A Personal Narrative of the Trials of Scaling St. Charles Peak
During high school, two friends and I decided to try and backpack all over the country. Andrew, Jeff, and I took trips to places like the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, and the Buffalo River. After each trip the three of us would say, weve got to go somewhere better, more challenging. So during the spring break of my junior year we decided to pack the Wet Mountains in Colorado. We planned the trip for weeks, calling the ranger station, checking weather conditions, and planning out meals for the trip. We knew the trail would be a little more difficult than anything we had done before, would, but we never conceived of St. Charles Peak being too challenging.
We started out about six in the morning for the long drive to Rye, the town just at the base of the Wet Mountains. The trip to Rye went pretty well, except for a few miscalculated map readings and a couple close calls with the low fuel light. When we finally made it to Rye we made camp about three miles from the trailhead so we could get a good night sleep and start out early the next mourning. While we were sleeping a huge storm moved in and stacked good eight to ten inches of snow on the whole north side of the mountain. The next morning Andrew yelled from outside the tents hey guys youve got to take a look at this. Thinking a raccoon rummaged through our packs looking for food, I slowly crawled through the tent door and looked in astonishment at the white blanket covering the mountainside. This is going to be a hell of a trip, Andrew said slowly sipping his cup of steaming coffee. This couldnt be happening, I thought. We had checked the weather forecast at least four times before we left, and each time they said there was no chance of snow. After contemplating whether or not to continue our climb to the summit, we all decided that we couldnt turn back now. We only have a day and a half hike; it cant be that bad, I said, convincing Andrew and Jeff that they had made the right decision. To this day I still dont know if we did the right thing, trying to reach the summit of St. Charles Peak.
Trudging through knee high snow trying to find the trail, we decided to pull out the compass. Because no one wanted to be responsible for getting us lost, we had to decide which one of us had the most experience using a compass. Since the compass was mine, they figured that I knew how to use it the best. Not wanting to swallow my pride, I pulled out the map and tried to figure out where we were. When we finally had an idea of our whereabouts, we started up the mountain looking for the next trail marker. After about four or five hours of hiking, fatigue started setting in. Our feet became colder from the melting snow seeping into our boots, which made each step seem to get tougher and tougher. Guys, I cant feel my toes. Im being serious, I really cant feel them, Jeff kept saying, each time a little more serious. We finally found a clump of rocks that was out of the snow, so the three of us stopped and made lunch to keep our energy up. While we were eating our macaroni and cheese, we noticed a few storm clouds beginning to roll in. Thinking it couldnt be any worse than it already was, we moved on up the north face. The higher in elevation we went, the deeper the snow kept getting. Now plowing our way through waist high snow, our feet growing colder with each step, we finally decided to make camp for the night. To setup our tents on the sloping mountainside we had to carve out about a ten-foot by ten-foot level square in the snow using our dinner plates. As soon as we got our tents set up the overhead storm clouds began spitting frozen rain and snow. We jumped in the tents and decided to call it a night. During the night the temperature dropped to what felt like 20 degrees. Afraid we might get hypothermia from the extreme cold and lack of energy, we stayed up all night talking from tent to tent trying to keep each other awake. Luckily, we made it through the night. We decided to get up early and hike when the snow was still frozen so that we could walk on top instead of sinking in with every step. We got up early and ate oatmeal and breakfast bars. I dont know if it was because of the lack of sleep or just because I was so hungry, but that was probably one of the best breakfasts, I have ever eaten. After breakfast we packed up and took off for the short two-mile hike to the summit.
We started out pretty well, but our 30-pound packs now felt like we were carrying small cars on our backs. The three of us slowly trudged up the white mountainside with the goal to summit before sunset. After about an hour, and close to 200 yards from the peak, we decided to drop our packs and scramble for the summit. When we finally made it to the peak we could see for miles in every direction, and couldnt hear anything except for the wind whipping by our ears. I can remember feeling like all the coldness had left my body, and I was as warm as if I was sitting in front of the fireplace at the cabin. I have never felt a greater sense of accomplishment in my life.
When we finally made it back to Tulsa, we found that each of us had a slight case of frostbite, and suffered from exhaustion. This trip taught me many valuable lessons. One of the most important is to always be prepared. Another thing I learned is how true friends will stick by one another through anything, no matter what.
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