Baby Steps on a Baby Peak

Pickett Peak stands at 9,118 ft and is a “baby peak” by my standards now.  Funny as I look back and remember training for my Half Dome hike – I was thinking at the time, “Wow! 8,842 ft!!!  I have never been THAT high before!  We REALLY need to prepare for the altitude.”

Now I have climbed above 15,000 ft twelve times and the highest I have reached (and stayed overnight) is 23,000 ft.  However, the last 14 months have been challenging to say the least with my ACL reconstruction recovery.  Learning to walk again, dealing with a host of complications, and frustrated by pain dismissed by the traditional doctors.  Starting in early June I turned to a surgeon for a second opinion and began exploring alternative therapies (chiropractic, acupuncture, and the likely most effective, Graston therapy).  The pain finally began to abate and I was able to venture back into the mountains!

Nevada Beach campground

For my birthday weekend, John and I went to Tahoe for the weekend.  We camped at Nevada Beach – a fabulous campground with great facilities, lots of space, and right on the beach!  Saturday morning we got a ridiculously slow start.  Decompressing from my stressful job and travel schedule seems to take longer and longer, but we eventually rallied and headed south to the Hwy 88 and 89 junction.  As you head south, two pointy peaks jut into the sky – Hawkins and Pickett Peak.

In 2010,  I climbed Hawkins Peak (10,024 ft) with my friends  Sonja and Enrique.  This was the hike I planned as their Death Ride recovery hike.  Boy, were they cursing me as we bushwacked to the base of the summit and then scrambled to the top on class 2/3 terrain.  Ever since then, I’ve kept the other pointy peak in the back of my mind….

Enrique & Sonja lamenting our friendship and they will their Death Ride legs up Hawkins Peak (Pickett Peak in background)

Pickett is shorter than Hawkins and doesn’t get a lot of attention; however, the climb to the top is solid class three.  We didn’t have any beta or a map, but it would be pretty tough to get lost.  From the intersection of 88 and 89, we drove due South on a dirt road.  Doodlebug, my low clearance Mazda 3, struggled along and we stopped once we lost confidence we could safely go on without getting stuck.

It was nearly 3pm by now, but the summer days are long and the weather was ideal with the exception of some strong winds.  We packed our day packs and headed up the fire road with the peak on our right.  We continued until we hit a fork in the road and it became obvious that we needed to leave the fire road and head cross-country due West to aim for the Pickett Peak saddle.

Bushwhacking on the saddle

Once you leave the road and become engulfed in the trees, it’s a bit difficult to keep your sense of direction without a compass or GPS, but we had faith in our route finding and continued until we began to go uphill in earnest.  We began ascending a blocky talus field but then realized we had overshot the saddle to the South.  As we gained the saddle, we were blasted by the wind and intimidated by the better view of the Pickett Peak summit.

We made our way across the saddle, the exposed part of my legs below my capris getting scratched to pieces by the brush.  Thankfully, the good ole foreshortening effect was in force and as we got closer to the summit, the slope looked less and less steep.  It was still bonified scrambling, so we donned our helmets as a precaution against a fall or being hit by a dislodged rock.

John carefully working his way through the rocks

I was still not sure of my limits between my knee and my lack of fitness, so I focused on moving efficiently and conscientiously.  We navigated upward always picking the path of least resistance, traversed a false summit, and surmounted the final summit block.

Happy Em on summit of Pickett Peak

As we found the highest piece of rock, the sense of accomplishment, exhilaration and peace washed over me just as it had with countless summits before.  It didn’t matter that this was a “baby peak,”  this was a true accomplishment and I was elated!  We celebrated at the summit, took care of the obligatory summit shots, and took a few moments to pause and soak in the 360 views of the South Lake Tahoe mountains.

Emilie down-climbing

The summit is only half way, even on a baby peak, so we carefully down-climbed and retraced our steps back to Doodlebug.  I realized it’s a long way from 9,118 ft to the heights I have been and want to return, but every step you take gets you just one step closer to your goals…

We spent the evening cooking on a Coleman stove, breathing in the smell of evergreens, and watching the sun’s rays fade over Lake Tahoe.  It was all that much sweeter thanks to Pickett Peak.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe

Lessons for Life – The Smell of Fear

Recently my friend Susan expressed an interest in doing some more adventurous activities, and she definitely thinks of me as the “go to gal” for adventure.  In particular, she was really interested in via ferrata; however, the only via ferrata in California is Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.  Reaching the cables on Half Dome entails a 17 mile round-trip hike with 4800ft elevation gain.  Instead, I came across a more convenient option – ziplining through Sonoma Canopy Tours in Occidental, CA.  For $99, you can zipline among the tall redwoods of Northern California.  The course has seven ziplines, two rope bridges, a spiral staircase climbing up a tree, and a rappel.

Susan jumped at the chance when I proposed it.  We met at the tour on a Sunday afternoon and Susan seemed full of nervous anticipation.  She had even bought a special scone at a local Occidental bakery as a reward if she was able to complete the ziplining course.  This surprised me!  Susan had seemed so gung-ho, but now as the reality was setting in, so were her nerves.  She was about to do something that few people do and is by most standards considered really scary.

I had some nervous excitement as well, but more the anticipation of doing something fun and different.  She brushed it off that “miss mountaineer” couldn’t possibly understand her fear.  It made me realize that when I talk about my fears and how I work through them in the mountains, the average person, and by that I mainly mean “non-climber”, has a tough time identifying with the situations that elicit fear in me.

I took this photo to capture my fear as I camped alone at 21kft on Makalu and listened to avalanches crash down around me all night…can you identify with this fear?

Two young fellows guided us through a gear fitting (full body harness, helmet, and gloves) and short instruction on how to brake on the zipline (just putting one gloved hand on the cable behind the pulley is enough friction to slow you down).  I could feel the nervous vibes coming from Susan and the other five people (a couple and a mother with her two kids).  We rode up to the first tree platform in the back of a pick up truck for the first short zipline called Victory Circle, almost a practice run except that there was no retreat once you let go.

We were standing high above the ground.  The woman in the couple almost could not let go.  She was paralyzed by fear at first.  The guides coached to relax her breathing and I think the peer pressure helped her find the courage to let go.

Here we go!!!

Susan was similarly nervous but seemed to do a better job at recognizing and voicing her fear, and she worked through it to zip to the second platform.  In the mean time, I had been busy checking out how the tree platforms and lines were rigged.  Steel cables can handle many times the force of a body and all the systems were redundant so if one fails, there is always a backup.  This setup appeared to be many times stronger than those that I trust my life with when alpine climbing, so it was actually easy to relax and just enjoy the ride.

Why am I doing this again?

One of the other zip liners made a remark that it must be boring for me if I wasn’t afraid at all.  Quite the contrary.  Indeed, it was missing the adrenaline most of the others were experiencing, but because I wasn’t overcome or distracted by fear, I was able to relax and take in the sights.  It was a unique perspective to spend time in the top of the trees instead of looking up at them.  The light was beautiful as dusk approached.  I’m also really interested in interpersonal dynamics, especially in times of stress, so I was enjoying watching everyone interact and cope with the stress in different ways.

Susan coming in for a landing

As I was standing on a platform waiting for my turn, an image came into my mind buried deep in my memory.  I remember being a teenager at some ropes course (maybe at a Girl Scouts camp), climbing up a rope ladder on the side of a tree, and being absolutely petrified.  I could recall the feeling of paralyzing fear to the point of having difficulty breathing and feeling my heart bound out of my chest.  It was rewarding to realize how far I have come with controlling my fear of heights as I noticed my pulse and heart rate were nearly normal.

Happy Susan

But back to Susan, who was still under the impression that I am super woman and was born without a fear gene…Each time Susan let go and flew down the second through the seventh zipline, she conjured up the will to do something that was scary for her.  That is much more impressive!  At the end, she was exhilarated and proud of herself.

Weeks later, Susan said the ziplining experience had really changed her perspective about what was possible and how far she could go, into areas where other people may not have the guts or passion to go.  This is EXACTLY how I feel about expeditions in the mountains – opportunities to stretch you mentally about what is really possible.  It’s not that I don’t feel fear – I’m afraid of failing, not being fit enough, falling, avalanches – it’s that I try to distinguish the good fear (that will keep you alive) from the bad fear (that will keep you from your dreams).

I realized that Susan learned how to identify good fear versus bad fear and work through it via the zip lining adventure.  Now she’s using the experience to conquer her fears that would otherwise limit a world of limitless possibilities (AND encourage others to do so – check out her perspective on our adventure and what she does for a living at http://www.workfromwithin.com/2012/07/ziplining-an-innovative-way-to-release-fears/).

Whether through ziplining, climbing, public speaking, whatever YOU find scary, I hope that you, too, can become aware of the role that good fear and bad fear is playing in your life and the pursuit of your goals.

Now go find your own adventure!

Lessons for Life – Pink and Lavender’s Excellent Australian Adventure

First, and most importantly, one must be indoctrinated into the cult of Charlie the Unicorn.  Charlie has two fellow unicorns who are instigators – Pink and Lavender.

Among my group of friends, we have decided Marie is Charlie as we are always trying to talk her into crazy adventures (although in reality this role does rotate) and Karen and I are Pink and Lavender.  It’s important to keep in straight that Karen is Pink and I am Lavender as I detest pink with a passion (and find lavender slightly less offensive).

Back in April 2011, I tore my ACL and had a less than straightforward recovery.  I expected to be getting back in shape and more or less up to my usual high jinx  by October.  However, as the months wore on, I realized it was increasingly unlikely that I would be able to do something “big” in 2011.  What’s my definition of “big”, you ask?  Loosely speaking, it would be traveling internationally to climb a glaciated peak at least 18kft high, but alas, that did not look possible this year.

I realized that one of the seven summits, Mt Kosciuszko in Australia, is a straightforward hike of just ~10 miles and ~4000ft gain to a height of 7,800ft.  I typically would not use my hard earned vacation time to hike something so easy, but this seemed like a bonafide challenge in my current state where hiking 5 miles on flat ground with trekking poles was difficult.

I tried to work my charms on Charlie to convince her to go on this grand adventure, but I was unsuccessful.  I had better luck with Pink, and after convincing her spouse to give her an international hall pass (while he was drunk – he is convinced this was not fair play), Pink and Lavender began not to plan their excellent adventure.

Karen and I are both, by most standards, high-powered professional women with demanding work travel schedules, deadlines and pressure.  As the date approached, we both kept remarking how behind we were on planning.  I had two major components taken care of – renting the car and securing our hotel in Sydney.  Otherwise, that was it.  It was the most unprepared I have been for any vacation, let alone an international one, but we surmised we would have the 12-hour flight to bone up on Australian attractions.  Instead Karen turned me into a True Blood addict by watching a full season on her iPad over the Pacific Ocean.

We landed in Sydney during the day and vowed to stay up until at least 9pm to try to get on Australia time.  The most challenging part of the entire trip was driving out of the airport being on the “wrong” side of the car and the “wrong” side of the road.  Not to mention no easy route into Sydney (thank goodness for GPS)!  We chose to walk all around downtown Sydney to absorb the sunlight and help our bodies fight jet lag.  We walked the entire Sydney Botanical Gardens (which are massive!), along the waterfront, and checked out the iconic Sydney Opera House.  We managed to stay up until 8:30pm and I fit in my yoga routine, portable ultrasound and electrical stem treatment on my knee before passing out.

On Day 2, we had bad weather and chose to check out the gimmicky, but still fun, Sydney Wildlife, Aquarium, and Imax.  By this time we had formulated our plan of attack for the rest of the trip.  We would try to make it down to Jidabyne (the closest town to Kosciuzsko) in one shot and pick a day to summit based on the weather forecast.

We navigated due south through gorgeous countryside much like that of the California wine country.    If memory serves, it took us about 7 hours to get to the small town of Jindabyne.  We found a cute little hostel named Mooses xxxx that was completely empty.  I’d definitely recommend it – a steal, very comfortable, and has a full upstairs lounge complete with a pool table, comfy couches and a full movie selection.  We thought we would do a warm up hike on Tuesday, and then attempt Kosciuszko on Wednesday, but the weather forecast showed that our best chance would be Tuesday to avoid some nasty impending storms.

We were up early at 6am and made the lonely windy drive through the park to the Charlottes Pass trailhead.  It was cold, windy, and foggy and we worried about the weather turning on us.  There are two options to hike Mt Kozzy – you can go straight up and down the easy fire road (Summit Track) or hike the single track trail called the Main Range Track.  We decided to go up the easy way to ensure a summit and see how my knee behaved, and then we would descend the Main Range to get some variety in the terrain.

We set off at 7:30am and the hiking was easy at first.  I was glad to have my poles for support and still a bit nervous about whether I could do the total mileage.  Pink told me during the long drive that one of Charlie’s reasons for not joining the Australian Adventure was her concern I wouldn’t be able to complete the hike.  This gave me the impression that the whole trip would not be worthwhile if I could not make it to the summit.  Pink’s response was that if we couldn’t hike, there were plenty of other things to do in Australia.  This had really taken the pressure off of me in terms of feeling responsible for her trip potentially being ruined if I couldn’t make it, but I still felt the personal pressure of wanting to accomplish something meaningful in 2011.

The hours slid by slowly as we hiked slowly but surely upward, making our breaks short to keep from getting too cold.  The area is beautiful and there was no one else around.  I could imagine how it would be a great place to ski in the winter.  We made it to the Seaman’s Hut where we took a break and surmised that there were 45-60 minutes to go.  I began to feel confident that we really would make it!

Towards the top, we were surprised to hit a several snowfields that we would need to traverse given this was Australia’s summer. I was very thankful to have my poles.  My operated knee was still not ready for uneven terrain – it wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight if I foot were to slip.  Despite that, I gave one of my poles to Karen.  She has an unreliable ankle and we would be equally screwed if her ankle decided to roll this far out on the trail.

We trudged on to toward the summit with the views expanding all around us as we edged upwards.  When we arrived at the top, we plopped down for a congratulatory round of summit pics and had our lunch break.  It was technically one of the easiest hikes to a summit I have ever done, but given the difficult surgery recovery and how uncertain I was about whether my knee would hold up, I was ecstatic to reach the top!

I also realized that we had met the main objective our of trip, that which we few nearly half way around the world to complete, and I felt immensely grateful to Karen for making the journey with me.  Amazing that she would leave her family over Thanksgiving and come so far not knowing whether I would be able to make it or not…

We chose to return the longer, single-track trail called the Main Range Track to make a loop.   I’m glad we did it, even though it was a bit more than I should have bit off (made the round trip total 13 miles and my knee was killing me at the end) because it was really beautiful.

At the very end, we very carefully boulder-hopped across the Snowy River and had to surmount one last evil hill.  At the top, we read a sign that said it’s advisable to start with the Snowy River crossing first in case the river is running too high to cross.  We shuddered at the thought of coming that far and then having to retrace the entire 13 miles if the river was impassable.

We did some yoga stretches and spent the next day and night in the Kosciuzko National Park before heading back to Sydney.  This time we drove a slower more scenic route up the coast, camping at beaches along the way and stopping to hike, wine taste, or take naps on the sand.  Despite our lack of planning, we managed to find a place to stay each night and they were all quite spectacular.

Looking back at this trip now, I am reminded that its not just about the personal accomplishment of making it to the top of one of the Seven Summits, but about the great people we spend time with along the way.  It was a most excellent adventure…thank you for your friendship, Pink!

“Before Climbing” & “After Climbing” (and not much in between)

The way I look at and interact with the world around me was radically and permanently shifted when I discovered climbing.  There is the period Before Climbing (BC) and After Climbing (AC), and not much in between.  Unlike many who become climbing disciples, I was not introduced to climbing by anyone else, mentor, boyfriend, fellow newbie; I stumbled upon the pursuit through a series of serendipitous events that changed my life forever.  This is the story of how it all began…

Half Dome

After I graduated from Berkeley with my MBA in Finance, I took an investment banking job structuring esoteric Collateralized Debt Obligations.  The hours and stress were intense and I packed on the pounds.  My girlfriend from b-school, Elizabeth Meyer, called me and said “hey!  what do you think of hiking Half Dome?”  Although I was struggling to workout during the work week, each weekend I would hit the trails with the Sierra Club SF Bay day hiking section to explore the Bay Area, meet new people, and do some “moving meditation” to distress.  I did a little research on Half Dome and it sounded very serious – 17 miles, 4800ft gain topping out at 8800ft, and a fear-inspiring steep “cables section” toward the top.  This would be an altitude record for me, and Elizabeth agreed, we would need to take this classic California epic hike very seriously.

Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon

For weeks, we trained, we researched, we prepared.  We measured and brought the right number of calories, 3 liters of water, first aid to deal with Acute Mountain Sickness, and special gear like sturdy gloves for the cables section.  The hike was long and hard and we felt the altitude, but we arrived at the bottom of the cables in good form to find the common traffic jam of hundreds of people inching up the cables.

First glimpse of the cables

Elizabeth stepped onto the cables section and promptly backed off, unsettled by the exposure (climber translation alert…exposure=the feeling you get when looking over a cliff or tall building).  She assured me that I could continue on with no pressure and she would wait as long as necessary at the base of the cables.  I got back on the cables and a big guy just above me broke down, started to cry, and forced his way past me to safety.
I was really scared.  What was I doing?  Was I strong enough to get to the top? Would I get myself killed in the process? This was all new to me and I didn’t have a partner or mentor whispering over my shoulder that everything would be OK.  I saw two gals heading down and asked them “do you need a lot of upper body strength to get to the top?”  They said “no” and recommended that I stand on the planks along the way to keep from burning out my calves and Achilles.

I inched my way up the cables, taking care not too look over the side, and sure enough, I eventually reached the top of them.  As I stepped onto the summit of Half Dome, the views expanded before my eyes.  To the West, I could see up and down Yosemite Valley including Glacier Point, El Capitan, North Dome across the way.  To the East was the dramatic Tenaya Canyon and Clouds Rest.  All around there were hundreds of spectacular jagged peaks for miles and miles.

Celebrating at the summit of Half Dome

The sense of accomplishment was visceral and truly overwhelming.  All that physical, mental, logistical preparation, thousands of steps along the trail, working through my fears on the cables, culminated in the amazing reward of having the world open up at my feet.

I was ruined for “plain vanilla hiking” forever.

 

Zugspitze

One month later, I was in Germany for a b-school classmate’s wedding and to take an active vacation with my boyfriend, Michael.  We drove from Frankfurt to Garmin-Partenkirchen, a small town nestled in the mountainous region of Bavaria.  In Lonely Planet, I noticed that the highest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze at all of 9,717ft, was right next store.  The guidebook warned that Zugspitze was not a tourist peak and you either needed previous alpine experience or a guide.

I had a tough time convincing Michael we should hire a guide to climb it.  He said, in his thick German accent, “You do not understand the Alps!  They are very dangerous.  And there is no liability here in Europe like in the US.  We can die and no one can sue the guides.”  I assured him we would be fine and that it was, in fact, a fabulous idea to climb Zugspitze.

Both of our confidence wavered when we asked around and had trouble finding a guide referral.  The hotel staff seemed so confused when we said we didn’t want to take the cable car up but preferred to go “na hofen” (on foot).  Persistence prevailed and we were connected with a guide broker who provided details on where and when to meet our unseen guide the next day.

Michael was cursing me as we woke up at 5am to make our 6am rendezvous.  This was supposed to be vacation, after all!  The guide was a young, fit, hearty fellow named Simone.  He gave us a hard look up and down and said, “Are you sure you guys are fit???”  We both assured him that yes, we were.

Red sky at dawn

We set off into the unknown with this young alpine god as the sun began to rise sending red cirrus streaks across the sky.  Four hours of extreme hiking later (steep scree slopes, edging along ledges hanging onto cables fixed to the rock), we reached the Wiener-Neustädter alpine hut where we took a luxurious break  of hot chocolate.  I was surprised how good I felt.  The slow, deliberate pace of the guide was almost effortless and I didn’t feel tired.

First time wearing a harness

We donned our harnesses with fixed runners to clip on to cables up higher and we set out for more vertical terrain.  The next three hours were filled with scrambling and high stepping.  Several times Simone chided me for taking big power steps and showed me how taking smaller steps would tax my muscles less.

Simone, the alpine god

At around 9,000ft, Michael was so over the whole thing and likely silently wishing he had a girlfriend that just wanted to walk around town and hang out in a hot tub.  He kept asking, “how much further?”  Simone, the alpine god, looked at me and said “how do you feel with the altitude?”  I paused, thought, and said, “Altitude?  Wow, I don’t really feel it.”

Simone responded, “Well then, you really must be fit!”  As these words sunk in, the heavens opened up, angels began to sing, and I realized this was the sport for me!  Not only did I dig it, but I was actually GOOD at it!  The gal who was always picked last for dodge ball finally found her niche!

As we crested the last bit, I relished the surprised glances of the fat Germans drinking beer and eating bratwurst at the summit.  We proudly strode past them with our hardware clanking.  If the “plain vanilla hiker” in me wasn’t already dead, this was the final blow.

Scrambling up this chute was very extreme climbing for me in 2004

After a cush ride back down on the cable car, we drove to the town of Berchtesgaden to continue our vacation.  Alpenhof, the B&B where we stayed, had numerous brochures in the room and one of them featured mountaineering adventures.  I fixated on a photo of three climbers, roped together, ascending a snow slope on a 12000ft mountain called Grosglockner.  I was completely mesmerized.  What were they doing????  I had never seen anything like that in my life, but yet I knew that’s what I wanted to do!

Returning to the states, I researched the style of climbing I saw in that photograph.  I surfed the web until midnight every night learning about snow and glacier climbing, roped team travel, training and skills required, what order to climb mountains to safely acquire the experience to avoid getting killed.

Emilie & Michael at the summit of Zugspitze, Germany

Mt Whitney

I put a deposit down to climb Mount Whitney Mountaineer’s Route ascent in winter conditions in April with International Mountain Guides.  It was October and I had until April to learn everything I needed to know for my first REAL climb…but that’s a story for another time…[EC update:  see “Journey versus Destination? Whitney Set Me Straight“]

Enchanted Rock – A magical hike where my past and future collide…

I can’t remember all that much from my younger years.  My sister and I were bounced across the country due to divorce, death, and the search for family members that were willing to take care of us.  I think I met my father for the first time that I remember when I was around 12 or 13.  He took us on a couple of outdoorsy trips in an effort to bond, I think, but my sister and I were not used to the outdoors and afraid of spiders, snakes, and sweat.  I can vaguely recall one of the trips where we drove from Austin, TX to Fredericksberg, TX with some of my father’s friends from Austin.  About 17 miles north of Fredericksberg is a little known geologic feature called Enchanted Rock.

According to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area website, “Enchanted Rock is a pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States.  Tonkawa Indians believed ghost fires flickered at the top, and they heard weird creaking and groaning, which geologists now say resulted from the rock’s heating by day and contracting in the cool night.

When I was invited to speak at a conference in San Antonio about target-date funds (a retirement investment product), an image of Enchanted Rock flashed in my mind.  Perhaps I could visit one of the few places I could remember going with my father as a little girl? I accepted the invitation in late March and then promptly tore my ACL and thus begun what I call the “knee saga.” My recovery had not been easy and I was particularly worries given that strong legs and knees are critical for the high-altitude climbing I love some much.

Day by day, I stay focused on my rehab – strengthening, stretching, massaging, rolling, icing, etc.  And day by day, I get a little bit better to the point that in the last two weekends, I was able to do two “flat-ish” hikes in Yosemite relying heavily on my poles, and then manage a totally flat hike for the first time without any poles at all.  A huge accomplishment at the time…

Fast forward to the conference…I’m coming off of two insane weeks at work, just taken Level II of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst exam , helped cover for another consultant who suffered a family tragedy, flown to New Mexico to pitch for a new client, prepared a presentation to give to this symposium, and eaten up half my weekend flying halfway across the country to give the presentation.  For some reason, I was more nervous than usual and not sleeping well.  There was some sort of railway intersection near the hotel and I kept waking up to the sound of trains blowing their horns all night.  Each time I would wake up, I would realize I was having a nightmare about the talk not going well.  Fortunately, the talk did go well and I could finally relax and turn my mind to my personal objective…

I planned to get up early, 5:30am, and hit the road by 6am to make sure I had time to reach Enchanted Rock State Park, hike up the formation, do some meditation, hike around the loop trail, and get to the airport for my afternoon flight home.  I was startled and angry with myself to wake up at 8am!  Oh, no! The one thing I wanted to do for myself that was enriching and restorative was now out of my grasp.

I quickly did the calculation and realized that I might just have enough time to hike up the summit trail and that would still be a worthwhile endeavor.  I grabbed my bags, checked out in a flash, and got the heck out of dodge in my hot red Mustang rental.

The weather forecast had been for sunny skies and temperatures in the 90s.  I thought the heat was going to be my only problem, but the skies ahead were ominous.  Dark low clouds stretched for miles and miles threatening less-than-optimal hiking weather.  I was worried about the potential for rain making the granite slippery, or worse, the possibility of granite attracting lightening.

I began to question myself.  Didn’t I learn anything from the ACL accident?  Maybe I should have listened to all the signs that weekend I had the accident, all the obstacles that the universe was putting in the way, and just gone home?  Was oversleeping my body’s way of saying I am not ready for such an ambitious hike?  Was I trying to do too much, squeeze in too much, as everyone is always telling me that I need to slow down?  Was the weather just one more sign I was ignoring in my stubbornness to achieve a goal, however small, that I have set out on?

When Enchanted Rock came into view as I rounded one of hundreds of curves along windy Ranch Road 965, it was striking.  Like a double-humped turtle rising out of the sea of hills covered by oak trees.  It was a distinct earthy pink with the northern hump clearly the higher of the two.  Even though it was the highest and most striking formation for many miles around, it was still much smaller than I remembered from when I was younger.  I had vague recollections of an epic death march where I probably cursed my father for not wanting to take us to the mall instead.  Funny how different our perspective can be as adults!

I found my way to the park entrance and paid my $6.00 day use fee.  The gal behind the counter asked for my zip code.  She recognized it as California and mentioned she and her husband wanted to move to the Golden State.  I got my map and drove around to the Summit Trail parking area.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous as this was a “real hike.”  Although not particularly long at just 0.75 miles from trailhead to summit, it gains 500ft.  Pretty steep for someone that hasn’t really graduated from flat trails yet.

I wanted to gain some confidence by spreading my wings, so I left my poles in my pack and I started up the trail, waking gingerly and carefully selecting each foot placement.  Both of my knees did what they were meant to do and I kept my pace slow and my stride short so as not to shock them.  A couple of groups blew past me and I chuckled under my breath…if only they knew some of the things I had done and the heights I had experienced.  Satisfied to be plodding along, I reached the big “Enchanted Rock Summit Trail” sign. The sign is ironic as there is no real trail after that point, you just walk straight up the granite.

The top is never in sight and you keep second-guessing yourself and each horizon turns into another layer of granite.  Finally, the horizon becomes the sky for hundreds of miles and there is no more granite to be climbed.

There were 10 hikers surrounding a cairn that marks the high point celebrating their summit.  I held back taking some photography of small plant communities that bound together to survive at the top of the monolith.  The other hikers headed off the backside and I took my turn at the summit.

The clouds seemed to part as I dropped by pack and began my ritual of documenting the summit.  The wind picked up and I was alone with the sound of a lonely howling wind and the feeling of being the only person for miles in a very special place.  Somehow wind always intensifies my feeling of adventure and closeness with nature.

I lay down on the granite and soaked in the sun through my skin, felt the wind sweeping over my body, and felt the biting granite supporting my back.  I visualized the Enchanted Rock sharing its healing power as a blue light coming through the rock seeping into my body and finding its ways to my knees and any other area that needed restoration.  A hawk circled around the summit and as it gazed at me from above, I felt it was my protector.

I lamented the need to check my watch at all for how much time I had left to soak in the environment and implant it in my memory, but I was grateful that things worked out.  It was a rare opportunity for my past to intersect with my future.  It was eerie having hiked this monument over twenty years ago and returning right as I was beginning to believe I would get the functionality back in my legs…I carefully shuffled back down the way I came taking healing energy from Enchanted Rock with me.