Trail of the Week: Why do we insist on climbing big mountains?
This past weekend, my boyfriend, his sister and I hiked Mt. Bierstadt. It was his sister’s first 14er, or peak over 14,000 feet. In the car after finishing the hike, she said she probably won’t add hiking 14ers to her list of things to do for fun.
I have been considering this statement ever since.
I don’t think I would consider hiking a 14er all that fun, either. If I’m being honest, very little about the experience is enjoyable. We woke up at 3 a.m. and drove 90 minutes first thing in the morning. We used the bathroom in a 24-hour gas station then started hiking in the cold.
The hike was just over 3 miles but difficult, and our bags were heavy with water and snacks, neither of which I could ever get enough of. Upon reaching the top, the wind kept us from relaxing. We inhaled some food, grabbed some photos and got the heck off the summit. The descent was no relief and arguably worse than the climb, as my knees and thighs were screaming.
Yet, upon completing the hike, I was elated and proud and felt accomplished.
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That Sunday, the sunrise turned the pass a lavender hue for a few minutes, and the pikas, marmots and mountain goats were as active as we were. It brought a smile to my face, even as I heaved myself up the mountain.
There are wonderful moments that make the climb more bearable, but overall, most of the morning involved hard work and some suffering.
I don’t think I climb 14ers or do any hard hike for fun. When I think about it, I don’t even think I run for fun. I run and hike to challenge myself and remind myself that I am capable of doing hard things.
It’s thrilling to complete a hard hike and know that you’ve seen parts of this world that only a small percentage of people have seen. Sometimes, when there are dozens of people at the summit, it’s hard to think that way, but it’s true nonetheless.
When we set out to hike or bike up insane inclines, we kind of do it to intentionally suffer. Not in a masochistic way, but rather to prove to ourselves that we are able to push through it. When we get to the top, it feels that much better because we have reminded ourselves we are strong, and we can handle a little bit of suffering.
In the grand scheme of things, Bierstadt wasn’t that bad. The trail slowly introduces incline, weaving through meadow to begin with, then pushing up the base of the mountain through bush-lined switchbacks.
The trail is wide and mostly dirt as opposed to some trails that involve a lot of scree, or small rocks, that are difficult to navigate. We encountered marmots and pika and chipmunks, as well as a few birds that hopped along the trail in front of us.
The last section is all rock, very steep, but short. The summit is lower than Quandary’s summit and offers 360-degree views of Longs Peak, Alpine lakes and neighboring peaks. We also saw a pair of mountain goats that brought the crowd to a standstill as they made their way from one side of the mountain to the other.
The descent flew by, and we were back to the car by 10:45 a.m., trying to figure out why we thought it would be a good idea to exhaust ourselves so early in the day.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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