In May my wife was in Vegas and spent a morning hiking up the trail to the peak of Black Mountain. She had an amazing time, and the view from 5000 feet was tremendous. Now that we’re in Vegas together, she wanted to have me share the experience with her. We decided to make this our Thursday morning excursion, and shortly after dawn we arrived at the trailhead.
The entire trail is up the side of the mountain, and it slowly rises up with a gentle grade for 3.5 miles. However, the final .6 miles are completely different terrain from the bottom portion, and this is where things started to go off the rails. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself however. The first portion of the trail was a lot of fun. It was slow going, rising up from 3000 feet with a mostly clear path. It is very impressive to see how well maintained a trail can be in the desert.
This all changes when you get to around 4300 feet. At this point the trail turns very rocky, and it changes from smooth trail to bouldering. Our steady pace up the mountain slowed to a crawl as we carefully maneuvered up rock ledges along a ridge line. Once we got to around 4600 feet I had to stop and take a break. My stomach started to turn on me, most likely affected by the higher altitude (most of my runs in Minnesota are around 800-1000 feet above sea level). I stopped to eat a little something, and it was as I was sitting there the vertigo slapped me in the face.
I’ve never been a heights person, and I tend to get vertigo when I’m in tall buildings. I’m usually OK when it comes to being on big hills, but I need solid ground under my feet, and a feeling of stability to handle tall hills and mountains. As we approached the summit, the elevation grade jumped to around 35%. The average before this had been a nice 10-15% grade, meaning that we were now heading straight up.
As I sat on a rock at 4600 feet I couldn’t even bring myself to lift my head up and look around. I felt like everything was going to start spinning, and my anxiety started spiking through the roof. Climbing such a steep grade, at such height, along a ridge, had beaten me. I apologized to my wife and said that I had to stop. I simply couldn’t go any further. Even sitting here typing the story puts me back in the situation, and no amount of bravado could have changed the fact that I simply couldn’t go on.
I was .2 miles from the top, but that required 400 feet of vertical travel. For now, I’d have to be happy with 4600 feet. We started the descent back down, and for a bit it was precarious. Many of the rocks we had climbed up were large, and required you to sit down to get over them. Soon enough though we were back to the regular trail, and since it was a nice downhill, we managed to run a fair bit of the return trip. We made it back to the car with a decent accomplishment, but with myself feeling very frustrated.
Something that always frustrates me is when I come face to face with my limits. I hate being told (often by my body) that I can’t do something I want to do. When that thing is because I’m not strong enough, or don’t have enough stamina, that’s one thing. When it’s due to my mind, and my inability to have complete control over what I think and feel, it’s even more frustrating. I realize that today’s failure is very minor in the grand scheme of things. We managed to complete 92% of the distance that we set out to do, and 80% of the elevation. That’s not terrible, but it still makes me feel slightly inadequate.
However, it is good to know what your limits are. The only way to truly know what your limits are is by getting out there and seeing what you’re made of. We may not like our limits, but we all have them. Thursday, I found mine, and I know had knowledge of myself that I didn’t have before. I was also able to quantify what exactly it was that affected me, and so I can look at some possible alternatives in the future. There’s another mountain in this park that appears to have a much easier and more groomed grade than Black Mountain, so perhaps that will be a goal for another time as well.
For now, I’ll take the good and the bad feelings and acknowledge that they are what they are, and that I can’t change them. Friday, I’ll get up and go for a nice regular run to regroup and give myself a nice success. Then it’s back to seeing where my limits are and start to figure out if there’s any way I can change them.