Conquering first fourteener not all that special
Standing at 14,196 feet, I looked around at the surrounding peaks, then to the valleys looming thousands of feet below.
Spectacular. Here I was at the highest point I’d ever been on the planet. That does sound a little over-dramatic.
The views were awesome, the hike splendid and the feeling of accomplishment special.
It was indeed a wow moment. But it wasn’t a WOW! moment.
Sure, it was cool to conquer a fourteener. But standing on top of Mount Yale near Buena Vista, I couldn’t help but think: “So this is it? What’s the big deal?”
Don’t get me wrong, it was a fabulous day. Anytime I get out and enjoy a day in the great outdoors, it’s a pretty good day.
As a Colorado native, I’d never done a fourteener and never really had a burning desire to do so.
There is now an overwhelming obsession with fourteeners.
One of my fellow fourteenerers that I met on this day proudly proclaimed that Mount Yale was his 27th fourteener. As we chatted at the summit, he confessed the weekday trek is better for fourteeners because the trails are like a packed highway on the weekend.
Most of the “easy” to “moderate” fourteenerers will be lined with hikers hoofing it to the top of Colorado. Good for every one of them.
A day living, loving and reveling in the Colorado outdoors is to be cherished.
I grew up frolicking — yes, frolicking — in the great outdoors of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve done epic hikes. I’ve ridden my bike over two 12,000-foot passes in the same week. I’ve pedaled my mountain bike deep into the backcountry where a bear studied me with the same look I would imagine I’d give a space alien if I caught it playing badminton in my backyard.
I’ve backpacked and hiked into deep high-country canyons to fly fish chilled, pristine Rocky Mountain waters where very few people set foot in a year. The fishing was phenomenal and the memories astounding.
I’ve hunted, hiked, fished, pedaled, climbed, camped, Jeeped, made S’mores, cooked bacon, chopped firewood, feared and fled skunks, porcupines, squirrels and bears, and much more in the Colorado outdoors for much of my life.
But I had never ventured above 14,000 feet.
Peak bagging — that’s what it’s now called — has become a chest-pounding accomplishment for thousands of people every year.
Colorado even put a fourteener on its shiny quarter: Longs Peak.
But bagging many of the 54 (the official number ranges from 53 to 58) fourteeners is not like trying to lick your elbow. The day may be long and the hike strenuous, but it doesn’t take a supreme effort to conquer many of them. When it comes to fourteeners, the highest is 14,433-foot Mount Elbert, and that hike is generally considered to be one of the easiest.
Now, here I was at the top of Mount Yale, feeling guilty that I wasn’t more moved or inspired by these views. The 9.5-mile round trip took more than six hours. I spent more time at the summit than I needed to, grappling with these conflicting feelings.
Why isn’t this more special?
As humans, we are all destination-oriented. Going from point A to B to C and eventually back to point A has massive appeal.
The feeling of accomplishment from finishing a trek and relishing in that trip from A to B appeals to most of us.
The satisfaction of fatigue at the end of a long grueling day is an exceptional reward.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of stopping to smell the roses. As a destination-oriented fanatic, I often ignore the roses to tackle the quest. Always in a hurry to get to my destination and hightail it through the journey and back to point A, then bask in the accomplishment.
If you think about life, it’s not about the destination. If you rip away the layers, the destination, or the end of life, is death — the most unavoidable and undesirable destination of all.
That’s why the journey — the roses, if you will — should be the most important and special part of the quest.
As I grow older, the roses and their aroma have become more desirable. This is one reason why I thought setting foot atop a fourteener would be a natural high for me. I assumed the roses awaited me at the summit.
But it wasn’t overly special. Cool, neat, memorable — a lot of things, but not what I was expecting. Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and never needed to be at one of the highest points of Colorado to savor the day.
Peak baggers seemed to be shocked, appalled and somewhat disgusted to learn that as a Colorado native, I’d never done a fourteener. Maybe that’s why I decided to make the trek. Even at the top of Mount Yale, when I told some fellow fourteenerers this was my first and I was a native in the land of fourteeners, they looked at me with baffled astonishment.
For many of them, spending time in the Colorado outdoors means hiking and clicking off fourteeners. My love of the Colorado outdoors soars far higher.
I can’t say if I will ever do more fourteeners. Mount Yale was my first, and it just might be my last. I’m not really worried about it. There are far too many things to enjoy in the Colorado outdoors to worry about carving notches into my belt.
Whatever is next, I will try to focus on the roses and try to at least slow down and take a whiff or two.
It doesn’t matter to me if those roses are at 14,000 feet or destinations far lower.