Sunday, June 9, 2013

Quashed by Quandary

Today my younger son and I woke to the bleak pre-dawn darkness of 4:00 a.m. to prepare for a hike up Quandary Peak, one of Colorado's fourteeners -- the set of mountains having their summits above 14,000 feet.  Quandary checks in at a respectable 14,265 feet and our hiking handbook indicated that the peak offers one of the least difficult (Class 1) hikes.  The words "easy slopes" were bandied about in the handbook's terse description. Just the thing for a novice hiker like me!

The Quandary Peak is near the mountain town of Breckenridge.  My son and I packed up, left Denver on the interstate highway, turned off on a Colorado highway near Breckenridge, and arrived at the Quandary trailhead parking lot at 6:15 a.m.  The conditions were perfect: a cool morning and a cloudless sky.  The trailhead sign welcomed hikers and gave the obligatory caution: "No Fourteener is Easy!" 

I was outfitted with the latest hiking regalia and ready for action. According to the manufacturer's informational blurb, my hiking shoes sport the latest innovation in leather-reinforced breathable mesh uppers.  My warm and comfortable fleece is made of 100% virgin polyester, fashioned by the renowned fleece guild of Indonesia.  My water-proof shell is a striking shade of red, to make my carcass easier to find beside the trail in the event of a heart attack.  (I pride myself on my courtesy to the National Park System.)  Moreover, two weeks ago my son had helped me pick out a hiking pack with a Camelbak water reservoir, which is a sort of plastic bladder feeding a hose that terminates in an ingenious valve.  The hose is threaded through the hiking pack such that the valve is situated near the hiker's face; then, by means of a gentle bite on this valve, the water can be sucked into the hiker's mouth.  I took to this biting and sucking technique quite well once I got past the momentarily disconcerting associations with breast feeding (although biting was frowned upon during breast feeding, as I recollect).

My son and I began our hike.  I soon found myself out of breath.  Before we had left the tree line at 11,700 feet my heart was pounding in my ears and my breathing was labored and noisy.  Things quickly got worse above tree line.  I floundered in the abundant snow fields, frequently sinking to my knees.  Then, as my legs tired, I had difficulty traversing loose rock.  On one occasion, both of my legs shot from under me and I sat with such violence on a boulder that my teeth rattled, while receiving at the same instant a kidney punch from an adjacent rock that I will long remember.

Noting my deteriorating progress up the mountain, my son took my pack and sherpa'd for me, as a way to salvage a chance of our reaching the summit together.  Thus lightened, I perked up a bit and reached the flat rocky terrain at the base of the demanding mile-long ascent to Quandary's top.  I lost heart at viewing this ascent (having already lost my wind, my leg strength, and my sense of balance) and decided to defer the attempt until my fitness was adequate to the challenge.  

My son, gesturing with characteristic confidence, vowed that we would return to conquer Quandary Peak another day. 

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