“What do you see?” My friend asked as I climbed through the notch in the rocks above her. “Is that the route? Is that the slab?”
We were almost at the summit of Mt Wetterhorn, a 14,015 foot peak that looked like a shark’s tooth jutting vertically out of the jaws of earth.
“Holy mother!” was my answer back. “Are you kidding me?!”
Realizing I wasn’t really answering her question I continued, “It’s a slab of rock alright! Sliding right down over a cliff! This is legit! Seriously?! We are going to walk on this? This is the route?? How are we to….oh wait. Yeah. We’re good. It’s fine. Looks worse than it is.”
After I stopped my whining and stepped onto the slab, I realized that while it was just a twelve foot long rock slab heading to, well…death. But, if you stayed to the right, a ledge allowed you to climb up the wall to the summit.
“That was awesome,” my friend shouted up at me. “I got that all on video!” I laughed. My hiking buddy for this trip was a girl I met through a local outdoor group for women. She was 18. Almost half my age. And she loves her social media and videos.
This entire trip had, in fact, been her idea. I had just come off three back to back to back weekends racing triathlons. As I was online looking for some suggestions for a three-day backpacking loop, I came across her Facebook post on the Outdoor Women’s Alliance group page.
“Hiking Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre in one day this weekend. Anyone want to join?” her post said.
“I’m in,” I wrote back. “Could we add on Sunshine and Red Cloud to make it four 14ers?” That was four days ago. Seven hours of driving. Five miles of legit butt-bumping 4WD roads in her Jeep. And a backpacking hike to a campsite at the base of the peak, and here we were.
For anyone that has spent more than thirty seconds talking to me, it becomes quite obvious that I love, love, LOVE Colorado. I moved back home last year after being gone for too long and was welcomed with opened arms by my mountains, blue skies, sunshine and adventures.
This. Is. My. Soul. Medicine.
I feel closer to God when I am out here. Closer to mom. I think she can hear me. Wait, I know she can hear me. I talk to her when I am out on the trails. She would have loved these adventures. She was always up for a trip with me because no matter what we did. Where we did it. As long as we were together, we were guaranteed to be laughing. But climbing up the last pitch of this peak? She might have hung out at the campsite for this one.
Thanks to my friend’s awesome Jeep, we navigated the gnarly dirt road and parked at the trailhead. We loaded up our backpacks. Tent. Bags. Pads. Food. And hiked to the highest campsite I have ever pitched in my life. Camping slows down the busy-ness of life. The simple tasks of the “real world” such as making dinner, doing dishes, showering and getting ready for bed take about four times longer when in the back country.
But then…that’s the point. To unplug from society and re-plug into a more natural rhythm of life.
Without the distractions of cell phones. Social media. TV. Or anything else that robs you of your attention, you have all the time in the world to just…be. You eat. You enjoy each other’s company. You watch the world’s most beautiful sunset over the peaks surrounding you on all sides. And you realize how grateful you are for your life.
Once we were fed and washed, we were in the tent at 8 pm. It was still light outside. A few hours later (and not having slept much), I looked at the top of the tent. It was still glowing slightly. I sighed as I knew what was coming next.
One of the joys of drinking a lot of water is having to get up in the middle of the night (a few times) to go to the bathroom. Having done this now for over twenty years, I have become quite skilled at rolling out of bed. Finding my way in the dark. And returning to bed and falling right back asleep. I don’t need to access much critical thinking or motor skills at home, so I am not really “fully awake.” But swap out the bed for a sleeping bag and pad and the bathroom for a bush…and you have yourself a whole different experience.
Convincing yourself to get out of your warm sleeping bag and go out into the bitter cold mountain air (at 12,500 feet), is no easy task. And no matter how hard I try, there is just no way to unzip a tent quietly. The “zwiiiip ziiip” noise fills the tent and wakes up not only my camping buddy, but probably any nearby slumbering wildlife. I have to recruit sleepy muscles and a functioning equilibrium to put on my shoes and stand up without falling over. Once outside the tent, I am greeted by one of my most favorite views in the world.
The. Absolute. Breathtaking. Stars.
Without any streetlights, alarm clocks, phones or any other manmade lights, the sky has the opportunity to really show off. And it never disappoints. It’s as if God has put tiny flashlights in the sky and they are dancing to create my very own midnight show. I look for the familiar constellations I learned as a child. How in the world does that look like a bear? And that cluster…an archer? Really? Regardless of my lack of ability to make shapes from the twinkling lights, I can see the Milky Way stretch overhead. And it reminds me how infinitesimally…small…I really am. Nature has a way of putting things in perspective. Just when you need it most.
I walk away from the tent (but not too far…remember those slumbering animals I just woke up with the zipper?) and return as quickly as I can. The midnight show is spectacular, but so is the heat of my once warm sleeping bag. I crawl halfway into the tent. My upper body inside. My feet outside. As I plank at midnight, I wiggle my shoes off and then hop inside. “Zwiiip zip!” Damn zipper.
After a few more starlit bathroom breaks, my watch alarm finally goes off (as if I was asleep), and it’s time to rock and roll. Sleeping bag off. Clothes on. Get some food and let’s get on the trail.
There is something….magical…about starting a hike at 12,500 feet elevation. In the dark. In the cold. With a 14,000 foot peak looming above your head. Led only by star light. OK, yes…it’s also a bit nerve racking. But I wasn’t solo on this trip. Just having a friend hiking beside me on this crazy, I mean…awesome, trip made me feel more at ease.
Our headlamps bumped up and down as we wound up the side of the mountain. I started peeling off layers quickly. Our footsteps covered a nice soft dirt trail. Then boulder field. And then a steep shale rock spine. Mount Wetterhorn was staring us in the face. As if to say, “Well good morning girls. I have quite a show in store for you today. Why don’t you come up here and join me?”
We reached the ridge just as the sun decided to join in our little adventure. We were surrounded by the San Juan mountains. This range was new to this Boulder girl. These mountains were absolutely stunning. They seemed to go on and on for miles. Flat top mountains. Jagged needles. Pointy peaks. They all turned purple and pink as the morning light started spilling onto them. It was like eye candy. Wait…no. I don’t like candy. It was like eye cookies. Yes, gluten free eye cookies. It was amazing. Like staring at a present from God. “Here you go Kristyn. Enjoy.”
The sun transformed everything. Bushes. Rocks. Ledges. They all became more inviting once I could see them with a light source a bit more powerful than my headlamp. We scrambled up our way across red scree that looked like Mars. We climbed our way up gullies and cracks only to realize we went the wrong way and had to down climb and find a different (safer) route.
And now, here I stood, balancing at the top of the “slab.” I ditched my hiking poles as I stared straight UP the vertical wall in front of me. One move at a time and we were at the ledge to the summit. I lifted myself to the top and was greeted by a full 360 degree view.
People have asked me how many 14ers I have climbed. To me, it’s not about the number. It’s not really even the elevation. For me, I climb for the view. When I stand on top of a mountain, I see things I don’t see from the valley below. My vision becomes clear. My perspective shifts. And I understand yet another piece in the puzzle of my life. I see myself. And if I’m lucky…I get a glimpse as to where I am going next. Both on the trail. And in life.
Where is your trail leading you?
Go have an adventure,