from couch to kings
July 13, 2010
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Afternoon hail ricocheted off intimidating boulders. In mid August stopping the shivers was surprisingly difficult. Tucked between broken quartz, I rationalized the weather, high altitude, lack of planning, and the truth was humbling.  I wasn’t tough enough. Others passed, some hid their demons under a hoodie, while others had no demons, for them, it seemed a 13,000ft. walk in the park.

The wind lessened on the East Slope, so I picked my way below the ridge and found a wet rock to lean on, and wait.

Six Days Previous: Grease stained and faded pink, a once proud office leather couch begged for attention. Six month old issues of Utah Business collected dust on an antique side table. Empty wooden mail slots perked at the arrival of the postal worker, but the same discount office equipment magazine was the box’s only friend. I dog-eared my dream desk in each issue, now if only I had an office. Resigned to the reception counter on the second floor, I sauntered to the hall bathroom for amusement. Whoever decided on The Creation of Adam wallpaper was a cheap and brilliant designer. Its function is faux Vegas, but at the urinal, the greatest fresco of mankind became the motivation for escape!

Not just a beer in front of the dog-days of summer TV escape, an adventure. A three day Walden, before all personal motivation was lost to an artificial existence. I reentered the sterile hallway and asked the lonely bronze bust atop a marble hutch where I should go. He watched me pass a dozen times a day like the portraits inside Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. I confronted him. “Ok, Bronzy, you see everything that goes on around here, before I end up like you, I would like to remember what’s it’s like to live, any ideas?” The Internet.

I ripped through search engines, dropped pop-ups, and barreled through useless facts until I heard the clomping feet of my boss. I quickly tabbed to our business page, just in case. I reiterated the tired and bogus assurance his business plan was destined for greatness. Effective, he clomped back to re-genius himself.

Dude, your dog has acid ass

I stumbled upon I figured it was time to climb a mountain, although my only hiking consisted of nature walks on local trails, no significant elevation gain. My definition of summiting was reluctantly pulling the last stair on the second floor of the mostly vacant, cookie-cutter business complex which imprisoned a cemetery of dreams. So, I picked something thirteen-year-old Boy Scouts do; summit Kings Peak.

I found snooze on the Blackberry, then my mind instantaneously completed a laundry list of to-do’s which forced me to rise. I checked the backpacking list I printed before my three hour morning nap, made final decisions on which items to leave, reviewed the itinerary, made oatmeal, tossed packs in the SUV, picked up rented sleeping bags, cook kits, and headlamps, hit Canyon Sports for a doggie pack and failed, then realized I was late for work. I felt the dreaded buzz in my cargo-shorts pocket. Do I answer? Harry, my Border Collie mix, panted in my ear. The office was not dog friendly, but I didn’t feel at this point I had a choice. I reassured Clomper over the phone I would make an appearance, and drove directly to work.

Less than an hour behind the reception counter, a squeal from the bitch in the adjacent office crashed through the halls, “Whose damn dog is this?” The dog plan worked to perfection, operation ditch work resumed. I told Clomper it was probably best if the dog and I left for the day.

I escaped and picked up summit partner Todd, then drove to REI where we found an overpriced doggie pack. Finally geared up, we drove the packed Escape east of Salt Lake City through Parleys canyon and past Park City. Feeling sleepy and famished we stopped in Evanston, WY for some pick-me-up juice (a Monster drink) and food (peppered beef jerky). Back on the road and two sips into the Monster, my palate rejected the eclectic combination, so I stopped eating jerky.

One missed turn later; we pulled into Henry’s Fork trailhead and snagged the last parking spot. We geared up. As virgin backpackers, we quickly realized our packs were either too small or we brought enough provisions for every Utah Boy Scout. We divvyed the food, smooshed our stuff sacks, and forced our packs to house every imaginable amenity. Finally, I clasped Harry’s pack and we began hiking. A quick check of the watch: 8:00pm.

After four hours of walking, the pack’s side straps began eating my muffin-top belly, so I slowed and relinquished the lead to Todd. My Shoulders were sore, but my legs were giving up. Instead of strong footfalls, I kicked rocks and began losing my balance. Our headlamps began catching reflective material among pines suggesting other campers. In the dark and without a GPS, it was difficult to pinpoint our location but looking at the topo, I estimated Dollar Lake was near. I joked, “I think it’s time to pull over for the night, Todd.” He continued and I followed with Harry tugging me up the terrain. The tree line broke exposing an expanse of mountain grasses. Rain drops teased us. Todd quickly found a boulder resting in a field and labeled it home. I unloaded, but the ghost pack remained. Watch check, 1am.

Todd murmured a snore and I felt alone. Raindrops fell just consistently enough to warrant Harry sleeping in the tent. He butted against my bag, sleepy; he expelled a toxic, nose-hair burning stench. The synthetic bag failed to filter the smell. Todd, unconscious and open mouthed, inhaled the noxious fumes. I shifted from one bad position to another. There was no escape. In addition, my back held enough pain to delay sleep. Harry again expelled. This time, I sucked it in hoping for immunity. This was my Walden?

Sunlight drenched a distant mountainside. We had camped inside a half-moon of flattened peaks. The sun crept toward us across the valley floor. I was boiling water on the Pocket Rocket when I realized, we had awaken within scenery found in the pages of adventure magazines. The inconveniences of yesterday were just that. Todd spoke from within the Wal-Mart dome tent, “Dude, your dog has acid ass.”

“Morning to you too, you’re not going to believe the view out here.”

After a backpackers breakfast of oatmeal and blueberry’s, I readied our summit pack. A cloudless sky caused me to abandon my extra fleece and rain jacket, instead including a thin windbreaker. Tender shoulders and stiff legs convinced me to eliminate other miscellaneous items until the pack was left with only a water filter, map, trail mix, and a poncho.

We walked switchbacks until we breached Gunsight Pass gaining our first view of Painter Basin. The expanse was sprinkled with small lakes and streams. Staring at God’s country, I nearly missed the flock of domestic sheep grazing on the immediate slope. Harry spied the livestock and tugged, testing the durability of his leash and my legs. The trail wound through the ranging wool taunting Harry. The temptation was there, but I resisted unlatching the herding breed.

After two and half hours of hiking, the ridgeline leading to Kings Peak became visible. We determined the dots on the ridge were people. I dug out my water-filtration device and ripped it from its cardboard box careful not to lose the instructions. I fumbled with the tubes and began to pump. Todd dribbled trail-mix when responding to some passer-bys. With GPS in hand, the through hikers explained the summit was only a vertical mile away. We stared at the summit and watched clouds race over the peak toward our position. I disassembled the filter and repacked. We only sat for thirty minutes, but it was long enough for my legs to lose momentum.

Morning to you too, you’re not going to believe the view out here

The hike steepened and each step became work. Doubt entered my mind, and I replaced it with positive affirmations. I completed my fourth marathon only three months prior and although I hadn’t run since, I couldn’t have lost that much endurance? Todd didn’t exercise but instead, worked a physically demanding job which proved helpful as he passed me. My gait slowed and I became aware of each step. In the shadow of clouds, loose straps on my pack began to flap. Goosebumps covered my exposed arms and legs. Dried sweat pulled my skin under the elbow and knee joints.  I thought about my windbreaker but it looked worse on the ridge so I toughed it out. Booming and cracking filled the valley. Todd turned and shouted back, “I hope that lightning doesn’t come near us?”

Harry, now off leash was bored with my gait and ran ahead to join Todd. I stopped; feeling a bit betrayed by man’s best friend, I watched Harry prance behind Todd. On cue, Harry looked back. Physical doubt again entered my mind. This time I paid more attention as I responded with answer’s to unending “what if’s?” Lost in personal conversation, I failed to notice the considerable lead Todd had stretched over me. Todd shouted something and the wind carried it away. I gave him the keep going wave of encouragement. Large rain drops began to splat on dry rocks forming interesting patterns. Finally one fell on my arm. Flashes of light consistently agitated neighboring peaks.

I could see the finish of our hike and the beginning of the actual summit push. Upon gaining the ridge, the wind asserted itself as boss. The views of multiple valleys were blurred by dust particles and intermittent splashes of water. Then, Thor dropped his mighty hammer and a group of us on the ridge shook. Dime sized hail began pelting rocks, dirt, humans, and dogs. An impromptu speed dressing contest lightened the mood. I wrestled on my wind breaker then wondered why it was labeled as such? Two more hikers joined us. Six of us deliberated on the safety of summiting. The rain slickened rocks and strong winds upset a girlfriend of one of the hikers. “I don’t feel safe,” she stated. I agreed, but I didn’t hike this far for nothing. I tell Todd, “I’m ok if you are?” Todd stepped with life and vigor upon the first boulder and said, “Yep, let’s go.”

My foot failed to land on top of the first boulder and instead kicked the front. The elasticity in my quadriceps was missing. I used my right hand to pull my dead leg upon the rock. Ahead was a fortress of slick boulders and I was not prepared to battle the elements. I continued. Todd disappeared and I conquered one boulder at a time. Then, the frightened girlfriend passed me with her confident mate. She commented through zipped Gore-Tex, “I guess I’m going up.” “Good luck,” I responded. Noticing her struggle past, I looked back toward the ridge, and realized I had only gained 90 feet. I quit.

Sore but refreshed after a long nights sleep through blustery conditions, I woke. The sun welcomed us on the trail home. I repeated the lines, “no, but he did,” to every hiker inquiring about summit attempts. I should have been disappointed and somewhere inside, I was. But in a strange way, I had conquered many demons. Happiness resided with knowing, for one weekend, I ruled myself. I became social on the trail, commenting on scenery, and joking about my struggles.

Two Weeks Later: I placed my coffee mug in a small cardboard box next to two boxes of Green Tea, a fork, and four cans of tuna. Grinning, I moved behind the reception counter and placed my favorite pens, a stapler, and my beta fish in the same box. Clomper hovered, “So, you gonna go climb more mountains?”

Ignoring the sarcasm, I mumbled, “Yea, planning on it.” I stepped toward the exit, reached over the counter, grabbed a photograph of lodgepole pines swallowing a winding Yellowstone boardwalk, and left.

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