Sometimes Things Don't Go as Planned: Lessons Learned from My Most Challenging Hike (to date)

Originally Posted July 2020

Hey Everyone!

Good news, we survived our ambitious 4th of July hiking trip and had an amazing time!!! 🙌🏻

I should preface this post by stating that this was intended to be a very FULL weekend of hiking adventures. However, due to the weather (afternoon thunderstorms) each day and some unexpected trail conditions, we had to adjust the plan a little bit.

Our plan was to arrive Thursday night, complete our MEGA, EPIC, AMBITIOUS hike on Friday (when we were fresh), have a shorter hiking day on Saturday to rest and recover, and finish strong with a moderate yet GORGEOUS hike on Sunday before driving home.

My super ambitious hike was estimated to be between anywhere from 12-17 miles with well over 4,000 ft of elevation gain. The distance would ultimately depend on which trailhead we started from. This wasn't one single hike, but rather, I combined a few different hikes together for one epic loop of awesomeness! Before our trip, we researched the trails, looked at trail reports, checked out a variety of maps, consulted Google Earth 3D view for perspective, and we even found a YouTube video showing the entire stretch of dirt road up to the trailhead. We were very thorough in our research!

Also, we knew the weather forecasts showed afternoon thunderstorms, and we were prepared (mentally and physically) for those. This is pretty typical Colorado summer weather in July/Aug, sunny in the morning, afternoon thunderstorms, and then evening sunshine. That being said, it's difficult to predict exactly when the rain will come. The general rule of thumb is to make sure you're off the summit well before noon. This is a pretty easy rule to follow when you're completing a shorter or easier hike (OR you're just in much better shape than me, lol!). However, when you're planning a marathon-like hike with a lot of elevation gain, your hiking pace slows down pretty significantly.

So, we started out on Friday morning with the intention of getting to the trailhead around 6am and finishing between 1-2pm. Based on our pre-trip research, we were able to drive up a dirt road to a closer trailhead - this would shave off 4-4.5 miles roundtrip (RT) and 1300 ft of elevation gain. So instead of 16-17 miles and 4,000+ ft, we would only be hiking 12-13 miles and 2,800-3,000 ft. This is what we were prepared for.

Once we got to the lower trailhead, we started the ascent up the dirt road to the upper trailhead. At the very first switchback our plans were foiled by multiple LARGE potholes in the road. The video we had watched of the dirt road was taken from a dash cam and depicted the road to be completely driveable by my little Subaru. Unfortunately, that was not the reality when we got there. So, we backed up the car and headed back to the lower lot to reassess. The weather was overcast at 6am and we were not at all anticipating our 12 mile hike to turn into 16-17. We had been so excited to find a way to shave off those 4-4.5 miles, and we were not mentally prepared for the longer distance. So, we decided to switch our 1st and 2nd day hikes. We would come back mentally prepared tomorrow.

Our Friday Hike (intended for Saturday) was moderate difficulty, 5.6 miles RT and 1391 ft of elevation gain (starting around 10,700 and ending around 11,900). The first mile was fairly flat with almost all the elevation gain in the last mile and a half. Funnily enough, we felt like we were dragging up it. So, it seemed like a blessing that we didn't have to do 16-17 miles with 4,000 ft that day!

Since it was a shorter hike, we made it up to the lake while the skies were still relatively clear. We had a blast adventuring around the lake and competing to see who could find the best views!

Once the clouds and wind started rolling in, we decided to make our descent and head back into town for lunch. The nice part of the shorter hiking day was that it got us warmed up and excited for the longer hike on Saturday. Instead of trying to hike the morning after our arrival, this gave us an extra night to relax, settle in, and get a solid night's sleep before our attempt.

Onto Saturday morning - game time!