In 2008, on a mountaineering blitz in Ecuador, I discovered I have a gift for traveling at high altitude and since that trip, I have climbed many big mountains. I spent most of this past summer above treeline, hiking up 14’ers in southern Colorado. After one last effort up the highest mountain in the Rockies, I flew to Ireland and Scotland, where the mountains are beautiful and burly, but not very high. Topping out at 4,000 feet, I was drunk on oxygen.
Now back in New Mexico for the winter, I decided it was time to get back on the high altitude horse. When my friend Richard, whom I met in June on West Spanish Peak in Colorado, posted that he was heading up Santa Fe Baldy, the highest mountain in the Sangre de Cristo range above Santa Fe, I asked if I could tag along.
Richard and his climbing friend Steve are Mountain Men: Richard has climbed 48 of Colorado’s 58 14’ers (mountains above 14,000 feet) and he summited Mount Rainier this summer. His friend Steve has been running up and down mountains for months, training to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, in January.
Of course, I was a little worried about being able to keep up with those guys on snowshoes over 14 miles of deep snow up to 12,622 feet – I haven’t worn snowshoes in two years and I haven’t been at altitude since August – but I believe in my capabilities. My secret weapon, the one I’ve honed as sharply as my legs and lungs, is my heart: I love a good rare air suffer fest. The key to keeping up in the mountains is to convince yourself you really are having fun.
Baldy was a beast, but I kept up with the mountain men all the way up to the summit and all the way back down again, despite a pissed off hip flexor that raged every time I lifted my left leg. Damn snowshoes. My water bottles and my camera lens froze, not to mention my face, fingers and toes. But it was all in good fun. On the way down, Richard asked me if I thought Baldy qualified as a “Suffer Fest” I said, nah, just a Tired Fest. What a strange idea of fun we mountaineers have!
Now I’ve checked off yet another high point on my horizon! I can see Baldy from my house and looking up at that cold, white mountain, I can’t quite believe I stood on top of it! Check out my previous High Points On My Horizons posts: Wheeler Peak, Camel’s Hump, Arthur’s Seat, and Cabezon Peak. Next up: Tetilla Peak!