Why I woke up at 5am on a Saturday to hike a mountain

For the last several years it's been a goal of mine to climb a 14,000 ft mountain. For those of you not from Colorado, no, I am not crazy. This is actually something that people do here...for fun. Oh, and did I mention that you have to wake up at 5am on your day off to be able to do it? 

Anyway, climbing 14ers is a popular summertime activity here in Colorado and climbing your first one is almost considered a rite of passage. If you haven't climbed one, you basically haven't really hiked. Being an avid hiker, (and a generally competitive person) it always bugged that I hadn't made that accomplishment yet. 

...ONLY THOSE WHO WILL RISK GOING TOO FAR CAN POSSIBLY FIND OUT HOW FAR ONE CAN GO.
— T.S. ELIOT

After moving back to Colorado this summer, I was determined to make my dream happen. I asked friends for advice on which mountain I should do (there are 53 different ones) and decided on Mt. Bierstadt, which is a class 2. The 14ers in Colorado are ranked from 1-4 based on difficulty with 4 being the hardest. 

I heard this mountain was great for beginners and it's also the closest one to Denver, which is honestly the main reason why I picked it. I figured an hour and a half drive into the mountains at 5am was the most I could handle. 

I picked a date, convinced my little sister to join me, and the plan was set. I was going to hike my first 14er and I was so excited!

The night before

The night before the big day I was looking up more information online to make sure I packed everything I needed. I had my camelback, clothes, backpack, socks, and a giant bag of trail mix all ready to go. However, I started to become worried when I read that I would need gloves, a jacket, a first-aid kit, compass, matches, pocket knife.... the list went on. 

Thoughts started running through my head. Would I really lose the trail and need a compass to find my way back? Would I be injured and need a first aid kit? WHY ON EARTH DO I NEED MATCHES?! Am I going to get so lost that I have to start a fire and stay the night in the wilderness???

After a few minutes of a mild freakout, I told myself that so many of my friends had done 14ers, they couldn't be that bad. It only takes a few hours to summit, and I heard that Bierstadt was almost always crowded, so worst case if something bad happened, there'd be plenty of people around. 

Thankfully that calmed me down and I finished packing. Once my bag was packed, I laid out my clothes for the morning, set my alarm for the god awful hour of 5am, and went to sleep. 

The morning of 

When my alarm started beeping at 5am, I was surprised that I woke up easily. I only had to hit snooze once (not 5 times like I had expected) and then started getting ready. I made a quick breakfast of peanut butter toast for my sister and I and then we hit the road. 

After a little more than an hour, we reached the Guanella Pass in Georgetown and drove the long windy road to the trailhead. Once we arrived we saw groups of other hikers, all wearing jackets and hats. It was a lot colder than we had expected. To my surprise, I pulled on that heavy jacket I thought I wouldn't need and put on my wool hat. 

I looked up at the towering mountain in front of me and it looked daunting. The sun was finally up and the thick clouds swirled around the summit. Without looking back, we grabbed our packs and hit the trail. 

The trail started out flat and we had to travel a good distance to get to the real base of the mountain. We walked over little wooden bridges and had to pass a stream. The water was high and there were only a few dry rocks to step on to get to the other side. 

As I walked across, all I kept thinking about was how miserable it would be if I fell in and got my feet wet. There'd be no way I could last several hours with soaked shoes. Thankfully, my sister and I both made it across without a problem. 

We continued on our trek following the trail. I laughed to myself realizing that the trail was so defined and there was virtually no way I could get lost. I did all that worrying for nothing.

There were lots of people on the trail, and we passed many on the way. We were feeling good, but we knew we had a long way ahead of us. We heard one lady say she felt like she was going to be sick, which made us feel a bit better about ourselves and our physical condition. 

Before long we reached the steeper parts of the trail. My legs burned with each step and we were starting to feel the altitude. My breathing got heavier and we had to take a few breaks to rest our sore legs. 

At this point, I  was starting to wonder if we would actually make it to the top. I kept telling myself that it wouldn't be the worst thing if we didn't make it on our first try. But then I remembered all the effort it took to get to that point and knew we couldn't stop. 

The final stretch

We trekked on and surprisingly passed a lot of people on the way. After a bit we sat down on a rock and started munching on our trail mix.

A girl who we had seen throughout the trail walked by us and somewhat sarcastically said, "wow, that's a big bag of trail mix." In my head I thought, "Umm sorry, we like to eat, is that bad?" We offered her some, but to no one's surprise she declined and kept hiking. Her loss, that trail mix was pretty awesome. 

After enjoying our snack, we got back to hiking. The super steep parts continued on for a while, and I was worried when my sister said that we were at a little more than 12,000 feet. "You mean we still have 2,000 feet more to gain?!" 

WE WILL BE KNOWN FOREVER BY THE TRACKS WE LEAVE
— DAKOTA INDIAN PROVERB

After another hour of hiking, we finally made it to the "almost top." We reached a flat part of the mountain and the only part left was to hike up a super rocky and steep bit to the top. We could definitely feel the change in elevation and it was so cold and windy. I had to put on my thick gloves. 

The wind was miserable, so we decided to hike up as fast as we could.  The rocky part was a bit tough because the trail was no longer clear and we had to leap from rock to rock. Of course, the top ended up being way higher up than it looked. 

The summit

As we approached the top, we were freezing, but excited. When I realized that I couldn't climb up any higher, the feeling set in. It felt amazing to finally reach the top and accomplish something that I had been wanting to do for so long. I couldn't believe it. 

The view was amazing! It was everything I had hoped it to be. We pulled out our American flag and took plenty of pictures with it. Unfortunately, it was so cold that I couldn't even smile all the way. After a few minutes, we couldn't take it anymore and started our descent. 

It felt so much better to hike downhill and we went as fast as we could to reach the lower elevation. I was smiling the whole way down, knowing that the worst was over and that we had summited our first 14er! 

I kept thinking about how this whole experience was a journey, and that part of what made it so rewarding was the struggle. At first, I had fears and doubted whether I'd be able to do it. There were times when I questioned why I was even doing it in the first place. And then at the end when it was so windy I thought it would be fine to just stop there and not finish to the very top. 

But, I kept going and eventually I made it. And it was so worth it. 

I think many great accomplishments in life are like climbing mountains. Whether you're trying to get a job or a diploma or trying to be more physically fit, there's always going to be a bit of fear. There's always going to be times of doubt and times of questioning. 

It's going to seem really hard and it might not be fun during the process, but in the end, it feels amazing to not give up and finally reach your goal. 

Whatever goal you're trying to reach, I hope you commit to achieving it. Just start. Don't let fear stop you from going after what you want. 

And when you do start, fight through the struggle and don't give up. Once you finally reach the top, the journey down is a lot better. Just like climbing a mountain. 

 
 

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