I Nearly Died Climbing NY Mountain
This past weekend I had an amazing life experience. A good friend of mine put together a back country skiing expedition that involved climbing to 11,200 feet and staying in a Yurt for 2 days on NY Mountain in Colorado. The purpose of the trip was to set the stage for future expeditions for a company called, The Third Drive. More on that later but today I want to tell you about my experience. I am also going to make this a three part series, so today will be about my experience, tomorrow will be my takeaway and finally the last post will be about information on retreat company The Third Base.
Okay, so let me tell you about my journey to the top of NY Mountain. We started out at the bottom of the mountain around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was 8 guys and our guide Michael, which by the way Michael is an amazing mountain guide. Anyway, we started skinning up the old mining road and planned on getting to the Yurt in about 5 to 6 hours. That right there should have been my first indication that this could be disastrous for me. For one, the last time I did cardio for six hours it was a six hour cycling class. the second thing that was not working in my favor was as we got closer to the top there was less oxygen and I had come from Dallas just the other day with no real acclimatization. Oh, and for those of you who do not know what “skinnning” is let me explain real quick. The easiest way to describe it is you put this grip or ‘skin” like material on the bottom of your skis to give you traction. Once you have the skin on the skis you shuffle your feet and perform a slow walking motion on the snow.
Alright, so we are moving along and we get to the half way point. Now at this stage in the trip I am a little tired but doing okay. The climb to this point has been gradual and steady and my bod is feeling good. Also, at this point I have a decision to make. We had a snowmobile to take our big stuff to the top of the Yurt and the guide on the snowmobile was at the half way point asking if anyone needed a ride to the top. I so wanted to jump on the snowmobile but I also wanted to reach my goal of skinning all the way to the top so I did not say anything and moved on.
So I made the decision to “go for it” and boy that is when things started to get ugly. The second part of the climb was much steeper and harder. Not too far into the second phase I started to feel my ‘hip flexor’ and ‘quad’ tighten up. Also, I was now working that much harder and my heart rate was started to climb. Being that I have been working with clients and heart rate monitors I know full well that the body just can’t maintain an elevated HR for too long. That being said, I decided I needed to stop and rest for awhile. Also, I decided it was best to just climb without the skis and use my poles to help me. That worked for awhile but I knew if I was going to make it to the top I had to put my skis back on and slug through the rest of the climb. So I put my skis back on and continued.
As I continued to climb I started to think about whether or not I was going to make it. Not a good thing, especially since there was no other option for me but to make it to the top. Just as I was thinking these thoughts we came to the sign that said, “1 mile to the Yurt.” You would have thought I was relieved but actually I was in despair. I had one more mile to go. No way! What in the world did I get myself into was what I was thinking. My thoughts were slowly turning into negative thoughts and I was not sure I was going to make it, but something clicked in me.
Over the past 14 years I have been teaching indoor cycling classes and I started to visualize me teaching my class and telling them to climb the hill and reach their goal. I was saying to them, “You have to believe, I believe in you but you need to believe in yourself.” And you know what, I started to get a pace that got me going again and gave me a second wind.
Finally, night is approaching and I just was thinking one foot in front of the other until I hear Michael, our guide, start hootin and hollerin that we made it. A deep sigh of relief came over me as I slugged the last few hundred yards up to the Yurt, which by the way is a Mongolian term for hut. I was so relieved to get there but the story does not end there.
After 6 hours of climbing I was covered in sweat and completely exhausted. Now anyone who has ever put on ski boots knows that getting those things off after a day of skiing is challenging but I had hardly any strength left in me to get changed but somehow managed to get into dry clothes. That felt wonderful and I sat down drinking water and trying to recover from the 6 hours of climbing that I just did but for some reason I just could not cool down. I started to feel really hot and my heart rate started to climb. I knew this was not good and possibly could and I was going to need to tell Michael. Obviously at 11,200 feet the first thought comes to mind is altitude sickness, but I really did not have classics signs that are associated with altitude sickness. So, Michael recommend that I lay down on my bed and put my feet up. He took my heart rate and it was elevated. The first thing that started to come to my mind was my brother had passed away because of Heat Stroke and was I going to go down that same path? Once again I knew that I needed to change my mind set but this time I had kept saying one thing over and over in my head. “I have to get back to my girls, they need me.” Now, after about an hour and a half of me lying still and just focusing in on my breathing I started to cool down and bring my heart rate down. I tell you, it was not a near death experience and I don’t know if it was heat exhaustion but it sure was close enough to a near death experience that I have a better appreciation for everything I have in life and am thankful to be writing this to you today.
That night I struggled to sleepand just laid there trying to focus in on recovery. When morning came I felt okay and decided to push to the top of the mountain with the rest of the group. This time the 45 minute climb was not as bad as the previous day for me, and let me tell you that it was all worth it when you get to the top and see how beautiful it is.
Now the top of the mountain was beautiful but I had another problem and that was getting down the mountain. You see, I am used to skiing at Vail or Breckenrdige, CO, not the back country. Skiing the back country involves going through open areas and tight areas that are surrounded by tress with tons of powder snow. Trees are not good for those of us who need to make wide turns.
Well the story of getting back to the Yurt involved me walking a little ways down and also being guided by Michael again through the tress and back to the trail head. I tell you what, if it wasn’t for Michael being a patient and great guide I don’t know what I would have done. So, I finally make it back to the Yurt and was thankful. The rest of the trip I knew was going to be hanging out in the hut and being okay with that.
I know I have gone on for awhile with the story but wanted to share with you my struggles. You may be wondering how I made it back to the bottom and I will tell you I have absoulutely no shame in letting you know that I rode down on the snowmobile. It actually was a cool experience in itself, since I have not been on a snowmobile since I was a little kid. Anyway, I made it down and was safe and sound and that is the conclusion of the first part of this series.
Here are some more videos of the trip that I wanted to share with you.