My son, Nick, and I had decided a month ago that we'd go hiking on his 25th birthday.
This would be our last hike together in the foreseeable future, since he is moving out to Phoenix next week. I had been hoping that the recent rains would be sufficient for a fun water hike, but that wasn't going to be the case. With only two days left and no destination in mind, I threw it back to him for some input. Without hesitation, he said, "I want to do the ridgeline."
I'm sure I looked horrified. "Are you kidding me?"
Hoping to talk him out of it, I said, "That's sooo hard and it will take ALL day, so we'd have to be on the trail by 6am."
I was fairly confident that the 'getting up before dawn' thing would kill it for him, but no such luck. "I can do it. Come on, Mom!"
Ugh. Having just been up and down the Flatiron two weeks earlier, I was in no big hurry to see it again, but he was so enthusiastic about the idea that I felt compelled to grant him his birthday wish, so I caved. I mean, what could be a more fitting way to commemorate the special event of his birth than to have him (once again)
spend an entire day trying to kill me?
I had to work at Peralta the day before, so I took that opportunity to just leave my truck at Carney. Lou helped me out by giving me a ride home on his way over to First Water. Nice to have that whole shuttle thing taken care of so we didn't have to deal with it in the (pre)
morning. We were going to need all the sleep we could get. That same evening, Nick announced that he felt like he was coming down with something. I pounced on the opportunity to suggest that we change our plans, but he insisted that he would be OK to hike. That's wonderful news.
At 5am, I walked down the hall toward his room to begin the morning ritual, which typically goes like this:
[I knock on his door...] "Nick?"
[No answer. Knock again... louder.] "Nick?"
"Time to get up."
"OK, thank you."
Five minutes later, repeat.
So, I was surprised to discover that he was dressed and coherent on the very first pass. Man, he was really into this! Well, that makes one of us. It was I who ended up making us late and forgetting half my stuff. We started at 6:30am from Mining Camp. My head down in determined dread, I immediately launched into a 3mph death march up Siphon Draw, with him easily keeping pace while chattering on about all the things he was going to do 'after we get home from our hike'. I couldn't bring myself to look into his cheerfully optimistic eyes, as I casually suggested that he might not feel like doing too much later. Ignoring that statement completely, he estimated a 6pm arrival time in Phoenix to meet up with his friends. OK... there was no need to burst his birthday balloon this early in the game. In this situation, ignorance was bliss.
All the way to the top, he maintained his energy level and enthusiasm. If he had any idea of how to get up there on his own, he could have left me in the dust. I had flashbacks of an exhausted mother trying to keep up with a restless toddler. For once, there were very few people on this trail and it was nice to have this 'playground' mostly to ourselves. Since he had never been up here, we took a trip out to the Flatiron and sat near the edge for a while - me, in a misty fantasy that this was our turnaround point and him, in a wondrous world of new discovery, happily feeding the ground squirrels that work the hikers for chow. We stayed about 40 minutes and for half of that time we were the only ones out there. Leaving the Flatiron, we passed the last person we would see for the rest of the day.
The first half of the ridgeline was very enjoyable and we had a lot of fun joking around. The weather was perfect for this, but the chilly wind might not have been the best thing for him. By the time we reached Hog Canyon, he was starting to develop a deep cough and I asked how he was feeling. He said he was OK and that he felt like he could maintain this pace indefinitely. Really? Well, you're gonna want to hold on to that thought.
After passing Hieroglyphic Canyon, we took our last unnecessary steps to a cool plateau for a photo op. He was still in good spirits, but he was visibly tired and starting to look sick. The next section we had to traverse is the most treacherous one on the route IMO... the steep boulder slope just before the peak. Slowly and carefully, we worked our way through this freak out until we reached the base of the chute. I pointed up to indicate what our next trick was going to be and he just stared back at me then sat down on a rock. We took a long break here that we really couldn't afford, but he was coughing a lot and looking pretty spent. He was putting up a good front, as he did his best to power through it, but we still had a l-o-n-g way to go and he was tanking fast. From this point on, whenever he asked, I took a few liberties with the hike stats regarding how much was left and how hard it would be. I was afraid that if the goal seemed unattainable, he would give up and lose the edge he was clinging to.
By this time, I was in sorry shape myself. I began the hike already in pain from a foot that is begging for surgery and that problem had escalated into torture with every step. We must have been quite a sight coming down into West Boulder Canyon - me, using my poles like crutches and Nick shuffling along behind me like a zombie. Reaching the Carney Spring Trail sign gave us a brief glimmer of hope that we could make it back before dark. Of course, I didn't tell him that the 1.8 mile distance did not include the road from the trail head to the truck, but he figured that out as soon as the parking lot came into view like a small speck in the vast landscape.
Going down that first steep section, I was gaining too much ground on him. I had to keep looking back to make sure he was still moving. I finally stopped to wait for him to catch up, but he only made it about halfway before he just sat down and leaned back against a rock. I went back up to meet him and he looked so sick, I was afraid he would pass out. I still had some cold, fresh squeezed orange juice in my pack that I gave him, which seemed to make him feel a bit better and after a 20 minute rest, I got him moving again. With the worst of Carney behind us, we were still 2 miles out and it was getting dark fast.
Adrenaline is the most incredible thing. If we were able to dial this up at will, we'd be pretty dangerous creatures. There must be a certain point of light/dark which triggers a primitive response in the brain to GET-HOME-NOW and to accomplish this, it dumps a load of go-juice into your system. We were gimping along in pain when we both noticed at the same time that we felt much better and were moving much, much faster to the point where we covered the last mile in 15 minutes sans agony. We made it to the truck about 3 seconds before I would have had to stop and dig out my headlamp and the body drugs didn't wear off until we were happily sprawled on the couch at home.
In spite of everything, he said he had the best time... even though 4 days later, he is still sick. He accomplished something his friends can't even comprehend and his pride shows, even in his current misery. I'm pretty proud of him, too!
Happy Birthday, Nick!
(don't thank me)
*I almost forgot...
A shout-out to some ridgeline alumni...
Bob... double ridgeline?!
Joe & Bruce... All night ridgeline?!
Kelly... 5.5 hour ridgeline?!
YOU PEOPLE ROCK!!!