It’s been a few weeks since I published a Throwback Thursday post. Since I’m really missing the mountains, I chose this one from Mar 2013: my first summit of Turtlehead Peak, a true breakthrough hike for me. Yes, I can.
Originally posted Mar 9, 2013 – edited
Winter rainstorms were threatening to roll in, so I decided to take advantage of a clear day to get my hike on. I gathered my gear: camelbak, trekking poles, hiking boots and cell phone and headed to the mountains to take on the beast, that one hike I’d been avoiding.
Was I ready?…
Mentally prepared? Not so much.
I had been hiking various trails at Red Rock Canyon for nearly 3 years, but had never even considered tackling this one. I shook my head silently as I gazed [straight] up at the daunting task ahead… Turtlehead Peak.
Maybe it’s not as bad as everyone says it is, I speculated as I willed the nerves away.
But then I recalled the specifics from the guidebook: 2,000’+ elevation gain in just under 2.5 miles; 800′ of which climb near vertically in just under 0.4 miles.
I can do this, I told myself. But not really believing it.
And off we went, Mr. Enthusiasm and I. He asked, just as we left the trailhead, where we were headed. Oh bless his naivety! I vaguely waved my hand in the general direction of the peak. His response, “You’re nuts. We’re not going all the way up there.”
See, even he knew it was crazy.
I fought, throughout the 2.5 hours it took to make summit, to quiet those thoughts. Everything inside me was telling me I couldn’t do this. Mr. Enthusiasm had transformed back to his previous persona, Mr. Reluctant, telling me that this was crazy/impossible/stupid. And this only added to my neuroses.
The first stop on the trail is an area known as Sandstone Quarry.
From here the path continues north through the rocky Brownstone wash, then up along a little ridge. Turtlehead Peak looms overhead. But that’s just it, it’s still STRAIGHT UP at this point. And it feels like you’ve made zero progress. Because you pretty much haven’t. Not any vertical progress, anyway.
About 45 minutes in, I also noticed that those helpful little trail signs had disappeared. Of course this really didn’t matter all that much seeing as the only way to go was up. I didn’t need a sign to tell me that.
Still, I second guess myself a lot. I must’ve asked “Are we going the right way?” or “Is THIS the trail?” about 3,000 times. Mr. Reluctant grumbled in response, “It doesn’t matter. Just pick one. They’re all the same…they’re all shit.”.
I plodded along, making decisions that I thought were driving me towards the ridgeline at the top of the ravine while traversing an obstacle course of boulders.
Hikers making their descent from summit passed by and offered their two cents, “It’s worse coming down than it was going up!”. WHAT??? You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.
In an effort to neutralize the negative chatter, I tried telling myself how much good I was doing for my body! “Hey, at least I’m getting one hell of an aerobic workout!“. And then I made the mistake of checking the display for my BodyMedia armband.
What in the actual fuck???
Apparently not a single minute of my climb thus far was considered “Vigorous Activity”. Huh??? Do I need to go into full cardiac arrest to qualify for Vigorous Activity? Who designed this device, and what kind of crack were they smoking? My heart was pounding out of my chest. THIS WAS FUCKING VIGOROUS. Trust me.
After I made it to the ridgeline, I felt great that I was no longer scrambling over boulders, but, as I took a minute to catch my breath, I couldn’t help but notice that the peak was still high above, and oh so vertical.
The little voices in my head became a cacophony of screams. Seriously, what was I thinking? This was truly impossible.
Right around this time, Mr. Reluctant began trying to convince me that we were done, and should just turn around and head back.
“Oh, I think THIS is Turtlehead Peak.“, referring to a slight rise in the landscape about 3 feet ahead of us.
Note: He had previously pointed out each of the following as potentially being Turtlehead Peak:
- a little mound of rocks
- a small boulder
- a pile of petrified animal poo
Exasperated, I responded (yet again), “No honey, THAT is not Turtlehead Peak. THAT [gesturing upwards] is.”
I looked over at him, then up at the peak, then back at him and said, “We have come THIS FAR. We are not turning back now. FINAL PUSH. LET’S DO THIS!”
We pushed ahead (up) in the general direction of the peak.
As we took the last few steps to summit the 6,323’ limestone peak, a friendly voice greeted us with “Hey there! You made it!”. I’m not sure if it was my accelerated heart rate, my oxygen-deprived brain, or just overall jitters at finally making summit on wobbly legs, but that voice scared the bejeezus out of me.
No, literally. I jumped about a foot in the air and let out a shriek. And then immediately felt like an idiot. What did I think it was? A rapist [one who would climb 2 hours to get to their prey]? A mountain lion [one that had an excellent command of the English language]?. Clearly I was
a bit very loopy at this point. Poor guy… my jump and scream startled him too.
Once I settled back into my skin following my overly dramatic reaction to his warm greeting, I finally noticed my surroundings.
The most beautiful panorama unfolded all around me. And all I could do was repeat “wow“, over and over again.
The feeling of accomplishment was amazing! I felt like I had just conquered the world, and in a sense I had. I not only made the summit of one of the toughest peaks in Southern Nevada, but I had also overcome my own mental blockers that were working so hard to stand in my way.
I considered doing the whole Titanic /I’m-The-King-Of-The-World schtick, but thought better of it, given I had just launched out of my hiking boots after hearing a friendly hello from a fellow hiker.
Instead, I just walked the summit, checking out the sweeping views on all sides: the Red Rock escarpment, the Calicos, Brownstone Canyon, the entire Las Vegas valley (incl. The Strip) and the snow capped La Madre Mountains. I felt so strong. So capable. In that moment, I felt like I could accomplish anything.
After taking the obligatory pictures of the awesomeness around us, Mr. Reluctant [who had miraculously transformed back to Mr. Enthusiasm] and I sat down for a mini picnic of granola, apples, walnuts and protein bars.
I then made sure to sign the guest/log book.
In it I wrote four words: “I feel so ALIVE!“.
Turtlehead Peak was a seriously challenging hike, and one that fully lived up to it’s official ranking as “Difficult”. But despite the fact that it took a full day to recover from the jelly-leg syndrome, the fact that I’m still smiling ear to ear four days later made it worth every step.
p.s. Want to read about how I nearly killed myself climbing Turtlehead 10 months later in January 2014? Just click here. And remember, friends, don’t get to cocky on those mountains.