Hiking an easy 14er is like having an easy birth. Clue: it isn’t. My friends and I have talked about doing a 14er for a little while now, and my pal Melissa finally suggested a date, so we committed. I looked it up – 7 miles round trip seemed very do-able. After all I hike miles every day in the foothills of the Rockies. I had lost quite a bit of weight, and I’m pretty fit now. I checked with other friends about doing it with Jet – my gorgeous black lab retriever who loves a good hike. I thought I had my act together pretty well.
But here’s the thing – half the seven miles is going up – and not on a gentle slope. The altitude does weird stuff – it was hard to focus and I was losing my breath every 10 steps for the last mile or so. Part of me wanted to give up. But then I saw another person pushing on, or Melissa would say “We have GOT this,” and I kept going. I never once voiced a doubt that we’d make it. Eventually the people at the bottom of the mountain were tiny ants, and the people at the top of the mountain began to get larger. They still seemed so far away, but every time I looked again, they seemed a heck of a lot closer than they did before.
It’s easy to forget how challenging a 14er is when you live in Colorado and everyone seems to have conquered them. Living in Boulder it feels like people run them twice each morning before breakfast. But don’t misjudge it. No matter how fit you are – even if you live at altitude, if you are not well prepared it could be a truly miserable experience. Elisabeth and I got held up near the summit when we came across a (very fit looking) woman who was suffering from hypothermia, not thinking clearly, and was shaking and crying, trying blindly to get down the rocks from the summit. Thank goodness Elisabeth was well prepared. We got the woman into an alcove out of the wind, gave her a few cups of hot coffee, and Elisabeth sacrificed her own gloves, scarf and extra windbreaker. We arranged a place where the woman could leave the clothes at the bottom for us to collect later – and we were so relieved to find them there when we got down – it meant the woman made it. 14ers (even this ‘easy one’) are not easy.
We read about the mountain before we went (try 14ers.com to start with). Thick hiking socks, good hiking boots/shoes, plenty of water/food are all necessary. Take a decent amount of layers of clothes. Not big thick layers, but multiple sweater, windbreaker and two tshirts underneath is good – and I was glad to have worn bike pants under yoga pants, and had additional pants with me just in case – it all came in handy. Gloves and beanie are essential. There were a lot of people on the mountain that day in shorts and nothing else. And none of them were having fun. If you’d like to see my 5 Tips for Hiking Mt. Bierstadt, you can find them here, or at the bottom of this post.
I learned a lot about myself that day. I found out I am pretty tough. I now know I am really stubborn. I didn’t know I would make it, but I knew I could take one more step. So I did that. I’m glad I didn’t start counting the steps – that would have driven me nuts.
The top of the mountain was freezing and windy and horrible. There was no big reward other than the view. And of course, I’m scared of heights so I began to get a little nervous/anxious up there. I noticed it, and so did Elisabeth. It came out of nowhere. I’d been absolutely fine the whole way up, but once at the top I started worrying about Jet, worrying about getting down, worrying about being worried. We didn’t hang around.
Finally, on the way down my knees and hips began to let me know they’d had enough. Happily the twinges didn’t stop me, but I’ve never had pain in my knees before. We pulled over and lay in the grass for a while, two thirds of the way down. It was the only comfortable place to do that -Stopping for the hypothermic lady and our little picnic added time to our trip, but that’s absolutely fine with me.
I’m glad we sometimes have these weird adventures. I never dreamed 10 years ago I’d hike to the top of a mountain in Colorado. How blessed I am to be able to see God’s creation from that angle – I’m always looking at nature from a micro ground level. Instead I was flying with the birds. Or maybe it’s the lack of oxygen talking.
I did it. Nobody had to carry me (although I asked one lady who declined, and we came up with an idea to tie lots of chipmunks together to pull us, but we didn’t have any rope). Four people loved my t-shirt. It was a good day.