2013 Editor's Note: Years ago when Geocities shut down, I collected all the trip reports I'd published on my website with the hopes of publishing them online again one day. As I go through the reports now, one by one, republishing them here on my blog as time, work and space permit, I discover I didn't always record my thoughts and feelings for online trip reports, and perhaps rightly so. I don't really want to be an open book online! There are things I'd like to keep private.
Nevertheless, there were a few trip reports, including this one, with sparse details − even in my journal. This trip in particular was memorable because it celebrated the third anniversary of emergency back surgery that for many years and many painful hikes, rides, quilts and gardening stints, I feared had ended the active part of my life. There were days, and sometimes weeks or months, when I just knew one day I would no longer be able to tolerate the continual pain, and I would have to give up many of the things I love.
Each year when the anniversary rolls around again, even now, as I approach the 9th year with renewed life and less pain than ever since 2004, I resolve not to let surgery and the unknown injury that caused it control my life. This particular hike was an attempt to show my back just who is boss. I'd attempted the very same hike the year before and failed miserably. Successfully climbing a pair of 11,000-foot hills named Payne and No Payne, no kidding, in 2007 gave me the jolt of determination I needed to keep trying to do what I love, regardless of any obstacles in my way, including agony, discomfort, suffering and, biggest of all, depression.
What I wrote in my journal after this memorable hike made me feel as if I'd left out the most treasured parts, which in turn challenged me to relive the memory and record what I'd been too exhausted to write that night.
5 November 2007
Payne, 11,780 feet, and No Payne, 11,789 feet
From my journal:
I've downloaded my photos, backed them up and burned a CD. But that's all I want to do tonight. I don't even want to write a trip report.
But that's my job, right?
We got up at 3 a.m. and were out the door just after 3:30. We had to buy gas before we headed to the trailhead outside of Bailey. We started out on the trail just before 5. 12 hours later, we were back at the car with two successful summits beneath our belts.
Do I have to write more right now?
I did it! I climbed both Payne and No Payne! I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the second peak as we headed up it, but I made it. Ken met us near the saddle as planned, and we had a delightful hike with him.
I'm not totally wiped out, but I'm tired. I just finished a hot tub mineral soak, so I'm relaxed, and I want to take advantage of that. Good night.
The Lizard told me about Payne and No Payne on the first anniversary of my surgery. I wanted to do something special to commemorate refusal to give up and stay on the couch the rest of my life. It was November. It was cold. It was snowy. I still had significant pain. Didn't know then I was magnifying some of the pain by continually arching my back to compensate for unbearable pain. There are no easy mountains in winter. But I was determined to prove I am no quitter.
Our friend and Colorado mountaineering legend Ken Nolan had been prodding us to join him on a hike for years. He, too, suffers from back pain, but has climbed every mountain above 12,000 feet in Colorado, plus a great deal of high peaks in other states AND countries. He is an inspiration to me, and also a wealth of mountaineering history, humor and experience. I anxiously looked forward to hiking something special with him and The Lizard, but I wanted to do it when I wouldn't make a fool of myself for being so slow and so wimpy, which was all I was in my mind from about two weeks before surgery until about January of this year, when physical therapy helped me learn what I could do to make the best of the cards I've been dealt and reclaim my life.
I could not believe someone had actually named a pair of peaks Payne and No Payne. How perfect would that be! I even began using that spelling when I wrote about my back as I prepared (inadequately, I might add) for the 2006 ascent.
In 2006, the snow was about 13 inches deep, plus hard and crusty. I knew I might not make it, so I didn't invite anyone other than The Lizard. I didn't want anyone else to see me fail. I didn't want him to see me fail, but I knew I couldn't do it by myself, and I knew he wouldn't make fun of me.
Each step – test for firmness, slowly shift weight, lean forward, rapidly sink a foot deeper with a thud that hurt as much as riding in a car over railroad tracks – brought me closer to tears. When I could no longer hold back the tears, The Lizard said, "We're done." I was relieved, yet I also was embarrassed. I wasn't just trying to prove myself to me; I wanted to prove myself to The Lizard, too. He has never looked down on me because of my physical condition; he has always cheered my every success and braced me up every time I stumbled. But back in 2006, we'd been married just a little longer than a year, and I think deep down inside, I worried I might not be good enough to be his wife forever. I also didn't ever want to picture him pushing me around in a wheelchair. I wanted to be whole. For him, and for me.
In 2007, I prepared more adequately. I climbed the stairs at work (60 flights) at least twice a week and by October could do them twice in a row without stopping. We trained for Ride the Rockies even though we didn't get drawn. We hiked every weekend we could throughout the summer. We spent a lot of time at altitude to acclimate. I tried to build my endurance in every way I could so I wouldn't fail and so I could invite Ken to celebrate the third anniversary of surgery with us.
Back then, I didn't realize the reason Ken offered to meet us at the saddle between the two peaks instead of at the trailhead and hiking the entire 14 miles with us was so he wouldn't have to keep my slow pace the whole day. He knew The Lizard would be there for me if I had difficulty or wasn't able to make it, and he climbs solo on a regular basis. Catching up to us several hours into our ascent would be no big deal for him. He'd spend only the alpine portion of our hike (a good mile and a half one way) at my pace, and on the descent, he could go on without us at any point if I was taking too long.
Colorado mountaineering legend Ken Nolan atop the highpoint of Payne Benchmark
Ken ended up staying with us on the descent all the way to the parking lot, even though descents are most difficult on my back, still to this day. Remembering that now is a warm fuzzy; Ken enjoyed our company enough he was willing to put up with this snail for seven miles! Needless to say, the feeling was mutual.
The Lost Creek Wilderness trail guide describes Payne and No Payne as a "great workout, especially in winter." The Lizard bought the trail guide specifically for our Payne and No Payne ascent, although there are many Lost Creek Wilderness trails and at least two more summits he hopes to visit one day. The Lost Creek Wilderness is one of the closest wilderness areas to the Denver metro, and the weather there often is just like Denver... little or no snow in winter. Sunny and warm. The rock formations alone are worth the long hikes required to reach destinations, and although not much of the entire wilderness area is above treeline, what alpine views do exist are exceptional.
In 2006, we'd faced up to 18-inch snow drifts. In 2007, the mild weather left us a nearly clear path the entire route. For the first time, I could actually see the trail!
The hike was not steep, just long. I had to stop to breathe many times on the way up. We had to wait for Ken at the saddle perhaps less than 10 minutes. And then we no longer had to follow trails. Ken knew the way. He'd been up this mountain.
No Payne for Snowcatcher!
We traversed to the higher summit of No Payne, which is open tundra and a few rocks with a magnificent view in every direction. We enjoyed lunch, then backtracked to Payne Benchmark, where I would be able to shoot the summit marker. Payne Benchmark, which likely takes its name from an early settler to the Park County or Tarryall region, is surrounded by midget evergreens and stingy with views. I unsuccessfully tried to learn how the creek, summits and trail came by the name and wondered if No Payne was the humorous result of the rather gentle stroll to the second summit by the survey team after placement of the benchmark pin upon Payne.
The Lizard atop the highpoint of Payne Benchmark
We had a snack atop Payne and shared more stories of mountaineering, relationships, jobs, climbing clubs and climbing partners. Next came the Payneful decent, seven miles of mostly downhill. I had to stop even more often to stretch out the sore back muscles, but Ken and The Lizard never ran out of things to talk about while they waited on me.
Ken even had to stop and stretch his back a couple of times, which made me feel not quite as wimpy.
Back at the parking lot, we giggled at our taste in vehicles. Ken, too, has a 4Runner, and it sports about as many miles as mine. Just like our backs, our vehicles just keep on truckin'!