Herein lies the tale of our adventure on Colorado’s Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain.
It was the last day of the last session. There were goodbyes to say; things to think through. Some of these people I would probably never see again. I tried not to think about it as I rolled dough out for the rolls we would serve for the graduation dinner. There was talk amongst my kitchen crew. Jason, my red-headed supervisor, approached, “We’re hiking up and down Pike’s on Sunday. You in Suz?” I looked up. “I’m in.” I said.
When He rolls up His sleeves
He ain’t just putting on the ritz
So we set out on the morning of Sunday, August 28th at 4:40AM. It was dark as we padded down the silent streets of Manitou. There were seven of us: Ben Lindberg, Jason Bickley, Logan Williams, Joe Lovin, Hannah Wilson, Robert Matthews and myself. Joe started out barefoot. We soon began to shed some of our layers, as it was much warmer than we expected.
As we started up Barr trail, The Manitou Incline loomed beside us, silent in the dark…we all wished we could have climbed it. However, it was closed for renovations over the winter. Joe pulled out his phone to use as a flashlight to light his barefoot way. The sun began to ascend with us and by the time we made it to the place where the trail diverged away from The Incline, day had broken. Joe put away his flashlight and pulled out his shoes. The sun burned orange off of the rocks that protruded from the mountainside.
It was long, steady going. Unlike the back way up Pike’s, this way was much more gradual-less drastic. However, you could see your goal high above you in the distance unlike the other trail we had hiked with the students from Crags Trailhead. We made jokes and speculations as we passed the trail signs and cutoff for the ‘Experimental Forest.’ Who knew what could lie therein. I imagined a real M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.
There’s thunder in His footsteps
And lightning in His fists
The spruces seemed to come stand in attendance by the side of the trail to bid us a fair hike. I reached into the woods on the side of the trail and broke off the perfect hiking stick from a windfall. The wood was silvery smooth and light. It was the perfect height for me.
Our energy began to run out and our breaks and stops became more frequent. Ben, a cross-country skier, who was more experienced at hiking than any of us, pushed us on. We needed to make it to the top on time. We saw through the trees where a rainbow touched down on the mountainside. Robert, who had injured his knee earlier in the year began to have difficulty. We broke the treeline at 10:38AM, from there we began the cut up the mountain through all of the switchbacks.
And the Lord wasn’t joking
When He kicked ’em out of Eden
It wasn’t for no reason
That He shed His blood
His return is very close
And so you better be believing that
Throughout my time as kitchen staff at Summit, Jason Bickley had had the blessing or curse-I’ll leave that to him to determine-of being my kitchen supervisor for the three sessions I worked at Summit Ministries. I affectionately called him “Dad.” Jason had the patience of Job and a heart for others unlike any I have ever known. There were many things he taught me while working in that kitchen.
We often sang as we worked. The red head loved Rich Mullins with a passion and had frequently broken into a chorus of “If I Stand” “Sometimes By Step”, or “Creed”, among others. During the last week, he would unknowingly get all of us, including Dishpit, to sing “Awesome God.” I would stop and smile midsong. Family, we were.
Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God
We had discovered that these songs were the foundation of our generation, as our parents played and sang them along with other songs as we cut our teeth and learned to walk. These melodies echoed far off in our heads and they bonded us together. I wanted us to stop and sing “Awesome God” on the way up Pike’s like we had done in the kitchen as all of us who were present had been there. So we did. I recorded it on my phone.
We pushed upward with more determination. We had to make it to the top before any bad weather came along. What babes we were. Robert had more difficulty and he and Hannah and Jason began to drop farther behind us. I pushed on with Logan, Ben, and Joe. Jason called to us from a couple of switchbacks down and told us to contact our friend, Erica Yaste, so that she could drive up to get Robert by the time we summited.
And when the sky was starless
In the void of the night
Onward we plodded. Ben and Joe began to put quite a bit of distance between Logan and I. It began to hail. At first it wasn’t bad but then it became more driven and I noticed that the hail was the size of marbles. Up ahead, I saw Joe and Ben pull out their windbreakers. I stopped and pulled out mine. We weren’t far from the top. I could see it. Thunder cracked. Must. Make. It. Upward. Logan and I began to ascend ‘The Golden Stairway’. Occasionally, I looked back to check on Robert, Hannah and Jason-whatta dad. They were getting smaller and smaller but they were still moving.
High altitude can mess with your head. ‘The Golden Stairway’ seemed to last forever and Logan and I thought a ride down by car sounded nice and a hot shower and bed. We had almost convinced ourselves that we were going to take that route instead of hiking down like we had planned. The hail drove us onward. I talked with Logan about first impressions and how I needed to have more humility when I first meet people. The wind whipped our faces.
He spoke into the darkness
And created the light
Finally, we reached the summit. 14,114 ft. Before I could seek shelter, my photographic mind told me to capture the moment. And though we were both exhausted out of our minds, I asked Logan to take a picture of me with my phone. He did so begrudgingly. We stepped inside. Ben and Joe were waiting for us. It was 12:34PM.
After refreshing myself somewhat, refilling my Camelbak, Having a cup of coffee, and eating the food I had prepared, the others had made it up. They were exhilarated. The hair had stood up on their heads and their scalps had crawled as if they had ants they said. Robert didn’t look too good. He was grateful to rest.
Judgment and wrath He poured out on the Sodom
Mercy and grace He gave us at the cross
I hope that you have not
Too quickly forgotten that
A Ranger made an announcement over the intercom. The storm wasn’t going to leave. Because it was on top of the mountain like it was, it was rejuvenating itself. A perpetual thunderhailstorm. All the people who had driven up must leave immediately. Those who had come by way of the COG Railway had to leave now as well, stepping outside in groups of five or bigger because of the risk of being struck by lightning. All those who were driving up where halted. This meant Erica was stopped at the break check station.
It was a perpetual thunderhailstorm.
We looked at each other. What do we do? We asked around. No one had room. Other hikers had the same ideas. We were feeling considerably better now that our bodies had more energy and I felt I could make the descent. Robert was able to get a ride with a ranger down to Erica.
The sun shone as the storm had abated a bit. We stood in the doorway; all six of us stood there in a line. We looked out on a mountaintop covered in white. We zipped up every stitch of clothing we had. “Are you guys going to go for it?” a hiker who had climbed behind us asked. We looked at each other. “Yes.” Without another word, we took off. “I bet if we book it, we can make it to the treeline in 30 minutes,” Ben had said. I grabbed my hiking stick from its resting place by the door.
We spread out, going down the way we had come up. Joe in front, Ben, and then me. Logan paced behind me with Hannah and Jason in the rear.
Our God is an awesome God
It was a study in gravitational fall rather than an organized descent. A battle with balance really. As you ran you had to pay attention where your feet were going to go next. The experience reminded me of mountain biking; a controlled fall.
It had hailed/snowed/sleeted so much that there was at least six inches worth of slush beneath our feet. I would later say, “we were slushin’ it.” Joe and Ben coursed on the switchbacks just below me. Their feet thudding as they jumped and skidded. The sound echoed off the sides of the cliffs that began to rise beside us. Again my photographic mind beeped at me and I slowed to capture the beauty of our journey through pictures and a couple of videos. This was the stuff of legend.
This was the stuff of legend.
Logan passed me.
I ran. Jumping, sliding, skidding and thudding. I yelled and made noises as I fell and hit rocks with my feet. It felt good. I couldn’t feel the pain if it hurt. Adrenaline, danger and cold spurring me on. I held onto the straps of my Camelbak with one hand and my hiking stick with the other. Logan and the others soon disappeared in the distance. I wiped out several times but again, I didn’t feel it at all. Jason and Hannah caught up to me for a time. “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!” All of our feet were soaked through. Oh to be young. I kept running. Falling.
As we passed hikers, we warned them of the situation at the top and told them to turn back. I let myself slip into a British accent as I told them of the situation. I don’t know why.Perhaps because my voice was already almost there with the way my breath was coming out, anyway, I enjoyed the way they responded. I kept on. The hair began to stand on our heads and the hail began to kick up again. I left Hannah and Jason behind with my pace.
I was alone.
I was alone. Running. Coursing through the quiet terrain. I was glad I had decided at the last minute to wear my tennis shoes instead of my hiking boots as they allowed my feet more freedom to move as I slipped and slid. Joe had told me earlier in the summer to run more on my toes and flex my calves as I ran and the effect would act like a shock, absorbing some of the impact from my knees. I tried to implement this as I descended.
I hit the treeline and ran on. Jump. Ooof. Fall. Yell. Slush made my bare legs numb and my spine tingled with each impact. Songs coursed through my head with the rhythm of my feet. What was it that John Denver said? Ah.
But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
We had surely seen it raining fire this day. The words of my comrades danced around there as well; the goodbyes I had said. How do you say goodbye well? Would I ever see some of them again? Thoughts about myself and the character I was portraying myself in my mind; the words I had said. How I was running down this mountain.
But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I thought about my friend, teacher, and the President of Summit Ministries, Dr. Jeff Myers. Just a week before he had run and finished the Pike’s Peak Marathon. He had run the entire way we were hiking today, all the way up and all the way down. I thought about him as I ran. It was such a cool experience to see him finish that day! I remembered him coming around the last bend and I remembered my excitement at being a part of that experience by being there for him when he crossed the finish line. It was probably my highlight of the Summer.
I crashed around a corner and there were Ben and Logan. “Hey!” I almost ran into them. Ben said Joe left him long ago and he hadn’t seen him since. He was going to do some backtracking to check on Hannah and Jason to see how they were doing since I hadn’t seen them in a while. Logan and I decided to continue to run to Barr Camp, which lay somewhat halfway between the top and the bottom.
It was me and Logan again. I felt like after I had started running that I couldn’t stop. The hail rained around us. I noticed that there was still slush on the ground, even this far below treeline. We finally made it to Barr Camp. I fell. This time, slush didn’t cushion my fall and I landed hard, scraping my leg and getting mud all over me as I rolled. I was up in a flash. That’s what I do. I always jump back up no matter how hard it hurts. I would have a bruise the next day. I brushed myself off as best as I could and we stumbled and slid into the safehouse of Barr Camp. It felt so good to be inside. People sat quietly reading or studying the trail map that was spread across a large table, probably waiting the storm out. Lofts were above our head.
The others joined us soon and we ate all of our remaining food that we had in our packs. “What an adventure you guys!” Jason piped enthusiastically. Indeed what an adventure. I felt like we were being too loud for that quiet sanctuary. “Does this belong to anyone in your party?” We turned to see a woman who had approached us. She was holding up a ‘Summit Ministries’ Nalgene, a trekking pole, and a debit card that bore the name, Joe Atchison Lovin. We wondered at how Joe had descended at such a rate that he didn’t notice that he was dropping things. I remembered his fixation with the possibility of being struck by lightning at the top and that we hadn’t seen him again since we had taken off running. We thanked her. “Joe probably got zapped and this is all that remains,” we joked. “He said something about wanting to run a half marathon but I didn’t think he was serious,” Ben said.
We left Barr camp carrying their trash in exchange for free food. The slush began to dissipate from the ground beneath our feet. The sun came out and the aspens again greeted us and our footwear began to dry. It was as if we had stepped into a different world. I thought of a quote from CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe-it was the beaver’s prophecy-
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
We walked now, no need to run. We stayed together and talked of many things. Our childhoods. Adopted siblings. The way God had made us. I expressed my sadness at leaving Robert at the top but the others assured me that he was grateful to stay.
I stepped off the trail to water the trees and I put my hiking stick down. It wasn’t until we were 15 minutes down the trail that I remembered. It was a good hiking stick. A bear had wrestled it from me, the others said. The forest should keep it anyway.
Our God is an awesome God (Our God is an awesome God)
He reigns from heaven above (He reigns from heaven above)
With wisdom, power, and love (With wisdom, power, and love)
Our God is an awesome God
We gave our greetings to the ‘Experimental Forest’ and we started down the part of Barr Trail that wound next to The Incline. The next four miles were hard for me. It was as if my body was shutting down slowly. I was going to sleep walking. Jason-Dad-gave me some Oreos to help. Ben and Logan got into a discussion on the economy and the effects of the First World War, the Depression, and The Second World War, then Vietnam and the Cold War. If I hadn’t have been so mentally exhausted, I would have loved to have joined in on the discussion. Hannah was silent. It would be the next day that she would show me the numerous blisters and blood blisters that clothed the skin of her foot and toes from her hiking boots. Never once did she complain.
I remembered the way Dr. Myers had described hitting the pavement on Ruxton Ave. He had said the pavement felt amazing after miles of running on trail. I agreed with him. After so much trail, the pavement felt like silk underneath my rock and slush battered feet. We thought of Max Upp, our beloved kitchen boss who had gone to be the head of the kitchen at Summit Semester in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. We tried to call him as we walked towards our home of a hotel. He would have loved to be in on this adventure. He answered but the connection was bad. Oh well. Some stories are better told later.
As we turned off of Ruxton, and began climbing up Osage to the Summit hotel, Ben said he would race us to the top. “Not me…” the others mumbled. “You’re on!” I yelled and jumped into a sprint. In fact, despite my earlier fatigue, I felt I COULD do it. He beat me of course and we both felt like heaving as we collapsed on the porch. “Hey cool cats,” David Knopp, our friend and teacher, greeted us from his perch on one of the garden chairs. All of us sat in a rocking chair, breathing heavily. 27.7 miles. What an adventure.
What an adventure.
Joe had indeed run all the way down. “I wanted to run a half marathon,” he explained when we asked. “I thought this would be a good way to do it…I wanted to cross it off of my bucket list.” He had gone straight to the Colorado Custard Company to get some custard from the owner, Matt Carpenter-the legendary 12 time winner of the Pike’s Peak Marathon-only to discover he was without a debit card.
Robert made it to Erica and had made it back down the mountain to the hotel safely.
Looking at my Fitbit tracker later that night, I noticed that I had taken over 60,000 steps and burned over 4,000 calories.
It was the best of times.
I told Matt Carpenter about it the next day and he said that no trip up Pike’s is complete unless you fall at least once.
Our God is an awesome God.
All Photos mine.