In Peak Form

The view of Handies Peak (center and in the shade) from the saddle between Redcloud and Sunshine peaks, three of the Colorado 14ers, which rise above 14,000 feet.Sisters Darlene Bartel and Phyllis Van Horn can mark July 11-15 as their 10th year hiking summits of Colorado?s Rocky Moun?tains.

Their hiking trips began in 2005 after Phyllis, who lives in McPherson, had read about four sisters who hiked Barr Trail of Pikes Peak, which has a 14,115-foot summit.

?I figured the next year Darlene and I could do it,? Phyllis said. ?Well, she said, ?Yes,? and I would not have completed that hike or any of the others without her.?

This year five Kansas women?Maura Wiebe, Kay Klassen, Gayla Ratzlaff, Evana Reynolds, Colleen Weinbrenner and daughter Candace Jost? joined the sisters in a rented 15-passenger van. They were bound to south-central Colorado and Handies, Redcloud and Sunshine?three of the 53 Colorado peaks with altitudes above 14,000 feet.

On the way, they picked up another co-hiker in Colorado Springs, Colo., Emily Arnold, Gayla?s daughter and originally from Hillsboro and now of Boston.

The women?s ages cover a span of nearly 45 years, with the youngest, Candace, having turned 22 on the trip. All but one had previously traveled and hiked at least one ?14er? on what has now become an annual summer expedition.

?It?s for whoever wants to come,? Darlene said. ?Some people do it once and say, ?That?s enough,? and other people hang around.?

The women spent their first night in Colorado at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Phyllis said, where they walked some trails to acclimate from Kansas?s flatlands to Colo?rado?s higher elevation.

?It was wet,? Darlene added. ?It had been raining there all day.?

The following day the eight women hiked to nearby Zapata Falls, then drove to Lake City, where they stayed at a cabin several miles outside of town.

On Day 3, the women rode in the van to the parking lot of the Silver Creek/Grizzly Bear trailhead, and the two youngest, Emily and Candace, hiked Handies Peak.

?It?s really cool to be with other women who have the same beliefs, think the same things, have the same goals,? said Maura Wiebe (center) with walking partners Gayla Ratzlaff (left) and Darlene Bartel atop Handies Peak.?We just hung around and did some shorter hikes, which again helps acclimate,? Darlene said about the other five. ?The trailhead area was beautiful.?

Because the ride to the trailhead was rougher than expected, said Darlene, who drove the van, ?I made an executive decision I wasn?t doing that again.?

Instead, the women set out Day 4 in two rented jeeps and traveled 40 minutes over 18 miles back up to the common trailhead.

?We were wanting to get up there in the early morning because you always are concerned about thunderstorms coming in,? Gayla Ratzlaff said. ?We actually started on the trailhead at 5:30.?

Each carrying a daypack with plenty of water and protein/carb-rich snacks, the women partnered and started their climbs.

?Some of us hiked Handies Peak, and others hiked Redcloud and Sunshine, which are two peaks close together and are connected by a saddle,? Darlene said. ?It was just a matter of whether you went right or left.?

The distance to the summits ranged from eight to 12 miles. Some tackled one trail while others climbed two. One scaled all three.

Courtesy photo Members of this month?s Rocky Mountain hiking trip were: (from left) Evana Reynolds, Phyllis Van Horn, Candace Jost, Maura Wiebe, Kay Klassen, Colleen Weinbrenner, Gayla Ratzlaff, Darlene Bartel and Emily Arnold at Great Sand Dunes National Park. ?I noticed how each day each person would be a giver in some fashion,? Evana said about her first-time experience hiking a Colorado 14er with the group.?That?s really the first time we split up like that,? Darlene said.

Now back home, the women reminisced last Saturday about the trip as they sat on the deck at Darlene?s house.

They used words such as long, hard and beautiful to describe Day 4.

?It was probably the prettiest hike so far, at least in my perspective,? Darlene said about this year?s trip. ?The wild flowers, walking through several meadows following a stream.?

Kay Klassen agreed.

?Pictures just don?t do it justice,? Kay said about the scenery. ?The views are just spectacular.?

Others described the wildlife they encountered, including elk, deer, chipmunks, a porcupine and marmots, which are large rodents.

The women also talked about the physical and mental challenges of the climb and the importance of the support they receive from one another.

?The fear of heights is something for me that I really have to work on,? Colleen Weinbrenner said about parts of the trails. ?It really gets to me.?

Kay, as Colleen?s hiking partner, provides vital reassurance along the way.

?Her encouraging words help a lot, and I?m the kind of person, though, if I start something I want to finish it,? Colleen said. ?I?m glad that though I was really, really scared at different times, I was able to keep going.?

Next year, the group plans to hike the Grand Canyon?eight miles down and nine miles up with two nights at the bottom? at the end of July.

?We know that because you have to make your reservations at the bottom of the Canyon over a year in advance,? Darlene said.

To prepare for their 2015 adventure, the women said they plan to stay active with lots of walking as well as running and swimming, plus about a month ahead of time training in hiking boots and walking stadium steps while wearing filled backpacks.

?This hike is my motivator for the entire year,? Phyllis said. ?It keeps me moving. I no longer put a whole lot of effort into reaching the summit of the mountain, but just to get as high as I can and not be stuck below tree line. So it keeps me working out throughout the year.?

Written By
More from Aleen Ratzlaff
Wear approved eyewear, eye doc warns
Optometrist Mark Abrahams, who sees patients two days a week in Hillsboro,...
Read More