Pancake Rocks Mountain Trail.
I thought I was going to be carried off this trail on a stretcher and it’s my brother’s fault.
This was the first of two times he tried to end me on a hike in Colorado.
When I arrived late morning on October 22nd, my brother and girlfriend took me to a microbrewery for lunch and a beer. Then we went for what I now consider a “short hike” to Garden of the Gods. Beautiful place, but I had no idea what I would be led to the next day by two regular hikers who had become accustomed to the altitude.
I visited Colorado many years ago, with the ex on motorcycle, but we never hiked and I don’t remember feeling the air sucking altitude of the mountains.
To put things in perspective:
- The elevation of Appleton, WI, is 790 feet. We breathe easily with 20% effective oxygen.
- The highest elevation in Wisconsin is Timm’s Hill at 1,951 feet.
- When I landed in Colorado Springs, I stood at 6,035 feet.
- The starting point at Pancake Rocks Trail is 9,800 feet.
- The ending point at Pancake Rocks is 11,000 feet. Effective oxygen is at 13.7%.
Do you see the problem here?
Once we started on the trail, I was grasping for air within 100 feet. Oh boy, oh boy. How was I going to make it to the top?
Brother and Odin the dog led the way up the trail while girlfriend hung back with me to offer patience and support. She told me to keep drinking water, it would help. Meanwhile, my competitive and stubborn (stupid) German attitude showed up. I decided I could do this, I could make it to the top.
The trail is 6.2 miles round trip, which means 3.1 miles of it is going UP. Always UP. I came to dislike UP.
Here’s a little taste of the moderate-rated trail in gallery photos.
I made the UP slow-going. Stop. I need to breathe. Need water. Need to wonder why I’m doing this.
They kept asking if I had a headache or was nauseous as these are signs of altitude sickness.
Nope, I’m just wondering why the heck you thought to torture me on the second day of my trip. At one point, my brother, who was always ahead of girlfriend and I, acted impatient with me and I simply said to him, “Do you want me to make it up this mountain alive or carry my lifeless body down it?” Girlfriend thought that funny.
The trail went on and on and on. When you are climbing UP and constantly trying to catch your breath, 3.1 miles is a loooong way.
Finally, with only about seven minutes (I found out later) to the pancake rocks, I stopped and said, “That’s it. I’m done. You can finish the trail, I’m staying here.” By that time, my body and mind had called it quits. I did not have altitude sickness, I only needed to rest before the journey down, which would be amazingly easy in comparison.
I did feel a bit silly, a bit of a weenie, but an amateur in altitude is an amateur in altitude, unlike the other people who passed me while I sat and drank water and soaked up the afternoon sun. I’m positive they were all natives used to hiking at 11,000 feet. If I had been able to carry on, I would have seen this:
Nice view, huh? Well, next visit I will start slow with altitude and eventually go back to this place to conquer the trail. Maybe.
As I said, hiking down was the easy part. I had to watch my footing, of course (gravel is slippery and rocks are tripping hazards), but breathing on the way down was far easier. I began to believe I would not die before we got back to the car or need a tank of oxygen at the hospital. This was ten times more difficult than biking hills in Wisconsin.
Odin made it to the top, but even he was wiped out by the time we returned to our ride home.
The positive of this hike? A sense of accomplishment (even though I didn’t hike the entire trail) and a beautiful sunset as we were piling back into the car. My brother didn’t end me this time, but he would try again a week later.
Note to prospective frequent hikers: Buy good hiking shoes (they saved me), a decent backpack (not the cheap one I had), a hydration bladder for your backpack (water really is important), bring snacks, wear layers and start easy.
My Brother Tried to End Me, Part 2, coming next Monday.