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Thursday, August 15th, 2002

Sarcasm on Estes Cone

Estes Cone is an 11,000-foot peak in the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. The trailhead sits at 9400 feet, so the total elevation gain is 1600 feet, or about 1/3 of a mile.

The first two miles of the hike climb gradually. This makes for an easy walk, unless it’s your first day at 9400 feet and you’ve developed pulmonary edema from exerting yourself in the thin air. That would tend to slow you down. (Hiking tip for novices: if you begin to cough up blood, you should probably turn around.)

Between the 2 and 2.5 mile points, the trail gains about 500 feet of elevation. That’s a foot of rise for every five of run. In thin air, this begins to hurt. The pain is exacerbated by the great condition of the trail, which poses no impediment to speed; hikers can climb as fast as their lungs will allow.

The final half-mile of this trail requires a climb of 700 feet. But this section of the trail begins with a somewhat shallow incline and then turns significantly steeper further up the mountain, so at its worst, ascending this trail feels a lot like climbing stairs.

The quality of the trail degenerates here, too. The prescribed route is an arbitrary path up a rocky hillside; it is indistinguishable from the surrounding jumble of uneven stones, except for the cairns, man-made piles of rocks, that mark the edge of the path. This terrain makes for slow progress: each footfall must be chosen with care, lest one’s hiking partners are in the mood to call in for an airlift rescue.

People coming down the trail, suffused with the accomplishment of having gotten to whatever point they’d gotten to, often feel compelled to comment to those still on their way up. I found this immediately annoying. The fact that someone got out of bed a half-hour before me does not give him or her the right to tease me about how much harder the trail gets. I was only somewhat less displeased by the well-meaning but meddlesome foreigners who encouraged me that “it’s not too much farther!” as if there was any question I would make it.

One particularly egregious bozo, the self-appointed entertainment committee for a pod of overfed hiking companions, made a crack about the tough climb I faced. Trail manners dictate that people on the descent stand aside to allow climbers to pass, in deference to gravity and momentum, but this guy made no such pause… His mind was so enfeebled by the urge to utter this stimulating remark that he could not simultaneously manage to step off the path: “If you think this is hard, wait until you get to the top!”

Were I a mathemetician, I would describe my amusement at this comment by referencing the null set: {}. But I’m not a mathemetician, so I have to express my amusement by writing this 608-word essay on my website.

Because I was climbing, focused on continuing upward progress and staying on the elusive trail, I had only a fraction of my mental faculties available to formulate a pithy response. But I succeeded, in a rare moment of linguistic lucidity that has been only slightly embellished in this semi-fictional retelling. In answer to the man’s taunt, I replied casually, “Oh, I know how hard it gets — I’m just going back up there to retrieve my car keys.”

It is a testament to the intoxicating effect of oxygen deprivation that I laughed about my own joke all the way to the top of the Cone.

posted to channel: Travel
updated: 2004-02-22 22:49:16

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