I have always been a sleepwalker. There are quite a few stories of me as a child haunting our house with my nightly jaunts. It continued on in my adulthood and there were many times where I would find myself standing outside of my home in the middle of the night wondering how I got there. But in all the years I have sleepwalked I have never done it while I was hiking... until yesterday. Well, maybe not so much sleepwalking as falling asleep as I hike. On a 14er, no less. How did it happen? That's a darn good question.
I spent the day with a great group of people from 14ers.com, trying for a winter ascent of Mt. Elbert, the highest spot in Colorado. In my case, trying was the operative word. I made it to about 13,000 feet and had to turn back, the combination of the wind and not feeling too good forced me to turn and head back to the trailhead with a mile and 1500 vertical feet left to the summit.
As I was heading back down I began to feel tired. Actually, not so much tired as exhausted. You know that feeling when you are driving down the road and you can't keep your eyes open? That is exactly how it felt. If it happens when I am driving, I will stop and run around the car a few times and that wakes me up. It isn't so easy when you are already physically moving your body. I tried everything - pinching myself, taking a break to eat or drink, even leaning against a tree to close my eyes for a few minutes. A couple of times I actually fell right into a snow bank because I had fallen dead asleep. It was what I would classify as bizarre - it had never happened to me before and really took me by surprise.
I finally decided to run the last 2 miles (in my snowshoes no less - something I have never been able to do before) and while I was still fighting to keep my eyes open, it did help me a little. I got to the trailhead fairly quickly with the run, got out of all my layers of clothes and jumped into the truck hoping to catch a few shut eyes before the group returned. And you know what happened? I couldn't fall asleep. Figures, doesn't it?
Today I decided to do a bit of googling to see if I could find anything on my "sleep hiking" and found a couple of possibilities. The most probable was High Altitude Sickness. I knew I wasn't feeling good up top but I had never heard that drowsiness can be a side affect. And sure enough, it is. I had noticed I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open before I turned around, but at the time I thought it was due to the wind. Apparently not. A lesson for all of you that would like to hike higher elevations - if you start to get tired enough to fall face first into the snow/trail, you might want to consider turning around.
All in all there were 4 of our group who made it to the top - James and I were the only ones who didn't get to stand at the highest point in the state on Easter. They hiked 12 miles and 4900 vertical feet (I did about 10 miles and 3500 vertical feet, James was a little bit more than that). But we are planning on another attempt, this time in the summer. Winter ascents are not exactly something I want to try again - I'm a wimp in the cold and I gladly admit it!
The day ended with a great meal at a local mexican food restaurant in Buena Vista. It was a great day with great people who I would love to climb with again (in the summer, of course).
Here are the pics from the day.