Pizza. Pizza was the first thing on our list as we rolled into Leadville. Being the eighth leg of the Big Agnes/Honey Stinger CDT relay meant we were meeting Section 7 participants at the trailhead to hand off the baton, and their very specific pizza orders from Mountain High Pies in Leadville.
As we pulled into the campground that afternoon, I was running through my list for the zillionth time wondering what I forgot, and mentally preparing for the week ahead. We would spend the first two nights in a posh setup at the Mt. Elbert campground, summiting Mt. Elbert the first day, then the next four days would be backpacking from Mt. Elbert to Tennessee Pass.
The Big Agnes/Honey Stinger crews came to the Mt. Elbert basecamp fully equipped with pop-up tents, shelters, camp chairs, a propane campfire, beers and TACOS! We also loaded up with boxes of Honey Stinger waffles and chews and some minor pad repair kits, in hopes of offering a bit of trail magic along our journey. At the campground, we rushed to get our tents up before the storm. We knew it would be rainy all evening so we hurried to get our tents pitched. As this was a media event, we set up our own tents but also pitched tents and readied pads and bags for six additional media guests who would be staying with us at the campground that evening before our Mt. Elbert summit the next morning.
As the media members started to show up, the rain did too. Slowly at first, and then steady. I wondered if my nine-year old rain jacket would hold up and keep me dry for the evening. But, as I pondered my own dryness, I saw a group of about eight bikers huddled under the foot-wide awning of the outhouses, so we invited them to join us under our pop-up tents. The rain let up for a brief moment right after dinner so we could enjoy time around the propane campfire sharing stories and making new friends.
Despite three coolers of beer, everyone made it an early night due to an early morning ahead. We planned to start our ascent of Mt. Elbert at 7:00 am. Late by 14er standards–but getting a group of 19 to mobilize early (or on time) is like herding cats. It had rained all night, and at one point, we had a small river in front of and under our tent. As a member of the product development team, I know how to properly stake out a tent, but I will admit, with this downpour I began to question if I did well enough to keep myself and all our media guests from getting washed away.
When morning arrived, the rain had stopped and it was cool but very foggy. We readied our packs and had some hot morning beverages while everyone raved about staying dry and comfortable, despite the lakes or rivers forming around the tents. We started to hike, and the entire group walked quickly enough that it took no time at all to get above the quickly disintegrating fog layer. Above the cloud layer and above treeline the summit was visible but still very far away. Passing out Honey Stinger goodies to anyone and everyone along the way helped distract from the burning lungs and legs.
Despite our size of 19 people and one dog, we were swift (the rest of the group being much swifter than me). I ended up about 30 minutes behind the first of our group members to the summit. I used Strava to record my elevation gain for the day, and on one section I ranked 8th of all women who had ever done that part of the trail. 8th, and I was still 30+ minutes behind the fastest members of our group. I started to be concerned that the training I did for my hike wasn’t sufficient, but alas, I realized that I was just among some extremely elite athletes!
At the summit we all celebrated with photos and hugs. We reveled in the beauty of the view and the chance to be part of this amazing opportunity. The decent was quick, and everyone was a lot less amped. When we got back to camp, everyone dispersed and got back to their normal lives. But not Section 8. Section 8 was just getting started on the next leg of our adventure.
Paige Baker, a member of the Big Agnes product development team, grew up in Wyoming and graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in apparel design. Shortly after, she moved to Steamboat where she did absolutely nothing with her degree but had an awesome time enjoying all Steamboat has to offer. A broken arm and a desire for a life change prompted a move to the Front Range allowing her to continue her education and love for outdoor apparel & gear at Colorado State University. As is often the case, she and her family were stricken with the Yampa Valley Curse and have moved back to the Valley. With a four-year-old daughter, car camping is her jam these days. Her favorite setup is the Big House 6 Deluxe with the Accessory Vestibule, the Dream Island 2-person sleeping bag, and the Big Joe duffel to cram it all into.