Hot-dogging it on Engineer Mountain
By Michael Wall
Western Slope chapter coordinator
Engineer Mountain Climb: Classic hike/climb, Saturday, July 23
Ascending the Engineer.
The team all met up early the morning of the climb in the La Plata County Fairgrounds parking lot. My soon-to-be wife Rachel and I were meeting two of her cousins. We all piled in my vehicle and headed north toward the trailhead. When we arrived, the parking lot was packed. I was somewhat blown away by all the cars. It was the most I had ever seen up there.
That day, I was dealing with an Achilles problem on my left leg. I wondered how it was going to hold up on the trip. Every step going up an incline hurt. The Achilles was just aggravated from too much running the week before. I prayed that it would hold up and that I could put the pain out of my mind. Thankfully, though the pain never fully went away, the Lord made it bearable.
After packing up our backpacks with food and gear, we said a prayer for good fellowship and safety. After the prayer, we hopped on the trail surrounded by four foot tall high alpine wildflowers on both sides and began ascending through the forest. Large pines were scattered along the way in the beautiful setting. The ascent was pretty tame with a few switchbacks here and there as the trail meandered through the trees. Along the way, we kept seeing flyers stapled to trees. It said something about a fundraiser for dogs. I didn't look too closely as I was focused almost completely on the trail.
As we continued, we passed more and more people with their dogs. It seemed like we were in the minority not having a dog with us. It was certainly the most dogs I had ever seen up there on the trail.
As we hiked on, we had great conversation. The forested part of the hike is always great for that as you still have oxygen to speak before the trail gets too steep. You also have plenty of shade with all the trees keeping you fairly cool. Once you leave the comfort of the trees, talking becomes almost non-existent.
Eventually, we made it to tree line. Beyond the tree line was a large meadow. There, we found a high alpine barbeque going on. We had stumbled upon the fundraiser 1½ hours into our hike at 11,000 feet. A group of guys were grilling up hot dogs in hopes of getting donations for dogs.
Sadly, I make it a point not to hike with money after a friend was held up at gunpoint on one of the popular hiking trails in Durango. It was an isolated incident as far as I know but still, you can never be too careful. I assumed, though, that most people don't bring a whole lot of money along when they hike so I wasn't sure how much money the fundraiser was actually going to make.
As we passed on by, we were offered hot dogs. We kindly told them “No thanks.” Even if I had money, a hot dog was the last thing I wanted to eat just before the trail started going almost straight up for the next 1½ hours.
We continued on and eventually made it to a large boulder called the Resting Rock. It's the last stop before the climb really begins. There, we hung out catching our breath and grabbing a bite to eat. We hydrated and enjoyed the views.
After about 15 minutes, we were ready to make the final push. We put away our snacks and began the tough and steep ascent. Soon we were to a place known as the Chimney. It was a fairly tall crack in the mountain that needed to be climbed. This was as far as one of our team's members would go. He had taken a fall canyoneering not too long before and was still a bit shaken from it. He made the decision to head back to a rock shelter we had just passed and wait there for the team to summit and return. There would be plenty of climbers passing by and grabbing a rest to keep him company.
Our summit team pushed on. We ascended the Chimney with no problems and proceeded to our next obstacle. There, we had to climb out on the steep, exposed mountainside on all fours hand over foot. It's probably the most dangerous part of the climb. A fall there would most likely result in death or extreme injury. Thankfully, there were solid hand and footholds over the exposed area.
Andrew (left to right), Rachel and Mike on the summit of Engineer.
Soon, we were back on safer ground. We continued ascending the last part eventually making it to the summit. The weather was great on top. I had a pulse oximeter with me so the team had some fun with that testing our heart rates and oxygen levels. Our third team member, Andrew, embarrassed us all with his numbers. Andrew, a cyclist, had barely broken a sweat climbing to nearly 13,000 feet. He certainly wasn't breathing hard either. His heart rate was ridiculously low and his oxygen levels were ridiculously high. Ah, the rewards of cycling for hours every day. He made a guy like me who runs almost every day feel out of shape.
Having a team member waiting for us below, we couldn't stay on the summit too long. We grabbed a bite to eat, rehydrated, took some pictures, and were soon heading back down. On the way, we ran into Rachel's landlord. We had a quick conversation and soon continued on.
Heading down was a slow go. There were continually traffic jams on the trail with all the climbers out that day. We just had to be patient as we went. Thankfully, the weather was good and we weren't in too much of a hurry. At least we weren't stuck in a traffic jam in a storm or on a mountain like Everest. Things could always be worse. This gave us a chance to somewhat chat with the other climbers going up and down. It was a good time.
Eventually, we made it past the dangerous sections and reached Caleb, our fourth team member, who was patiently waiting for us. He had some great conversations with people stopping to rest at the small shelter. We also grabbed a quick rest before heading back down toward the Resting Rock and the meadow.
We reached the meadow to find quite the party. There were many more people there around the grills on our descent than on our ascent. They tried to sell us some hot dogs again, but, sadly, we still had no money. At that point, a hot dog sounded great. I was kicking myself for not having any money on me. Obviously, there were more people hiking with cash on them than I thought – and they were all enjoying high-altitude franks.
I was finally seeing the genius of the organizer's plan. Grab hungry climbers, not before the climb but after it. Now, that's a great idea, enticing people to give money and fill up on hot dogs after the grueling climb. Definitely not a bad strategy. Might be a cool way to raise funding for say a C4C mission trip or project? Just throwing that idea out there. Find a popular hike or mountain in your area, set up a portable grill on a Saturday, and sell some tasty food. Seems like a cool and creative way that God can use to raise money for a trip or project.
Anyway, the team continued on past the grilling and dropped down into the forest. Soon, we'd be back at our vehicle. We headed back towards Durango feeling blessed with a safe trip and great weather. For me, it was exciting to get another first-timer to the summit. Andrew had never climbed it before. Seeing his excitement after climbing it, I think we hooked another one. I look forward to doing more climbs with this group and, through that, encouraging them in the Lord. Maybe, we can eventually even get them on some C4C mission trips. That would certainly be pretty awesome.