High-altitude training walks . . .

July 1, 2013 – Only two months before I begin my Camino, in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, on the French-Spanish border.  As each day is clicked off the calendar, I am both more excited and more frightened than I was the day before.  It’s after midnight and I’ve been on the Camino forums for the past 90 minutes, sopping up experiences of pilgrims who have gone before me.  My biggest decision at this point is whether I will risk the hardest day of the journey on Day 1, going from SJPP over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles, or whether I will stop after 8-10 km and stay in Orisson, making the 28km trek in two days, rather than one.

The advice is endless, of course, from tales of jubilation for having survived the whole first bit in one day, to stories of walking, sobbing, stiff and sore, practically falling up and then down the mountain.  I cannot know what is the best thing for me, but my good friend Jacques urges me to hedge my bets and reserve a bed in Orisson.  After agonizing for the past year about this, I am convinced I must do this so I will have an option as I make my way UP the mountain.  I have just sent an e-mail requesting information for the night of September 1.  My mother would have been 92 on the day I begin, and I smile as I imagine her floating near me as I trudge.

Yesterday, we returned from nearly a month at “the cabin”, my partner Neil’s family mountain cabin outside Ouray, Colorado, the Switzerland of the Rockies.

View from our cabin porch

View from our cabin porch

Lake Lenore, Ouray, Colorado

Lake Lenore, outside Ouray, Colorado

Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, the cabin is an opportunity for us to completely relax, read on the old log porch, take our Golden Retriever down to the lake, and walk or hike to our hearts’ content.

This summer, I have my upcoming Camino in mind, so I found numerous opportunities to take training hikes in a most spectacular setting.  It is both exhilarating and disheartening to be active in these mountains.  It isn’t the walking/hiking that gets to me; however, beginning at over 8000 feet of altitude and going UP from there quite literally takes my breath away, in addition to the breathtaking views all around me as I go along.  I remind myself that my camino will be very different, in ways both advantageous and disadvangateous to my mind and body.  Lower altitude, but approximately seven weeks of walking 12-18 miles per day, and sleeping in rooms with anywhere from four to one hundred fifty other trekkers!  Still, training is training, and I am quite happy to report that I get no hotspots or blisters with either my trail runners or my hiking boots.  A most important confirmation that my shoes are well-fitting, well-made, well-broken in.

So a hike up the mine road to scatter Luna’s ashes,  then to Jackass Flats near the cabin with our friend Jacques for a beautiful afternoon hike.

Jackass Flats - near Ouray, Colorado

Jackass Flats – near Ouray, Colorado

One day an attempt to get to the Amphitheater above Ouray, and on another, a steep walk up to an old mining railroad bed.

On the Railroad hike (not it's official name), you can see one of the magnificent red mountains

On the Railroad hike (not it’s official name), you can see one of the magnificent red mountains

Old mine railroad crosspieces near Red Mountain Pass

Old mine railroad crosspieces near Red Mountain Pass

The old railroad turnaround on our hike near Red Mountain Pass

The old railroad turnaround on our hike near Red Mountain Pass

You can see the old cross-pieces, as well as the turn-around at the top.  (I caught the back of Neil’s tall body in the corner of the turnaround photo.)  My altimeter app didn’t even work on that hike, since we were already quite near Red Mountain Pass, and there was no service at all! The last altitude measurement I took before I lost service was just about 11,000 feet.  I was just a bit out of breath here and there . . . Beautiful, though.

When I’ve done these “little day hikes”, near the cabin, I am carrying nothing but a small fanny pack, and the heaviest thing in it is the water I require.  On my Camino, I will have a twenty pound pack, so that will be much more difficult.  However, I keep asking myself, “Isn’t a four-hour hike at 11,000 feet the equivalent of an eight-hour hike at 2000 feet?”  I certainly hope so.

About Woodswoman

Writer, educator, psychotherapist, woodswoman. Crave solitude and just walked the Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Long-term partner, Neil. Three grown kids, one traveling the world for a couple of years (see theparallellife.com), and two in other countries . . . Thailand and Texas! One Golden Retrievers and two cats. Avid reader, looking for 10 more hours in each of my days.
This entry was posted in Body readiness, Camino de Santiago, Colorado, Hiking the San Juans, Preparation, Red Mountain Pass, Spain, What Goes on in the Mind, Women Walking and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to High-altitude training walks . . .

  1. It will be amazing! Advice amiga mia, train with your pack, so it too is well fitting and broken in and DO NOT – yes I am yelling, carry more than 10% of your body weight total. You will be more jubilant if you take this advice. You can buy what you need and pitch stuff when you are done. You will have internet almost every day if you like. It may be nice to stay electronically disconnected.

    • Woodswoman says:

      Thanks, Julie. I am to start training with my pack in a couple of weeks, and I’ll begin a bit slowly. I’ve got my plan mapped out for me, and am adapting it a bit, but yes, I will definitely walk with it for many hours, with the weight I am prepared to take with me. I have a friend who walked last year, September and October, whose pack was about 20% of her weight, and she knew it was way too much, but she did it. Not that I want to overburden myself. My stuff has been out on my son’s bed for two months, and as I add and subtract, weigh and either accept or reject, the “stuff” is being fine-tuned.

      I remember you telling me that you had about 35 lbs in your pack, and that’s probably 25-30% of your weight, you lithe woman, you! But again, I listened and learned. I’ll be glad to have internet to post to my website, but my daughter is handling all my e-mail. I have a special new e-mail address just for her, my sons, and Neil, in case of emergency. Being online can eat your life! So I will write at night or late afternoon, and when I want to post, I’ll just do that, rather than being online to compose, etc.

      Very excited, of course!!!!!

      Take care.


      Live like someone left the gate open!

  2. ilona fried says:

    Found your blog via Cara Lopez Lee. I walked the Camino last fall, and spent the night at Orisson. It was one of my better decisions, as it allowed me to fully enjoy the scenery the following day when I crossed the Pyrenees. I met people later on who did that first stage in one day and regretted it…it’s possible to do, but often painful and exhausting, not the best way to start a long journey. One of my less good decisions was to carry more than 10% of my weight. Over the hundreds of miles, every extra pound creates a lot of pressure on joints. I finished, but there were some difficult days. Good luck!

    • Woodswoman says:

      Thank you so much for our comment, Ilona. It strengthens my growing conviction that I should split the first day in two, although I surely wish the split were more even in distance. Did you reserve ahead? I’ve sent two e-mails to Orisson, but have not heard anything yet. And I continue to sort out and weigh carefully the items I’m adding to my pile. Walking with my full backpack is my plan for this weekend, just for a test “run”.
      I hope you will follow my journey on this site. I’d love to hear more from you by e-mail or phone. You could write to jetlost@gmail.com if you are so inclined, for a start. Congratulations on your completed Camino and thanks for writing!

  3. Jennifer says:

    The day I left SJPP, the mountain pass was closed (late April) and we were *strongly* encouraged to go through Valcarlos whose pass is about 200 meters lower. I split it into 2 days and stayed at the albergue in Valcarlos because it felt right to me and I trust my intution. Just the same, if staying in Orrison gives you peace of mind, reserve it. You can always stop in and cancel the reservation on the way by, leaving it for another person in need.

    That said, the hikes you’re doing now are strenuous and good preparation (WAY better than what I did!). Your nerves and excitement will bring you energy to cross over into Roncevalles if you decide to do it in one day. You will be tired either way. You will be exhausted on other days and for other reasons, which won’t be avoidable. So you can call it practice. 🙂 In the end, it will all be exactly as it supposed to be. ❤

    I was given sage advice that the best training of all is the Camino itself. You can let go of the need to Be Ready. You already are. You're going to love it and come home transformed.

    Jen in Oregon

  4. Sue Ferguson says:

    Best wishes for a pilgrimage that exceeds your expectations.

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