Return to The Top of The World

I’ve had a pretty rough spring/early summer. As long-expected as it was, the death of my dog affected me more than I wanted it to. Lingering in bad feelings is not my thing. I’m very much a “life is too short, buck up and move on” kind of person. But my subconscious fought me on this, and my emotional dark place has been manifesting itself in the form of physical injuries.

It began with a left knee injury of unknown origin at the end of March, two-weeks pre-dog death, which, after six weeks finally cleared up for cleared up for two blissful weeks, but then morphed into a right groin / lower back / outer hip persistent injury that appeared after a nine-mile, 1,200 foot gain very moderate Memorial Day trail run that inexplicably left me completely crippled the next morning and unable to put any pressure on my right leg and barely able to bend it for three whole days afterward. No amount of physical therapy exercises, massage, scraping, cupping, heat therapy, ice therapy, or stretching has been successful in getting it to go away since then, though it has lessened significantly.

The upshot of all this is my running season is over before it began. I signed up for three ultramarathons this summer and am unlikely to run any of them. I’ve spent whole weeks doing zero exercise at all because of the pain. Which, of course, has then put me into an even more foul mood, made me feel like a useless blob, and became a depressing downward spiral.

When I got to Redding, I finally told myself I really needed to accept the situation and, more importantly, I needed an attitude adjustment. Ruining my whole summer in a pity party and self-loathing wasn’t going to bring my dog back. I was still capable of using the stationary bike and the weights at Orange Theory Fitness and started working out hard. Curiously, I was also capable of hiking. Fast hiking. So I began some 11, 15, and eventually 18 mile hikes. It makes little sense to me that I could hike 17-minute miles at a 1 out of 10 on the pain scale, but as soon as I started to jog a little, the pain went up to a 6. But logical or not, it was my situation and being angry about wasn’t changing anything. So, hiking it was.

Besides, the whole reason I chose Redding was to summit Mt. Shasta. I could not leave without hiking it. I needed to pull myself together in a big way and I did. On July 11, I went for a bunch of firsts.

First time sleeping in my car. Seems strange, but I really never have. I’ve always set up the tent, but I didn’t want to deal with the tent when I woke up at the trailhead at 4am. Turns out, it works quite nicely for me. One more short person would probably fit okay too.

The Nitro bed!

First time hiking a 14er alone. I’ve hiked without human companions before, but I had Trotsky. This was my first one by myself. He’s always on my mind though, and his photograph is always in my backpack.

First time hiking a 14er with such an epic elevation gain, 7,800 feet. The trail head is around 6,400 and the summit is at 14,180. The trail for most 14ers in Colorado starts much higher, leaving you with only a 3,500 – 4,500 foot climb to the top. To make this one worse, the Shasta Clear Creek trail is only 11.4 miles round trip, which means a lot of gain per mile, and even worse, if that’s possible, the first 2.85 miles were relatively flat. About 5,000 feet of the gain was in the last 2.5 miles to the summit. But I started early and had no agenda for the day, other than to make it, and there was not a drop of rain in the forecast. To be honest, I felt like quitting around 11,750 feet. I’d done SO much gain already and I wasn’t even close. But I pushed on. 12,500 always seems to be my magic elevation for 14ers. The summit always seems achievable after I reach that point, knowing I have less than 2,000 to go, so I knew I just had to get to that point, which really wasn’t that far, and I would be okay. I was grateful for cell service so I could update my friends on my progress and so appreciative of them cheering me on from afar.

View from 11,750 feet, where I contemplated giving up but knew I couldn’t live with myself if I did.

First time hiking a 14er when I’d essentially been living at sea level. Previously, I’d been living in Boulder, a mile high, every time I’d gone out peak bagging, which is a helpful advantage. But Redding is only 692 feet above sea level. I was quite worried about getting altitude sickness. I did a fair amount of hiking in the 7,000 – 9,000 foot range the few weekend previous and I drank 3.5 liters of water total on this hike, so that helped. I never felt sick. In fact, on my ascent, I passed two parties of male hikers, one of whom said they’d started a whole hour before me. Uphill is my jam, and I’m stoked I haven’t lost that super power even if my downhill pace is a slug slog this year due to my endless pain of various sorts.

First time (that I remember) hiking a 14er without a false summit. The objective was in my site almost the whole day, starting with this lovely photo I took as the sun was coming up. Seeing my ending point was motivating.

Mt. Shasta, only two miles into the hike.

First time hiking an active volcano 14er. This is a great video about the geology of Mt. Shasta and the surrounding region, and, bonus, I hiked all three volcanoes mentioned in the clip during my stay in the region. I’ve hiked much smaller volcanoes before – in Guatemala and elsewhere – but one with this much gain? Never before and never again. It was brutal. Every step up was in sand and gravel and would cause you to slide back down a little. On the steepest sections, every step created a mini rock slide. It was a good thing there were so few people out there because it would have been incredibly dangerous to have people hiking above you otherwise. Rocks were falling everywhere.

Mt. Shasta and the Lava Fire on its second day, as seen from Black Butte (referenced in the video I linked to)

First time hiking a non-Colorado 14er! I really, really, really want to hike Mt. Whitney now. And maybe learn to climb so I can do Mt. Rainier.

I did this! I felt more incredible and powerful than I have on any 14er ever before.

First time being the last one on the mountain and have the wilderness all to myself. This was heaven. In Colorado there are always other people. Always. So. Many. People. But on Shasta, very few people did this hike to begin with and most were already on their way down when I was my way up because they started from the campground halfway up the trail instead of at the parking lot. I lingered on the top a long time and the two parties of guys I passed met up with me there. We all left the summit at the same time, but like I said, I’m super slow downhill and had to stop and rest my knees a few times, so they were long gone. I sat down around 8,900 feet after all the horrible steep spots were behind me and just soaked it all in. The only person in the universe. That feeling was epic.

And…first time feeling amazing at the end of a 14er. Usually, by the end of a 14er hike, I’m cursing myself, wondering why I do these things, hating how much my feet hurt and my knees hurt and my back hurts. Maybe it’s because the end of the trail was so flat and lovely, or maybe it was because I felt like my old self was back and I knew I was prepped and stoked for 14er season with my friends in Colorado, but I felt so thrilled to be alive and healthy and strong at the end of the trail. It’s entirely possible that I sang this song out loud several times in a row…

My running season may still be shot but I’m back. I’m me. I’m out there and I feel GREAT.

The face of someone who got six hours of restless sleep in the back of a car and who just burned over 3,500 calories in 10.5 hours of hiking with another 45 minutes still to get back to the car, but who is LOVING life.

Also, to the only other female solo hiker out there that day who was mountain-goat hopping down that peak like it was a walk in the park, wherever and whoever who are, you are badass! Way to represent women!

2 thoughts on “Return to The Top of The World

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