14,000 Feet Above Sea Level, A Euphoric Experience Hiking The Rockies
14,036 feet. 2.6583 miles. 4.28 kilometers. These numbers don't seem very significant without thinking of them in context of elevation. If someone told you they walked 2.6 miles today, you may think, “oh, good job, keep taking care of your health.” If someone tells you they hiked a mountain that was 14, 036 feet (2.6 miles), the significance is drastic.
A couple weeks ago, a few friends and I set off on a venture to hike Mt. Sherman in the Colorado Rockies. Mt. Sherman is one of many 14'ers (14,000 feet + peaks) in the area and is a great starting point if you want to ease yourself into hiking the highlands of Colorado. It's my first in Colorado but I was recommended to scale this one first to prepare for the many others.
By no means was this hike easy, but it was a ton of fun and amazing views throughout the hike. My friends and I started off a little later than most people do for this hike. The “mountain hiking goal” is to be coming down the mountain by noon so you have plenty of time to descend before nightfall or any storms roll in. To avoid foot traffic and tourists, we began our ascent at just before noon. This proved to be beneficial to us as we were able to enjoy the serenity of the mountain without a lot of people around. This also caused us to push a heavy pace up the mountain, taking 2 hours from the twelve thousand foot base to the very peak.
In this area of the Rockies we have often encountered old mine shafts and shacks from the miners presence dating back to the early 1900's, this time was no different. It's interesting to experience historical places no matter where you are in the world or what country you are in. It adds a bit of context to our current world and climate, which is intriguing to me.
Even more intriguing to me though is the peacefulness and stillness of hiking a mountain without a cell phone, text messages, news and updates. I am able to take in the awesomeness, beauty, and magnitude of such wonderful sites, sounds, and smells; and this too seems to give context to the life I find myself in, in an even more significant way.
Not only do I experience such wonder that gives context to life, but I am also getting to know myself and the world around me a little bit more. I challenge myself; my endurance, my will, my determination, my character, and in this struggle, I find great reward. But this reward comes later in the story; first comes the challenge.
As we were ascending, a lot of people told us to be careful of the wind and to hold on to our dogs and children near the knife edge ridge. As we began to draw to closer to this area, we realized quickly that the road ahead was going to be no easy task. Not to mention this was the highest in altitude I had hiked in a couple of years, which also posed a solid challenge to practice deep breathing and staying focused on keeping one foot in front of the other. An overwhelming sense can take over you if you begin to focus too much on the lack of oxygen your lungs are familiar with. Instead, I chose to focus on deep, belly-breathing. Full breath in, full breath out; repeat. Focusing like this has helped me transfer my attention from anxiety, doubt, concerns, etc, to a more beneficial focal point; I am stronger that I think I am. As I continue up the mountain in spite of the awareness of a lack of oxygen, I realize that it is possible, that I am going to finish this and that I was made for this!
On the knife edge ridge we were confronted with blistering cool,high winds up to 40-50mph (I'm estimating). The temperatures up there, I was told, were 32 degrees and it had snowed up there the night before. The gusts were enough to knock me into the rocks I was bracing myself on as we walked what seemed to be a narrow, highland game trail. We took breaks often at this point in small rocky patches to rest and take cover from the winds.
Determined to reach the top, we kept pushing up the steep ridge. Finally, we reached the very top; 14,036 feet above sea level. There were only 3 other people who shared the view from the peak with us. We soaked it up, watching as the birds sailed at our eye level and below, and the place where we began this hike looked like a spec from the sky. We could see lakes, small county roads and towns, as well as countless mountain tops that disappeared into the horizon. There's nothing like it. It was a oneof-a-kind experience. Not just that we had climbed a 14'er, but it was unique in the set of challenges we faced and the amazing reward of resting at the top to soak it all in; and most importantly, eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich ;)
The return to the car went by with ease as we almost ran down the mountain like a ram would; celebrating our feat, taking in the last of the euphoric high we experienced that day.
There are many more adventures I hope and intend to go on, but for now I relish in this one. Soon enough, I'll be off of another venture. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed hearing of my experiences. Keep tuned to the blog as I hope to offer more pieces on hiking, skiing, camping and outdoor living. I hope during this time of social distancing and challenges, you will find time to get outside and venture. Whether you go to the local park or a national park; VENTURE ON!
-- Gabriel Johnson writing for Find Your Coast Apparel