I know this trip was a while back, but since I wasn’t blogging at the time and this is by far the greatest trip I’ve ever taken I just had to share it. Over the years I’ve been all up and down the East Coast, from Boston to Atlanta, but I had never been further west than Ohio. When Ohio is the furthest west you’ve ever traveled, you may need to get out more. Luckily, one of my best friends, Tony, moved into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park and had the idea of having a friend reunion centered around the Tough Mudder race. Sounded great, but if I’m in Colorado, I’m hiking mountains!
After the standard screaming and hugging involved in seeing Tony again for the first time in years, I started taking in the Colorado scenery, which was a surprising mixture of plains, “alpine desert”, and 14,000 foot peaks; Toto, we’re not in Syracuse anymore. Tony wasn’t joking when he said he lived in the heart of the Rockies; Estes Park is over 7,000 feet high. With views of Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak, the crown jewel of RMNP right outside Tony’s window, I felt right at home. After meeting Tony’s awesome girlfriend the three of us took a ride on North America’s highest continuous paved road.
Having never seen mountains above 5,000 feet I was totally and completely awestruck by the snow capped, granite peaks. The never ending chain of extinct volcanoes and lava cliffs was simply sublime. Beyond the mountains the animals of the Park were just incredible, there were Elk, mountain goats, and even Moose! I always hated tourists when I lived in NYC, so I felt like a complete hypocrite with the extreme volume of photos I had been taking, but I didn’t give a damn, it was too unreal not to.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to start climbing the mountains ASAP. The next morning we set off for Grays and Torreys peaks a couple hours south. Despite being some of the highest peaks in the lower 48 and the highest points on the Continental Divide Trail they are actually considered beginner climbs in the Rockies. We started climbing early in the a.m. after stopping at subway, breakfast of champs (Did you know Subway has bread with jalapeños baked into it!?). Climbing in the Rockies is nothing like the Adirondacks, you can see the summit of the peaks from miles away, there’s still significant snow in late June, and I had my first introduction to altitude sickness, something like a splitting headache and breathing through a straw.
The climb up Grays was pretty quick despite the 14inches of snow. Oh! I even saw other Black people on the climb up! That makes three ever and I’m not even including myself! The views were breathtaking, you could see for over a hundred miles back to Longs Peak! We headed down the shoulder of Grays to trek up the shoulder of Torreys. By this time it was freezing, literally….in late June. When we summited we ran into a skier who was about to get down a lot faster than we were. Him and his dog Pepper had just climbed up before us. We took in a few more sights, snapped a few more pics, then began the hike down when it happened….snow. The snow was light, it was actually pretty, but it felt like Syracuse. After climbing down, the real effects of the altitude hit me in the Jeep. I layed down until we stopped in Boulder. Boulder was surrounded by mountains and filled with socialist hippies, now I was home!
The next day our friend Patrick (AKA Gator Boy or GB) joined us with his spectacular girlfriend. The five of us did some free climbing on Lumpy Ridge where I scraped myself on a gigantic boulder…badly. No matter, totally worth it. Tough Mudder was the next day, but I’ll save that for another post. The day after TM it was time to say goodbye to my new and old friends. After leaving the same way I arrived (high pitched wails and hugs) it was time to leave the West. I sat in the airport (drinking) for hours while waiting for my delayed flight, but I didn’t mind at all. With Denver in the distance, I was glad just to sit there. Next year I have a plan to hike an entire mountain range before repeating TM, I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull myself away next time.