Last month while I was in Colorado I spent about 14 hours in Pike National Forest. The plan was to leave Monday, July 26th, hike into the state park, find an appropriate camping spot, spend the night, in the morning attempt to climb Sentinel Point, and then return in the afternoon of Tuesday, July 27th. We were able to accomplish some of those plans, but not all of them.
As you can see in the photos below, we were able to hike a fair ways up the side of the mountain, setup camp, but we ended up coming back down the mountain in the middle of night. As someone who has lived their entire adult life at sea level, I had complications with the altitude and decided to cut the trip short.
Previously, when I was 8 years old, my family climbed Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, and before we were able to reach the summit, I had came down with a a bad case of altitude sickness. Essentially, my little body had not acclimated properly to the high elevation, but in the 21 years since then I’ve never had any problems with altitude, until this trip. I’ve climbed numerous mountains that are above 12,000 feet, but my previous highest altitude base camp was 10,800 feet, and for this trek we decided to stay at 11,600 feet, right at treeline, which was, in my opinion, a bit too high for me to sleep.
The problem was that while I had been in Colorado for about 4 days at altitudes between 5,200 and 9,200 feet, I still had not fully acclimated myself. Before we settled down at the campsite (and took some of the photos below), I was feeling a bit light-headed & slightly nauseous from difficult hike up the side of the mountain. One of the best ways to acclimate is to drink copious amounts of water. And I did so, but to no avail. After dinner and about 10 bathroom breaks, I was still not feeling 100% as we laid down to go to bed. I couldn’t seem shake the altitude sickness.
I was really hoping to be able to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Instead, every time I’d close my eyes and start to fall asleep I’d feel like was fainting due to a lack of oxygen. This scared me. The last thing I wanted was to have a high altitude cerebral edema far away from any medical services and potentially die in my sleep at the ripe age of 29. So at around midnight I told my step-dad (who is also the person who took all the photos below) that I think it would be best if we descended instead of risking any potential health problems.
Since I had not had altitude sickness in 21 years I did not really know what to expect, except that usually after food & water the light-headedness goes away, and it hadn’t gone away in over 6 hours. With the full moon shining brightly we turned on our headlamps, packed up our backpacks, and proceeded to hike back down the mountain in middle of the night. Once we were down below treeline my altitude sickness conveniently vanished, but we decided to continue hiking back to the trailhead instead of setting up camp in the middle of the forest.
I make no excuses for making the decision to head back down. I felt my health was being jeopardized by staying too high up. My only regret was not being able to spend more time in Colorado to acclimate myself prior to going on the outing. I believe if I had spent another week in Colorado I would have probably not had to deal with the altitude sickness. Nonetheless, I did accomplish my goal of the short trip. I wanted to see a gorgeous mountain vista…. and I did.
Below are the rest of the photographs & a topographic map showing where we were located:
I added the red dots to show the approximate location of where we hiked to.
Click the map to view the Google Map of the area.
This beautiful meadow was created by a series of beaver dams.
Off in the distance you can see the Continental Divide…
One unexpected discovery was that I had some cellphone reception, so before dinner I sent out this tweet:
[note: It’s Sentinel Point, not Peak]
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