Thursday, July 23, 2009

Horn Peak (13,450 Feet, 8 Miles, 4 Hours)

This past Tuesday morning, while away in the Sangre de Cristo mountains for our church family camp, Elke and I got up early with the aim of running up Horn Peak and back before the morning lecture. This is a peak that I have wanted to summit for many years, but the camp schedule usually doesn't comply with the time needed to get up and down one of the surrounding mountains in a reasonable time. The issue is, that while there is plenty of time in the afternoons, that is when the storms come through, and you don't want to be caught up high when the lightening starts striking.

Elke and I left at 5:30AM from Horn Creek Family Camp and made our way over to the trailhead. We walked up the 1/4 mile path up to the "Rainbow" trail, turned north, and after a nice 3/4 mile run, made it to the Horn Peak trailhead by about 6:00AM. We signed into the hikers log, and noticed that we were the first ones out for the day. Nature "called", and after we both had "answered", we finally started our ascent at about 6:15AM-ish.

The trail to the top is only 3 miles, but the elevation gain is 4,800 feet in those brief 3 miles, making this climb a grueling ordeal. This is a serious mountain and it is so steep that if you were to fall, you would do the "Princes Bride" fall for hundreds of feet. We fast-hiked the majority of the climb, running whenever there was something close to a flat section on the trail, and in about an hour, we broke tree-line.
The morning was cloudy, but as we came through the trees, the sun began to burn through the upper section of the clouds, and we soon were above them in our own, sun-baked mountain paradise. The climb above tree line was beautiful, with vibrant greens and tons of wildflowers. I wish I had a camera because I would look down at Elke coming up, and there was this vast, steep, mountain face behind her, that then dipped into a sea of clouds making the scene awe-striking.

There is a false summit on Horn Peak (Little Horn...I think) which I thought would be a waste to climb over and then down, so we decided to traverse the face for a bit until we got past it and then go straight up to the summit. This was a mistake and it cost us another half of an hour as we death-marched the ridiculously steep tundra and scree, until we finally were able to gain the ridge, which is the proper trail and the way to go.
Once on the ridge, not only did the views open up, but so did our pace. We continued climbing at a pretty good pace, and, in fact, I was able to run some of the ridge right up to the summit. Both Elke and I couldn't believe how strong we were and how good our breathing was during the whole ascent. We were working and breathing hard, but it-that is the breathing-was working too. Neither of us felt like we were at 13,000 feet, and this made the run even more enjoyable.

Looking around the Sangre de Cristos from this peak is a real treat-Crestone, Humbolt, etc, and numerous other mountains are all around you, and this morning, there was a this blanket of clouds that cut the rest of the world off from us and gave us something truly special there up high.

Right as I began to descend, a light rain began to fall. This was an interesting "sub-storm" on top of the other, lower cloud system. Footing at this point became interesting, but this quickly dissipated and we were then treated to the most amazing high altitude rainbow, above the clouds. Standing on the ridge, this multicolor "sign" vibrantly shot across our whole field of vision as we looked to the north and we could see it bend all the way down into the valley floor below, disappearing into the green tundra and trees.

We had donned light rain jackets and beanies, but within about 15 minutes, we shed them and kept our pace up, descending across the ridge and now off of Little Horn. About at this point, Elke said we should have stopped on top and prayed for our kids. Not that this makes us closer to God or anything like that, but it was just that they were in our minds as we were climbing. So, we stopped and I led us in prayer for God's grace upon each of our children (Tava, Elle, Izzy, and Seth).

Coming down Little Horn we could see another party coming up, but just breaking treeline. We quickly got down to them (they were a guided party from Horn Creek camp, being led by "Dave", who does this once a week...lucky!), and talked a moment with them but then kept descending.

When we reached the trees again, Elke just took off! I could not keep up with her and I did not see her again until a prominent creek crossing about a mile and a half down, where she was waiting for me. We kept our pace brisk for the rest of the run, trying to get back for the morning lecture.

We finally made it back down to the trailhead at 9:30AM, signed our of the log, and just needed to run the final mile along the "Rainbow" trail back to camp. We must have been so anxious to get back on time that we turned at the first trail going down, which we soon realized was wrong, causing us to climb the trail again back up to the "Rainbow" trail! This hurt after the pounding downhill.
We got back to the lecture arena at 9:50AM in time to hear the final half of the morning's talk, and then we caught showers during the break before the discussion time. We had got it done, with a couple of wrong turns, and only overestimating our speed by about a half hour (which we still think we could have easily done if we had not taken the two wrong on the way up choosing the face instead of the ridge, and the one on the way down, taking the wrong trail down, and needing to come back up).

We are both sore, and both in the same places, which is funny. We usually don't get to do things like this together, and so we are usually sore in different spots or at different times. But this time we keep saying, "Don't those stairs hurt to come down?!?"

This was a fun one, and one of the best times I have had with Elke in a while... We are very thankful.

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