Thursday, October 10, 2013

August and Everything After - Part 5 - Hellloooo Mt. Elbert

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story with God, even though it started in my childhood, really began one August, just a few Augusts ago....

I am not sure of the exact time the alarm went off the day God changed my life, but I know it was somewhere in the early 4 o'clock hour if not earlier.  I also know I had not really slept more than 45 minutes the entire night because I was nervous.  One of the main events for this trip was a group hike up the tallest mountain in Colorado:  Mt. Elbert.  Everyone was really excited about it and we were meeting to caravan to the trail head which was approximately 45 minutes away.  It is a pretty big deal to climb what are commonly referred to as "The 14'ers" in Colorado- or the mountains whose summit's sit at an elevation higher than 14,000 feet.  There are many, and Mt. Elbert, located a little ways outside of Aspen, is the highest one of them all with a summit of: 14,433 feet. (If you are so inclined, you can read more about the 14'ers here). 

To be clear, when hiking a 14'er, the difficulty of the hike/mountain is not rated on summit elevation alone.  There are many factors that apply and there are many other 14'ers with a higher degree of difficulty whose summits have a lower elevation.  Mt. Elbert was chosen because it was a 14'er, and had a low degree (ie group friendly) of difficulty and was located near Aspen.  The trailhead even started around 10,000 feet elevation, so our total gain was "only" around 4200 feet or so.  Not too bad.  Having spent a part of every summer (practically) of my life in Colorado, I felt confident that this would be a beautiful hike only a little bit on the challenging side....after all, there was a clearly defined trail all the way to the top, it was rated a low degree of difficulty on paper and compared to some people on the trip, I had lots of hiking experience. (ahem.)

So our alarm went off early because when you are climbing a giant mountain, it is critical to start very early in order to be finished and off the mountain before the afternoon storms roll in...and they will roll in.  The weather can change in an instant and you want to be prepared- and when you are way up above the tree line, there is no shelter to be found and things can go from bad to life-threatening very quickly, so our goal was to start early.  Within our group, there were many who had climbed other 14'ers, so they had helped those of us who hadn't prepare mentally for what to expect with little tips and ways to dress etc.  The plan was for there to be two groups going up the mountain: a faster group, and a slower group.  There were pre-designated experienced hiker/leaders for each group identified, so that way if/when the two groups got separated, there were people to lead, encourage and help.  I knew that Joe was the designated leader of the slower group (not because he is slow, but because he is very patient and encouraging.  Because, lets be serious, hiking with Joe is like hiking with a mountain goat or gazelle- he is a complete natural...and I was about to learn this about him first hand.)

I was nervous for many reasons: I had never done anything like this in my life and did not know what to expect, I had not hiked in quite a while, I was profoundly out of shape and suddenly that made me feel scared, I was nervous about using the "bathroom" on the mountain, I was nervous about looking bad, I was worried about looking dumb/inexperienced in front of Joe and all of my other friends, I would be spending the entire day with Joe and his girlfriend all around me (no separate activities today!) which made my heart sink and my stomach lurch,  and since I could not slow my mind down to sleep the night before, I was starting out exhausted and I don't do well when I'm exhausted.  But hey, let's go hiking everybody!

There was a lot of drama around getting us all to the actual trail head that I'm going to skip over in the story because it does not directly add to the specific story I'm telling here but lets just say, vehicles were damaged by the "off-road" nature of the road, tires were flattened, we may have taken a wrong turn or two (which with a large caravan of 10+ vehicles on a one way dirt road, that is a pretty big deal) and plus, it was dark out and I was getting more nervous by the minute as we got closer to the trail head.  It is funny to me now to think back on how I was thinking things were not going to be "too bad" based on how the hike looked on paper when in reality, my nerves were telling me the truth the whole time!

We got to the trail head and everyone got out and began getting their gear ready, back packs were loaded up, water supplies double checked, hiking boots laced, photos taken and nervous/excited conversations abounded.  I remember at one point glancing across the clearing where we had parked and Joe and his girlfriend were hugging and laughing as they affectionately adjusted each other's packs and I wanted to gag, roll my eyes, cry and run away all at the same time- and we had not even started hiking yet! (Hello maturity!) It is hard to "hide" in a group of awesome and intentional people, but I was determined to not let any "cracks" show- either physically or emotionally.  (ahem!)

After a few large group "before" photos were taken, we all set off up the trail.  I remember feeling like we were moving at a pretty good clip as we wound our way through the thick, beautiful aspen trees. Not long after leaving the trailhead, my heart started POUNDING from exertion as we made our way up the trail.  I started off in the middle of the pack laughing and talking and admiring the beauty around us as we hiked...and then I started not talking as much and just concentrated on trying not to breathe so hard and loudly because much to my dismay, by my estimation and observation no one else seemed to be exerting themselves very much yet.  An this was after all, the beginning of our hike and by far the easiest part of the trail......not good news for me.

Soon, I gave up on trying to not breathe so loud and just let myself start gasping for air because I needed it!  When you are hiking and gaining elevation, you are losing oxygen in the air and it becomes more difficult to breathe....and you have to breathe to keep going (let alone stay alive) so I let my pride go a little bit and just gasped for every desperate breath.  (And no, I do not and have never suffered from Asthma.)

Gradually people began to pass me and were checking to make sure I was okay because by now, I was beginning to drip sweat.  So attractive and super humbling.  Not that everyone else would not also reach a point of major exertion, I was just the first. the chilly dawn morning air, I was shedding layers, pouring sweat and panting trying not to focus on the pounding of my heart with every step I was taking and trying not to think about the fact that we were not even CLOSE to being a fourth of the way to the half way point!!!

The "good news" was that thanks to my dramatic slow down in pace, Joe and his girlfriend were out of my line of sight and the bad news was that by this point I had gradually moved from the middle of the pack to almost the very end of the line.  To say I was swallowing pride with every gasp of air would be an understatement. 

...and this was only the beginning of what I was certain was going to turn out to be one of the most difficult and challenging days of my life, but what I did not also realize at the time is that God was also writing one of my best days ever as well....  


  1. There must be something wrong with my computer. Your story ended as you were just beginning on your hike. Must be a mistake!!! :) You literally have me on the edge of my seat! As I saw you had posted a new post, I went to the kitchen, filled my water cup and sat in for what I thought was going to be the rest of the story! You are good!!! Can't wait to read more!!

  2. What?? You cant leave us hanging like this!!!! I want to read more...