The 3:30am wake up call came with some ease this go around. Surprisingly, my eyes naturally popped open without an alarm. It’s as if my natural body clock knew what was coming. I rolled out of bed and got moving for today’s destination: Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park. Who doesn’t want to ring in a new year watching the sun rise dramatically over the snow caped mountains?
It’s cold, well below freezing. You’re a few miles in and the weather is starting to roll in quick. 40-50mph freezing winds whip down the steep face of the mountain your hiking next to. You lose sight of your partner in front of you. Despite the seemingly brutal conditions you’re warm. The wind actually feels good. You’ve been working hard through the drifts. You stop, look at the swirling landscape around you and you’re overcome with pure joy, even though you know you can’t go on. You aren’t making it to your intended destination a mere 1.5 miles ahead. In that moment, you realize that you’ve arrived at the day’s destination. You are here.
5 miles deep in some tougher terrain. The trail was slick with ice and snow and at times littered with rocks and boulders. Overall it was nothing too difficult, but I had been the only person I’d seen all morning. Just me and Nina walking along this beautiful valley soaking in the early morning sun. Steep snow dusted cliffs towered above the east side of the valley, while sun kissed steep hill covered in burned trees flanked the west. I took a deep breath and smiled as I watched the steam from my breath on the exhale I heard it.
Another weekend up before the sun. Another wind-whipped cold morning. Another high altitude struggle. Another summit sunrise. Another smile. Another day well spent in the mountains.
Squirrel and I set out to achieve a pretty ambitious goal: climb three (4 named) 14,000’+ peaks in one morning. That alone is a pretty tall order, but it doesn’t stop there. Only in Colorado can you go and do something like that, then see a show at a natural amphitheater (Red Rocks) that night. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and totally worth it. The promise of a full moon and good weather, this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.
The rock feels cold on my hands as I stare off into the distance. My mind is blank, empty, just enveloped in the moment. I’ve made it.The breeze brings a chill as the sweat evaporates off of my body. I breathe deeply. The sun’s strength is gaining, struggling against the increasing winds to wrap me in it’s warmth. I see the strip of trail across the valley, the lake off in the distance, and endless horizon of mountains and valleys below. Above me the sky stretches out with wispy clouds like fingers outstretched welcoming me into this beautiful day. In this moment I feel small. I am alive. It’s perfect.
I inched closer to the fire, the chill of night started to seep through my damp clothes. Rain gear was strewn about, for about 8 miles the skies opened up on us. Drenched to the core is never a fun way to start off 32 miles, but we endured. Looking up I could see the shadows of the fire dancing against the trees, beyond that the first stars were starting to twinkle. Despite the picturesque scene something just didn’t quite feel right.
Unable to sleep through yet another flight you succumb to watching the sunrise. As the light brightens you’re rewarded with what might be the most stunning view you’ve ever seen: the sun rising along the Great Wall of China, from the air. You smile, it’s kind of funny flying over the Great Wall, gliding over one of the great wonders of the world only to arrive in the land of the people it was built to keep out.
We finally arrived at camp right near a road. It was disappointing. I had walked all day only to find myself sleeping near a bunch of dispersed car campers. So much for feeling like I was in remote wilderness. Little did I know this save our butts next morning.