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Wow, where to begin… This was a very emotional experience. I will start with what I’d do differently.
1) Get more sleep. We danced at the wedding reception till midnight, drove an hour home, slept four hours, and got back up for quick breakfast and climbing. Whoa Nelly, I’m sure sleep deprivation does not make climbing easier!
2) Pack extra sunscreen and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. My skin was toast at that elevation. The warm jacket was excellent on the way up and at summit, but the valley was hot, and we had to keep our jackets on because we were sunburning.
3) Bring a map of the trail with mileage on it, to know how far we’d come. That could give motivation, or help assess whether it’s smart to finish.
4) Do more at altitude before the hike. Probably three days was not enough time for me to adjust from sea level. We did hike 2 miles my first day, but something more vigorous like running might have been better. Also, a week at altitude, or sleeping at a higher elevation the night before, would have helped mitigate that.
5) Be kind to myself. This was harder than climbing. I was hiking a 14,000 foot mountain with an experienced hiker who has lived at 10,000 feet for three years, yet I expect myself to get off a plane from sea level and not slow him down. The self-talk in my head was more devastating than the oxygen, elevation gain, and endurance combined. I gained a lot of awareness at the summit from examining that cruel chatter and where it came from.
So, on to the parts done well!
1) Climbed safely with an experienced partner. I know he is well aware of what altitude sickness looks like, so I felt comfortable with testing my abilities. I would not have done my first 14er alone. It’s good to have someone else to give feedback on my coherence just in case I haven’t got any :)
2) Huffed, puffed, but never gave up. Lots of people passed me on the way up. Most, in fact. Slow and steady, stopped a thousand times to catch my breath, and persisted.
3) Packed the right amount of food and water. We had lots of nuts, and I nearly drained my 80 oz water pack. We shared orange chocolate at the summit to celebrate sweet success :)
4) Made sure to keep abreast of the weather, chance of storm, that sort of thing. When we saw a cloud pop over the mountain, asked descenders how it looked up top, stormy or puffy. Onward!
5) It was excellent to have a spare bandana. My ears were cold going up in high wind, and my neck was burning on the breezeless descent. Bandana did double duty!
6) DID in fact get mid-height hiking shoes a few days in advance, and hiked a trail in them first. They did not squish my toes, my ankles were grateful for the extra protection, and they made minimal slipping on the trail. Thanks Wren, Hawk, and TG for advice on that!
EDIT: 7) Trek poles! My friend had an extra pair. These were invaluable. He says he used to call them cheater sticks, but after they’ve saved his life a few times (jamming them into the earth sliding off a cliff) he sees them differently. Either way, I was quite happy to have them. I felt like a long-armed monkey, able to utilize my whole body to scramble around, and it helped my balance. And generated several instances of being a pterodactyl :D
Bonus nice things:
Someone made a small sign with the date, mountain, and elevation, to hold up in photos. It was so nice to have. I’d remember that for next time.
Also, a couple at the top brought a pulse oximeter. It was neat to read our blood O2 at that elevation. Mine and theirs were about 83% O2 and pulse 110. My partner was at 94% and pulse 70. Freak of nature ;) Really, I’m wishing I was that fit!
Overall, I was fairly miserable on the way up, pretty good on the way down, and ecstatic to be done :D I’m so lucky and grateful to have had a patient, experienced, encouraging friend to hike with me!