Every few years I try to do something BIG to give back. Sure, I make donations along the way and volunteer (never as much as I mean to) so try to really do something special such as a surgical mission trip, Habitat for Humanity etc.
Well this time I decided to do something that nobody had ever attempted before (as far as I could find) which was to summit the 10 most prominent peaks in the state of Utah in 10 days or less (with the goal of raising $10,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital, hence the title). This would require nearly 2000 miles of driving, 27,000 feet of climbing and almost exactly 100 miles of hiking and running.
Prominence refers to the rise of a peak above a valley floor, so it is typically the tallest peak for miles around. This is what made this idea interesting to me, these are scattered throughout the state, not just tall peaks next to one another. So it was a logistical and planning challenge into physical and mental endurance.
I spent the months leading up to it, getting donations (all of which went to St. Jude, not my travel or gear etc.). I also had to do practice runs and training on most of these routes to make sure it was achievable and that I did not get lost along the way. I was averaging about 40 miles per week of mostly running and steep hiking with weight, but that was not enough it turns out...
Day 1 - Kings peak, over 27 miles and 5,000 feet on day one, I did it, but took longer than expected and was chased by lightning and snow, in August!
Day 2 - Deseret peak, 8 miles and 3,600 feet of gain, I did it but had to start walking backwards downhill. I had developed runner's knee due to imbalanced strength in my right glute and presumably by not training enough. This is only the beginning, I'm not sure what I can do from here with 8 peaks to go. Ice bath, sprays, creams and lots of foam rolling that night
Day 3 - Ibapah peak, 12 miles and 5,200 feet of elevation gain. Trekking poles helped on this one, but it was grueling with the knee pain. It is in a very remote section of Utah on the Western border. I saw elk, deer and was nearly hit by a grouse flushing from a tree near my face. More ice, more creams, more foam roller. Keep GOING. I still need almost $3,000 to hit my goal and if I quit now, I am letting the kids of St. Jude down. I just can't stop. Crutches and crawling if I have to. They have it a lot worse that my little knee problem, time to toughen up.
Day 4 - Mount Nebo, 8.5 miles and 3,800 feet of gain. The knee held up better on this one, just a lot of limping and wincing on the steepest downhills. The final ascent is a knife ridge of loose rock with 1000 foot drops on both sides, just to make sure you pay close attention to each step. Be in the moment or else...
Day 5 - Flat Top Peak, The highest mountain in the Oquirrh range, lining the West of Salt Lake Valley and it is about 10 miles with a lot of bushwhacking and trail finding over the course of nearly 3,000 feet of gain. Not the most fun day, but we are half way! Donations keep coming in as I post updates but we are still quite short.
Day 6 - Mount Timpanogos, a Wasatch favorite for many around Salt Lake and Utah Counties, with good reason. It is likely the most beautiful hike I have ever done anywhere in the world and it's quite a challenge, over 13 miles, and 5000 feet of gain with some serious exposure on the final ascent. Mountain goats are almost always seen, Utah's only glacier is along the way and wildflowers abound. Stunning day, knees still hurt but it was manageable until the last mile, then adrenaline and using trekking poles as crutches kept me going.
Day 7 - My friend, an ER nurse has arrived to support me for the final swing through Southern Utah, to help with driving, navigating and any emergencies that may come up. We head South early to reach Delano Peak which is an amazing hike with a lot of changing topography, and more mountain goats! However, it is a reasonable hike comparatively. 3 miles and 1650 feet of gain. No problem. Knee still hurts but I can keep moving. I finished so quickly we decided to make the long drive to Mount Ellen and attempt to beat out a thunderstorm as well as the waning daylight to bag two peaks in a day. After some intense jeep road driving, we made it to the trail head just in time. I ran under a 10 minute pace, straight up the ridge to the peak, just to beat the lightning headed our way. Again I had to gut out the downhill and use poles as crutches, but we did it and set up camp as the rain hit and night fell upon us quickly. Thank goodness Justin was there to help, we are now a day ahead of schedule! No signal for over a day to check the donation status however.
Day 8 - Abajo Peak, South of Moab is unique since there are radio towers on it, the road takes you the whole way if you want. So in order make this still an accomplishment, we parked about 2 miles below to make it a 1000 feet of gain and four miles. Feeling pretty good, learning to view pain in a whole different way. I realize more and more that much of it is a choice to acknowledge the pain or not. I was choosing to recognize the step in front of me and nothing else. Either way those kids in the hospital don't even know I am doing this but they were rooting for me in my head and I was rooting for them. Can't stop, won't stop.
Day 9 - If I can summit Mount Peale (just SouthEast of Moab) 7 miles of loose rock and just under 3,000 feet of gain, we will finish a day early! However, we are still $1,700 short when we get signal on our way to the trailhead. I think about this much of the hike, how will I gather enough support to close the gap after I have done it, assuming I do?
Well despite a couple of falls on the way up and down, I was able to summit, return safely and start the drive to a hotel for a much needed shower. I was so excited but still secretly concerned that I did not provide the desired donation to St. Jude. No cell signal for the first 20-30 minutes of the drive and I ask Justin, what can we do to get anyone else to help now that it's done? Just then, we get signal, an email comes in, it is a notification for a $2,000 anonymous donation! We did it!
Other than the birth of my daughter, this was the greatest moment of my life so far. Not just accomplishment, not just helping others, not just being in my favorite kinds of places, with a good friend, but the fact that strangers step up and help when they don't even know me, likely don't know any of the kids in the hospital and they still gave up a significant sum, for something I dreamt up, made happen, nearly failed at and finished. Just wow. Very fortunate to be able to help out in such a fun and grueling way. You never know what you and others around your are capable of unless you try.
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