I don’t like to fail. And I’m not a quitter.
Because of this, I overly prepare for most physical quests I undertake. When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2005, I spent nine months hiking every spare minute I had. This included 60-minute stints on an inclined treadmill wearing a 40-pound backpack at night.
Like I said, I like to be prepared.
So when we went to hike Missouri Mountain in August, 2019, I felt confident we would make the summit. After all, I’d climbed 20 other Fourteeners and had no problems. I’d also been hiking most of the summer, including doing a warm-up hike the week before up 13,000-foot Mt. Audubon.
But something didn’t feel right that day. Going up the steep switchbacks at the beginning felt like a slog. I couldn’t find my rhythm or my energy and felt exhausted. But I soldiered on, feeling fatigued, and hoping I’d find my second wind. I drank more water, stopped to eat snacks, but with each step, I just felt the energy draining out of me.
Finally, with 1,400 feet to go to the summit, I stopped.
“Bryon, I can’t do it, I just can’t do it” I said.
“Do you need to eat some more? Can I take some of the stuff from your pack?”
“No, something is wrong. I don’t need what it is, but I just don’t have any more energy. I just can’t go on. Not one more step.”
“We should turn around then. It’s okay, you’re just having a bad day. We’ll do it again another time.”
Yet, I felt like a failure. I felt old. I worried that my heart was giving out. And it made me scared to ever try again, for fear of failing again.
Fast forward to September, 2020. This past summer has been challenging physical fitness wise. I’ve been working from home. I’ve hardly hiked because of the crowds of people in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I’ve been trying to run, but the heat and smoke have halted my good intentions of running more.
I felt far less prepared to climb to 14,000 feet than last summer.
So when we decided to try Huron Peak during this week, I felt skeptical. How could I even try? What if I failed yet again?
I felt afraid to even give it a go.
But try we did. The weather was forecast to be good, the smoke had dissipated and it seemed like the best chance for redemption.
Huron is one of the shorter hikes, 7 miles round trip with only about 3,400 feet of climbing.
Short and sweet.
Plus, we were bringing our 2-year old dog, Logan, for his first chance to summit a Fourteener.
The first 1.5 miles wasn’t so bad. Lots of switchbacks up and up through the woods led to a basin with glorious views of snow-capped peaks.
Unlike my hike up Missouri, I felt pretty good energy-wise. Maybe I could do this.
But then it got hard, challenging every ounce of my being.
Last week’s snowstorm had dropped over two feet of snow on the Collegiate Peaks, and there was still a good foot of snow on the ground above 12,400 feet. The snow on the ground coincided with a decided steepness of pitch. Combine that with the lack of oxygen and I struggled.
I decided I could do at least 20-25 steps, stop, catch my breath and continue on. Thank God for trekking poles, that kept me from sliding into a heap.
I finally gained the saddle and looked up. Shit! In the description, it had mentioned that the last 1/4 mile to the summit climbed 550 feet.
I almost gave up. I sat down twice on some rocks, as I huffed and puffed. Wandering whether I should just give up and turn around. But the hikers coming down kept shouting words of encouragement.
“You’re almost there!”
“You got this!”
“Don’t give up, you can do it!”
I couldn’t quit. I summoned every ounce of strength I have, walking 5-6 steps, pausing, and then going on.
Finally, I gained the top and saw the sign — “Mt. Huron – 14,003 feet”.
Good God – I made it!