Who: myself, Fr. John, young seminarian Chris
What: climbing Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point, with Mass on top of Blanca
Where: the Sangre de Cristo mountains above the San Luis Valley
Why: Fr. John is four 14ers away from the set, and his new goal is to say Mass on top of each; this was his 15th 14er Mass (and my 15th 14er)
When I first got to Fr. John's house, I saw his packing pile (he wasn't quite ready, shocker) which included two ice axes, crampons, a helmet and rope. I almost turned around. Turns out that was the Switzerland packing pile, complete with all the gear needed to climb Monte Rosa, the highest peak in Switzerland. Phew!
The drive down to the San Luis Valley was pretty uneventful. The fun started when we hit the Lake Como road. I can no longer claim to have never been off-roading. Parts of the road were no worse than a bad dirt mountain road-- ruts, rocks, sheer drops off the side. Other parts were bad enough that I was doing my best rafting "high side" in Fr. John's 4Runner. He kept turning the music up louder to drown out the noises of the car taking a beating, so Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, and Coldplay provided our soundtrack to the bouncing and jolting. When we came across a stalled Land Rover, I started to wonder at the wisdom of taking the road head-on. But, we made it to a parking spot about a mile and a half above where I would have parked. Well, that's not true. It was about 4 miles above where I would have parked, and about a mile and a half above where I would have had Fr. John park. The car was making funny noises when we parked, but we couldn't figure out where they were coming from. So we left, after sprinkling the car with Holy Water, praying that it wouldn't explode while we hiked. From there, it was hiking up Lake Como Road to the campsite on the lake. I had forgotten how physically taxing it is to hike with a full pack. Cooking gear, rain fly, sleeping bag, pad, two liters of water, food, and of course, Chacos for camp shoes. I was grateful that we stopped driving when we did after we came across Jaws 1, Jaws 2 and Jaws 3, so named because they swallow vehicles who try to off-road up to the lake. It's been done, even by Fr. Peter in his Jeep, but you couldn't pay me enough money to sit in one of those cars.
|Coffee at 4am|
And then it was time to conquer the traverse. With a slip of the tongue, Fr. John said "It's really worse than it looks." I reminded him it was the other way around, right? We just went for it, staying just below the exposed top. Only at one point, when Fr. John was hugging a boulder and working his way around the side did I object. For the most part, it was tolerable, made more difficult by the fact that my knees were wobbly from the first ascent and the 600 feet of descent down the ridge of Blanca. But we traversed in speedy time, hitting the Ellingwood Point summit by about 9am. Fortunately, the sun had finally started to take effect and the summit was far warmer than Blanca. Looking back at Blanca made me so glad that we had done that one first. It really was a beast.
|The traverse from Blanca, looking at Ellingwood|
When you hike as long and as hard as we did, the only thing to do is eat as much as possible while you can still justify it. We stopped at this hole-in-the-wall convenience store in Blanca, run by two Polish brothers who make the most amazing kielbasa. Giant sausages split on a roll, pickle, kraut, jalapenos, mustard. And a cold Coors. We sat on the curb soaking in our success. And then, after several hours of traffic back to the 'burbs, it was a stop at Steak 'n' Shake for double steakburgers, extra crispy fries and a dark chocolate shake. It's been more than 40 hours since we finished hiking, and I can still hardly move. I think my quads will be sore for a month. But it was worth it. It was worth the physical effort, the lack of sleep, climbing outside my comfort zone, suffering through two days of Fr. John calling me Laura, finding my bathroom on the side of the mountain, eating crappy rehydrated eggs and frozen energy bars, and not being able to walk for a few days. I am grateful for our very own Pier Giorgio priest who finds God in the mountains and takes others there to meet Him.