What is there to be afraid of?....Well everything.
It’s 5:18am and I’m due to wake up at 7 to finish some last minute stuff before heading to the airport. And I haven’t slept at all. I’m not stressed. It’s not one of those nights where I just can’t get comfortable so I wind up tossing and turning and playing endless podcasts and meditation tapes. We’ve all had those nights. Where you’re exhausted but sleep won’t come so you just lie in the dark almost whimpering, praying, your mind will relax. And that prayer seems to just create more anxiety. No. I feel great. I’m excited to get there. I’m just a nine hour flight followed by a ninety minute drive from my Colorado destination. I’m pumped. So giddy I’ve nearly forgotten what I’m afraid of. Which is everything.
Some people scoff at fear. I think it’s a good thing. Means you care about something. Means you understand your own mortality and you have something to lose. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. The only thing that’s keeping my fear and nervousness at bay is calming down my mothers, siblings and boyfriend. Because they’re a bit worried for me. And their fear creates a nice distraction. What could possibly go wrong? Don’t worry I’ve made a list in hope to purge these thoughts from my sleepless brain and inform you dear reader of what it’s like to backpack in Colorado.
1) The Clime
I don’t like heights. I never have. I avoid viewing decks on skyscrapers and ladders. The first part of the hike up Longs Peak is just your run-of-the-mill walk in the woods. It’s steep, yes, but when your below the tree-line the trail is just like any other trail in The Rockies. The last part of the climb is what’s given Long’s Peak it’s reputation.
First there’s The Boulder Field. They’re not really boulders. More huge slabs of rocks that you hop from one to the other careful they don’t wobble beneath your feet. There’s no path markers at this point of the climb. Just a the vision on your next checkpoint; The Key Hole. It’s a large bit of ridge that’s been eroded away through ice, rain, and wind to form what looks like a a key hole. (If you use your imagination that is.) The Key Hole is the ridge that separates the the north and west side of the mountain and when you go through it you have the best views I’ve ever seen.
Then you have the what my dad called “The Keyboard of the Winds” though it’s not called that in any of the books I’ve read. Just the ledges. But I like Keyboard. It’s a ledge you scramble across while over looking Glacier Gorge and I mean, over looking. The cliff drops about 1,000 feet down. I did this part of the climb last time and I remember looking down and seeing a bird, below me, flying through the gorge. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a bird in flight from that angle. I didn’t look long. The view also made my belly do flips.
Once you cross the keyboards you head up The Trough an unforgiving hustle up a…well a trough, of loose rocks that slip underneath you. Imagine climbing up a sand dune but instead of sand it’s rocks the size of you fist and if one or two roll toward you as your coming up, they’ll knock you out and that’ll be you done for the rest of the week. But then at least you’d get to take a helicopter down if the Rangers consider your head injury serious enough!
After The Trough you come to The Narrows. This is where my dad and I stopped. They make the Keyboard of the Winds look like a foothill. I showed my boyfriend a picture of them and he just said, “That’s not a path. That’s a cliff.” Then about a half hour later after our conversation moved on he asked out of the blue, “Has anyone ever died on Longs Peak?’ Yes…58 according to wikipedia.
It’s really the heights that scare me. And the idea I might slip or get blown off the mountain. My mother shares the same fear. She hasn’t said that to me explicitly but I can tell when she calls and says things like, “Whatever you do don’t push yourself! He’d be proud of you either way you don’t have to go all the way up if the weather’s bad or you get tired!” Really, you don’t have to do this!” I’m glad she’s here to worry so I don’t have to.
The rest of the mountain which I believe is less than a mile after The Narrows is called the Home Stretch. It’s once piece of rock you climb up till you reach the summit. It seems like not too big of a deal after The Narrows, but I’ve been told it can get slick with ice which is problematic since I’m going up at the very end of the summer season.
This particular route doesn’t involve in climbing or technical gear but you do have to be alert and sure footed to do this. The other day I managed to fall over from a still and seated position. So you can understand why I’m a little nervous. I don’t think climbs like this are suited for the adorably clumsy. Never the less, I persist!
2) I’m afraid a bear will eat my food.
I told my friend Anna this over brunch and she laughed. And that’s because she’s never had a bear eat her food. I have. In Rocky Mountain National Park you have black bears. They aren’t aggressive or mean. You leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. However, if you don’t store your food properly they’ll come for it in the night.
When I was a camp counsellor it was the practice back then to put all your food in a pillow case and hang it high on a tree branch. The branch needs to be far away enough from the trunk that the bear can’t climb the tree and get it and also far enough off the ground that they can’t stand up and reach it. We were doing an overnight trip with the kids and when it came time to hang the bag we had a hard go of it. We eventually gave up leaving it hanging just a few feet off the forrest floor. It was high enough mice and other little creatures couldn’t get to it and wasn’t that enough? I mean was a bear really going to show up?
The next morning we went to get our breakfast and found our bag ripped open with claw marks and our food all over the ground. It was a lesson learned and I’ll never be so glib about my food again. Plus now it’s required for people to put all their food in what’s called a bear canister to seal in any scent that might allure the fury creatures. But what if I fuck it up? When I’m camping in the Boulder their won’t be any trees? Do bears come above the treeline? I’d google it but I’m not sure I want to know.
3) Lightening Strikes
There’s is a point where the air is so thing at around 11,000 to 12,000 feet above sea-level that trees stop growing. There’s small shrubbery around yes, but no trees. And this is where I’ll be camping for 2 days in The Boulder Field, where I’ve read lightening likes to strike. It’s common to get short afternoon thunderstorms in Colorado almost daily. Lightening is a real issue and that’s why when I was a kid my dad taught me that if you’re in a lightening storm and you can’t get indoors crouch down low and that position will keep the lightening from going straight to your heart and killing you if your stuck. Now thinking about this as an adult, I call bullshit. I mean if I’m in the situation of a horrible thunderstorm will I try it? Yes. Will it help? I doubt it. Especially since the last time I went to a fitness class we did wall-sits and I couldn’t make it 15 second without collapsing to the floor. This does bode well.
I’m actually more nervous about the driving than the actual hike. I live in London, and before London I lived in New York for ten years. I haven’t driven a car on a regular basis since I was 18. I don’t really drive when I visit my mom because my family won’t let me barrow any of their cars stating, “I don’t know how to drive” Yes, I have a valid driver’s licence but after 15 years of your family telling you your not capable. It takes it’s toll. I’m not concerned with driving on mountain roads just driving out of the Denver Airport on what I just realised will be very little sleep on the plane as I stayed up writing this.
5) What if I get all the way up there and realise I forgot my dad?
I know this sounds silly but I’ve checked my suitcase ten times to make sure his ashes are packed. I lock myself out of my flat once a week because I forget to take my keys. What if I get all the way to the top look in my day-pack and realise I left dear Greg Schamaun three miles down the path.
In all honesty my other fear is that I don’t make it to the top again but it’d be one hell of a story if I did but forgot to bring the whole reason I’m there.
It’s now 6:45 am and my stomach is acidic with coffee and my skin is tingling the way it does when I pull and all nighter. It’s time to get going.
Whenever I got anxious or scared about doing something when I was a kid, my dad would say, “It’ll be fine! 90% of life is just showing up!” He’s been proved to be right. Whatever I’ve worried about never turned out to be a problem and just getting to where ever I was headed seemed (and still does) to be the hardest part of the process. So off I go. It’s time to just show up.