Observations on the way to 11,990 feet (and on the way down)


When not gasping for air, climbing ~ 3,000 feet gives a person a chance to think—certainly, one has nothing but time on one’s side. Below, some observations:

  • The air gets thinner (duh)
    • In all seriousness, 9,000 feet feels markedly different from 10,000 feet, which feels different from 11,000 feet, which…
  • Trees start to disappear:


  • It gets colder! One would be well-advised to pack a gilet or light jacket for the way down, even in July


  • It gets shadier. Something is always casting a long shadow, whether it’s a tantalizing close cumulus cloud or a neighboring peak
  • Encounters with wildlife get more interesting


  • Wind — there’s lots of it, and no shelter (leave the deep section wheels at home)
  • Nevermind what the late, great Charles M. Schulz said—you’re going to need every last one of those gears
    • In fact, woe betide the person who reaches to shift down—only to discover there’s nowhere left to go. Bonne courage
  • Forget kms or miles: progress is measured in meters, yards—feet even
  • Coal rolling happens even here, in the relatively friendly confines of Summit County, Colorado
  • It’s amazing how silently 18-wheelers can creep up on you. Conversely, a four-cylinder with a clapped-out exhaust can be heard from half a km away as it wheezes up the mountain
  • Recruit your glutes. And your quads, and your hip flexors, and your core, and your ankles, and your…
  • A saddle with a perineum cutout (hello, Brooks C15 Carved) starts to seem like a not-so-bad idea
  • Hopping off the bike may bring temporary relief, but getting back on it becomes all the more painful
  • Beware false summits. They bedevil—much, as we imagine, a mirage of an oasis might a weary traveler crossing a desert
  • ‎Descending is scary—but also exhilarating
    • Just don’t look past the dropoff, unless you want to go where you’re looking…
  • To those of you lucky enough to live with big climbs in your own backyards (even if they’re not as long or as high as this one)—we envy you. The suffering notwithstanding, we’ve fallen in love with the meditative, almost trancelike experience of slowly grinding up a mountain.



3 thoughts on “Observations on the way to 11,990 feet (and on the way down)

  1. Welcome to the great, wide open west!

    I lived in a town located at 8,000 feet for nearly a decade and you nailed many of the topics worth bringing up. One thing you didn’t mention is alcohol. Be careful with your intake (if you imbibe) as the ratio is roughly 1:2 and you’ll end up inebriated in a hurry if you are sloppy with your intake!

    Otherwise, enjoy the fresh mountain air in your lungs! There’s no other feeling in the world like it.


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