Lift foot, step. Lift foot, step. Lift foot, step, panting to catch my breath at high altitude under the midday sun.
I’d been at this for nearly 12 miles already, one increasingly unsteady foot in front of the other, the pressure of a headache building. Sweat ran into my eyes as I lifted my head searching for the end of this path. The unending series of switchbacks winding their way up a steep scree slope was not spirit-lifting. Somewhere up there was the summit of Pikes Peak.
Named after the explorer Zebulon Pike, whose eponymous expedition attempted to summit the peak in November 1806, this majestic massif of pink granite sits imposingly overlooking Colorado Springs. At 14,115 feet (4,302 meters) it’s not the tallest of the Colorado “fourteeners” – the 54 peaks over 14,000 feet – but for early explorers and settlers traveling across eastern Colorado, it was hard to miss.
This had seemed a good idea – a grand adventure – as I motored across the dusty plains of Oklahoma and Texas. Master’s thesis defended and submitted, now an official graduate of the University of South Carolina, I was headed to Colorado to stay with my folks along the Front Range for a few weeks, before continuing to my first job at the University of Utah.
Mr. Pike and team didn’t make it to the summit – they were unprepared for the conditions – but I was going to try in September. And while I knew the altitude could be an issue – I was coming from just under 300 feet (about 100 meters) above sea-level – this is not a technical climb. It is, however, a long hike: 26 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of more than 7,000 feet. We gave ourselves plenty of time, setting out just as dawn was breaking. My little sister and two of her girlfriends were along for the adventure; we were young, in decent shape, and ready to walk.
Just as you’re receiving this issue of EXPLORER, about 80 miles to the north of Pikes Peak, we’re wrapping up the International Meeting for Applied Geoscience and Energy. For the first time in a half-century, AAPG and SEG combined annual meetings into a new conference.
This, too, has been a long journey, and I want to commend both our organizing committee and particularly the Joint Events Team, an integrated team of AAPG and SEG staff, under Alan Wegener’s leadership. This group worked unbelievably hard to deliver this conference for our members and stakeholders. Watching this group of professionals perform under extreme pressure and uncertainty has been both awe-inspiring and humbling. It’s what made me think of my experience years earlier on Pikes Peak.
Summits Beyond IMAGE
And there are more opportunities this month for AAPG members to gather, and the organizers of these three events have all experienced similar challenges and adversity to bring together their technical program, secure sponsorships, navigate COVID restrictions and motivate people to attend.
Celebrating its 50th annual meeting, the Eastern Section of the AAPG is convening in Pittsburgh, Pa. from Oct. 2 to 6, hosted by the Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists and the Pittsburgh Geological Society, with the theme “Unconventional Wisdom.”
Following the opening session and awards ceremony and a panel discussion kick-off on Sunday afternoon, the Ice Breaker will be a great opportunity to network, speak with exhibitors and look at core. That will be followed by three days of technical sessions, featuring talks from experts on super basins in the Eastern Section and the evolving energy landscape, including lithium and energy storage.
AAPG’s Division of Professional Affairs President Donald Burdick will deliver the Monday DPA luncheon talk, “Your Career in Petroleum Geology: Opportunities and Responsibilities.” And, the event is bracketed by two field trips.
That same week, the AAPG Midcontinent Section meeting convenes from Oct. 3 to 5 in Tulsa, Okla. Hosted by the Tulsa Geological Society, the event’s theme is “The Energy Evolution: Learning from the Past Century, Powering the Future.”
The conference will feature oral technical presentations, special panels and poster sessions. The All-Convention Luncheon features past AAPG President Scott Tinker. The program committee has also developed a host of fieldtrips and social events to bring together our community of geoscientists – it’s been too long since we’ve been able to get together.
Rounding out the month is GeoGulf 2021 from Oct. 27-29 in Austin, Texas, which is a collaboration of the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, the SEPM Gulf Coast Section, the Bureau of Economic Geology and the Austin Geological Society.
Featuring sessions on exploration and production, resource management, sustainable energy, technology and a host of panel discussions, the conference will offer a wide range of technical content. There will also be plenty of networking and opportunities to connect, whether at the Ice Breaker reception, visiting with exhibitors, attending core workshops, field trips, social events or oral and poster technical sessions.
Persistence versus Preparation
I thought I was in decent shape.
Still struggling for the summit, my feet leaden, I looked down to see this guy at least twice my age slowly jogging up the switchbacks. He pulled even with us and stopped to chat, barely out of breath, a sheen of sweat on his brow, and, as he put it, “out for his long weekend run.” Ugh.
Those last several vertical feet of the Barr Trail felt like I was clambering over a wall. I hoisted myself up, got my elbows and a leg over the edge and then rolled over onto the summit – at least that’s what it felt like.
I had made it. But it’s a surreal experience once you do, because there you are, hair plastered to your forehead, panting for breath, dehydrated, your shirt stuck to your back. And all around, tourists who have either driven to the top or taken the cog railway are looking at you, wondering, “What’s wrong with him?” while munching on hot dogs and candy bars from the visitor center.
What’s wrong with me, indeed?
We made it back to our car that night, feeling our way down the trail in the dark. We’d climbed up 7,000 feet and back down – a total of about 26 miles. Pikes Peak was more than I bargained for. It was more than I was prepared for. And if I had known the struggle and pain, both on the mountain and during the following days as my body recovered, I wouldn’t have started up the trail.
And that would have been my loss. Because as these months continue to teach us, step by step, one foot in front of the other, is how we confront any challenge – physical, career or personal – some adventures, others pure misery. We keep going.