Have you ever had a mountain top experience? Maybe it was more figurative than actual. If you have, you experience this high that’s somewhat unexplainable.
A few weeks ago, I had a couple literal mountain top experiences and I wanted to share my experience with you.
In 2015, my mom participated with Team Fox, one of the fundraising arms of The Michael J Fox Foundation, in hiking of Colorado’s highest peak (14ers, as the locals call them) with some friends to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease research. After that year, she’s organized her own hike, which has grown to over 30 people participating almost every year. This year, because of the global pandemic, our group was much smaller, we still planned on hiking two mountains: Mt. Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado, and a 14.1-mile roundtrip hike reaching 14,429 ft and Huron Peak, an 11-mile roundtrip just barely a 14er, reaching 14,003 ft.
I’ve gone on this trip two times before, never really training for it–which almost killed me the first mountain I ever climbed (y’all altitude sickness is real), yet still reaching the summit of the mountains I aimed to climb.
This year because of our national quarantine, I found myself with a little more time than usual and I decided to train for this year’s hike. I consistently worked out, either running or strength training thanks to Peloton’s 90-day free trial (shoutout to Jess Sims for being an awesome trainer). I got strong. I got healthy. I felt good. I was taking care of myself in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I was ready for this hike.
Let me start off by saying, climbing Mt. Massive was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The night before, I was so nervous I could barely sleep. I was already stressed about getting enough sleep as we planned on leaving the house at 3:30 am to make it to the trailhead early. I’m not a morning person, so when I say it was early, I’m not just saying that–the sun was definitely not even awake yet.
We started hiking the 14.1-mile trek in the dark. The first 3ish miles were in this beautiful forest. We got to watch the sun come up over the mountains as it peeked through the trees. I couldn’t even take a picture because it didn’t do what I was seeing justice. As we cleared the tree line, we were welcomed by a jaw-dropping sight.
It was absolutely beautiful. And then I realized we’re only halfway to the top! As we kept hiking up the mountain, the air got thinner. We had to take more breaks to rest, drink more water–but not too much because we still needed some coming down, and a bite or two of a Cliff bar. But dammit, we were going to make it up the mountain! I would just look and see the clouds resting in front of me. I kept saying “these views are just incredible.”
At mile 6ish, a group of guys passed me on their way down, “You only have about 900 feet left,” they said. “You’re almost there.” In my mind, I was not almost to the top because when you’re climbing a 14er, you tend to lose all sense of time, what day it is, how many feet are in a mile, etc, but I kept hiking.
I finally caught up to my mom as we’re both carefully scrambling the last part of the mountain before reaching the summit. Maybe I’ll go into more detail one day, but this was one of the most emotional hikes I’ve done. Usually, I hike with my dad at a slower pace, but this year, I pushed myself to hike with my mom. I’m glad I did. The emotions she had on the top of the mountain was heartbreaking, but I was so proud of her and happy I got to summit with her. As you can see below, there wasn’t much of a view because the clouds had set in, but I took a deep breath, full of gratitude for having the privilege to hiking this massive mountain with and for my mom.
We only spent a few minutes at the top because there was a storm coming and we didn’t want to get caught in it. If you thought climbing up a mountain was difficult, I’m here to tell you that going down is just as hard. At one point, the majority of our 12-person group met up as we all started heading down the mountain. But for the majority of the rest of the hike, I hiked by myself. I had downloaded podcasts and music to listen to, however, I found myself embracing the silence and peace hiking by myself brought.
It felt like forever until I finally reached the trees, which meant I was only halfway down. By this point, I was ready to get off the mountain. We had been hiking for the majority of the day and I just wanted to put my feet up. But I kept going, chasing the bright blue shirts we were all wearing down the mountain.
At one point in the forest area, I started running because I thought it would help me get down the mountain faster, but with every step, my shins, and knees just ached. About half a mile until the end, I caught up again with my mom. She kept telling me how proud she was of me and lamenting about how hard this hike was. As we came to the trailhead, we immediately started taking off our shoes and quickly ran to the stream to put our feet in for some homemade cryotherapy.
That night at the dinner table, we all wondered if we were going to do our second hike in another two days. I knew my answer (heck no!).
Our rest day, Monday came and went and by dinner, my mom had convinced the majority of us to hike once again. She promised my dad she wasn’t going to summit, so that night I had to give myself a pep talk that I was going to be the Brooks family member that summited the damn mountain.
Our group split into two, with one leaving a little earlier in the morning than those of us who wanted to sleep a few more minutes. Hiking Huron Peak, technically, was easier because it wasn’t as high of an elevation as Mt. Massive and it was shorter, as far as mileage. But what we had to factor in was the two-mile 4-wheel drive only path up to the trailhead. We felt confident going to the trailhead and not hiking the 2 miles with the rental Tahoe we had. What could go wrong?
Maybe you know how this story goes, but in case you don’t, let me tell you. (Spoiler alert: on our way home, we popped a tire and spent 45 minutes figuring out how to change this massive tire.)
We didn’t make it to the trailhead in our Tahoe because of this massive lake that was kind of in the way but we had a beautiful start to the morning and I had a good group to hike with.
About a mile into the hike, I left the group I started with since they weren’t entirely planning to summit the mountain. As I came out of the tree line on this hike, I was greeted again, but absolute beauty. We were told by the Internet that Huron Peak was one of the most beautiful hikes you could do of all the 14ers in Colorado and it didn’t lie.
I passed half of the earlier morning crew as I continued to climb. I was determined to summit. If Mt. Massive was an emotional climb, Huron Peak was a mental climb. Earlier this year, I blazed through the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle and in it, she talks about how we can do hard things. I had to keep repeating this phrase to myself as I climbed. This was the first time I was actually doing this thing by myself. I’m used to doing a lot of things by myself, none of which are climbing a 14,003-foot mountain. It felt like it had some additional weight to it.
The last 500 feet of Huron Peak was just literally dirt, small rocks mixed with huge rocks to climb. I don’t think I’ve mentioned at this point, that I’m terrified of heights, so I’m speaking confidence into myself as I take one step after the other, but I’m still scared. Scared of falling, falling down the mountain to my death, and no one to catch me. Morbid, I know, but my reality.
I finally made it to the top and wow, I felt on top of the world. I could see for miles. Oh, and there were just a few dark clouds that had gathered at the top of every mountain I could see.
I took my photo with our Team Brooks sign and started back down the mountain. Again, terrified. I was even more scared this time, for fear of slipping and falling. I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I could hike with him for a little bit, which was reassuring as we made our way down. I made it to the switchbacks before I felt a raindrop and then the heavens opened wide. I made it down to the beautiful meadow area as it was pouring down rain…and began to hail. I started running, avoiding rocks and small ditches.
Finally, I made it to the tree line and was covered by the trees, before it started to rain again. It wouldn’t stop even by the time I made it off the mountain, and as we waited for two hours for the rest of our group to finish the hike. As we’re waiting in the car in the pouring rain, we overhear that Search & Rescue is all over the mountain trying to find a missing hiker. Hearing something like that immediately sobers you. You immediately are reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised.
It was a hard climb for all of us, but after hearing that, we were all very quiet on our drive back to the house before as I spoiled before, we blew a tire and had to spend time fixing that. By then, we’re delirious, tired, hurting, hangry, and ready for a hot shower.
At dinner that night, we all just kept laughing at our mountain top experiences and blunders. Note: I should always have a radio on my person to bring humor to our group on the mountain, not just for safety purposes. I love going to Colorado in July, spending time with my mom and her friends that come out to support her, and conquering mountains. I never thought I’d enjoy this activity since I’m not known in my family to enjoy hard exercise. Growing up we would ride bikes throughout the neighborhood every weekend, and I would begrudgingly go even though I’d rather take a nap–I still feel this way, which is why you won’t find me doing a Turkey Trot, but here we are–Lauren enjoying hard exercise climbing up and down a mountain.
Huron Peak was such a mental exercise for me and I was so proud of myself for reaching the summit. So summiting with my mom on Mt. Massive was incredibly special, but summiting Huron Peak was something else. Not only did I climb it by myself, but I did it.
And these hikes taught me that yes, even I can do hard things, which can lead to mountain top experiences.