It is two years and two pants sizes since I went to Everest. I am none to happy about how I am leaving the USA but it is what it is. Today, Maggie and I headed off to our final preparatory hike before our departure. It was a great morning. Cool yet comfortable. I have been battling some ankle swelling and have been a bit concerned about that. But today was all about that last effort on home soil.
I had not gotten much sleep. I tossed and turned as my pups, for some reason, were at each other all night. usually they simply sleep with the occasional alerting because something outside catches their attention. But this particular night was different. Lots of banter and territorial growling with he occasional rough necking. All.Night.Long! Morning came and I drug myself from
bed and noticed Jack the older of my dogs was not his usual cheerful self. He kept looking out in the loft as if he were watching a ghost. I walk out there and there it is. The oat bar he had drug up after having gotten in my trekking duffel bag and taken out my trail bars! So that was the answer to all the trouble!!! I went downstairs to find them strewn about, unopened. Mystery solved, but that didn’t change the fact I was BEAT before we even began.
Maggie got to the house and we loaded up ol’ Ace the Honda Pilot and set out for the trail-head. We yacked about the trip, how much packing we had to do, what tips we would have on hand for the porters and crew of Mountain Madness, are spa day at the end of the trip and other sundry topics as they randomly came to mind. Then we arrived at the trail-head and laced up our boots. We donned our packs and grabbed our poles and off we went.
Today’s hike was Trail Canyon. It is a two mile hike up hill, rated very strenuous. You gain about 1500 feet over the course of the trail. Though Maggie and I both felt Rain Tree was more difficult. But ut was quiet….for the most part…..and nice and really a good way to finish our preparations for Machu Picchu.
I told Maggie to hike her hike and pretty soon she was far enough ahead of me that I didn’t see her any nore. I made my way up trail in my own slow style, stopping to enjoy the surroundings and breathe in the fresh air of summer. The Aspen and Pine forest was filled with the sounds of birds and bugs and that was refreshing. Unfortunately there were a few groups of loud people that came through. One in particular was a gaggle of high school aged girls.
Maybe a dozen of them. None but a few even had water with them. But all the way up and down the trail they screamed as if they were being murdered just to hear the echo. Nobody leading them told them what bad trail etiquette it was to do that. The pushed passed and never said excuse me or thank you. Just hollering and yelping foolishly.
But they were not going to ruin a beautiful day of hiking for Maggie and Me. We took in the day, thought about what was ahead of us and were both pretty happy with the day’s work. After the hike, we drove up to the Charleston Lodge where Maggie treated me to lunch and conversation. I have found a real friend in Maggie. She is a great adventure partner and we can both enjoy our hikes without expecting the other to “hike my way”.
So that is it. Over a year of training in various ways and times to get ready for this big trek. My second, Maggie’s first. The journey has been great. Ups downs ins outs. All part of the big thing called life and we are finding in our 50’s there is much of it to be lived.
And now, a few more pictures of that final hike:
There is a little bump of rock that sits in the Las Vegas Valley east of the Red Rock Conservation Area and literally an arm’s length from the 215 AKA Beltway freeway. It can bee seen from all over the valley, sort of by itself. Thus the name, I would conclude. I never had a reason to want to hike around there. But a friend mine who lives on that e4nd of the valley has always wanted to do it just to ay he did.
So Saturday we set out. It was early and windless and quite a nice morning to be out. The thermometer was predicted to be in the triple digits but I was not worried. My research had told me that this was a half mile hike that would end up with a 600 foot elevation gain. I figured a short burst of work, a peek around the valley and back down.
We headed up and it was a bit steep as I thought it would be.
As often happens, at least for me, the ultimate top of a hike is not visible from the bottom of it. From this perspective I thought there would be this first stretch and another short one. Because it was 1/2 mile……right? WRONG!!!! As it turned out we had not taken the short route as described (a bit incorrectly) by the source I looked up. Instead we were on track for steep and long. About three miles.
We took a nice view of the valley northeast of the rock while we were at the saddle. From here there were additional steep sections to attack. My friend is not a real avid hiker. He was happy I gave him my trekking pole since he wore court shoes. The steepness was work going up, but coming down proved to be more work. Lots more. My quads went from hot fire burning globs to jelly like puddles that were useless for anything from being fired the entire return trip. But I get ahead of myself.
We hit the benchmark and at the top got a hazy morning view of the entire Vegas Valley. We had run into another hiker who uses this as a training hill. That seemed to be the norm there…lots of people powering up and down to get fit. We spoke with the one guy who said in the summer there are lots of gnats at the top of the hill. But it was not gnats, it was FLYING ANTS! They were everywhere and as a result the stay at the top was not really very fun.
Appears that one guy didn’t get out of there before the gnats got the best of him! You can see the hazy day over Vegas in the distance. It did clear some as time went on. But it also got hotter fast!
This little suburban hike was a great test of hiking in less than aesthetic surroundings and sticking with it in the heat, gnat attacks and even during what was a bit of heat over exposure to complete the task. I realized that two years ago my Everest experience had built my endurance mentally. This was certainly more for getting to the top than enjoying the trip. Though it was fun to make sure my boots were performing, which they did in stellar fashion! This was not near as steep as day two in Machu Picchu will be, but it was a nice test run for fitness gains. My kettle bell challenge is actually showing good fast results in the strength department, that was clear!
After we returned to the care in triple digit temps, my friend had felt a sense of accomplishment for doing what he had wanted to do for many years. But he doesn’t hike…….at least he didn’t used to!
(Maggie and I have set a hike of Black Mountain as our monthly evaluation hike in working up to Machu Picchu. The goal is to be able to see our fitness increases gained over the course of the month and to assess what we need to do to ensure our readiness for our September trek on the Inca Trail.)
March 24, 2014. 5:30 AM. As I sit in my car, lacing my boots in the dark, it is not lost on me that just 24 months ago I was boarding a plane to Nepal to start what was the best few weeks of adventure I had ever had. It was also not lost on me that only 12 months ago, I was beginning what was to be the worst few weeks of my adult life in watching my father’s slow death and in taking him home to be buried. And here I stood, at the parking lot of Black Mountain, getting ready to challenge myself in preparation for the next adventure.
I put on my headlamp
and headed out. It had been two years since I had done this hike, and I knew there had been quite a bit of trail development in the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. My lamp lit the trail well and for the first time ever, I also hiked with my iPod playing in my ear. As I walked past houses where people still remained warm in their bunks, I thought about how nice it was to still be able to just drive up to the end of the burbs and start hoofing it. Soon I was at the little water retention dam and knew that once I had put it behind me, it would not be long until I would be on trail and officially out of the suburban beginnings of the hike.
I trudged on thinking about how my feet were feeling, assessing if I had laced my boots well, if they were feeling good, if the iPod would last the whole hike and wondering if the coyotes were watching me in the dark. Every now and then the monotone voice of my MapMyFitness app would tell me how far I had gone. I had not yet left what was a service road and started to doubt if I had gotten on the right trail. The sun was starting to make an appearance and as I looked back down the mountain I could see I had gotten myself on the next hill over by crossing the front of the dam instead of the back. So around I turned and headed back to the dam.
I texted Maggie, who intended to begin after me and she confirmed my mistake just about the time I arrived back down the to the dam. Now I could read the signs and there it was. I needed the 404 trail and that is on the back of the dam! I had eaten up so much of my lead time that I was mad with myself. I am less fit than Maggie and did not want to slow her down on her test hike. But it was what it was so I went around the dam and found the trailhead. I put my lamp away and started in, now with over 2.5 miles extra logged.
I hiked up and up and felt pretty good. Slow but good. There was nobody around on what is usually a freeway. A benefit of coming quite early on a Sunday morning. I could feel the walk in my legs and I took note of a few issues with my boots and feet. This being the first real hike of the year, my feet are not yet conditioned and I knew they may be sore. I was trying a lighter weight boot too, and that may have been a mistake as the bottoms of my feet were getting more feedback from the trail than I like.
Around six miles in I had to start assessing whether to go to the top or not. I had burned a couple miles that I sure could have used energy-wise on my mistaken start.
I sat down and ate a few nuts and seeds and drank a considerable amount of water. All of a sudden Maggie was there and we talked about how things had gone to this point. Given the fact she had not added a two plus mile spur, she was going to continue up. I decided I needed to head back because my feet were pretty sore and the left boot was throwing into pronation pretty aggressively. I had a small blister on my middle toe and could feel a hot spot on my big toe from the posture of my foot in pronation. So she went up, and I headed down.
It was a long hike and I was a bit worried that it was going to really set me back. I hadn’t really planned on more than 6 miles and this was 9.5 by the time I was done.
In the end, I was tired and sore but had gotten great information about what gear and fitness things I need to work on over April. Cannot WAIT until we tackle this at the end of April and see how I do then!
I finally got back to take on Turtlehead in Red Rock Canyon. I had gone last spring and simply pooped out before even getting close to the saddle. I was heavier and less fit at the time. So today it was going to be fun to get to the top. Joe picked me up and I was loaded with water, camera, extra cloths in case of cooler weather and my boots were laced up tight. I also decided to give the Glacier Goggles another run to see how they did.
We pulled into the trail-head and Joe immediately left. He was going for time again and that was great. I was going for progress. The beginning of the hike is shared with the start of the Calico Tanks trail and with some climbing walls I have been to so it is familiar and sort of old hat. But I immediately recognized that the effort was much different than it had been. Now was far better. Pretty soon I was at the point we took our first rest the last time I went. But I blew passed thinking there was no need to rest here. I felt like I had just warmed up and did not need to lose my momentum. It is at this point where the steepness begins so I had to drop down a gear and dig in. It was a fun bunch of work. I chugged along and finally was at the point where you are basically scrambling around on goat trails. But I kept getting other hikers telling me I was better off on this other path…so I would go there and then get the same thing from some others. they were being helpful, but the truth is, I should have just picked a trail and stuck with it.
I generally like scrambling. It is the part of climbing wall approaches that makes me work. But when all the hand holds are rough, loose shale, well….not so much fun. I was doing well and working my way up. It was not difficult….it just SUCKED. I looked up to see how much more of this I had to endure and thought, why am I shredding my hands again? I am not going to be doing anything like this in Nepal and this simply is NOT fun. So, just below the saddle I turned back and worked my way down again. It was a good hike for what it showed me. It showed me that fun hikes are doable and I can turn back on ones that simply are not fun. It showed me my increase in fitness and that if I keep plugging along, things will be great in Nepal.
After I got home I did suffer two days of thrashed knees. Note to self: Wear knee support on steep hikes. Period.
Yesterday I was excited to be headed back to Mount Charleston for some hiking and to see the rain tree. Joe had the day off and was going to pick me up. I had not got in a hike since the South Loop Blister Fest. As I sat reading Dead Lucky, by Lincoln Hall, the phone rang and it was Joe on the other end.
“Looks like thunder and lightning storms today,” he said.
I acknowledged that it was pouring at my house as we spoke. I looked at the hour by hour forecast and we were sunk. We wrapped up our conversation agreeing to meet for coffee later. In the mean time, I laced up my boots, put on my rain jacket and headed to Exploration Park. It is part of the master planned community in which I live. At the entrance there is a little hill called Exploration Peak. Boy scouts have marked out trails up and around it. From the top there is a nice view and signs that show you what you are looking at.
The park below was full of people despite the rain. There is a little water fountain area that is designed for kids to run and play in and the rain didn’t stop the kids from playing in it. Of course, while the rain came down the temperature was still about 84f.
So, up I went. It isn’t difficult or long. But it is steep and steep is good for preparing for the trek. A young man was running up the trail to the top…repeatedly. I was simply trying out the new boots and getting a little stretch of the legs.
I had the arm vents of my rain coat open because of the humidity building inside. It was peaceful hearing the drops of rain tap out a rhythm on my hood. My boots were like wearing slippers and my fear of blisters retreated from its heightened state from the last hike. I was happy to again be wearing my Keen Oregon PCT’s.
As I sat atop the little hill, I looked off into the distance toward the strip. The clouds hung low and I felt like I could easily be back in Seattle during a summer rain. The Stratosphere closely resembles the Space Needle from a distance. It felt nice. While I would rather have been on a complete hike, there was fulfilment even in this small stroll up Exploration Peak.
I did join Joe later for coffee. We sat on the patio at Starbucks on Horizon Ridge in Henderson and looked out across the Las Vegas Valley toward Mount Charleston. Not only was it engulfed in clouds, a large, thicker bank hung low on the mountain. Part of me wanted to be there. Even in the pour down rain. But, as my friend Rosie says…I WILL LIVE TO HIKE ANOTHER DAY!