Most Saturdays, you can find me running errands, reading, maybe going to a concert if I’m feeling real crazy.
Last Saturday was different.
Last Saturday, I climbed a mountain.
Grant and I were in Breckenridge, Colorado, with a group of friends for the weekend. We drove through the night Thursday, took it easy on Friday with maybe one-too-many brewery stops, and woke early on Saturday to head to Quandary Peak.
Quandary is a 14er, which is hiker-speak for a 14,000 ft mountain. The trailhead for the East Ridge trail, which is the “easy” option we picked, starts at 10,850 ft. The trail ends at the summit, at 14,265 ft. The hike up took about four hours (or three if you’re our friend Andy).
I said the trail was “easy” because — woo, boy! — this was the steepest, most difficult hike with tons of loose and slippery rocks. Grant has hiked a handful of 14ers, and we hiked Grey’s Peak together a few years ago. We agreed that Grey’s was hard, but it was nothing compared to this hike.
Typically, I have a positive attitude. When I am running, I will literally chant “I think I can, I know I can, I think I can, I know I can” in my head.
But this hike was punishing. There were whole hours where the summit never looked like it was getting any closer.
At one point, I thought, “I have to turn around.” When we debriefed over dinner later that night, I found out that almost everyone in our group had thought the same thing.
I’m not trying to make this a metaphor for life, promise. But there is nothing more rewarding than proving to yourself that you can do The Hard Thing. All day long, we told each other “to the top!” as encouragement. As our chant. As our “I think I can, I know I can.”
Other motivating bits along the way? Snacks. Flat rocks that made perfect resting chairs. Meeting goats and their babies (and being terrified that the mom goats would gore us).
And reaching the summit? The best feeling. The greatest feeling.
The summit was crowded with dozens of people that had also just reached the top, and the shared emotional state of exhausted elation was so apparent.
After that euphoric moment, though, you have to come back down. You’ve already summited, you’ve already taken your summit siesta (a little snooze with your pack as a pillow), you’re hurting and hungry — but now you have to spend hours walking back down the mountain. This realization quickly stomps on the joy you’re feeling.
Climbing down is scary and no easier than climbing up. You’re not gasping for air as you gain elevation like you do while ascending, but your feet scramble to find purchase on slippery gravel, your toes jam into the fronts of your shoes, and you are SO TIRED.
We started the walk down as a group, taking frequent breaks together, but about an hour from the bottom, I couldn’t wait anymore. I knew that if I sat down one more time, I would fall asleep on the side of that mountain. So I kept walking, and walking, and walking. At one point, I know that my eyes were closed. When I eventually found one of those forgiving flat rocks to collapse on in the parking lot, I couldn’t see straight.
I was so tired, in fact, that after I took my Fitbit off to see how far we’d hiked (11 miles, for the record), I just threw it on the ground. I didn’t even realize I had done this until we were back in town, on the way to get some hard-earned pizza. (Don’t worry, Grant drove me back to the trailhead, and it was exactly where I had left it.)
And that night, after I had showered, napped, and had a few glasses of wine, I could almost imagine doing it again. To the top!