Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the third climb's a charm

When the alarm went off at 3:30, I couldn’t remember why I wanted to do this. But when we reached the trailhead, I stepped out into a crisp clear “morning”, was met with a rush of adrenaline and had no doubt I wanted to stand on top of the mountain. Our steps began to follow a trail that would eventually lead to the summit of Mount Elbert. At 14,433 feet, it stands as the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest in the lower 48.
It was my third attempt at hiking a 14er. The first was Longs Peak, but I turned around only a mile or so up to help someone else down. The second was La Plata Peak, but a heart-wrenching decision to turn around because of a storm had to be made as we neared the summit. I had a strong desire to go back and conquer La Plata, but the thought of staring across (and slightly down) at it from Elbert was satisfying enough.
Before I knew it, our steps met a sunrise and we rose above treeline. Those feats were diminished by some annoying looking clouds and someone on their way DOWN who was nice enough to tell us we had “a LONG way to go”. At least he was honest, but that’s not really what you want to hear as you gaze up at fast moving clouds. I kept staring at the clouds and hiked through the pit in my stomach that feared this would be La Plata all over again. Then it started to spit snow. I was SO happy. Seriously. If it was snowing, that meant it wasn’t raining and if it wasn’t raining, the chance of slippery rocks and lightning was greatly decreased. There is always the chance for lightning and snow, but it’s not too common, as affirmed by mister “long way down” raincloud himself, who was apparently a self-proclaimed thundersnow expert.
The ascent from the first snow on was long. People were hiking through pain. The adrenaline wore off. False summits taunted us. There were some points where I really had to focus on my breathing thanks to the frustrating condition I like to pretend I don’t have called asthma. Snow and sun came and went. Hours passed. Through all of it, we just took step after step.
Finally, the actual summit came into view. A huge rush of adrenaline came over me and I took off hiking faster than I had all day towards it. I’ll never forget stepping onto the top. It was an amazing victorious feeling. From the top of Elbert, it feels like you can see the whole state. It was absolutely incredible.
The weather slowly deteriorated on our long trek down, but I hardly even noticed. The goal had been accomplished and on my first full day of being thirty, I felt a flood of possibility. I am so thankful to Amy, Dave and Cindy for being there with me every step of the way to share a mountaintop experience that will be forever engrained in my heart.
Now who’s ready to enter the Whitney lottery with me?

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