A few summers ago, my family and I took our annual trip to Colorado. Like many of our other trips to the rockies, a few of our close family friends joined us alongside our adventures. One of our family friends, Beth, is an avid outdoors enthusiast and suggested that we take time off from our regularly scheduled four wheeling agenda to do something "touristy". Little did I know though, her idea of a "touristy" activity included climbing a mountain. She had been around the world climbing various mountain ranges and asked our group if anyone wanted to join her. At that point, I pretty much said fuck it and decided why not. After all, how often would I get to do such a thing in the rolling plains of the Midwest.
After agreeing to her seemingly outlandish idea, we began to plan. After doing some research on the local mountains we could climb, we settled on Mount Bierstadt. The thing about climbing the "14ers" (as they are informally known) is that you have to start at ungodly hours of the morning. Beth planned to have us wake up at 4, and be at the trailhead by 6. Our campsite was a few winding miles away from the campsite so this time frame gave us ample room to make it to the top at a respectable time. And just for shiggles, we decided to bring one of our friend's dogs, Steel, along for the adventure and some company.
4 AM. My alarm goes off and the dreaded process of getting ready began. I packed a military backpack full of water bottles, protein filled food, my phone, and extra clothing. We arrived at the trailhead, and much to my dismay, Mount Bierstadt was completely out of sight and hidden through the thicket of pine trees below. Nevertheless, after checking our gear and making sure we had enough water for Steel, we were off.
The first hour wasn't so bad. Most of the terrain consisted of a small dirt path which was mostly flat for the first half of our trek. Steel would walk ahead of us 15 feet or so, and occasionally looked back to make sure we will still following her. The rise in elevation with each step continuously took more breath out of Beth and I the higher we climbed, and eventually, our 20-minute intervals of stopping became shorter and we'd stop every 10 or so. Yet, we continued on what seemed like a never-ending stairway to heaven.
The further we climbed up, the more of the land below us we could see. People of all ages and backgrounds climbed alongside us, struggling more if not just as much as us. There were people from Mexico, Florida, Europe and even Colorado natives enjoying a day off to climb to cross of climbing a 14er off their bucket list, much like I was.
Finally, after 4 hours of climbing, heavy breathing, and food breaks, the top was visible. Only 1,000 more feet of maneuvering over sharp rock piles and we had finally made it to the top. The view was breathtaking, quite literally. You could see the various shades of green and grays amongst the rolling mountain ranges of the Rockies all around us. The wind howled incredibly loud juxtaposing the serenity and silence that the nature around us offered. For a moment, life was still and it was so, so beautiful. It was as if nothing I had done up to that point had really ever mattered, as I truly realized how small I am in comparison to everything else. How small we are in comparison to everything else.
On our descent, down the mountain, I couldn't help but reflect on the day's events. The constant struggling had led us to something beautiful and albeit, something many people don't get to see. To this day, climbing my first 14er is one of my greatest accomplishments and has further inspired me to want to climb more.
They say the top is lonely, and it's true. It's a long, tedious and admittedly painful climb. But feeling the achievement of being at the top is unbeatable. Not to mention, the view is stellar. It was a humbling experience indeed, and I would do anything to go back to it. Yet even in my darkest hours, I take a breath deeper than 14,000 feet allowed me to take, and I go back to that moment of stillness and silence. The climb is worth the struggle.