“Are you interested in streaking too?”, my friend Katie asked me. Now, I grew up in the 70s when streaking meant running naked through a public space, usually an event, like my high school graduation or an NFL game. So, when Katie mentioned streaking the peak, then flashed her pearly white Chiclet teeth at me, I was, well, confused. I knew people were trying to run a mile every day or other such athletic feat, but I guess it never occurred to me to do monthly summits on my local mountain, Pikes Peak. But Katie is like that, one minute you are out on the mountain all innocent-like, birds doing their Disney thing eating out of your hand and the next thing you know, it’s twenty-eight months later, ten-below-zero with 40 mph wind gusts, you’re knee deep in snow somewhere above tree line and you’re singing John Denver songs at the top of your lungs. What’s even weirder, is that you’re having fun.
Katie and I met on Pikes Peak. Well, we knew who each other was from trail running circles, but didn’t really know each other. I wanted to do a round trip on Pikes on my birthday in December, but I couldn’t find anyone who would go, so I posted on Facebook. Unbeknownst to me, she had already started a streak on Pikes and eagerly went with me for my birthday. We had a blast.
Streaking has since been in the news quite a bit, Insta-worthy pictures of folks hitting the same mountain or trail month after month, year after year, but here’s what they don’t tell you…
You learn a lot. A lot about yourself, a lot about your partner. You learn who says they will go but bails at the last minute. You learn who goes, but never speaks to you again. You learn who your friends really are.
You learn that trail builders, like Fred Barr, who built the 12-mile trail to the summit of Pikes Peak, are vastly underrated artisans.
You learn that winter erases any memory of the trail or where it goes. You learn that not only do all the boulders look alike, but they ALL look like butt cracks and somehow, you will find this hilarious.
You learn that there are waaaay more than one or two standard routes to the top of a mountain and you learn this because you get bored. You learn which route is best and when and you learn this the hard way.
You learn every shortcut on the mountain, even the ones that, technically, are only short if you’re a raven. More importantly, you learn that when your partner points directly across the face of a little-known side of the mountain with her pole and says, “See that line over there?”, to never, NEVER under any circumstances, take that line.
You learn that glissade and shorts should never be in the same sentence, much less on the same slope, no matter how high you think you can lift your legs. And then you learn what a snow enema is.
You learn that your partner loves black licorice and licorice gives her horrendous gas, but, alas, makes her no faster.
You learn how fast an iPhone 9 versus an iPhone 12 slides down the snow on a 40-degree slope. And then you will test it again on a 60-degree slope and only then will you go buy a phone tether.
You learn to read clouds.
You learn to tell time by the shadow of night receding upward, painting the east face with a glow as the sun rises, and how to make a run for it as it slinks its inky blanket down towards town in late afternoon.
You learn to wish you were a mountain goat, but not a marmot. Never a marmot.
You learn what every single symbol on the weather forecast means and that the forecast will change by the time you arrive at the trailhead. It will change again by mile 3, by halfway, at tree line, and 4 more times before you get home. So you learn to pack for the worst but hope for the best, and then second guess and argue about it all day.
You learn just how truly meaningless the warmth ratings of gloves are.
You learn that the puffy cloud season is mesmerizing because you can walk right through them after the tree line if you are very very lucky.
You learn to smell, really smell. A fresh rain, hot pine, that first icy breeze that rides in around late August, the garlic bread your partner ate last night.
You learn as the month nears its end, that the only day you will be able to summit, is after a big snow dump, during a storm, or when the wind forecast is 50 mph. And you’ll go anyway, and you’ll like it.
You learn which section of the trail will hold snow well into June and you learn this as you are standing up to your armpits in it. And you’ll laugh about it but still resist carrying snowshoes the next time.
You learn what consolidated snow is and why it will make your cheeks pull up into a smile that turns your eyes into happy little slits of joy.
You learn that you can train for ultras, 10ks, Leadwoman, Denali, marriage, divorce, aging parents, teenagers, pandemics, and every other big thing and still keep your streak because it’s the mountain that’s training you and you know it.
You learn how determined your partner is when they have knee surgery and instead of ending their streak, they hand cycle up the Pikes Peak Highway so they can keep it.
You learn that a severely dislocated finger with the bone sticking out will get you a ride down with the Ranger, but you will still make sure you summit first.
You learn that you can still run while wearing KT tape, duct tape, knee braces, back braces, ankle braces, finger splints, stick-on-mustaches, snotsicles, panty liners, pool floaties, big boots, and overloaded packs.
You learn self-reliance, resilience, strength, friendship, and courage. You learn that suffering is a choice.
Between August 2014 and January 2019, Katie and I summited Pikes Peak together 34 times and more since. Katie has an unbroken streak of 65 consecutive summits during that time. I have an unbroken streak of 36 consecutive months and a couple of years missing a month or two.
We have done 24 different routes on Pikes Peak. Most were round trips of 20-28 miles. Our shortest trip took 6 hours. The longest was one tough winter day at 16:55.
Only once did we turn back before the summit. January 17, 2017.
We’ve laughed, we’ve cursed. We’ve been hangry and tired, wet and cold, frost nipped and frostbitten, chaffed and chapped, hot and hot flashy, pre-menstrual, menopausal and constipated, though not all at the same time—yet. Two things we have never done, taken the cog train nor regretted a single one.
Since then, Katie completed another year streak Nov 2021-22. I have continued to summit—when I feel like it.
Tracey, this is the best article ever 🙂
Great write up Tracey! Except for the parts about horrendous gas and garlic breath🙄 (TMI) You describe things in a way that I almost feel like I was there…I think you are an amazing writer!
Thank you, Sam!
Katie, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about! Your horrible(ly good) ideas and relentless smile in the face of near constant ridiculousness made every pee picture you ever took of me and every licorice “outburst” worth it. Mostly. 😉
i loved this story! and laughed out loud 🙂
What a great story of friendship and mental/physical toughness and growth!
I started a similar summit streak on January 1 of last year on my favorite local mountain — only 2.5 miles and 750 ft of elevation gain for the most direct route — but my usual route was 5 miles & 1,000 feet. I aimed for 52 summits, one for each week of the year, and some weeks I did a double summit. I ended up a few short at the end of the year since I moved 2 hours away in October and wasn’t able to run it weekly but I learned so much about myself and that little mountain every time I ran it. It never got easier but I got stronger. I’m hoping to start something similar in my new city since I loved the challenge so much.