Coast to Coast Adventure, Day 9

My husband Rob and I have quit our jobs and are moving from Dayton, OH to Medford, OR with our two dogs Moose and Schuyler. Before we settle there, we are embarking on a 2.5 month adventure across the US. I’ll be working as a hospitalist when we get to Oregon in September. 

Day 9: Winter Park and Fraser Colorado. Hike Columbine Lake. Max elevation 11,146 feet.

Whelp. I failed super hard last night. It was supposed to be our first backpacking overnight, and this should have been my view all night. It was not to be, as I sabotaged it.

I chose a trail and place we had been before, Columbine Lake. We started the 4 mile hike in a 5 o clock, a little later than we wanted as it had been raining off and on all day before clearing up.

When we got started the weather was absolutely beautiful. The trail was quiet and secluded at that time of day. We had on our backpacking packs- mine was roughly 25 pounds and Rob’s was roughly 50. His pack was ridiculously big and heavy, and I worried about him. I tried to buy lighter weight gear, but I don’t think I was picky enough, and it added up quickly.

The first 3 miles of the trail weren’t that bad at all. Lovely trail up through a forest and by meadows and streams, graded no more than 15%. I knew the last mile was hard, I remembered from before. It is steeply graded at 25 % or more, and has lots of rocks which make for treacherous footing. It parallels a stream and cascades, and is absolutely gorgeous, but took a lot more effort. Our packs on the rough terrain and 11,000 feet altitude made it excruciating, and I stopped so much that it took us 45 minutes just to do this stretch. Rob was concerned and told me my lips were blue, he said we should turn around, but I said no, we were too close.

Finally, we arrived at the lake. It’s a beautiful alpine lake, nestled in a little valley between high peaks. There was one other person camping there, and he had a fire going. We walked around the lake, searching for tent sites. It was not easy to find somewhere, as the lake was overflowing and there were many pools surrounding it from snow melt. Flat ground was non-existent and mosquitoes swarmed us. At this point from the strenuous exertion and the altitude, I was feeling terribly. I had a headache and felt dizzy and orthostatic. It was one hour or less to sunset.

Rob had said before that we ought to turn back since I was feeling badly, but I wanted to push on. I wanted to do this so badly. As soon as I stopped at the lake and sat down, I started to panic. I’ve had terrible altitude headaches before, and with my head pounding more by the second I went into panic attack mode. Rob looked at my face and said, “we need to go down; we need to go quickly before it is totally dark.”

There was no time to debate. No time to get more water (we’d had only a liter between the two of us this far, not wanting to stop since we were racing the sun.) We quickly put back on our heavy packs and set off down the mountainside. It was a race against the darkness. We yelled out loudly every few seconds, as the twilight hours and location made this territory ripe for bears and moose. Thankfully our antics must have kept them away and mercifully we didn’t fall on our rapid descent. We finally pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead as darkness enveloped the mountains.

We still had an hour drive down a remote, rough road to town. We collapsed into our condo (which we thankfully still had rented, in case something like this happened). I took some medication for my headache and my screaming neck pain and we went to bed.

It feels terrible to have failed at this. Why could I not overcome my fear and panic? I let them get the better of me. In the moment, dehydrated and exhausted, I wasn’t thinking rationally. I worried my headache would envelope me and then the panic just rose and rose in my throat until I felt like I was choking.

The entire time, Rob was my rock. He didn’t get angry when I said I couldn’t stay up there. Despite knowing we had a long and dangerous way down, and needing to go as fast as possible with his whole body aching from his heavy pack, he stoically made sure we all got back down to civilization.

Epic fail overall, but I am proud of us for doing that very hard 8 mile hike with our heavy packs.

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