Christmas? No, not Christmas. It's the beginning of August, the weather's perfect, the snow is finally melted and there is absolutely one thing on our mind: hiking! Three years ago my dad and I made a promise to each other that we would hike all 54 fourteeners in Colorado. This year the snow topped mountains lasted longer than past years, so I am a little antsy in anticipation of my first 14er of the season.
So far we have ten under our belt. The first one my dad took me up was Long's Peak and I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into. Ten hours later on the verge of dehydration, a splitting migraine from the altitude and two of my toe nails completely gone I was hooked. Most of you probably are thinking that sounds awful... but let me try and explain.
Climbing a 14er is a roller coaster. Not only does the climb send you left and right, up and down physically but it brings you there emotionally as well. Excited… nervous… eager… amazed… stunned… tired… desperate… exhausted… accomplished… humbled.
Of those emotions the one that explains my love for the mountain the most is humbled. Bridget Asher quoted the feeling as such, “This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.”
Last September my dad and I hiked Pikes Peak and my only regret is that I didn’t have a video camera to watch our personal emotional roller coaster throughout the climb. The day begins at 4:00am as we force ourselves out of the hotel room bed in Colorado Springs. We then force feed ourselves bananas and coffee, as it’s way too early to eat, but we know it’s going to be a long day.
We pack our Gregory backpacks full of gear to prepare us for any weather condition. We shove it full with gloves, a hat, extra layers, a raincoat, extra socks, and most importantly food and water. By the time we are done we have an extra 15 lbs. to carry on our back, as if our own weight wasn’t enough.
We are beyond prepared for this climb as we have been planning for weeks. We set a goal to climb Pikes Peak and then picked a date. From that time on we checked the weather forecast everyday making sure we wouldn’t get caught in a thunderstorm up at 14,000 ft. In our excitement we went to REI and purchased bigger, far too expensive, daypacks than we currently owned since this would be our farthest hike yet. Days before we purchased bars and food to bring along and made sure it would all fit in our new shiny packs.
At this point in time we are nervous and eager to get started. We arrived at the trailhead at 4:30am greeted by a group of 20 other hikers taking off for the day. I remember thinking it was comforting to know we weren't the only ones about to hike. That maybe there was some glimpse of sanity in what we were about to do. We set off in the dark with our headlights on full of excitement and anticipation.
Four thirty in the morning seemed far too early to start, however as we start to hike not only do we see other people hiking up with us but we pass people on the way down. About a mile up we run into 3 older women, who look to be in their 60’s if not older. They are on their way down the mountain, not walking, but running. My first thought is how in the world are they already coming down? My second thought is I hope I am in half as good of shape as them when I reach this point in my hike. Their faces are full of smiles and in between fast steps they are talking as if they are sitting around a table in the living room, barely missing a breath.
A few more miles up we run into our next set of people. They are a group on 4 boys dressed in army attire bushwhacking there way up the trail. We run into various characters like this. An older women who completes the climb 3 times a week! A former meth addict who makes pancakes and coffee for the hikers at a base camp half way up the trail. A whole bunch of tourists at the top eating donuts and smoking cigarettes (a little comical since we are trying to recover our breathe from climbing 12.6 miles of 7,300 vertical feet).
Our emotions jump from excited to accomplished at the top to 'what the hell did we get ourselves into?' at 23 miles in.
By the end a 1/2 mile feels like 5 miles and I am on the verge of a breakdown, but you know what? I would do it all again. There's something extremely special about pushing your body and working beyond your limits. It's a feeling that is indescribable and unbelievably addicting.
The mountains I have climbed have taught me everything I need to know about life. It doesn’t matter how much I prepare, how physically fit I am, how much gear I bring, I will never be ready for what the mountain throws my way. The same goes for life, you can work all you want, save all you want, worry all you want but you know what? Shit happens and nothing can prepare you for that.
You can’t prepare for the lack of oxygen on a mountain or the loss of your toenails just as you can’t prepare for financial pitfall or an illness in life. Worrying about it before you get there doesn’t do any good. If I sat there and worried about the altitude I was at I would be so focused on my breathing I would forget to enjoy the climb. What would be the point?
Of all the reasons we climb this quote by Mark Obmascik sums up the most important reason the best. "'I like the mountains because they make me feel small,' ... 'They help me sort out what's important in life.'" I encourage everyone to find their own mountain for a sense of clarity in this crazy ride and by all means enjoy the climb.
(We are in the process of planning our first fourteener of the season and would love any comments or suggestions from those who have climbed one, a few or all of the Colorado fourteeners! Want to join us? We would love that too!)