One and Done: Prepping for Hard Climbs Ahead

I really thought by now I’d be pumped. Muscles primed. Limbs limber. Lungs ready for lower oxygen levels. Mental fitness at its peak.

Alas, I have none of those things going for me. With 10 days until I board a Southwest plane for Denver, I have exactly one hike under my belt, and that was done yesterday because I had a rare Saturday morning off and decided to work out instead of sleep in.

I chose Iron Mountain in Poway because it’s (a) only a 30-minute drive from my house, (b) always crowded on weekends so I’d never be alone and (c) still my favorite local trail. It was steep enough that I’d give the lungs and legs a good workout, yet gentle enough that I wouldn’t break bones if I fell. I needed to test my long-neglected gear (daypack, water bladder and spout, poles, shoes, socks, shorts, etc.) Happy to report everything worked as intended, though first thing I did upon getting home was tighten a pole screw that plagued me the entire time.

So why haven’t I stuck with training promised just a few blog posts ago? Illness. First, everyone in our extended family joined the millions suffering through summer colds that would have been milder had we exposed our bodies to more microbes the past year. I’d no sooner start to recover and then be struck by another virus. Then I decided it’s a great time to get the shingles shot, figuring the side effects could be no worse than the COVID-19 vaccines. Wrong. It’s been five full days and I’m still sporting a huge red, inflamed rash and tenderness around the injection site. But the fever and flu symptoms finally abated.

I left my house Saturday before the sun had begun its ascent over the horizon, prompting my husband to ask what the hurry was. 

“Poway. Summer.” I responded while gathering my gear. 

He nodded, understanding that heat hits hard and early that far inland. Sure enough when I got to the parking lot at 6 a.m., nearly every spot was taken. I stopped to use one of two unisex restrooms and wished I hadn’t. Mine showed evidence of someone with explosive diarrhea, and I devoted way too much mental space to imagining when and why such a gastro catastrophe might have happened. 

I always marvel at the canopied start, mainly because the first time I hiked here, in addition to no parking lot and no facilities, these trees were little more than mere saplings. Today just off to the side of them was a lone juvenile coyote howling for help. I suspect he or she lost its pack, but it certainly made me walk harder on hard-packed dirt for the first .75 miles just in case the pack was coming for a rescue.

I didn’t need my poles until the rocks start almost a mile in. And then, because I had a good distance between the couple behind me and chatty ladies ahead, it was easy for me to set a decent pace and pay close attention to my footing. In that moment I realized that I need to do this more often: pay attention instead of talk talk talk. That said, I enjoyed eavesdropping on people who passed me going down or coming up. At least two couples appeared on first dates, and one is doomed based on this overheard dialog. 

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I work 9 to 5. Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering. What is your ideal job?”


“Like, what would be your ideal work day?”

“Working like I do -- 9 to 5.”


I intended to go 1.5 miles and turnaround but I got there earlier than expected and feeling great, so I soldiered on to the saddle and a couple of sharp climbs. Mile 2 came easily but at mile 2.5 it was getting crowded as the trail narrows and is close to a scramble in spots. I looked up at the switchbacks and saw a near-steady stream of people, mostly much younger than me, and decided I’d turn around here. There are some that would never let that .5 miles go, but I’ve been there numerous times before.

iron mountain entrance

The way down took me as long as the up because I constantly had to move to the side to let climbers pass in either direction. And I took a lot of photos out of habit. I finished my 5.21-mile journey feeling better in every way. I fixed my pole, signed up for a CSA that had a booth in the staging area and headed home to start the rest of a busy day.

Even if I didn’t train the way I originally intended, I don’t lead a sedentary life so I think I’ll be good as long as the trails are comparable in conditions and climbs. Altitude sickness is a real possibility, but I’m done worrying about it and worrying in general. I live near sea level and nothing will change that. I’m going to enjoy myself regardless of headaches, nausea, insomnia or other symptoms I’m well familiar with at high altitudes. My next post will either confirm this newfound optimism was warranted, or tragically flawed. Either way, I’m good to go.

Photos taken yesterday.

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