Colorado 14ers: Conquering beautiful beasts

Photograph by Sonya Padden
Photograph by Sonya Padden

I thought that while hiking 14ers I would uncover some big secret. I was expecting to be hit with some novel revelation.

During my hikes, I anticipated that after the long approach, after coming nose-to-nose with the peak, there would be a moment or a few moments of impossibility that made climbing 14ers different from climbing other mountains.

To my surprise, such a moment never came.

The only thing that did come was the next footstep, the next switchback, and the next summit. And that was it. That was hiking a 14er. At first, there was great disappointment at not experiencing some magical life-altering 14er ‘moment,’ but now I realize I was let in on a different secret: the secret of simplicity.

14ers are rather simple: The simple trick is to go up.  Of course, this seems self-explanatory, but for me, this concept was too simple to grasp until I stood at the top of Mount Yale at 14,196 feet. All it is uphill. You go up, and then up some more, and when you think you have reached the top, you keep going up. That’s it, that’s a 14er.

There are some challenges that the uphill presents, and I learned a few lessons overcoming those. First, you must give up all preconceived notions of ‘fast pace’ and a ‘good time’ because at altitude, all things change. What was once a recovery pace soon becomes interval pace.

Second, you must accept the fact that the summit probably isn’t where it appears to be and, most importantly, usually isn’t where you would like it to be.

Third, you must accept that despite every step, every precaution, and every heavy breath you’ve taken, you are at the mercy of nature. And as unfair as having to turn around because of weather or other obstacles may seem, you are ultimately the player who agreed to participate in a game where the rules are ever-changing.

It’s a game where the prizes, such as summits, are not guaranteed regardless of how well you have followed the rules or how much time you have invested. You never know when the next ‘lose your turn’ card or the ‘move back three spaces’ card will appear. Scree fields, lightning storms, injuries, mistakes with the map, and even big mountain goats named Nelson are all possibilities.

You just have to be prepared to overcome the setbacks and absorb all the moments, regardless of expectations.

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