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Running While High – (14,000 Ft of Elevation)

Running While High – (14,000 Ft of Elevation)

Higher than I’d ever run. [Insert stoner joke about legal weed in Colorado here] I was going to try to run to 14,000 feet.

running scene in high altitude in Colorado
(Looked like this...)

Polarized sunglasses in space
(...felt like this...)

Colorado has 56 (or 54 depending on how you count) peaks that rise above 14,000 feet. They tend attract adrenaline junkies and those people who enjoy the hallucinations created when then oxygen-deprived brain starts to swell.

Perhaps unintentionally, this group of people has created an unofficial 14er Club that’s become a bit of a dick-swinging brigade. These trails pulse with machismo, energy gels, and dry-fit shirts. There are more scenic hikes, harder climbs, and certainly trails with far fewer people. However, the bragging rights ostensibly imbued unto those who summit these 14ers come in handy (pun intended) at Denver bars around 1:48 AM when quasi-heroic stories just might impress someone enough to convince them to sleep with you.

I’ve summited plenty of these ego-boosting peaks over the years. But I’d never run one. So I decided to try. Fuck trail running, let’s go sky-running.

I picked an “easy” 14er for my first sky-running expedition– Mt. Sherman. It was located on private land owned by the Day Mine Company, at the end of Iowa Gulch just southeast of Leadville, Colorado.

Above 12,000 feet the Average Jane’s red blood cells prove woefully unequipped to inject sufficient oxygen into the muscles. What would normally be an easy run causes me to shout an inordinate number of obscenities as my lungs rip apart like a stretched dry rubber band. A few more “fuck-this-shits” later, I’ve run above 13,000 feet. The mountain, named for General William Tecumseh Sherman (famed for his bloody Civil War march that raped, pillaged, and burned its way through the South, all but leveling the city of Atlanta), couldn’t give two shits about my struggle.

Right on cue William Tecumseh kicked up a breeze. This breeze was relentless, 30-40 mph winds that pulled at my shirt and kicked dust into my eyes. But at least it was at my back. A little wind never hurt anyone.

Running in high altitude in Colorado
Until 13,800 feet, when I reach a group of newly-minted freshman from the University of Colorado. “Watch this shit,” the chief dick-swinger of the groups says. It’s then that he slides out onto a narrow gap between two rocks and leans into the gale force winds shredding over the mountain. The wind almost rips his SigEp T-shirt from his body. He looks like one of those people in the wind chambers that aerialists and skydivers train in. Nonetheless, I decide that I am woman enough to solider on through my own march south to the summit of Sherman. I make it several hundred yards further when a gust that must be over 80 mph catches my dog off guard, picks him up, and moves him a foot closer to the edge. The same gust knocks me to my knees.

I’ve been skydiving. During the freefall the winds pulls your cheeks from your face and they flap from your cheekbones like a strange rubber Halloween mask. The wind is shoved back into your throat with such force during the freefall that it makes breathing difficult.

That’s what this wind was doing.

But I wasn’t skydiving.

I’m about 200 yards from the summit. But between the large, flat summit and my current crouch behind a boulder is a narrow ridge. It can’t be more than 50 yards long, but it’s only five feet wide. I’m not trying Wicked Witch of the West off the ridge of this peak today. So I do it, I turn around. I let General Sherman beat me.

Sometimes the trail reminds us how piss-poor, weak, and insignificant we really are. And that’s a good thing to remember. So I decide that running to 13,900 feet and learning a valuable lesson deserves a trail beer. Cheers.

By Kate Waller

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