At the end of the day, I had mixed feelings about not hiking back down the mountain. On one hand, we’d enjoyed an unqualified success:
This victory is especially sweet considering the inexperience and less-than-ideal training or acclimitization put in by some of the participants.
I also have to mention that I hiked without pain and without painkillers. I’ve had recent battles with knee and shin problems but neither affected me, proving that the skeletal adjustments I’ve made recently have worked. I used no orthotics, external joint bracing, or support wraps. I must be doing something right.
But there’s that unchallenged part of me that wanted to complete the round-trip. I think I will do that 25-mile hike at some point. I’m not disappointed in our decision not to hike down this time, because even now I can’t imagine enjoying a 9pm finish. Hiking down in those conditions would have been a mistake. But I think it is possible for a smaller group, with similar conditioning and a decent night’s sleep, to finish this roundtrip in 12-14 hours. Maybe I’ll put that trip together in a few years. I hope to conquer a few other fourteeners first.
Getting down the mountain was a challenge, albeit of a different nature than the ascent. Three different people, including the director of Barr Camp, had told us that the staff at the summit house would make a PA announcement to help us solicit rides down the mountain from tourists who had driven there. However, when I approached the clerk at the information counter, I was met with a haughty attitude which I’d previously thought was limited to employees of German railroads. She shut me down, not only refusing my request but acting insulted that I’d had the audacity to ask. Apparently they fear the liability should something bad happen on the drive down the mountain. “But you need not arrange specific rides,” I pointed out, “you could simply announce that there are hikers looking for rides, and leave it to us to —” She cut me off and was rude enough to look over my shoulder to the next customer in line, asking “Can I help you?” as if I’d ceased to exist.
Still, I knew I’d have no problem arranging a ride, because of the awe factor I’d experienced earlier. Some of our group felt differently; they were visibly nervous about the task. Then as some of us were discussing it, a woman approached and offered the two empty seats in her car. What could be easier? Two down; five to go.
I stepped outside and approached the first group I saw. I struck up a brief conversation about the ascent, and then once I had them engaged I set the hook. “You wouldn’t have any extra seats in that enormous maxi-van, would you?” They took three of us. At that point, with five of seven rides arranged in less than five minutes’ effort, I claimed a seat for myself and assumed someone else would find the final two rides.
This turned out to be more difficult than I expected; our last two hikers got rejected a dozen times before finally accepting a ride from some senior citizens who made them ride in the bed of a pickup truck, which was otherwise filled with souvenir rocks. The truck stopped at every vista point on the descent, and again so one of the elderly passengers could lean out the door to vomit. They got dropped off on the freeway a mile outside of town. It was, unfortunately, the worst ride of all. In contrast, we were provided seats, food, conversation (complete with entertaining Fargo-esque accents), and were driven all the way to our rental car.
I was badly in need of a nap at that point, but we drove out to round up the rest of our group. Then came a shower, dinner, and several pints of beer. I still felt glassy-eyed and disconnected, making me suspect that sleep loss was a primary component of my mountaintop fog. I crashed hard at 9:30 and slept the sleep of a guy with no plans at 2AM except “sleep another six hours”.
Believe it or not… I have more to say. Read part V.