As you could have guessed, I am writing a post about my time in Colorado last week. It was really great.
My aunt Reneta and I used to spend a lot of time together when I was a kid, and that was a while back. We really enjoyed the time to reconnect. I fell in love with camping last summer. There is just something about waking up with a frozen nose from the cold mountain air that makes me really happy. So, the night we arrived, we carb loaded with some camping mac n’ cheese (thank you Pinterest, totally nailed it.) Went to bed super early, and set out the next morning.
First, you should know that I had done a ton of research. One question that remained unanswered was: Should we take a day to acclimate to the altitude or should we just hike when we get there? The reason we wanted to hike on our first day, as opposed to the second, was that the weather forecast was much more favorable for us on Wednesday than on Thursday. I got lots of conflicting information. I asked the question, posing the weather as an issue, on a 14ers.com forum. I asked people I know who have hiked this mountain more than once. Based on the responses (equal in favor and against,) we decided to just give it a go the morning after our arrival.
We woke up at 3:55. And drove to the trail head…the wrong way. Turns out we were much closer than we realized and driving back to town and back to the trail head caused us to lose some time. We had our boots on the trail at 5:15. I had hoped to be walking by 5:00, but that’s just the hyper planner that I am. I kept telling my self “it’s ok, we’ve got this.”
The sunrise was amazing. but we didn’t break tree line until about 7:45. Our breathing was labored and Reneta was starting to feel dizzy. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. We kept walking and came to an area where we could see the first false summit. It was so deceiving. We followed a steady stream of hikers and reached the top of the false summit. Reneta could only take about 5 steps at a time. Acute Mountain Sickness was well on its way. I started thinking about what I was going to do if she started throwing up or couldn’t stand. At the top of that false summit we made the tough decision to descend. Some “Negative Nelly” told us that the rest of the way was about an hour and a half. Not true. Also, as you can notice in the picture…some dark clouds were forming. It was only 9:45 but they did have me concerned. I can’t lie, I was totally bummed. But there wasn’t any other choice that could be made. We were both feeling very defeated. One of the reasons we decided to make this trip was that we are both very goal oriented. Neither one of us is used to defeat. So…we took the 2+ hour walk back to the car, knowing we had almost achieved our goal but fell short. I can’t help but think of the lesson that is to be learned in any situation and I was content knowing there was a lesson about humility that I had to learn that day. There was a lesson about listening to your body and making safe choices. I knew all that, but yet…it was a bummer.
Sometime that night, Reneta had a brilliant idea. She said instead of heading south to attempt some hiking in Divide, Colorado, or to head up Pike’s Peak like we had originally talked about, that we should extend our stay in Leadville and give ole’ Mt. Elbert another try. We’d stay in Leadville a few days and give it another go. I was delighted with the idea.
So Thursday we shopped, Friday we went whitewater rafting…and Saturday we set out again to climb the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Mt. Elbert stands at 14,433 ft. The tallest mountain in the US is Denali (located in Alaska) at 20,308 feet, I won’t be climbing that one.
We woke up at 3:00am…but neither of us let the other person know..assuming she was still asleep. Our alarm went off at 3:50. We dressed and hit the road to the trial head, this time knowing the correct way to go. We had our feet on the trail at 4:40.
We broke tree line around 6:30 and I looked up at that ridiculous false summit. (Such a liar.) I noticed the moon was still out. Beautiful. We kept walking. At some point we got off trail on the way up that stinking false summit. We knew the mistake had been made but it was too late to turn back. We basically went straight up instead of doing switch backs. We ended up scrambling.
We reached the summit at about 8:30am. 4 hours of hiking and we were standing on the second tallest point in America. It was beautiful. But for me, something wasn’t right. For every beautiful vista I saw, for every deep breath I took, I knew deep inside something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was until I stood on that mountain top and turned in every direction taking in that unbeatable view. It’s more spectacular to see something of beauty when you’ve earned it. We worked hard to see what we saw. I was so glad to be there with Reneta. I knew she wouldn’t have taken that opportunity if it weren’t for me going with her. The time was special and I was so happy to be there. But still, something wasn’t perfect. I took out my phone to take a picture…and instead I checked if I had service and I made a phone call.
Before I snapped a single picture I called my husband and started crying. I missed him more in that moment that I’ve ever missed him in my life. I realized it wasn’t as beautiful as it could have been because his eyes weren’t seeing it with me. I was so proud of us. I was so happy that we had made it. I was sooooo thankful Reneta wasn’t sick. That would have been really horrible. She was so happy! But yet, I missed him. I guess that is what happens when you love someone so much. I always say that he is my rock, he’s steady and consistent. He believes in me and let’s me conquer my goals head on. I think he had an inkling that it was going to be that way, when I reached the summit. I don’t know how he knows these things. But, he does. So, after I called and said I missed him and love him so much, we took some pictures and enjoyed our success.
As we drove away I looked at the peak in my rearview mirror and I stopped the car. I don’t know what made me believe that I could climb to the top of that, but it turns out that a lot of people do it. It’s amazing what our bodies can do. I’m so thankful that I am healthy. I know there are women my age who were undergoing cancer treatment the day I climbed. There are mothers with very sick children, sitting next to hospital beds and wondering if and when their baby would be able to go home. I know there are women who suffer from heart disease and a million other things that keep them from doing what they would love to do with their bodies. I’m so thankful that for now, for this time, I can fully live.
I hope when my time comes to leave this body that it will be said of me, “She lived until the day she died.”