (south) and bombed up onto the ridge. It was fairly steep and quite a bit of work with my pack and 2 feet deep post holing. I pushed hard and gained the ridge and found a nice level campsite with some protection from a few trees (12:15PM). I spent some time digging a nice level platform for my tent and cooking. I thought that this would be advantageous because I was planning on spending two nights at this location.
Camp is established...
After 45 minutes camp was ready. It was still beautiful and 1 in the afternoon so I decided that a nap was in order. I basked in the warm glow of my tent as the afternoon sun illuminated its yellow panels. Around 3:30PM I awoke refreshed and ready to do something beyond laying. I decided to break a trail up to the actual blown part of the ridge that I would be ascending the following morning. I broke trail for 20 minutes to the ridge only to be rewarded with an amazing few of Capitol Peak, Mount Daly, and the peaks of Mount Sopris. I returned to camp feeling hungry and exhausted by the days activities. I started boiling snow to refill my water supply. I then made some linguini while the stove was still roaring. After an hour and a half of cooking I was satisfied and ready to sleep. I did some final clean-up and organized gear for the early morning summit push. I was feeling perfect, strong and excited to finish the job! I was so anxious to shoot for the summit. I wanted to go now, but knew that I needed to wait and get some rest. My plan was to start out at 4AM Saturday morning so that I could get back down before the snow went to slush. I set my alarm for 3:30AM and went to bed at 7PM…
Achtung! Around 9:00PM I woke up with a pounding migraine type headache all the while feeling weak and nauseous. I knew instantly (I have felt this before at altitude) that I had some form of AMS, or acute mountains sickness. With my past experience I had thrown-up several times and progressively became weaker and required assistance for cooking and things. The difference now was that I was soloing, I was alone, no one to feed me or help me recuperate and get off of the mountain. I was 15 miles from my start point and if my headache and stomach continued to worsen, as they were, there would be no way for me to get down. I was frightened, honestly frightened. I had no motivation to move. I was a vegetable. I tried falling back to sleep but I couldn’t because of my splitting migraine and I felt as though I was going to hurl at any moment. Trying to be rational in an irrational state of thought I pieced together my options… I knew that the best way to shake AMS is to descend and I knew if I descended my trip was over. Which meant the huge push that I had done that day would go to waste with no summit in hand. I considered pushing it and staying high so I could finish what I had started but realized if I felt weak and began throwing up I would be in no shape to hike out. I had to be rational and safe. I knew I needed to get down while I could. I scrambled for my emergency cell-phone and was so relieved to see 2 bars of service. I called my buddy Grant. Grant agreed to meet me at 12:30 at the winter trailhead of Mount Sopris. I packed up, with the guidance of my headlamp, and was ready to descend within 15 minutes. It was all a blur. My energy was minimal and packing was drudgery but I knew it needed to be done. At 10:20PM I was headed down the mountain. My head was still throbbing and I was continually throwing up in my mouth. My steps were awkward and tripping became part of my rhythm. I took no breaks on the way down. My mind was set on getting down. No stopping. At one point, on a steep snow slope, I gained some speed on my snow shoes and my left shoe caught and tore off of my foot. I reached the winter trailhead at 12:05AM, now Saturday. I sat on my pack and waited. I honestly didn’t think that I would be able to get down off of the mountain while I was laying up there at 11500 feet. Now here I was just a car ride away from a warm bed. There was a pack of coyotes that I heard in the distance coming my way. I commissioned my ice ax to be a bludgeoning device in the event of an attack! Grant arrived at 12:30AM sharp. Relief!
7:00AM - Depart Highway 133 (Carbondale) and head up Prince Creek Road (6100 feet)
7:48AM - Dirt Road, end of pavement
8:50AM - Fork to Dinkle Lake
9:00AM - Pack break, 5 min. - refueling
9:07AM - Continue...
9:39AM - Trailhead to Thomas Lakes
10:19AM - Snowshoes on - 1 foot of snow, begin breaking trail (9000 feet)
11:00AM - Lunch Break
11:20AM - Continue...
11:40AM - Lakes (10,500 feet)
12:15PM - Campsite, on lower East Ridge
1:05PM - Camp is set up
1:30-3:30PM - Naptime, Read excerpts from Walden
3:45-4:20PM - Break trail higher on the ridge (11500 feet)
4:30-6:00PM - Cooking, boiled 2 1/2 liters
7:00PM - In bed...
9:00PM - Woke up with pounding heading feeing naeseous
10:00PM - Urgent call to Grant to get picked up
10:20PM - All packed up and descending
12:05AM - Winter trailhead waiting for Grant... (8100 feet)
12:30AM - Grant arrives
5400 vertical feet