My dad and I started off for Vail Saturday morning. We got to the trail head for Gore Lake by late morning. It was already 90+ degrees. We were going to try to get about a mile away from the lake, spend the night, hike to the lake on Sunday morning, and then head back. We both are pretty good hikers, so this didn’t seem overly ambitious. My dad had hiked this before, and had done just fine. Except it had been in the fall, when it had been much cooler.
The hike started out right away uphill- there was no shade, and there were a ton of rocks. I could feel the heat from the rocks radiating back on to the trail- and on to us. It felt like I was in an oven baking. I’ve never weighed my backpack, but it is probably about 20-25 pounds. My dad’s is heavier, and it seemed like after that first climb, we were both already tired. In hindsight that should have been a clue- it was too hot. Here is a picture of me with some wildflowers- about a mile into the hike. It was one of the few places along the trail with shade.
We kept hiking, and it just seemed to get hotter and hotter. There was no breeze either. The sun was so intense, and the air was hot, heavy, and humid. I commented to my dad, it felt like we were in a jungle. We had already drank our water, and we stopped so we could filter some more from the river. We took off our backpacks, and my shirt was soaked. It was like I had just taken it out of the washer.
We drank some more water, and my dad said it wasn’t too much farther to a meadow where we could stop for the day. There were not any other places to stop and camp- it was all pretty steep terrain, so we figured we could go until we got to the meadow.
We hiked another mile- in the heat and sun, and there was no meadow. I felt exhausted. It was hard to think, and it was just so hot. I told my dad the bike ride the day before had seemed easy compared to how I was feeling on this hike. My dad said he was getting some cramps in his legs, and he couldn’t quite remember how much further it was to the meadow. I had my dad drink the rest of the water we had until we could get close to the creek again. My dad got the map out, and it looked like we were really close to where this meadow was supposed to be. We had hiked 4 miles. My dad said the cramps in his legs were going away, and now we had to find some more water, so we kept going.
We came out of the bend we were in, and below us was the creek, and what looked like some places where we could stop. I told my dad I was done- I didn’t care about the meadow- I just wanted to stop for the day, and he agreed. We hiked another half mile or so down, and stopped at the creek to get some more water. I started shivering- even though it was still hot and sunny out. I had just read about heat exhaustion, and remembered some of the symptoms were chills and muscle cramps.
We couldn’t seem to drink enough water, and we were dehydrated. My dad decided to go scout around and see if there was any place we could camp- we were in a marshy grassy field- the ground was all swampy. So I stayed with our gear and drank more water. I was sitting with my shoes and socks off, my lightweight jacket on, shivering, but also very hot. I was also exhausted. I was fighting not falling asleep. It was the weirdest feeling. Here’s a picture I took of the creek:
My dad returned half an hour later, and said he had found a great camping spot. It was a quarter mile away, in trees-which meant shade. It was right near the creek too, so we’d have water. If could have ran, I would have but I suddenly felt beyond exhausted. My chills had stopped though, and my dad didn’t have any more cramping. We made it over to the campsite and it was gorgeous! It overlooked the creek, and there was a small waterfall.
We put up the tent, and drank some more water. I told my dad I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more, and was going to lie down. He said he was feeling better, and he’d get things organized. I was asleep it seemed the moment I laid down. I woke up an hour later, and we ate dinner. I was still exhausted and decided to go to bed. I think it was around 8PM. I haven’t gone to bed that early since I was a kid.
I woke up around 2AM, and got out of the tent and looked at the stars. It was clear, cool, and with the sound of the creek right behind me, it was so pretty, calm, and peaceful. I was feeling better, but knew we both had some heat exhaustion.
We woke up early, ate breakfast, and started to pack up. It was actually cool and it felt so nice after the previous day. I took this picture of my dad:
We started back- right back into the sun which was already hot. We didn’t make the same mistake twice though. We stopped every 15 minutes and drank a little bit of water. We passed a few hikers who had said it had been 104 in Denver the day before and it had reached 95 in Vail. The sun is so much more intense at the altitude we were at- it was no wonder we had difficulties.
The last mile of the hike back was killer. We had finished our water, and we were up too steep to get to the creek. The first half mile was all up hill. There was no shade at all, the sun was blazing, and it was all rocks to our side- holding and reflecting the heat back on us. That last mile seemed like 10. My shirt was dripping with sweat and the heat was so thick and heavy. For a few minutes, I really wondered if I could keep going. It was physically the hardest thing I have ever done, to keep putting my feet in front of each other to keep moving.
I looked at my Garmin, which said we had about half a mile to go, and then the Garmin died. I don’t really remember what happened next, except, we finally were off the trail, and made it back to the car! I don’t think I have ever been so happy a backpacking trip was over.
My dad looked as exhausted as I felt. We stopped and got some food, water, and some chocolate milk before driving back to Denver. When we got back, we were both feeling much better, but still drained. It took me until Tuesday night to really feel better.
It was kind of nerve wracking how fast the heat exhaustion happened. My dad and I are both pretty cautious hikers- we don’t take a lot of chances, but we clearly shouldn’t have hiked that far with it being so hot out. I’m just glad we were near water most of the time and were able to recover quickly. My dad said it best- the next time it is 90+ degrees in the mountains he’s not going hiking- he’s going to the pool.
The last few days I have thought about my race, and the workouts I’ve done. I won’t know until tonight if the heat exhaustion will factor into my running, but I don’t think it will. If anything, I believe it has given me more confidence and a mental edge.
I was preparing for this race as being very difficult, but after this past week, it doesn’t seem like it will be as challenging. I’ve trained extremely hard for this race. I was talking to one of my friends this week about the race and training and he asked me why I push myself so hard. During the bike ride up the hills, and on that God-awful hot hike, I kept thinking one thing: last year at this time, I was so sick some days I could not get out of bed. I told my friend it is hard, but it is also a gift. I push myself because I can.
Tonight I’m pushing myself with running. Some people have told me I’m crazy (in a good way) for running a sprinting race in July in the heat! But it reminds me I can. When I line up at the start line, when I hit the half way mark, and when I cross the finish line, in my first competitve race, it’s because I can.