Monday, October 01, 2012

Colorado Rockies

The trip was not uneventful. Later, after I've had time to digest the experience, I'll write about it in some detail. But for now I will illustrate some of my impressions.

Some people can go from living a few hundred feet above sea level to the high Rockies and feel no negative effects from altitude. I am not one of those people. When I hiked peaks in Yellowstone a few years ago that were well over 10,000 feet in elevation I had not trouble at all. This gave me a false sense of safety. What I found in Colorado was that I hit a kind of wall at around 11,000 feet. Generally around 11,300 feet or so I would feel the classic effects of altitude sickness. I did not get headaches, but I did get severe nausea and shortness of breath. This slowed me down to a crawl and the only reason I did not retreat was due to pure stubbornness.

The rewards to pushing on were great. Amazing views and a sense of accomplishment. The punishments for continuing to crawl higher up the slopes were many and varied. There was the physical sickness, the biting cold, the frequent storms, and even occasional depression. It was only as we ended our trip that I felt that I'd finally acclimated myself to the high elevations at which we were hiking (11,000 to almost 13,000 feet above sea level).

So one thing that I learned is that I will either have to train hard the next time I head into the high country, and/or spend more time acclimating my body to high altitude before tackling difficult walks and climbs.

Heading toward the higher country through the willows.
An abandoned miner's shack at around 12,000 feet above sea level. The nearby rocks were pierced with old mining shafts. I suspect this shed was over 100 years old.

A piece of an old wood-burningstove that probably kept the miners warm once upon a time.
At the pass. What appears to be a road is actually the Continental Divide Trail.
Brilliant aspens in full Fall color lined the trails and slopes as we hiked.

A cow and bull moose visited the beaver pond where we were camped.


MarkGelbart said...

You must have had a bunch of vacation time saved up.

My sister has lived in Colorado for over 20 years, but I've never visited. I'd like to see Rocky Mountain National Park, but not enough that I'd force myself to sit in a car and drive for that long. My wife and I don't want to go on airliner either.

I've never been above 6,000 feet in elevation, so I have no idea what if feels like to be at those kinds of altitudes.

HemlockMan said...

We flew out. I like flying--it doesn't bother me at all.

I have pulled my travel trailer that far and will do so again. The thing to do when driving great distances is to break up the trip so that you're not on the road so long that you get very tired. When we pulled our trailer from Charlotte to the Florida Keys we broke that up into three days of driving, arriving on the third day. On the way back we broke it up even more, visiting various state parks and historical sites on the return trip.

I got altitude sickness on the highest ridges and passes, which I didn't get when I hiked up 10,500 foot peaks in Yellowstone three years ago. Apparently the point at which I tend to get ill is a bit over 11,000 feet. I spent most of eight days between 11K and 13K feet. Only at the end of that time was I growing accustomed to the altitude. I'm apparently one of those people who needs a lot of acclimatization. Next time I go I'll train harder and ease into the higher slopes a little more gradually.