TRIP REPORT: Wetterhorn Peak (14,015′)

What a cool peak! Wetterhorn was a blast. This might be my #2 favorite fourteener now because it was so much fun! My favorite part was definitely the infamous final pitch and would do it again in a heartbeat.

This was an all nighter adventure for most of us and we were all feeling it by the end. That Friday evening, I drove from Salt Lake, my climbing partners drove from Denver, and we met up in Lake City and headed immediately to the trailhead aiming to summit by sunrise. We parked at the 2WD trailhead before all loading in my friend’s 4Runner to climb the super sketch 4WD road to the upper trailhead. (High clearance vehicle DEFINITELY needed) We started hiking by about 3am and while we were taking our time, we were still making great time as the first 2 miles breezed by in less than an hour. The trail was very well marked and easy to follow in the dark.

Navigating the boulder field on the way up to the saddle was a bit trickier to follow in the dark, but easy in the daylight. The trail is still fairly visible and easy to see in light as we came down, but we did get off track a tiny bit on the ascent in the dark as it was harder to see. Once on the ridge, the trail heads up a steep sandy section before entering the class 3 section. Navigating the class 3 section felt a little like a choose your own adventure. There were a small handful of cairns sparsley laid out, but getting up to the flat spot really was up to you as long as you stayed infront of the rock rib. Some of us tried to climb the rock rib thinking we were already at the notch… Not Reccomended. Ended up in some class 4 territory for a second and had to backtrack.

On the class 3 ridge with the Notch and summit above us.

After navigating the ridge for some time and watching the sun begin to rise behind Uncompahgre, we made it to the flat spot just before the notch. This signifies you are like 10 minutes from the summit and you can see it right infront of you. After climbing the notch, and butt-scooting down the slab, you come to the base of the final pitch which has super solid holds and feels like your climbing a natural ladder. This was definitely the coolest part of the route. Comparitively, I would say this was steeper than the homestretch on Longs Peak, but easier and shorter as the homestretch gets SUPER slippery and feels way more exposed. As steep as this pitch on Wetterhorn is, it feels a bit enclosed as you climb and you don’t feel as exposed as it looks.

We came up on the summit at 7am, just in time to see the sun finally come up over Uncompahgre. The morning views were spectactular and we even found out later, a nearby climber on Matterhorn snapped a photo of us on the summit!

Heading down that final pitch wasn’t as nerve wracking as one would think. It is so fast and you’re done before you know it. Navigating the remainder of the class 3 section was much easier to follow on the downhill as we could see the route below us. After that, the trail was once again easy to follow back to the car.

Us on the summit of Wetterhorn! Photo by Todd Field

Overall, I freaking loved this peak. It was such a fun climb! Highly reccomend for those new to class 3 peaks, I thought this was a fairly mild class 3 and would be a great first one for those working on their fourteener climbs and working into more technical climbs. 4WD and high clearance definitely needed to get to the upper trailhead (we were nearly sideways at one point). If you must start at the lower trailhead, it will add a little bit of extra mileage.

Happy Climbing!

TRIP REPORT: Mount Whitney (14,508′)

Climbing the highest peak in California and in the contiguous US was quite the adventure! Not only did we climb Mount Whitney, but we traveled through Death Valley National Park and Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the US) to get there which made for a pretty cool way to mark this off the list. Almost 14,800′ of gain in less than 24 hours. This trip is one I most definitely reccomend, but there are some things you should know before you climb.

PERMITS:

Whether you aim to climb Mount Whitney in a single day, or backpack in and camp, Whitney is a permitted climb no matter which route you take. They have a lottery system in place for permits at Recreation.gov that opens Febuary 1. According to the Inyo National Forest site, only 34% of applicants were awarded their requested dates in 2019. Each year more and more people apply, lowering the chances of success. Once permits have been awarded March 24, remaining applicants do get first dibs at whatever dates are leftover on April 1. Web sales open May 1 and people have been lucky to occasionally find something that is left, but they typically go incredibly fast.

BEST TIME TO CLIMB:

Mount Whitney is located in southern California. Depending on whether it is a La Nina vs El Nino winter can actually help determine how much potential snow Whitney can hold in a given year. I summited June 10th which typically would warrant early season conditions with plenty of snow, but with a record dry year, and high heat, our route was virtually snow free. Heavy El Nino years can mean there is snow at Trail Camp and up the cirque of the 99 switchbacks well into August. When you apply in Febuary, take a look at snow water reports for California, as well as future forecasts for the remainder of spring to give you a guestimate of what the summer may look like as you plan your climb. Typically the later in the summer you go, the better your chances are at a snow free route. However, the later into summer you go you also risk monsoon season and will be racing weather on your climb. Always check weather and conditions before you go. Bring microspikes (and possibly an ice axe) if there is still snow, and always watch the clouds as you do not want to be on the high mountain in a thunderstorm.

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS!

Coming from Utah we had a few different options for driving to Whitney Portal. The fastest reccommended route went through central Nevada where there is essentially nothing. However for just about an extra hour of detour, by taking I-15 south to Vegas, we could drive through Death Valley on our way and hit up Badwater Basin, which is what we decided to do!

Initially, I personally had ZERO desire to ever visit Death Valley. It’s notoriously hot, and I don’t do well with heat. But with it literally being on the way, and having the opportunity to hit the lowest point and then the highest point, we couldn’t pass it up. We lucked a little bit with the weather as it was incredibly windy and cooler than usual (by cooler meaning it was 102 degrees instead of 122). I was also pleasantly surprised at what all the park had to offer. I was very much expecting just a desolate valley wasteland and I had no idea there were petrified sand dunes, and incredibly textured prominent peaks that looked like they were out of Star Wars until we got there. We whitnessed a couple dust devils, and of course took a pit stop to the low salt flats of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US at -282 feet below sea level.

A quick note if you decide to go through this park ever (especially in the summer): have lots of water in the car, make sure your tank is full, your antifreeze is full, and your tires are good! It is the largest national park in the country and there is little to no cell service in the park and would be a terrible place to break down.

WHITNEY BOUND

After our adventure in the desert, we made the remaining 2 1/2 hour drive to Whitney Portal, located just outside the town of Lone Pine. Car camping at the trailhead is not allowed. There are about 25 walk-in campsites located at the portal. A little further down the road is Lone Pine campground. Those spaces are reservable and is a cool place to camp with all the rocks. Whitney Portal is in active black bear territory. You cannot leave food or anything smelly in your car, bears have and will break into cars. There are bear boxes in the parking lot to store your food while you hike which is really conveinient. There is a little gift shop and grill at the portal it seems like their hours vary just a little from season to season. Currently they are open until 6:30pm so if you return from your hike before then, definitely reward yourself with a burger! It will taste so good after a long day on the mountain.

We started our climb at midnight. When we initially arrived at the portal the afternoon prior, it was insanely windy. Gusts at the summit were topping 80-90mph. People coming down that evening looked absolutely hammered and defeated. The winds were forecasted to die down overnight and by sunrise be reduced to sustained winds of maybe 10-15mph rather than 45-50. We prepared for wind and cold, however we severely underestimated just how cold and how windy…

There are several landmarks that can help break up this long hike, especially if you opt to do the climb in a single day like we did. Something important to note as well is that AllTrails is off by a couple miles. We used Strava to track and found it was a grand total of 23.4 miles round trip. Checking several other reports as well as just monitoring our pace with experience, I think our Strava track was more accurate. The first landmark was the log bridges and Lone Pine Lake about 3 miles in. We were moving at a solid pace and arrive at the sign for the lake about an hour and a half into our hike. About a half hour and a mile later we arrived at Outpost camp area, and within another half hour and just shy of another mile we made it to Mirror Lake putting us just shy of 5 miles in a little less than 2 1/2 hours.

“The Traverse” in the daylight. Note how rocky this is.

The next 2 miles were more brutal than I expexted. I thought we only had a mile left to Trail camp since I was going off inaccurate information, but in reality, we had 2 miles, and they were long and awkward. I dub this section the “Whitney Stairmaster 5000”. The trail steepens and becomes incredibly rocky. There are a couple landmarks such as coming up through treeline, “the meadow”, and “the traverse”, but it was so dark we couldn’t see anything anyway, and we were battling brutal winds. The higher we got, the windier and colder it got. This section also slowed us down. It took over an hour and a half to get through this section. Most of the trail was straight forward, but there were a few spots that tripped us up in the dark and we would have to stop and figure out where to go.

Finally, we make it to Trail camp at 12,000′ and nearly 7 miles in. It’s 4am and the winds were so cold, Trail Camp Tarn literally re-froze overnight. Our camelbacks were frozen and our waterbottles were becoming slushies. We took a pause under a rock trying to escape the unbearable frigid winds and debating our next move. We decided to keep going hoping that the 99 switchbacks would be somewhat sheltered from the wind because of the apparent direction it was coming from, and that the sunrise would bring some warmth and calm the winds as forecasted. We slowly made our way up the switchbacks, finding that once we were up several of them, they were slightly sheltered and gave us a bit of relief. We were at about 13,000′ come sunrise at about 5:30 and it was absolutely stunning. It really gave us a second wind to help us push on.

We made it to Trail Crest at 13,650′ and it was immedately back into the cold frigid winds as we transitioned to the shady back side of the mountain. Despite being freezing, the views of the west side with Guitar Lake were stunning. The trail drops down about 200′ (which was a bitch to climb back up later) to meet up with the junction of the John Muir Trail. We check the time at the junction to see it is 6:40am and we have just shy of 2 miles left to go. While most of the backside is fairly flat, its rocky, and uneven talus at high altitude making it slow, and for us, almost painful in those frigid winds. The final 500′ or so were probably the most brutal for us in the winds the entire climb. We were completely exposed to the full force of the wind, no more big rocks to hide under, and at this point it was just telling ourselves “we can warm up at the summit shelter and get out of the wind” that kept us moving.

We summited at 8:30am. When I checked the weather later I found out we still had 25mph sustained winds and gusts up to 40 on the summit at that time, making our windchill -4 degrees (literally a 106 degree difference from the day before). We didn’t stay long. We snapped some very quick summit photos, hiding on the leeward side of the shelter in between shots. We headed down at 9am and pretty much didn’t stop until we reached Trail Camp again at about 11am.

Mount Muir is the tall one center left, Mount Whitney is on the right.

Here at the tarn, we took our first real break after 11 straight hours in the wind, only really stopping to catch our breath (and take summit photos). We hung out at the tarn for about an hour; enjoyed the warmth of the sun, ate some lunch, stripped some layers, took some photos, and finally took in what we just battled through, celebrating our crazy successful summit.

From here it was just a long 3 hours back to the car, but at least we got to see what we missed on the way up. Stumbling over rocks on the stairmaster 5000, We finally got to take in the views of the rocky terrain, see Mirror Lake, check out the Waterfall at Outpost Camp (that I didn’t even know was there on the way up), and see Lone Pine lake. The longest section was definitely those last 3 miles. While it only took an hour…. it was a mentally LONG hour to push through. It just never ends and you want to be done. With about a mile left I found I hit a spot with cell service on the traill and briefly called my dad and my husband to let them know I was almost down and to story tell of the crazy windy adventure we had.

Not including our summit break and hour long break at Trail Camp, it took us 13 1/2 hours total, though we spent about 15 hours on the mountain. About 8 1/2 hours to summit, 5 hours down which is about what I predicted. I was guestimating it would take us 8 to summit but those winds man… They will mess with your head and make you question your life choices.

As much as I would love to say this is a one and done mountain for me, I know it probably isn’t. I just hope next time there is less wind! XD

TRIP REPORT: Mount Elbert (14,439′)

There is no better way to celebrate the summer solstice than from the highest point in Colorado! Mount Elbert is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains just outside the city of Leadville. Not only is it the state’s high point, but it is the second highest point in the contiguous US. A steep climb, but definitely one for the books!

Looking N-NW from the summit

Out climb started just after 3:30am from the standard North route. The trail started off pretty moderately with switchbacks for the first mile, very doable. The trail then flattens out and actually heads slightly downhill for about 5 minutes of walking or so before you reach the Contintental Divide trail fork. This flat continues for just another half mile or so before the steeper incline begins. This first steeper section goes for another mile or so until you hit treeline and makes you question your life choices.

At this point, coming out of the trees the we were in twilight and sunrise was approaching. we slowly continued to make our way out of the trees just in time to see the alpenglow hit the peak in front of us and watch the sunrise. Once out of the trees you can basically see the majority of the route headed up the ridge. It is a slow steep walk but take your time and you will get there!

steepest pitch up 1st false summit

The crux of the route starts at about 13,000′. This is the steepest section and is a slow spot. Knowing you have 1,400′ left of climbing the first 900′ are right in front of you in a very short distance. This is the first false summit.

2nd false summit

As you come around the north side and to the top of the false summit you can see the second false summit in front of you, a more moderate incline in comparison as you make your way up the hill.

3rd false summit…

As you come up on this second false summit the 3rd and last false peak gets your hopes up as it LOOKS like it could be the real deal…. it is not. HOWEVER, as you quickly make your way up this last hill you can see the REAL summit and it is a simple 2-4 minute ridge walk away!

Actual summit just ahead!

Welcome to the roof of Colorado at 14,439 feet!!!!! We took our time on the way up as we encountered wind and cold and had to keep adding layers. We summited at 8:50am.

The decent took half the time for the most part. Some steeper spots were a little slow for those needing to be gentle on the knees. (bring poles) As for difficulty, its just the steep gain and the altitude. The standard North route is a class 1. Very well maintained trail as it is heavily trafficked. We did pass plenty of people who turned around early in the morning as they were not feeling it that day. Also, being June it was VERY cold and windy for us. It had snowed the day before so the summit temps were at or just above freezing that morning and the windchill was recorded at 17 degrees Fahrenheit! (burrr) Overall, it was a BEAUTIFUL day to summit.

HAPPY SUMMER!

TRIP REPORT: Mount Nebo (11,929′)

Mount Nebo is the highest peak in the Wasatch Range in Utah. It’s located about 2 hours south of Salt Lake City near the town of Payson. It is a beautiful but challenging climb.

The trail starts out pretty mild and has a great view of North peak as you ascend. The trail is full of wildflowers and down trees. Navigating around the trees is fairly easy. The first mile and a half is the easiest part.

Once you arrive to the open meadow and cirque, the trail steepens as you head to the ridge.

As you top out on the ridge of North Peak, the trail leads around to the backside and flattens out as you work your way to the other side to the saddle.

Once you arrive at the saddle, the false peak stands in front of you. You can see the roue and the top of the false summit. Its pretty steep but straight forward.

Now for the tricky part. The summit ridge. This ridge is made of very sharp limestone and slippery shale. Gloves are highly recommended! There are no cairns or markers to mark a single solid trail. You can see what appears to be a path to the summit but it is actually pretty difficult to navigate as multiple paths exist but some dead end. I found the most direct route was to stay as close to the ridge line as possible. If you get too far below the ridge, the amount of shale increases and this rock is incredibly slippery.

The visible “path” ends approximately 100 feet below the summit. This part is rates as a class 3 scramble and it can be a little unnerving as you are trying to grab rock and hope that it’s solid and not loose shale. This was the point I actually turned around as I was climbing solo. I wasn’t sure where the recommended scramble path was since there are no markers or cairns and it was my first time on this mountain and did not feel comfortable being alone on the slippery rocks trying to figure it out.

This ridge was the MOST time consuming part of the climb. I made it to the top of the false summit. The ridge is only a half mile and it took me an hour and a half to navigate. Coming down, the shale is VERY slippery so keep that in mind. Stepping on solid rock is always better if you can. Poles aren’t super helpful on this ridge but they are on the way down the steep false summit.

Overall expect to spend 6-9 hours on this mountain depending on how fast you are. Like I mentioned, the ridge is the most time consuming part. Give yourself a turn around time. Many people just go up to the false summit to start. Start early, as there is NO shade from the base of the false summit onward.

Overall a gorgeous mountain! Definitely one to check off the list. I will be back to finish that last 100 feet! đŸ˜‰

How to Choose the Best Gear for Your Budget!

Shopping for the best gear for your adventures can be a challenge. You can do research, you can compare products all day, but ultimately you want something that is the best fit for YOU and whatever your adventures entail.

Most gear isn’t cheap, and for me, trying to find a balance of quality and budget friendly is probably the biggest challenge of them all. I spent a number of years as a climbing dirtbag/ski bum before I got an adult job. I had to learn where to find the best quality gear at the best price and I got really good at it!

From long underwear to climbing gear, I spent a majority of shopping time researching what my best options were for what I needed. But what I need for my mountaineering, skiing, and climbing might be different than what you need. But luckily, there is now a place where there is an entire community of others like me who have done the research for you on thousands of outdoor products from camping, to water sports, climbing, mountaineering, you name it. So without further ado, let me introduce you to my new favorite community: Ask Sidebar.

Ask Sidebar is a community of ambassadors that aren’t tied to a single brand or product they have to sell. It is a community of real people, giving real honest detailed reviews and advice of ALL their adventure gear no matter what brand they are because lets be real, we all use multiple brands for multiple activities and we are available to ask specific questions to as well!

My profile is full of a wide variety of brands such as La Sportiva, REI Co-Op, North Face, Black Diamond, Singing Rock, Mad Rock, Nordica Ski, Julbo Eyewear, Tiva, Chaco, Marmot, FiveTen, Giro, Marker Apparel, Mammut, Kelty, and Vaude. You can check out my reviews or ask me questions about products I use on a frequent basis!

So, the next time you are shopping for new climbing shoes, or maybe a new tent, check out the Ask Sidebar platform to get an idea of people’s real life experiences with products you are interested in. Ask them questions, and know exactly what you’re investing in!

TRIP REPORT: Longs Peak

My 3rd successful summit of Longs Peak is in the bag!

Before I give you the details, let me take you back a little: My first summit was in August of 2003. I was 13 years old, and it was actually my second attempt. The previous year I made it to the bottom of the homestretch and turned around. I had the worst nerves and threw up at the trail head that morning and was miserable the entire climb. Despite making it like 95% of the way to the summit, I just couldn’t go any further. I was completely depleted. It haunted me for a year, so the following summer I completed my first summit. It was the first time it really solidified my interest in climbing Everest in the future.

My second summit was in 2011. I was in the throws of recovering from an eating disorder and working through major depression and anxiety. I had been in a dark place for a long time and had completely lost my passion for climbing in the midst of my mental illness. Summiting Longs again with a friend of mine was the perfect way to rekindle that fire as I was working on my recovery.

Now here I am, 8 years later, growing and chasing my dreams! I went to EBC last year, I climbed Kilimanjaro a week ago and I come home and lead a few friends up Longs Peak only days after returning! So, without further ado, here is a little synopsis of my most recent summit!

We had some weather in the forecast for today so we started at 2am. We made it to the boulderfield before sunrise and began climbing up the rocks to the keyhole as the sun rose. We were moving quickly but slowed to a crawl as we navigated the boulders and the trail moved from a class 1 to a class 2.

As we crossed over to the other side of the keyhole and began navigating the ledges, taking our time to navigate, and help my friends through the rocks as the route became a class 3.

Next came the dreaded trough. I hit a mental wall at the bottom of the trough. A combination of jet lag and still recovering form Kili made me realize how much I did not want to climb up the trough once I came up to it. It has always been my least favorite part of the climb. It is a slow exhausting crawl up to the narrows. But it just comes one step and climb at a time. This winter was one of the snowiest and so there was still a decent amount of snow in the trough. It was off most of the route, however the very top of the trough had snow on route and we had to climb around it. Once that was navigated, we climb the last final 15′ rock up and out to the narrows.

A sense of relief for me as we popped out into the narrows, and a sense of panic as my friends saw the exposed view. low clouds began to build and I knew we had to be quick. We carefully climbed through the narrows and made it to the base of the homestretch in no time.

Some crowds navigating up and down the most technical part of the the climb slowed us down. We pushed to try to keep moving to the summit as we were now in a race with building clouds. There were patches of wet spots of recently melted snow, but before we knew it we were on top at 14,259′!

Our time on the summit was short. As soon as we started back down the homestretch we actually started to get a sprinkle of snow. It made the rocks slippery and slowed us down as we cautiously made out way down the homestretch. I will say this was the scariest Longs Peak decent I have ever had out of the number of times I’ve been on this mountain. The wet slippery decent continued into the trough as the mountain became enclosed in the clouds. Exhaustion definitely set in as we made it to the bottom of the trough and began to traverse the ledges back to the keyhole. Relief hit us as the keyhole came into view. After much needed snack break, the sun came out and we descended from the keyhole to the boulderfield. Back on class 1 trail, we cruised back down to the trail head. We lucked out and didn’t get the heavy rain, hail and thunderstorm until we were about 10 minutes from the bottom.

Our total time was about 12 hours and it was definitely the slowest I have ever climbed Longs. I definitely attribute that to the slippery slick conditions on our way down. If you EVER decide to climb Longs, start early, know your limits, NEVER go off route, check the weather conditions, and re-evaluate them constantly. As soon as it started raining/snowing up top, people were turning around despite being so close to the summit which was the smart thing to do. The mountain will always be there, you can always come back. We witnessed a helicopter rescue of a 15 year old that slid about 300′ down the loft on the other side. Good news revealed later that he was OK and somehow managed no broken bones, but it shows you how sketchy the conditions became as soon as those rocks got slick. My friends asked me to lead because of my experience on the mountain and my experience with class 3 climbing. If you have never been class 3 climbing before you NEED to go with someone who has experience with that kind of technicality and exposure. And of course, NEVER climb alone.

Despite my words of caution, Longs is a classic. It is my favorite peak in the world for a number of reasons. Don’t let the exposure scare you out of trying to do it, just make sure you are 100% prepared and know the risks. Longs may be one of the most famous of the Colorado Fourteeners and is definitely one for the books!

Kilimanjaro: Lemosho Route

Many people may not realize there are 7 different routes up to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Lemosho has been rated the most beautiful, and most successful route with about 98% success in an Uhuru Peak summit from this route. It is also the longest which gives more time for acclimatization which is why more people are so successful in summiting. The Lemosho route is typically climbed in either 7 or 8 days.

On July 18, 2019 I completed my first of the Seven Summits! I arrived to Moshi, Tanzania with an 8-day itinerary for the mountain which ended up being 7 because I’m a bad-ass. Before even leaving for Africa, I kept asking myself why I signed up for the longest climb when physically, because of my experience at altitude and the amount I have trained this year, I could have totally done the shortest route, but nevertheless, I was climbing Lemosho, and was and ready to go.

Day 0Materuni Waterfall

My cultural shock was little-to-none compared to Nepal. Maybe it is because I had already immersed myself in a 3rd world country once before, or maybe it’s also because my hotel in Moshi looked like a tropical island resort. Either way, I woke up ready for whatever adventure awaits. For my rest day in Moshi, I decided to check out the infamous Materuni Waterfall. It is a short hike from the Materuni Village. You are surrounded by tropical plants and trees that grow incredibly in the fertile volcanic soil. Coffee plants, Banana, Avocado, Mango, and Pineapple trees all surround the trail as you begin. The trail is fairly flat and only takes about 45min to an hour to get to the falls. With overcast conditions in the rain forest, you feel like you are on a tropical island rather than a giant mountain. The falls are gorgeous and continue to make you feel like you are in a tropical paradise. On the return you have the option of the “coffee experience” where you pick your own fresh beans, grind them by hand and drink your handmade espresso. I do not like coffee so I opted out of this adventure but overall, Materuni is a MUST see if you have spare time in your trip.

DAY 1- Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp (9,000′)

We started the morning by driving from Moshi town to the Londerossi Gate (not Lemosho). Londerossi is where the registration office is and we ate lunch there as well. I made some friends from the other camps that I would continue to see sporadically during the climb, and we all headed out and down towards the Lemosho Gate entrance. Finally time to start hiking! all of the camp and gate signs give estimated times of travel to the next camp. It was estimating 4 hours for a short 7km to the Big Tree Camp. It barely took me 2 hours to get there. Many guides stress going “pole-pole” which means “slowly-slowly” and it will be very slow going if you are in a large group. But it was just me so I got to set the pace! A couple other girls were supposed to be with me but they switched to the September climb. I found that in July, it is busy season but not quite peak busy season, so there were a lot of tiny groups of 1-3 people, but only a few massive groups. I would pass a majority of these larger groups on the way up since it was just me. I saw a bunch Colobus Monkeys in the rain forest on the way to camp, and could hear them chatting and hopping between trees; super cool to see out in the wild. I did not sign up to do a safari after the trek so this is the extent in wildlife I would get to see. We arrived at camp with plenty of time to spare. They feed you incredibly well to make sure you have enough calories for the mountain but I was convinced I was going to gain weight there was so much food! Day 1, easy. Done.

DAY 2- Big Tree Camp to Shira I and Shira II Camp (12,700′)

Today I skipped a camp because I am such a bad-ass. We started a little later than nearly all the other groups and I passed almost all of them on the way up to Shira I. Any of the groups that do Lemosho in 7 days instead of 8 usually skip Shira I camp. As I passed these groups, many of the other guides were asking if we were also skipping. Internally I was hoping but was almost afraid to ask if that was even a possibility. It wasn’t until we stopped at Shira I in time for lunch that my guide asked me if I wanted to and I was ecstatic to say yes. It was only 11am and there was no reason I needed to spend an extra night on the mountain at this point. I felt great, and wanted to keep going. So my 8-day climb now became a 7-day climb and we continued across the plateau and up to to Shira camp II. As for the hike itself, starting from Big Tree, it was very up and down for the first mile or so until leaving the rain forest into the Moraine vegetation zone. Once above the forest, the trail steepens as you follow a ridge up to the Shira plateau. The plateau is pretty flat between the camps I and II. Right before Shira II it steepens as you officially begin to climb up what is officially considered part of the Kibo (Kilimanjaro) Volcano.

FUN FACT: The Kilimanjaro mountain is made up of 3 volcanic cones: The Shira Caldera, Kibo (Uhuru Peak), and Mawenzi. By climbing the Lemosho route, you get to climb Shira and Kibo, and view Mawenzi from summit base camp!

Meru peak (left) and the Shira Caldera as viewed from about 14,000′

DAY 3- Shira II up to Lava Tower (15,000′) and down to Barranco Camp (13,000′)

A steady climb from camp II up to the Lava Tower warrants excellent views of the Shira Caldera below. the Lava Tower gets you up close and personal with the southwest side of the mountain. A quick stop for lunch and it’s all down hill from here. The decent to Barranco camp is decently steep in spots, so knees beware. You can see the camp below pretty immediately and just watch it get continuously closer on the decent. if the clouds haven’t rolled in, you should have a fantastic view of “The Breakfast Wall” that will be climbed the next morning. Many get intimidated by the near 800′ of climbing that is required first thing in the morning but don’t worry, it looks much worse than it is.

DAY 4- Barranco Camp up “The Breakfast Wall” (13,775′) and down to Karaga Camp (13,200′)

A roller coaster of emotions today on this climb almost perfectly reflect the roller coaster in altitude. I was feeling a little down when I woke up, missing my husband and was just kind of tired and cranky honestly. We start with the infamous Breakfast Wall. Which includes some mild scrambling. Non-climbers might be intimidated by this wall but don’t be. The trail is wide and well marked. There is only one “skinny” section nicknamed the “kissing rock” because you have to hug it to walk by, I did not feel the need to do so. It was still a wide enough path that I felt just fine. I never felt like I was straddling any crazy exposure, granted I have climbed much scarier climbs. After the scramble is over, you think you are nearing the top of the wall, but take my warning: there are like 5 false summits! think of it like a stack of books lined up shortest to tallest. you climb up the side of the short book and top out, but now you have to go up over the next ridge, and the next one, and the next one. I was legitimately getting pissed off. We finally top out for real and the views are incredible. You get a front-and-center view of Kili, and an ocean of clouds down below. I instantly felt better… for now. The way down to Karanga camp is mostly downhill, but it involves jumping one more ridge line as well as dropping into the Karanga Valley before climbing back up to the camp. The last steep pitch before Karanga is hands down the hottest, steepest pitch you will do the entire climb. I felt like it was steeper then the Breakfast Wall! Its about a 200′ climb straight up to camp. Not a fan. However, overall this hike is pretty quick. they estimate 4-5 hours for most groups; didn’t even take me 3. So after lunch, it is time for a nice relaxing chill. You can hike around nearby for more acclimatization, but my knee needed a break if it was going to be in tip top shape for the summit.

Day 5- Karanga Camp to Barafu Base Camp (15,250′)

It is customary for the guide companies to give you a songful introduction to the crew at some point on your trip. Most try to do it earlier in one of the first days on the mountain, in my case it got delayed until this morning because I had skipped a camp that second day which is when they originally wanted to do so. I actually liked it better waiting for today since it is the day before our summit attempt. It was the perfect encouragement and wish of luck to the summit I needed. After singing some songs we headed upwards. A steady incline at altitude, only took me about 2 1/2 hours to get to Barafu. A long time to rest and prep for the next day although my attempt to sleep early failed miserably, I felt good and ready for the summit attempt!

Day 6- SUMMIT! Uhuru Peak (19,341′) and down to Mweka Camp (10,000′)

We started at midnight. I felt pretty good and although we were going what felt like a snail’s pace, we were still passing massive groups. It is a long night as you crawl your way slowly up to the summit although it felt shorter than I thought it would. As we got closer and closer to Stella Point, the wind began to pick up and the cold from the early hours of the morning were freezing my Nalgenes. At just after 5am, we came up over the crest of Stella Point. it was still incredibly dark and the wind was coming off the crater. It was Brutal. Weather reports later indicated that it was a low of 17 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit, with winds up to 15 knots which makes for windchill well below zero. The pace is set and designed to summit by sunrise. However, because I was moving so quickly, we hit Stella point well before dawn and Uhuru Peak at 6am (sunrise wasn’t until 6:30). It was too cold to honestly enjoy much time on the summit, we spent maybe 5 minutes tops, snapping quick pictures in the dark and heading down the crater rim back to Stella point. The sun finally rose as we got there, and the long decent began down the way we came. The decent from the summit involves some glicading on volcanic ash and sand in spots. It only took maybe 2 hours to get back to base camp. After a quick break and some food, we continued down to Mweka camp. Initially the decent was fine, and then the rock steps began….. after passing the Millenium intermittent camp, the last 3 miles or so was all big rock steps and my poor knee made itself known. After a very, very long day, I plopped into my tent and slept like a log.

Sunrise on the glacier from just above Stella Point

Day 7- Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5,300′)

A much more gradual decent today, made my knee was thankful but my calves were definitely burning in the end. After 14,000′ of decent in 2 days, my legs were pretty done. It only took me about an hour and a half to descend 6 miles. It was foggy and rainy at the bottom and made for a cool, spooky atmosphere in the rain forest. After packing up the vehicles at the gate, we headed about 5 minutes down the road to where we would eat lunch and celebrate outside the souvenir shop. I was glad to be done. Tired, sweaty, and ready for a much needed shower!

Overall, I enjoyed Kilimanjaro. I kept catching myself comparing notes to my Nepal trek to EBC last year and felt like Kili was significantly easier than Nepal. Mentally I was also in a much stronger place and we all know that climbing something like this is always more mental than physical. Swahili is easier to learn than Nepali as well, I felt I took away more of the language, but unfortunately not as much culture as I would’ve hoped. Moshi town is fairly modernized so I would have loved to visit a village out in the grasslands, and meet tribesmen and I did not get to see anything of that nature. I definitely recommend knocking this one off your bucket list if you have interest in climbing Kili. I also recommend the Lemosho route. it shares much of the popular Machame route but I think is more picture-esque in the first few days before the trails merge.

Mental Space for the Climbing Mind

Everyone is different. Everyone has different fear and anxieties. A non-climber might ask someone who does climb how they could possibly do it, might even call them crazy. The reality is, we kind of have to be in our own way. We have to be able to conquer our fears and anxieties enough to be able to succeed.

How do we do it? How do we get into the mental focus and space required to successfully top out on a wall or a summit.

Well, again, everyone is different. The best I can do is share my experience. In reality, I have incredibly severe anxiety. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a mess and it is a wonder how I am able to conquer it for the sake of climbing. The truth is, climbing and mountaineering is one of the very few ways I can focus my mind and I know many other climbers that feel the same way. I like to compare it to those who use yoga as a meditation practice. When you do yoga, you have to focus on balance, posing, breathing, and it is nearly impossible to think about anything else that is bothering you in your life. Climbing does the same thing for me. I hone in and focus on my moves, each step I take, each hold I grab, always looking onward and upward.

I had an experience this week on an incredibly easy wall that tested my mental space. This is a wall I have done so many times I have lost count, a route so easy, I honestly could free solo it. I am not sure exactly what it was, but on this particular day, my head just wasn’t in it. I set up the top rope, and I normally repel down from the top, no fear, no big deal… I couldn’t do it. I psyched myself out. Later, climbing the route I got about 3/4 of the way up and froze. I ended up pushing past it, but the thoughts going through my mind were a complete lack of trust in my rope and my gear which NEVER happens. Why on earth was a suddenly freaking out? What was it about that day or that climb that made me so nervous despite doing it dozens of times in the past?

Reflecting back on it, I realized I was not focused, and I wasn’t in my right mind set, I wasn’t climbing for the right reasons that day. I climb for me. I have always climbed for me. It is my therapy, it is how I am able to get an escape, it is a spiritual experience and place for me to be, and it is how I am able to find a sense of peace and calm in my chaotic world. That day, I was not climbing for me…. I am not even sure what I was climbing for… Attention maybe? Showing off to my husband? Embarrassing as it may be, I am quite irritated at myself. It reminds me that no matter how simple the task, I need to be focused on it, and not let other things in my world cloud my judgement. It might not be a big deal on a simple top rope route, but say I am climbing up a Himalayan ridge, that mental space is crucial for success as well as safety. If I got too distracted that I panicked, I could put my life or someone else’s in jeopardy…

I reflect back on my trip to Nepal, and there were a lot of factors that wreaked havoc on my mind. Getting food poisoning early in the trip put a lot of doubt in my mind. It wasn’t until I started feeling better that I received a surge of confidence, that is until I got sick again. The day I climbed Kala Patthar, I was not mentally where I really needed to be at the start of the climb. It was cloudy, and I was more focused on “What if the clouds never move? If I get to the top of this thing and I can’t even see the view I’m gonna be so pissed!” I then began to panic because I wasn’t getting enough air. It was my first experience at 18,000′ and I was beginning to doubt if I could even climb this stupid hill in front of me. About 2/3 of the way up I stopped for a little while, I had to refocus my mind, and get “out” of my head. Focus on my steps, focus on getting to the top regardless of what the weather does. I had to remind myself that whether the view is cloudy or not, it is still a massive accomplishment and I would hate myself if I turned back. I took about 10 minutes to gather my focus and continued onward. I climbed, I made it, and luckily the clouds parted just long enough for me to snap a picture of Everest.

It takes practice to focus the way I need to to be able to successfully climb a wall of summit a peak, and I am only human… some days just aren’t my day. The key is learning to push past whatever is holding you back to be able to focus when it really counts. If I really want to climb Everest and the other Seven Summits, I need to be 100% focused. I need to remember WHY I am doing it and I think the same can be said for anyone who has a goal they want to accomplish in life. Why do you want to do it? Hold onto that, focus that, and don’t let anything else get in your way.

What I Learned About Myself in Nepal

Report from 7/7/18

There are dozens of articles out there on trekking to EBC, reguarding “do’s and don’ts”, “things I wish I knew”, etc.

The reality is, none of that can really prepare you for the experience itself. I myself, have been dreaming of the day I could finally see Everest since I was about 9 years old. I studied everything. read every article, every forum, every blog….. and there were still surprises.

First off, the reality:

It seems like everyone always says they wish they trained more. I thought so too, but physically I did really well. My body and legs felt very strong. I didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness, but breathing up high (especially with asthma) is incredibly difficult. The trick is to just find your pace, and stick to it. It’s OKAY to go slow!

Also, if this is you’re first trip to Asia, or a developing country, you are almost guaranteed to get sick. Be prepared to eat the same half a dozen “safe” dishes in every teahouse… I watched my trekking partner eat whatever he wanted with no issues, but he had much more travel experience than me and was living in Bangkok where he was used to the bacteria common in Asia. I on the other hand, got food poisoning 3 different times. I was able to pinpoint which foods where the most likely culprits and I avoided them the rest of the trip. I was trying to play it safe eating vegetarian up there, but cheese was a bad idea, even vegetables themselves can be a risk if not cooked or washed properly. If you are a first timer, stick to pasta dishes, oatmeal, ramen, rice dishes, popcorn, and dal bhat (a traditional dish of rice and lentil soup). You will get incredibly tired of eating the same thing for 2 weeks, but it is the safest option.

Another piece of advice I once read about was to take multivitamins with you to make up for the lack of nutrients. I felt like this was helpful and I think this strategy also helped keep me from catching the “khumbu cough”.

This was my first time out of the country. I went from 1st world luxuries in the US, to the vastly different world of Nepal. My first night in Kathmandu was complete culture shock, and took some getting used to. (Read more about when I first arrived in Kathmandu here.) There were a lot of emotional ups and downs on this trip. I learned a lot about myself on this trip… particularly things I didn’t expect.

I learned that dreams take more work than initially planned. It took me a lot longer to finally get a chance to trek to EBC than I wanted but in reality, I would not have been ready before now. This was step one in my complete dream to climb the Seven Summits. But when I finally got to see the Himalayas in person, that felt absolutely daunting. I began to realize how glorified, and “easy” documentaries and movies make Everest look. Everest is HUGE!! The mountain is scary, dark, and looming. The reality of the darkness this mountain carries really begins to sink in once finally seeing it in person. SO much death, pain, misery, and despair. Out of those who summit and live, many go through a personal hell to achieve that goal. They come home 30+lbs lighter, sun damage on their face, and may even lose a few fingers or toes to frostbite.

During my time in Nepal, I experienced only a small fraction of this and it was a lot harder than I expected. I lost close to 15lbs in total just in the 2 weeks I was in the mountains due to both traveler’s diarrhea and hiking 5-6 hours a day. Despite putting on sunscreen nearly every hour, I still maintained a pretty severe sunburn on my face. And on days I felt sick and exhausted, separation anxiety kicked in. As a kid, I spent a month each year at a summer camp in Colorado, happy to get away from my family and never had a problem with homesickness. This time I was leaving behind a husband, who is my rock in everything. Not being able to contact him when I was having a hard time was incredibly difficult. I began to really wonder if Everest and the rest of the Seven Summits was what I really wanted. It would mean spending money on years of training and climbing, surviving miserable trips full of pain, and discomfort, all for just one shot at the summit…. is it really worth all that trouble? Do I care enough? The answer is yes, however it is going to be A LOT harder than I expected… And honestly I’m a bit terrified.

On a bit of a lighter note, there is a special feeling and spiritual connection that has developed over the years for me when it comes to climbing high peaks; the Himalayas were no exception. I have known for years that I always felt closer to my deceased sister in the mountains, but being alone in the Himalayas gave me a much larger perspective on the matter.

On the summit of Kala Patthar with a photo of my sister Brooke

My favorite day of the entire trek was not the day we climbed Kala Patthar or went to EBC, it was the day we trekked from Dingboche to Lobuche. We had 360 degree views of the mountains that surrounded us, and we visited the Sherpa Memorial field. The mountains were the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I could feel how the memorial field was a very sacred place on the mountain. This was the day I could really feel that connection, but that wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of moments throughout the trek where I felt like I was really able to be myself in a spiritual way which was something I had been craving for a long time.

Growing up in a religious family brought up a lot of issues over the years. I felt like I couldn’t be myself. I felt like I was being forced into living expectations I couldn’t possibly live up to. Fear caused me to unfortunately hide how I felt for years, which contributed to depression, and my eating disorder after high school. I never really had the chance to come into my own until I was able to work through many of those issues through therapy and I began to look inside myself to figure out what I even believed in.

This trip really helped me cement some core beliefs on my spiritual side that had been lost nearly my entire life. I believe that personal spirituality, and your personal relationship with God (or whatever you believe) is far more important than the religion itself. A belief I personally feel like has been lost in many common religions today. This is not to bash on anyone that belongs to a religion and practices regularly, there is nothing wrong with that! There are a lot of genuine people that are members of a church. However, I have personally found a lot of hypocrisy in religion growing up, and I know I am not the only one who has felt this way. Religion is made up of people. People are human. Nobody is perfect. Therefore, no matter the religion, you can always find flaws. This is why your personal relationship with God is the most important. Being responsible for your actions, holding yourself accountable, no matter what they are, and just working on being a better person all the time is the best thing you can do, with religion in your life or not.

One thing I really loved about Nepal is that it is an incredibly spiritual country. You can find every type of person on the religious spectrum, such as monks praying at the stupas, non-practicing, and everything in between. But no matter who they are, everyone is nice, helpful and genuine. This has a lot to do with the Buddhist belief in Karma, but more than that, it is their culture and it was probably the most real place I have ever been in a spiritual sense. Simply put, people just want to help, and are trying to be good, whether they are Bhuddist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or something else. This is how everyone should be, this is how our would should be, and this was the best thing to learn about myself on my trek to EBC.

The 14er Quad: Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron, Bross

Report from 6/30/18

I’ve been home from Nepal less than 2 weeks and the high altitude fever was already killing me! time for some more high peaks! 4 in a day to be exact.

Located South of Breckenridge, CO and North of Fairplay lies a series of 14ers in the Mosquito Range. Some of these got checked off my list on Thursday.

We left Littleton around 3am to drive the 2 hours to South Park. the trailhead for this quad is located up a dirt road Northwest of Alma. My partner and I started hiking at 5am. After reading various forums on the internet, we decided to take the advice of many and do the loop backwards, starting with Bross. The trail is steep with slippery scree and many have mentioned that it is much easier going downhill on Democrat, especially if you have bad knees. So, with that advice, we started with Bross. As we neared 14,000′, we ran into 2 mountain goats who were surprisingly chill with us hanging out with them. After a few selfies with the goats, we moved onward to the summit. Within 2 hours we were on top of our first out of 4 fourteeners for the day at 14,172′.

**A little note about Bross: Mount Bross’s summit is located on private property, so technically, you are not legally allowed to go to the summit. The trail scoots right along 14,000′ so if you do not feel comfortable trespassing, then you still at least hit 14k. The mountain itself lacks structural integrity. It is an old mining site and has not been maintained so with the summit trail closed it is a “climb at your own risk scenario. Also, NEVER EVER enter one of the mines as they all risk collapse. Other people have reported that on occasion there will be someone monitoring the fork in the trail on Bross to keep people off the summit. We didn’t see anyone on our ascent. My guess is because we started with Bross instead of Democrat and no one was monitoring the mountain that early.

After spending about 20 minutes enjoying the summit, we moved on to your next peak. Headed down the saddle, following an old mining path past Mount Cameron, we soon arrive at our highest point for the day. after 50 minutes of traversing, we were standing on the summit of Mount Lincoln at 14,295′.

A short 10 minutes of pictures and smiles, we move on to Mount Cameron. Since Cameron’s prominence does not meet the 300′ minimum, it is not an official 14er, and is listed as unranked. It is basically an extension of Lincoln’s shoulder. Regardless, it is named and still a peak in my book, and the trail goes across the summit so after maybe 20-25 minutes of hiking, we were standing on Mount Cameron at 14,238′.

We spent a good amount of time resting on the summit of Cameron knowing we had a large obstacle ahead. The downside to doing the loop backwards is the fact that Democrat is last, and it is the hardest of the 4. After dropping over 800 feet in elevation, we then had to re-ascend 700 of that within a half mile. it was slow, steep, rocky, and exhausting in the hot sun. After what felt like forever, we finally stood on the summit of Democrat at 14,148′. We are 4 for 4 on this fourteener loop!

Car to car, including our summit breaks, it took us 8 hours. We arrived back to our car at 1pm, and headed into South Park for lunch!

Definitely recommend this loop as you can check off 4 peaks of your 14er list. Be sure to acclimatize well before doing this climb as it is a long day above treeline. Bring lots of water and always be prepared for weather!