This past weekend I spent almost 9 hours trudging up and down a mountain at Owl’s Head participating in a Spartan Beast obstacle race. It was 21km plus 30 obstacles and a ton of elevation gain (just over 2000m). Definitely one of the hardest courses I have done so far and it really reminded me of my hike up Quandary Peak in Colorado, when I hiked my first 14’er. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to shock me what we humans are truly capable of it we choose not to listen to our monkey mind that is trying to talk us out of things that makes us uncomfortable. I wrote this not long after my hike up Quandary and thought I would share it. Maybe it will help inspire you to try something outside of your comfort zone.
“Everything worthwhile is up hill” - John C Maxwell
This week while continuing my visit in Colorado I hiked 2 trails that honestly kicked my butt, both mentally and physically. The first one I was using as a warm up for Quandary, it didn’t have quite the elevation gain, but it was hard none the less. Not to mention my giant error of forgetting my hydration pack and only going with one bottle of water. I ended up significantly dehydrated. But that story is for another day.
Today however was the big one! I tackled my first 14’er (that’s a mountain at 14000 ft) Quandary Peak in Breckenridge Colorado. Happily I wasn’t alone and met up with a fellow Spartan racer for this epic adventure. We wanted to try and hit the summit for sunrise, this meant a VERY early wake up call, so early in fact some Saturday night partiers were not even in bed yet. We then took a 2 hour drive to the trail head. It was a chilly morning so we layered up (in hindsight we should have layer up even more!) and started the first challenge of the day... finding the trail head in the dark! It took us a few minutes, but we finally found it and we set out just shortly after 4 a.m. We were not alone, a few other hikers had the same idea to beat the crowds and get an early start. The first hour or so was a nice hike, we couldn’t see much, but the trail was easy to follow with a steady incline and a few stairs. The stars in the sky when we looked up were unbelievable!
The next 2 hours is where things got dicey. Once we got up above the tree line the trail turned from pleasant to gnarly. Lots of lose rocks, boulders to trip over and my personal favourite; switchbacks that go so close to the edge I actually find myself leaning inwards! The sun was beginning to brighten the sky and we could start to see the silhouettes of the mountains and a little pink and blue was starting to shine through in the east. Truly breathtaking (in more ways than one) as we kept climbing the sky became lighter and we didn’t need our headlamps anymore, but the trek was getting more challenging as the air was getting thinner and colder! The wind was whipping us the whole time and even with layers on it was bone chilling. This was a big lesson for me to always pack more layers! I thought I was prepared, but that wind was more than I had bargained for.
I’m not sure I can accurately describe how it feels to be at such a high elevation and what it does to your body. I was starting to feel a bit light headed and dizzy at times. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, while my lungs were begging for more oxygen and my legs felt like lead paper weights! Even stopping to take a break was hard because to start moving again seemed even worse than before, as if my legs just couldn’t move. Not to mention the fact that I had to pee so bad, the cold wasn’t helping, and there were NO trees for me to hid behind anymore!
We could see the summit, it seemed like it was just over the next ridge, and friendly hikers who were already on their way down kept telling us we were almost there. Well, “almost there” was still about 45 minutes of climbing on what may or may not have been the trail, at that point it was basically all just rocks and boulders so we just kept putting one foot (and sometimes hands) in front of the other, and tried to take short breaks as we went.
I’m not going to lie, I wanted to stop and turn around a million times, I was so uncomfortable and cold, I had had enough, a tear or two, or ten, broke out as i stood staring up at the distance we still had left, but thankfully with the encouragement from my hiking partners we managed to keep each other going somehow. 'Let’s just try 5 more minutes and see how we feel' and you know what, eventually we MADE IT!! And wouldn’t you know it, there was no wind at the summit, I was shocked! We almost felt warm (ish!). We had time to take in the view and admire the beauty around us. It took a minute for it to sink in how bad ass we were that we just climbed this 14’er in a little over 3 hours. We tried to warm up a bit more and have a quick snack but I think at this point our brains were sufficiently frozen. We didn't stay long as the crowds were starting to fill the trail, but I was so grateful we had decided to leave early so we had the summit to ourselves for a few blissful moments and then we began to head down and hopefully warm up!
As the sun finally broke above the clouds the hike back to the car was much more enjoyable. We passed countless people who were now on the trails making their way to the summit. I'm not sure what the success rate is but I hope everyone we passed made it! Both hikes this week were really quite challenging for me. Both of them for different reasons but both making me step outside my comfort zone. You are capable of so much more than you mind will ever tell you. So if you find yourself at that point where you think it’s hopeless and you can go no further, just try going for '5 more minutes', and see how you feel. Eventually you will get there.