I love thinking back on all the hiking and backpacking trips I have lived through. One trip that holds a very special place in my heart was our trip to Durango, CO.
My entire body was tightening up and the arches of my feet were swollen from hiking uphill for six hours with a 45-pound pack strapped across my back.
Yet, the discomfort could not stop my desire to explore every inch of the gorgeous mountains. For five days my husband Erik, our friends, Brian and Chris, and I hiked the 14ers of Colorado. On the way up to our camp, which we set up at 12,000-feet, I asked myself, Why do I love such physical burn? The answer would find me three days later.
Starting out of Durango, we took a wonderful steam-train ride to the base of the Chicago Basin. After being let off, we hiked our way to 12,000 feet where we set up camp and called it home for the next four days.
Our first day, we were occupied with setting up camp and absorbing the views. On our second day we set out on the adventurous hike over the Columbine Pass (13,000 feet). The wildflowers leading to the pass were amazing; I felt like I was in a fantasy land. The flowers came in every color; in a panoramic view I could see reds, yellows, purples and oranges. It was breath-taking.
On the third day of our trip we hiked Mount Eolus, one of the scariest mountains in the 14ers. The weather set the backdrop for the frightening hike. It was overcast and thundering, yet warm. The rocks where humming with energy. The mountain goats that once surrounded us were slowly disappearing into the shelters only they could find.
We knew that if we were going to peak we needed to do it quick. We came to a point on the mountain that required hikers to walk a catwalk. With hundreds of feet dropping on each side of a three-foot-wide walkway, this catwalk required hikers to own feline agility, walk on all fours, or both.
After sharing skeptical looks with the foot of the catwalk, Chris, Brian and I decided that we would rather climb South Eolus (another 14er). My husband, however, chose the catwalk.
I could not talk him out of it even though I was not overly excited about him walking it alone. One of the most rewarding points of the day’s hike was seeing him show up on the rock face, smiling and alive, just before the thunder and rain pushed in.
On our last day peaking the 14ers, we hiked Windom Peak, which helped make the last day my favorite day. The mountain had big jagged boulders strewn about that we had to traverse. There were drop offs everywhere we looked, so climbing up and down these massive boulders took focus.
When I reached the top I felt so empowered and on top of the world. It was the feeling that answered my question of why I hike through such physical burn. At the top of Windom Peak I had a moment of euphoria.
I felt bold, strong and capable of anything I put my mind to in the world below. The rushing feeling pushed all of my worry and fear right out of my mind.
For the 20 minutes on top of Windom Peak, I was a woman who could conquer anything. I made a special place in my memory for that feeling and it cannot be taken away.
For me, the beauty and power of the mountains always bring peace deep into my soul. Hiking is when I feel the most alive, and most comfortable with who I am. Hiking also helps me face my fears.
We ended the trip with 40 miles under our belts and boots and we had the cuts and tired muscles to prove it when it came time to catch the train back to Durango.
Sometimes now, when I am sitting at my desk at work I can see the vibrant greens of the grass and the sharp silver of the rocks and a sense of tranquility overcomes my emotions.
I go on these challenging hikes to find feelings like the one I experienced in the 14ers. Finding it ends up being the easy part; remembering it and using its power to find the confidence to overcome the obstacles and fears back in the “real world” is the real challenge.
Sometimes, it seems to me, checking out different scenery and challenging ourselves in new ways is the just the medicine we need.
Exploring Colorado’s 14ers was definitely a change of pace from what I was used to in Nevada; the hike got my body moving in different ways. I have a newfound appreciation for the masterful landscapes offered by mountainous states. Each has its own beauty and works of natural art.
Simply getting through the different learning curves of whatever it is around that unforeseen corner (or that boulder) can give us a sense of boldness, strength and euphoria.
How does hiking help you? Do you find it building your character? Please share with me in the comments below.