In 2011, I showed up to the GORUCK Ascent a little nervous. I had never climbed a 14,000ft mountain. Sure, I had climbed mountains in Afghanistan, but not this high. GORUCK had enough faith in me to lead a group to the summit of Mt. Belfort, and since that day I have been hooked on mountains. I don’t get many opportunities to do an Ascent, but when I do, I take full advantage of the challenge. And when you’re in a far away and distant land that is 90% mountainous, as I am right now, you take advantage of climbing the above beauty that is roughly 14,201ft.
So let’s talk about aclimating. In the photo above, we’re doing just that – enjoying ranger TV and beers at 10,000 feet. Acclimating is probably the most important thing you can do on your Ascent. Going from sea level to 14,000ft is a bad idea. We made base camp at 3pm on a Friday and stayed at that elevation for about 16 hours. We also cheated a little and took some Diamox prior. I’m not sure it helped, but it made my beer taste terrible. Acclimating gets your body ready for the task at hand, and it’s cool to drink beers and tell stories at the base of the mountain.
So what do you carry with you up the mountain? How about as little as possible – only those items that are absolutely needed. My personal preference is my tried and true GR1 which has been with me everywhere. Also a set of Knucks in case you come across that abominable snowman. Here is exactly what I carry: Set of trekking poles, 3L Camelbak hydration bladder full, some food, fire, extra top and hat in case I get cold, pack of smokes, knife, carabineers, 550 cord, and at least one beer to drink at the summit. You will find that you really don’t need a bunch of stuff to take a long walk. Why carry a bunch of extra weight and make it suck more? Plus, it violates Rule #1.
Is the Ascent going to suck? Yes, but if it were easy why the hell would you do it? The air is thin at 12,000 feet – so much that no trees grow above this elevation. People are not supposed to climb and be at that elevation. You can play with nature a little bit, but nature will always win out. Make sure you are in good shape and you should be fine. Take some of the points that I have thrown out and you will have a successful Ascent. Don’t worry though, where we are going there will not be any snow. I just thought this picture was badass.
My Tajik friend pictured on the right is an experienced mountain climber. He has made successful ascents on 24,000ft mountains. He told us that if we don’t make it to the top, it’s not our fault. The mountain just didn’t let us. This picture is taken at 13,500ft. I tried climbing this mountain twice. On the day that this picture was taken we had been climbing for 9 hours. The mountain just didn’t let us make it to its summit. We had no trails, no maps, no anything to guide us to the top. We tried multiple different ways but ran out of time. Sometimes, you have to know your limitations. Nature and of course the mountain will always win.
The descent down the mountain is just as bad if not worse than your ascent. You are already fatigued, and falling down a mountain is a real hazard when you’re tired. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated the entire time. Watch your step and take your time. Use your trekking poles to brace yourself when coming down steep terrain. Your knees will take a beating but in the end, it’s all worth it.
In closing, one of the most valuable things that I think gets lost is to enjoy your time. Take breaks. Sit there and enjoy the beauty of being in the mountains. Colorado is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I can state that with absoluteness because I have been around the world. Enjoy were you are and enjoy the company of those that are crazy enough to climb a 14er with you. Of course, over shared misery and beers being the most preferred.