Successes are sunshine and failures are fertilizer but you need both to help you grow. That adage was on my mind a lot on Saturday. First, because two of my besties had flown in to visit me here in Colorado for an adventure weekend and we had Big Plans and as Big Plans are wont to do, they often go awry. Second, because I had a lot (a lot a lot) of time to think. Because we were doing this:
Friday we took it easy with some white water rafting on the Arkansas river through the Royal Gorge (mad props to all of you who guessed it right just based on the pictures!) but Saturday was going to be the main event. We were going to hike Pike’s Peak. Not only is it famous for its unique cuisine (I’ve lived here long enough to make Donner party jokes, right?) but because at 14,114 feet (4,302 m), it’s one of Colorado’s best known “14’ers” – or mountains over 14,000 feet. (There are 58 14’ers here and Pike’s is neither the tallest nor the most difficult but it’s still tough.)
Sunshine: This is us 100% hopeful and 0% experienced at the trail head at dawn.
My friend Rachel was on a mission because her dad challenged her to repeat his climb to the summit and Beth and I were along for the views and bragging rights. We decided to take the Barr Trail, a 26-mile round trip with nearly 8,000 feet in elevation gain, and do it one day. (Clearly we are noobs.) We had to wake up at 4 a.m. because all the guides said to be off the summit by 12 pm as that’s when the storms hit and thanks to lightning, the Barr Trail is considered one of the ten most dangerous hikes in the US. We all have families to go home to so we weren’t going to mess around with electricity (wise words anytime, really).
Lesson: It’s good to have goals, even better to have goals with friends!
Fertilizer: The first 3.5 miles of steep switchbacks.
We were in for a rude awakening starting with the very first step. The first 3.5 miles of the trail are so steep that 6″ stilettos might actually be functional (no I didn’t bring any!). All three of us were trying not to look like wimps in front of the others so we barreled up the trail and tried not to let our breathing give us away. After what felt like hours of panting and sweating, we finally came to the first mile marker. ONE HALF MILE. I wanted to sob. I was soaked head to toe with sweat, my heart was racing, and each step hurt – and we hadn’t even done a single mile yet! Nobody said anything and we gritted our teeth and kept going (although we all admitted much later that each of us thought that if the rest of the trail were this steep we were going to die for sure). Mile marker one came and Beth announced it had taken us 30 minutes. One lousy mile for 30 of the most painful minutes of my life, outside of childbirth?? And, I’m just going to say this, it was pure desert ugliness. No amazing views yet. Just dirty dirt.
Lesson: Delayed gratification sucks, especially when you’re not even sure that the end result is going to be that gratifying. Is this pain going to be worth it?
Sunshine: Miles 3.5 – 7 through gorgeous, gentle terrain
But all of us are stubborn so we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Did I mention both Beth and Rachel live at sea level? So already Denver’s 6,000 foot elevation was working against them. At least I was acclimated. Not that you’d know it by my wind-sucking and mental cursing. Finally we came out of the switchbacks to this. This isn’t Pike’s Peak but it was a gorgeous view and we’d finally gotten above the cloud line, going from murky dawn to perfect Colorado spring day!
Lesson: Just when you’re 99% sure you can’t do it anymore, the reprieve comes.
Sunshine: We are strong! We can do anything!
The euphoria kicked in and we all started to feel pretty confident again. The worst was behind us! As I looked down at my legs, I silently thanked my muscles for being so strong and apologized to my athletic thighs for all the times I called them hideous and hated them. Clearly my legs and lungs are amazing! They literally just carried me up a mountain! I should get a tattoo of my thighs! On my thighs! Because that’s how fantastic they are! (Also: my butt was more sore than my legs which I consider a massive -ha! – success as it means I’m overcoming my quad dominance!!)
Lesson: Give our bodies more credit for what they do than what they look like. Strong is not the new skinny – strong is the new strong!
Fertilizer: The worst was NOT behind us. Not by a long shot.
As we reached Barr camp, the half-way point to the summit, we began to see something disturbing on the trail: snow. We knew it was always a possibility near the top but thanks to a massive storm the prior weekend, there was a lot more of it than I had planned for. We stopped in at the ranger’s cabin to rest and get some advice. “Should we keep going?” I asked naively. He just laughed through his beard that would make hipsters weep with envy, “I can’t tell you what to do!” But he did tell us that the snow was unseasonably deep and that so far no one had make it within two miles of the summit today. He looked pointedly down at our running shoes and asked if we had ice spikes or at least mittens.
Lesson: Be prepared for what really could happen, not what you hope will happen.
Fertilizer: Hiking in wet snow is the WORST.
Do I look like I’m having fun? We decided to continue on. The ranger just smiled and asked us to please check in on our way back down so he wouldn’t worry about having to send out a search party for our frozen corpses all day. Did I mention Beth was recovering from a nasty bout of influenza? And that we were now above 10,000 feet which is primetime for altitude sickness? We’d all taken a megadose of Ibuprofen at the trail head as research has shown that the blood thinner can help prevent the onset of altitude sickness and so far we’d all been fine. But now we were having to stop every 150 steps (I counted, had to keep my brain occupied with anything besides moaning!) to catch our breath and let Beth hack up what was left of her poor lungs. Plus, we were back to marching straight up the mountain.
The snow had two devastating effects: First, it made us wet and cold (duh) but second, it obscured the trail. And the deeper the snow got, the fewer the number of people who had stomped through it before us leaving us to guess where the next turn was.
Lesson: Climbing a mountain is an adventure. Getting lost on one is a nightmare. And the line between the two is one wrong move.
Fertilizer: We had to give up within sight of the summit.
Eventually we trundled to the Bottomless Pit. Beth sat down on a rock to rest and it was clear that she wasn’t feeling well. Was it the residual flu or was it altitude sickness (which can be fatal if left untreated long enough)? Both? Just then a man (in shorts!) ran past us, on his way down. (True story: There’s actually a Pike’s Peak Marathon where people RUN 26.2 miles straight up the friggin’ mountain.) He stopped to tell us that within a mile of where we were, the snow became hip-deep on him (so waist-deep on us) and that we were welcome to try “post-holing” in his footsteps but that he’d only gotten a bit farther. “The trail to the peak is completely gone,” he shrugged. “You could try and scramble up the face or just wing it.” Neither scrambling nor winging sounded like a good option at that point and we were nearing the crucial 12 pm cutoff, so after much agonizing we decided to call it off. We were done.
Lesson: Listen to the advice of people more experienced than you, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Especially if it’s not what you want to hear.
Fertilizer: All that blood, sweat and tears for nothing.
We’d already slogged for two hours through snow and now we had to turn around and do it again but this time as one giant slip-n-slide! “And you thought we wouldn’t get to go skiing!” I told them as we careened downward. It was made even more difficult without the adrenaline-fueled incentive of the summit. When we finally got back to dry land (and checked in with the ranger so he could stop worrying about us), we took a picture of our feet. You can’t tell but we are SOAKED.
Lesson: Always consider the return trip when you’re pushing forward.
Sunshine: It wasn’t for nothing. In fact it was a lot of something!
By the time we hit the parking lot we’d hiked 8 hours, covered 17+ miles, climbed over 5,000 vertical feet, slightly asphyxiated ourselves at 11,000 feet – and even though we failed to summit Pike’s Peak (as did everyone who attempted it that day, I’d like to add), I’d say we were still pretty successful! But the real success wasn’t in how many steps we’d taken but in the time we’d gotten to spend together. We’ve all been through some major life events lately and all that trail time gave us the opportunity to have the kind of heart-to-heart talks that only happen face-to-face. Shared sacrifice brings with it a real intimacy and I will treasure those conversations (and giggles and tears) for the rest of my life.
Lesson: Life’s a journey not a destination. (Yeah, yeah, it’s a cliche. But it’s a cliche for a reason!)
Sunshine: Clean sheets and all the TLC we could watch!
Eventually we hauled our tired, sore butts back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed for our post-climb selfie. And then we spent the rest of the evening watching chick flicks from the 90’s and eating ice cream. We slept like rocks.
Lesson: The harder the work is, the better the rest feels.
Fertilizer: I am insanely sore. My calves hate me.
This may be the only time you ever see me in a dress with sensible shoes! This morning we decided to visit the LDS Denver Temple before I took them to the airport and even climbing those three stairs made me wince in pain. All three of us are hobbling around like old people today. So much sore.
They’re not sitting because they’re posing. They’re sitting because they can’t stand back up. (Seriously though, aren’t they adorable?)
Lesson: Ow, ow, ow. Just… ow.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve set a goal and fallen short and honestly, out of the three of us, I think I’m the one least disappointed by our near miss. Part of it is because I live here and so can attempt it again later but mostly it’s because my real goal was to connect with these girls who’ve become like sisters to me and I totally succeeded at that! I’ve said it before but I’m a girl who needs her girlfriends. I love my husband and my kids but there is a part of my life that only other ladies can understand and I feel so blessed to have both old friends and new friends in my life! And if it takes climbing a mountain to remember it then it was all worth it.
And it was definitely all worth it. I’m basking in sunshine and grateful for the fertilizer.
Lesson: Life is like mountains – there are breathtaking peaks and there are low valleys but you can’t have one without the other, both of them help us grow.
Have you ever climbed a mountain? What’s your favorite thing to do with your girlfriends?? (Seriously, we’re looking for suggestions for our next girl’s weekend! Help us out!) Have you ever fallen short of a big goal and had it turn out for the better?
*I had “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” stuck in my head the ENTIRE TIME. Until the way down when it was “The Ants Go Marching” on permanent repeat. Ear worms: a well-known side effect of having kids.