Man’s Got To Know His Limitations–Part 1

Posted on 07/22/2012

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I recently went on a trip with a friend of mine, and learned something fundamental about myself. This is a long article, so I am going to break it down into chunks, posting a part each day until it’s done.  The posts are in 3 parts. Each a short read.

I quite literally had no idea on how I was going to get down.
It all started, well, hell, like three years ago. I met some dude posting Anasazi stuff on the internet via twitter and his own blog. Man by the name of Jeff Posey. I didn’t know he lived near me.

Well, Jeff and I sort of hit it off while we were doing the DFW Writers’ Conference (the largest writers’ conference in Texas, I might add 🙂 ) and our friendship has continued for the past few years. We see eye to eye on a lot of topics and we disagree on enough stuff that our conversations stay interesting. Plus we both write, so there’s always a new story idea to bounce off the other person.

Anyway, Jeff and his wife have been on a vacation with my wife and I before. It was a short trip to west Texas over a weekend. But they said the next vacation we take would have to be in their favorite place, Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Cool with me. It’s one of the few cities in Colorado I haven’t been to yet.

So we planned this trip out many months ago. The Poseys were making this into a grand event with many family members and friends attending. We each were going to do our own thing, and sometimes we would all come together for community events like a pot luck or maybe a day hike.

Well, Jeff has this one hike he does pretty annually. He calls it his Monster Hike. (View our path here Thanks, Jeff)

I call it the OMG-WTF! Hike.

It’s a 17-20 mile hike up and around the Pagosa Peak area. You can mix and match your hike to however long or whatever path you’d like to take. You can just do what’s called the “Anderson Trail” or you can go off trail and do some bushwhacking, even trying to “bag a peak”.

Jeff decided we were going to bag a peak. Pagosa Peak to be precise. I was game.

I was bitten by the “Wanna do some hiking” bug a while back and this looked like a perfect time to go. Jeff has done more hiking than most people, and he’s well versed in the area. Think of him like a local “SurvivorMan”. (He’d probably roll his eyes at that and claim the statement is completely untrue–but he can suck it. This is my blog.)

Anyway, I started to work out in preparation for the trip. Maybe not as much as I’d like, but way more than I had in a long time. I was feeling pretty good as the week in July neared. Better, physically than I had in years. I was down about 20 lbs, and active. W00t! I was ready for the Monster Hike!

Who the hell was I kidding?

The day of the Monster Hike was the last day of the trip, to ensure everyone’s lungs were more acclimated to the thin air in the mountains. Prior to that day, we went on a short hike up Treasure Falls. The air was somewhat thin there too, but I made it fine–a little out of breath, but okay. Then, the next day, we did a longer hike up to Fourmile Falls. That hike took about two hours up, and two hours back. But it wasn’t too difficult. I was sucking wind on most of it, but I was able to make it with some rests to catch my breath and to get my heart rate down. (If you’ve ever been over 9,000 feet, you know what I am talking about). It was that night, when we got back to our cabin, and I was eating dinner, that I started to have some minor misgivings about the Monster Hike.

Hell, how could I not? The Fourmile Hike, while not too taxing (and I still had lots of energy afterward) just let me know how difficult the next hike would be. It was longer, and more arduous than Fourmile, by a long shot. See, my body was fine, it was that thin air that scared the crap out of me. Not being able to catch my breath was a real downer. But I had committed to doing it, and by GOD I was going to. I didn’t sleep well that night. The next day was a relaxing one, seeing sites and chilling.

Then, we had the day of the Monster Hike.

We started the day of the Monster Hike at 5:30 AM. Got up, had a few cups of coffee, got our gear all packed up in Jeff’s van, and headed out by 6:00 AM. The morning was a little chilled, but it felt good, and the skies were clear. (Wouldn’t stay that way, however).

Our crew: Dalton (Jeff’s step-son), Jeff , Jesse (friend), and of course, Me.

We took two cars because Jesse had other plans and wasn’t going to be able to complete the hike, but wanted to go a good ways with us. We met at the trailhead around 6:30 AM. The sun was just coming up. We got our gear on. I wore a t-shirt, some cargo shorts, a bandana on my neck for whatever I would need it for, a hide-brimmed hat, hiking boots, my backpack with water and food, and my walking stick. I was ready.

We started up the trail. The air cooled us as we entered the thick overgrown trailhead. Our plan was to hike up about 7 or 8 miles to the base of Pagosa Peak. Tackle the Peak, and then come back down. Jeff estimated about 9 – 10 hours to complete the hike. Three hours to hike there, three hours to bag the peak, and three hours back. We’d be done by around 4-5 PM.

Boy was he ever wrong.

And it was my fault.

The trail started out okay, but the higher we went, the harder it was to breathe. And we were going CONSTANTLY UP. As in, we were almost always using our legs to climb, climb, climb! I kept up pretty well for someone who’d never done this before. Well, I kept up good in my own estimation, which is probably pretty suck-level for others. We kept Jesse for about 3 hours, before he had to turn back. He was fun to hike with. He had good stories and a knack for good conversation. I was sorry to see him go.

Now it was just down to Jeff, Dalton and myself. Jeff and Dalton had hiked this trail many times and both knew what to expect. They were both supportive too. They knew it was my first time, but didn’t treat my like a baby. Just word of encouragement and taking a break whenever I needed one. Which, turned out to be often. Let me tell you, the fact that I couldn’t catch my breath really, really pissed me off. I literally had to stand still and wait for my heart rate to drop and my breathing to turn normal. Then, forty paces uphill later, I was back to square one. Don’t get me wrong, I would keep going past the forty paces, but every step was agonizing. I got into a rhythm where my left step was an exhale and my right was an inhale.

But even that only kept me going for so long. I eventually just had to stop and stand there for a few minutes. The funny thing? I wasn’t even tired most of the time!!! I was just out of breath! But Dalton and Jeff rested with me, talked and cut up, and were good company.

The path was strange as in, we had many switchbacks, then went over the “Saddle” of the mountain, and then back down the other side before we could tackle the peak. On the opposite side was what Jeff had dubbed “The Meadow” a sloppy marsh at 11,500 feet or so on the side of the mountain. Yes, a MARSH.

We rested in the marsh for about 20 minutes, with the peak looming over us, waiting.

The Meadow. Pagosa Peak is up to the left.

After our rest break (which I freaking hated!! I wanted to get up and get moving as soon as I had my breath! But then, I was the newbie and had no idea. I also hated all the damn mosquitoes and biting flies…they didn’t seem to bother Jeff for some weird reason) Jeff directed us around a side part where he said it was easier to get up to the staging area for the peak. Pagosa has what’s called a “false peak” where you think you’re at the top, but you really aren’t. (Here’s a panoramic view of the meadow taken with Photosynth on my iPhone)

Regardless, to get to the peak, all we had to do was go up 1500 feet. Hell, we’d already climbed over 2,000 feet so far, so what’s another piddely 1500?

It’s hell, I tell you. HELL.

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