Pike’s Peak: Promises, Promises

Oct 15, 2011 by

Pike’s Peak: Promises, Promises

Here are a few photos from my hike up the Barr Trail to Barr Camp, which is 6.5 miles and 3,800 vertical feet, or a little better than half the way to Pike’s Peak summit. I just got back to the motor home about an hour ago.

I’d had the night’s reservation for Barr Camp for a long time. The better part of a year. I spent that time wrestling with myself about the summit. I had two choices. I could hike up to Barr Camp, spend a night in the fall aspens, and hike back down the next day. Then the day after that I could take my mother up to the summit on the cog railway. (That’s really the purpose of the trip. It’s something of a bucket list item for her.) Second option, I could spend one night at Barr Camp, then hike to the summit, hopefully in time to meet my mom and her train, so I could get the ride back down.

Here’s the problem, though. The second option would have been breaking a promise to myself.

When I was up on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I hiked up over 14,000 feet for the first time ever. Also the last time ever. I made a promise to myself on the aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass: no more 14ers. I live at sea level, and, though I didn’t get mountain sickness (amazingly, I didn’t even get a headache), I couldn’t breathe. Even when standing still. And when you can’t catch your breath standing still, trudging up multiple miles and thousands of feet of elevation is a trial, to say the least.

So I made a vow to myself. From now on, I stick to around 10,000 feet. Then along came Pike’s Peak. And how negotiable that promise became.

I flip flopped a number of times, but ended up taking the position that a promise is a promise. It was made for a good reason. Had I gone for the summit, I don’t doubt that reason would have become painfully clear. But I didn’t. I hiked the 6.5 miles and 3,800 feet (about 600 feet short of climbing out of the Grand Canyon) and it was enough.

A couple of years ago, when I was  composing the text for my “About Me” page, I explained the change in my hiking by saying I’m trying to be fit but not insane. So far so good.

Most promises seem to go the opposite direction. I’ll go faster, I’ll go higher, I’ll achieve something I’ve never achieved before. But there’s nothing wrong with a promise to save one’s self unnecessary discomfort. There was a time when I felt I needed to prove things to myself. To prove I could day hike the Grand Canyon, that I could get over the Knife Edge on Mt. Katahdin, that I could hike from Yosemite Valley to Cloud’s Rest and back in one day. Having done that, a trip to the summit of Pike’s Peak would beg the question, What am I trying to prove now, and to whom?

Besides, I’m taking a trip to the summit, tomorrow, with my 89-year-old mom. More than one way to get up a mountain.

Update on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 10:47AM

Finally got around to making an online album of all the successful photos from this hike. It’s HERE if you’re interested in seeing more of Barr Trail.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is author of Pay it Forward, her latest book, Jumpstart the World and many other books


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