Longs Peak, an Extreme adventure in advocacy… Part 1

Part 1… The way up.

Shortly after I was first diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I wanted to do something to help promote awareness and educate others about colon cancer. I was first chosen to be a model for the 2015 issue of the Colondar. I was Mr. October, if you were wondering. Since then, I’ve been featured in 6 different magazines, television commercials, a news interview, and on billboards.  I have also traveled to D.C. in order to speak with members of Congress about issues surrounding colon cancer with an organization named Fight CRC. Not once did I imagine doing any of these before cancer. Now, I’m drawn towards doing things that might help others affected by cancer. Which has now led me to my newest advocacy adventure, hiking a little over 14,000 feet up a mountain.

After my time in Colorado Springs (click for last post, Head in the Clouds), I started my 3-hour drive to the town of Estes. This is where everyone going on the hike was staying. I arrived before anyone else got into town. I was able to walk around the town and take in the sights. I had lunch next to a stream and enjoyed the solidarity while listening to the water. During this time, I got deep into my thoughts about the next day. Some of my thoughts were of excitement and joy, but others were of fear and lack of ability. I began to question myself. Was I really ready for a 15-mile hike that goes up 14,259 feet in elevation? Not to mention how difficult the hike up Longs Peak truly is regardless of ability. Then I took myself out of the picture. I started to realize that this was not about my ability. This hike was about promoting and encouraging health and wellness within the colorectal cancer community. The hike was also about building hope and encouragement among survivors and those touched by this disease. Changing my mindset allowed me to sit back, relax, and smile as I waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

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After everyone arrived, it was time for dinner. We had an early meal because of the time we needed to wake up. Once I got back to my room it was time to pack everything. I began to lay everything out on the bed and realized this was a lot of stuff. I needed to be prepared for any kind of weather on this hike. Check list… pants, 2 pairs of socks, undershirt, warmer shirt, mid layer, outer layer, hiking boots, food, water, hat, headlamp, sunglasses, and ostomy supplies. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot of stuff for a hike. Yes it is. And, most of it needed to fit in my hiking pack. Surprisingly everything fit, well minus the items I needed to wear in order to begin the hike. Once everything was packed and I had out what I needed to put on in the morning, it was bed time. I called my wife and son to tell them goodnight and I loved them before attempting to fall asleep.

Bed time, not necessarily sleep time. Talk about not being able to shut your mind off! I stared at the ceiling most of the night so I didn’t get the best night’s sleep. But, when the alarm went off at 2:00 AM it was time to get dressed. Our meetup time was 3:00 AM in the parking lot of the hotel. After everyone arrived and we hopped into the van, we drove to the trailhead. As soon as we got there the excitement hit, my heart started beating faster, and I was ready to go! We started our hike at 4:05 AM and around 38°F.

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The first stage of the hike was to make it to the tree line. It was just after 5:00 AM when we reached that point. I was able to eat some food, catch my breath, and empty my urostomy. I felt my pace was good and not too fast. At this point on the trail, things start to get a little tougher. After about 10 minutes we started moving again. Breathing was now becoming harder and I felt weak. We hiked another hour to our next rest stop and got to watch a beautiful sunrise. The sky was crystal clear as we all stood around to watch the sunrise from behind two mountains tops in the distance known as Twin Sisters. The sun painted the face of Longs Peak a bright red as we admired the beauty before continuing.

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Photograph by: Brian Threlkeld, click here for BST Photography

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Photograph by: BST Photography

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Photograph by: BST Photography

As we continued to get higher in elevation, the more frequent the stops became. This was also where the group started to split up some more between faster and slower paces. We had the understanding that we would split up as needed and then regroup at designated meeting places.  That meant there could be times I would be alone. From sunrise until we reached our next main rest area, the Boulder Field, took another two hours of uphill hiking. The Boulder Field is an interesting place. It is filled with rocks of varying sizes, to boulders the size of a minivan or bigger.

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The next objective was to make it through the Boulder Field to a spot known as the Keyhole. This is also where the Agnes Vaille Shelter is located.

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Now, it wasn’t so much the distance from the Boulder field to the Keyhole that became the difficult part; it was trying to figure out how to navigate your way over the boulders. Because of how strenuous this portion of the hike became, I was exhausted by the time I reached the Keyhole. The elevation at this point is 13,200 feet. The not so funny part of this, is that from this point on, the hike now turns into rock climbing. This is when it gets very difficult! So difficult in fact, that I was ready to turn around. The first portion of the climb from the Keyhole, is to traverse across a very steep, extremely difficult, slip and fall to your death, side of the mountain known as the Ledges. There was NO room for a mistake from this point on. Like I said, I was ready to turn around. I was happy with myself and how far I had already made it, but I was not ready for this. And, I didn’t survive color cancer twice just to go and fall to my death! And, remember, I was already exhausted! That fact wasn’t going to change.  Once I finally calmed down and realized that I can do this, I put my warm gear back on and went for it.

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Photograph by: BST Photography

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The hike from this point on was filled with thoughts of turning around. I was truly in over my head. That and trying to empty my urostomy into an empty Gatorade bottle with one hand, and clinging onto a rock so that I don’t fall with the other, is not all the enjoyable. I was beginning to second-guess myself with every move I made. I was also mainly by myself during this portion of the climb. There was someone in front of me, but about 100 feet away. I lived in my head as I pushed myself to places I never thought I would. Next thing I knew, I’d finally made it to a section known as the Trough. This is a section of the climb that goes up 600 feet. There are a lot of loose rocks along this portion. Loose rocks mean plenty to opportunities to fall.

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Once I made it to the top of the Trough, I was excited and pissed. See, I thought this was the summit for some reason. I don’t know why I thought that, I knew there was another section, but for some reason I did and that pissed me off. I was ready to turn around. But the fact that I was so pissed at myself for thinking that, only gave me a boost of energy to continue. So, onward and upward I went. The next portion of the climb was to navigate a section known as the Narrows. This, for me, was the hardest and scariest part of the climb. There was a 500 foot drop on my right and very little to hold onto to my left. Another tricky part of this section was to find away to let people heading down pass as I was heading up. There weren’t too many passing zones along this route. When I got to areas where I could rest I did. Sometimes it would take me 5 minutes to go 20 feet because of how difficult and tired I was feeling. I don’t know how I made it through the Narrows, but I did.

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Next was the Homestretch. This is where the climb goes from fear of falling to your right, to fear of sliding down a 50° incline as you climb up towards the summit.

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Photograph by: BST Photography

By this time I was completely drained, both physically and mentally. I only had about 300 feet to go, but it took every bit of 30 minutes to do. I pushed myself past new fears over and over to make the summit. I also had to push myself past every thought of turning around as well. But, when I finally reached to summit – 2 hours after leaving the Keyhole, 7 hours after starting the hike – I broke down and cried tears of joy. I had finally made it! I never thought I would be doing something like this just 8 months after my second cancer surgery to have more of my colon, along with my prostate and bladder, removed. I was on top of the world!!!

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Photograph by: BST Photography

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Photograph by: BST Photography

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After everyone made it to the top, we celebrated with pictures and hugs.

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Some people took a quick power nap; others, like myself, were in ah of the view. I couldn’t get enough of how beautiful and clear the view was. You could see for miles. We stayed on the summit for about 2 hours before we packed our things for the climb down.

That’s when the pleasure turned to fear all over again…to be continued…

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5 thoughts on “Longs Peak, an Extreme adventure in advocacy… Part 1

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