29 March, 2010

Training Hike #1

In an ideal world, I would have been training for months. Alas, this was not to be. So I will make do with what time I have left. Any preparation is better than no preparation. Still, my lack of fitness is the single biggest issue that I'll deal with on the trail (well, that and the humid heat). Luckily, I have a great deal of endurance, the altitude advantage and a great deal of mental toughness on my side.

Yesterday I went for my first training hike. I filled my new pack full of gear (plenty of weight!) and took off. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful spring day. So much so, in fact, that I ended up driving an extra half hour because I missed the turn and it was too pretty to stop and do something as mundane as a map consultation.

I settled on Mt. Falcon, which is a familiar front range hiking spot that's at relatively low altitude for Colorado (between 7-8K'). While it is hilly and steep in places, I thought that for my first hike, keeping it below 11000' was likely a good plan.

I was feeling strong, and while the pack was full of a good load, it didn't feel heavy. That pack is the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, in fact.

Conditions were challenging. As is common during springtime in these mountains, the trail was a mixture of packed snow, crunchy snow, slushy snow and mud. Paths truly act as small streams at this time of year, and I walked through water several times.

The new Keen hiking boots wore like a dream during all of this. My toes were never mashed, even on the steep ascents and descents. My feet didn’t get wet after all of those stream crossings.

The air was clear and cool, while the sun was warm. I thought about how much I’m going to miss Colorado while I’m gone this year. This place may be overcrowded and expensive, but it’s just so damned beautiful. Gets me every time.

I didn’t start to feel tired until near the apogee of my hike, during a sustained climb. I probably ought to have stopped sooner to eat a snack, but I got locked into that ‘climb it, get it done, don’t stop’ mode.

As I topped out onto the plateau, I battled through a cold, bitter wind. At that point, I was only wearing a short sleeved wicking shirt and some light hiking pants, with a boonie hat on top. I probably also should have stopped to put on another layer during the climb.

Finally I made it to the bench at the top of the climb. Quickly I pulled out a mid-layer wicking shirt. While it isn’t even windstopper fabric, it made all the difference.

Ironically, with all the gear stuffing my pack, I didn’t have my Buff, a warm hat or a coat. This is unusual for me, but I got a late start. I slept in until noon, then checked email and such for a while. By the time I was ready, there was no time to waste in poring over my gear. I just ran out the door and headed for the hills.

Armored with what little additional clothing I had, I grabbed a homemade peanut delight (sort of a fudge/cookie w/ dried fruit) and started the long slog across the snowfield. That peanut delight hasn’t tasted good to me in town, but it hit the spot at that moment. Sweet, chewy, packed with calories…perfect.

The snowfield seemed to stretch on for hours. I was getting tired and was having to lean into the wind to keep momentum. The uneven footprints and postholes in the snow made this even more difficult.

Finally I made it back to the truck. Somewhere along the main trail, the wind died down. It was peaceful and sunny in the parking lot and I lingered to enjoy an orange.

Total mileage was around 5.5-6. Not sure what the total elevation change was. Probably around 1000’. Pack weight was probably 20-25 lbs. Success!

Today I don't even feel sore. Funny how my body can handle hiking with a pack even when I'm not in great overall shape.

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