If you get the John Denver reference in this post's title, 5 bonus points for you!
As we have gone about our respective summer jobs, the day we get to GO WEST draws closer and closer! Over the next couple of weeks we'll be finalizing which gear we'll bring and what deliciousness will make it onto our menu, which we'll share on this blog. In the meantime, here is the rundown:
Unlike the poor fellow in John Denver's song, "I guess he'd rather be in Colorado," we are not stuck in the city. Thanks to the Beyond the Pines Fellowship we'll be doing a week-long backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies. Our trip begins on a section of the Colorado Trail, where we will have the opportunity to summit Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, two of Colorado's tallest 14,000-footers. As we head further south, we'll jump on the Continental Divide Trail for a brief period so that we can reach another local trail that will allow us to summit Mt. Missouri, Mt. Belford, and/or Mt. Oxford, three mountains in the Collegiate Peaks. Being college students, we thought a trip to the Collegiate Peaks seemed fitting, and since these mountains are some of the tallest in Colorado, we're expecting some fantastic views.
Backpacking in this area provides several opportunities for applying knowledge and skills that don’t usually apply when we hike in New England and opens up many avenues for learning new things:
· Orienteering: Though we, of course, learn map and compass skills in Leadership Training and sometimes have to orient ourselves using the map and compass if we’re “lost” (although, Mike tells us we’re never really lost, we just sometimes don’t know where we are), our itinerary takes us through areas where we’ll have to rely more on our orienteering skills. Many sections of the trails we’ll be following lack clear signage (sadly, in part due to vandalism of signs that were posted), areas with less foot traffic won’t be so obviously worn as such places like the Appalachian Trail, and the rocky ridges above treeline are not conducive to having paths worn into them. Instead of always following a well-marked trail, we’ll be breaking out our topography maps and compasses! In the Fall semester following this trip, we plan on teaching an orienteering class that will bring students from the very basics (How does this compass thing work anyway? What do all these lines mean?) to being able to find themselves and go places using the map and compass.
· Altitude: Our hike begins around 10,000 feet above sea level. From there, we will traverse everywhere between about 9,500 and 14,433 (that’s Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado and 2nd tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S.). While the effect of higher altitude won’t be anything like a jaunt up to Everest Base Camp, we do expect to feel some effects. Hiking in these elevations—particularly after having just flown to Colorado—may make us feel fatigued with less effort or may give us headaches. Of course, if either of us shows signs of legit high altitude illness, we will move ourselves to a lower elevation (and in fact, we have an alternative itinerary on the Colorado Trail at lower elevation in case either of us become ill in the first couple days of our trip). But there are things we can do to prepare for and deal with hiking at these elevations. First, training: it’s a bit hard to “train for high altitude” when we’re living near sea level, but by focusing on cardiovascular fitness through running, biking, and swimming (including hypoxic swimming, a workout designed to train for being active with less oxygen), we hope to be more able to deal with the added challenge of hiking where there is less oxygen—essentially, we hope by starting the trip rather physically fit, our bodies can focus on adapting to the higher altitude rather than trying to do that and adapt to vigorous physical activity. Because we expect the altitude to effect our perceived effort as we hike but are not sure how much it will wear us out, we’ve set up an itinerary with smaller base miles (the miles we’d have to do to get to where we can be easily picked up) than we’d normally expect ourselves to do but have all sorts of side trips (like summit trails) and optional ways to turn the trip into a loop if we find we can go further. Having this flexibility with how many miles we hike in any given day will help avoid the stress and pressure of having to hike an unrealistically big day that was planned before we knew how we’d feel hiking at higher elevations. We’ll also need to pay attention to hydration, as it is easier to become dehydrated at higher elevations, and to preventing nasty sunburns. High altitude nutrition will also be important to consider, but more on that later when we write about our menu planning.
· Science Nerds for Life: As we hike through the landscape, paying attention to what is around us will reveal all sorts of awesome knowledge and histories.
o Geology: We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for glacial moraines, glacial striations, and other neat features that will help us read the story of the area’s past.
o Flora: Hiking up and down through a span of about 6,000 feet will take use through many different kinds of forests, providing the opportunity to explore what kinds of plants grow at which altitudes, with which other plants, and under which conditions (i.e. which direction the slope is facing and so on). Figuring out how different biological, topographical, and weather characteristics are related is a fun puzzle.
o Fauna: We hope to see animals! Some animals found in the Colorado Rockies include bears, lions, various ungulates (elk, deer, etc.), marmots, birds, and, hopefully, more.