I bet Anton wakes up early. Real early. So I set my alarm for 3 am. It’s a 2 hour drive to the trailhead. That’ll put me there before the sunrise. If I remember right, there was a really cool place to watch the sun come up at about tree line.
I’d hiked Mount Massive twice before. The first ascent was flawless and the second I ended up running for my life. Yes, my life. The clouds had moved in faster than I could move out and was stuck right in the middle of a lightning and hail storm. Lightning was crashing right in front of my face as I ran down to timberline laughing like a crazy person. This would be my third trip up Massive, but my first winter ascent. The snow was dubious at best but it would be cold and the paths would be tough to follow. My dog and I were ready. For months now, I had been following all the posts and pictures by Anton Krupicka and Joe Grant. Pictures of them summiting mountains in all sorts of conditions. They’d bagged every 14er around, sponsors had led them to races all over the world and now, after running up and down Green Mountain about a zillion times, it seemed they were bored and now free climbing up the flatirons with no ropes, outside of Boulder. I had just recently moved to Boulder. Ultrarunning and peak bagging is what takes up most of my thoughts these days. I had seen Anton on the trails a couple of times (both times were rainy, foggy days and just like magic, from out of the fog comes a shirtless Anton).
Hey, are you Tony?
He checked his watch and said / Have a good one!
I met Scott Jurek at Whole Foods. The nicest guy in the world and he seemed genuinely interested in meeting me. I’d even given Dakota Jones a smile and a nod on the Mesa Trail more than once. This was it man. I’m living the dream! It was high time I channel some of that mountaineering energy that I was constantly reading about on Anton’s blog or Joe Grant’s Alpine Works site. It was my turn to snap an Instagram photo from 14,000 feet up to remind the world that I’m here and I’m alive.
I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off at 3 am. In a half hour Roxypoo and I were on the road on Thanksgiving morning, ready for our first winter 14er. I had more than enough winter clothes and today I would carry an ice ax, just in case. The plan was no different than any other big climb, run / hike as much of the ascent as you can and then run down. I had Mount Elbert in the back of my head too. Bagging both in the same day. I knew it was possible. Anton had probably done it as a training run and set a FKT in the process. If I’m feeling good / I told myself.
At 5:38, Rox and I set off in the dark from the Mt. Massive trailhead. My trusty headlamp led the way. I ran some. I hiked some. It wasn’t long before my Achilles started fussing. This has been an ongoing injury for almost a year. So I back it off and mainly just hike. Being in the woods with all of the thick white snow adds a density to the mountains. It makes the woods quiet which makes the experience more reflective than ever. I go inward. I smile. Moving along quickly on a trail in the woods is the best meditation I have found so far.
It’s light out by the time I hit tree line. I look up at the summit and wonder / How am I going to get up there? / but then I remind myself that I’ve been up there twice before. I just have to put my head down and take one step at a time until I reach my goal. Just like an ultra. Just like life.
There’s no real trail at this point. There is a lot of snow. I am just making my own trail right up to the top. Rox is in her element. She rolls around in the snow. Eats the snow. Goes pee in the snow. She is in heaven. I march up even though it’s steep and there is no air. I couldn’t run this if I wanted to. Anton could. He could run right up to the top and right back down to the bottom before breakfast and then do a three hour barefoot session in the PM. All I can do is take five steps and take a break to catch my breath. When I reach the saddle, it’s so windy that a big gust of wind comes through and takes the hat and sunglasses right off my head and right down the mountain. I run after them and finally retrieve them but now I have to climb back up. Ugh. I make my way over the scrambling, jagged rocks to reach the beautiful and rewarding summit. I know that if I take my gloves off to open a gel or an energy bar, they will be too frozen to take a picture. And vice versa. I opt for the picture. If you don’t document it, it didn’t happen, right? I wonder if Joe Grant has this problem. Eat or take a picture? I use my teeth to put my gloves back on. It’s too cold to bother pulling my phone out to see them temperature. I made the summit. I received my blessing. Time to head down.
Almost immediately on the way down my IT band starts fussing. My IT band NEVER hurts. What is this? I can’t believe it. Does this happen to Anton or Joe? It seems they are running up and down huge mountains every day. Don’t they ever get injured? I can’t run a mary without something hurting. Is it because I’m a decade older than Anton and Joe? Is it because they’ve been running for years and I just picked it up a few years ago? Every time I begin training for a big ultra, something happens and I end up in the gym, lifting weights and using the elliptical in preparation for the event. Anton runs almost 200 miles the week before he runs a hundo! Maybe I should surrender the fantasy of running a course record at Hardrock. Maybe Anton and I won’t hug this year w/ gusto and brotherly love at the end of a hundred miler, both coming in first and second place after a hard days battle through the mountains of Europe. In reality, that’s not why I’m out here. I’m out here because I love being outside, especially in the mountains, moving forward. The air is crisp and I am completely comfortable with myself. The everyday stresses of work and bills and dirty dishes and laundry just go away when you are 35 miles in to a 50 mile mountain race. Or when you’re headed up to your second 14er of the day. It’s pure bliss and it’s the one thing that gives my life a feeling of value these days.
And that’s when I notice I’m lost. I know the general direction I should be heading but there is no trail and I am bushwhacking my way through the woods to get down off of the mountain. Eventually, I’ll come across a trail or a road somewhere. No luck. Hours go by. You are no longer on the mountain but you are in the woods and completely lost. You yell / HELLO? IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? / until you have Pink Floyd stuck in your head for a week. You are lost and you are screwed and it’s afternoon now and you wonder if you’ll have to call a ranger or sleep out here? Eventually I find tire tracks. Tire tracks have to lead to a road. I follow them for a long time before coming to the gravel road that leads to the trailhead where the truck is parked. I see the sign that says it’s 4 miles to the Mount Massive trailhead. I eat a gel but it doesn’t do much. The damage has been done. I was out there for hours w/out putting any calories in because my hands were too cold. I am rendered unable to run and it’s going to be a
4 mile hike back to the truck. Why don’t I ever hear about this happening to my running hero’s? What should have been a four or five hour trip is now almost eight hours. The dog and I shuffle along, slowly, hungry. Why me? Why does this stuff always happen to me? And then I remember…I moved to Colorado for adventure. Here it is. I smile. Maybe I am living the dream life. Maybe getting lost in the woods for an extra three hours is as good as it gets. Maybe. I can’t help but to shuffle alone with a huge, cheesy grin. 3.5 miles back to the truck.