Where do you find inspiration? Sometimes we have a story we want to share but just don’t have an idea how to bring up. It feels awkward or uncomfortable. The only thing to do is blurt it out with no introduction. This is one of those stories.
When I was a junior in highschool, life was awful. I don’t know why. I really feel like I woke up one day stuck in a giant, black sucking hole. No single event started this spiral so it was really hard fixing an issue that had no cause. This went on for months and it was getting to the point where I was going to graduate, go to college, and make some really crappy decisions. I was in one of those critical moments where my life was going to be altered and I could end up being a person I wasn’t supposed to be in a place far from where I was supposed to go. I was a hot mess of anorexia, bulimia, major depression, and contemplating suicide. Life was not going to get better. I was sad and alone with very little hope. I knew my parents were having a rough time watching this and they were also unsure what to do. I had no interest in going to counseling and really didn’t think anything would change me at that point. My parents were at a total loss but they knew I loved the outdoors and needed a challenge, both physically, emotionally, and mentally. For years I had read Backpacker and Outside magazine (yeah, my love for life in hiking boots started early) and had seen ads for different schools that taught enthusiasts how to climb, backpack, camp, and be guided into wild parts of the world. While I had casually mentioned this to my parents, there had never really seemed like a good time sign up for one of these schools. Until now. Enter Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville, Colorado. While this wasn’t a place for troubled teens, there was no way one could spend a month in the wilderness camping and climbing, completely isolated from the world, and not experience some type of change.
This girl from Kansas suddenly found herself on the side of a 12,000 foot ridge in the middle of the Rockies, struggling under the weight of a 60 pound pack, gasping for air and energy, and wondering if being airlifted home was an option. Having spent months earlier wrecking my body with eating disorders, I really wasn’t the picture of fitness. Every day was a miserable, exhausting process of hiking and climbing for hours, unable to breathe, and trailing so far behind the group that one of the instructors would get stuck hiking with me so I wouldn’t get separated from everyone else. I couldn’t wait for lunch when I could inhale some cheese and crackers and then lay down and nap while everyone else enjoyed the scenery. My body was pissed. I was pissed. I hated feeling this weak. Finally one day, I think the instructors got tired of drawing straws of who would get to hike with me and so they put me up front to lead the group up the side of a mountain. Up to this point, the group had been lead by two guys, one a quarterback and the other a soccer player. They could go all day and not break a sweat. I could hear the silent groans of the group knowing we wouldn’t get any distance covered since I was in the lead. As I made my way up front, my chest was pounding. I could feel this surge of energy and suddenly I wanted to prove to myself and the group I could do this. Within seconds, dirt and rock was tumbling all around me as I carved a path out for the group. My legs and breathing settled into a rhythm and my eyes were locked on the top of the ridge. I could hear the group behind me making shocked comments wondering where I had been hiding this whole time. Pretty soon they were asking me to slow down. I waited until I heard the football and soccer player ask again before deciding to slow my pace. When we took a break on the ridge, everyone joked around that if we needed to get somewhere fast during the rest of the trip, they would just stick me up front. I knew there was a huge smile on my face but what others couldn’t see was all the screaming and jumping up and down that was going on inside of me. I was back and ready to fight. Our month-long trip was capped off by a 13 mile run up the 13,736 foot mountain, aptly named Mount Champion. I had never run before so the fact that I did a double challenge like this absolutely blew my mind. I came home a stronger, happier person who was ready to tackle the future.
Back in Kansas, the giant black hole that had engulfed my life was suddenly reduced to a grey rain puddle. It’s funny how when you’re happy, blue sky’s are everywhere. I was more confident having returned from Outward Bound and was suddenly making new friends and becoming more outgoing. The mental battles were still there but now I had a better support group. I loved how strong I had become living in the mountains hauling my possessions around so I wasn’t about to lose my muscle or my endurance. I started eating again and taught myself to take pride in being strong and building muscle instead of finding pleasure in how I could make size 0 pants bag from me. This was going to be a process that would take years to overcome and I needed to start learning. My interest in fitness and wellness started when I was about 6 years old at Christmas when I got my first pair of sand-filled weights, sweatband, and workout cassette. When I decided to become an exercise science major and get my license as a personal trainer, things just felt natural, like this was the path I was supposed to take all along.
I’ve gone back to Leadville many time since Outward Bound to camp, hike, and climb. One mountain, Elbert, has always eluded me. We were supposed to climb it during Outward Bound but had to change plans last-minute. Elbert is one of the tallest 14ers in the lower 48 states and on my summer adventure this year, I wanted to make it happen. This was my way of remembering where I have been and what I’ve done since my life changed in those mountains. I am very proud to say here are the views from the top….
My inspiration of mountain climbing might seem cheesy at first but it makes me think of everything that I went through in highschool and college. It was years of hard work making my body strong again, finding happiness, and conquering mental demons. Learning how to climb and finishing Outward Bound is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically. Beating my battle with depression, eating disorders, low confidence is the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally. Staring at a jagged, sharp, towering slab of grey rock, sometimes so high up it’s hidden in the clouds, makes me think of how I’ve conquered my impossible. Whenever I’m at a point where I want to quit or I am wondering if it’s worth the work and misery, I think of the mountain tops I’ve sat on, and the absolute euphoric peace of knowing I made the right choice to keep fighting.
Part 3 of the Great Summer adventure- After our start in Moab, Utah and then some rough acclimation in Ouray, Colorado, we headed up to Leadville to camp in San Isabel National Forest and tackle some of their 14ers. Our other goal was not to get eaten by bears. Or eat our weight in carbs.
First up, Mt Massive. At 14,421 feet, this is the 3rd tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. I like to set my goals high. After a slightly sleepless night of waking up to everything that went “bump” (or crash and growl), we were bobbing around the parking lot at 4:45AM trying not to blind other hikers with our headlamps. We hit tree line pretty quickly and then the long, slow tedious process began of hiking up to the ridge. Once again, a group of runners passed us sprinting up the trail with single granola bars and a water bottle. Damn them. I was beginning to feel like North Face was filming a commercial of super athletes and I was photo bombing the background with my slow, plodding hike.
At 13,000 feet, we decided to take a lunch break, bond with the little marmots that had stalked us, and get amped up for summit. I noticed a little headache building but passed it off for being hungry and went at devouring some pasta. Summit in less than an hour! We started climbing our way to the top. Head started hurting more. Oh wait, now there’s some nausea. I had just eaten. Probably just started hiking too soon. Now were about 50 feet away from the summit. All we had to do is climb around a boulder and make our way there. I stared down a massive drop off and all of a sudden it felt like my head was in a vice, face being pounded in, and large black floaters were dancing across my eyes. Crap. Hello acute mountain sickness. We were so close to the summit; I could have thrown the rest of our cold pasta at it. However, the thought that I was going to die on the summit was also going through my head. There was no pushing past the pain. At this point, I was wondering how I would make it down to tree line. Part of me wanted to collapse right there and sob and the other part of me was screaming “get me off this damn mountain!!” Ugggghhhh, I can’t begin to describe the disappointment of not standing on that summit. Even though I knew we were above 14,000 feet, I needed to stand on the point and say we peaked. I had never been let down by my body before. I was sick. I was sad. I was mad. I really wanted to push through but was pretty sure the dizziness would cause me to, at best, fall and break my knee or at worst, just fall off the mountain and die. So turn around we did. For the next 2 hours the bf guided me down the mountain as I dry heaved and tried to breath through the worst headache of my life. And just like that, we hit tree line and it was like this whole thing never happened. Hey AMS, nice knowing you. Please never come back. I promise to drink more water next time.
The rest of the way down I spent my time apologizing to the bf for another rough climb and tried to deal with the disappointment of not standing on that point. I’ve never handled failure well and up to this point, had never had my body fail on me. I just turned 30 this year. Was this part of it? Am I peaking on what I can do physically? After drinking more water and downing some Snickers, I realized I had been pretty lucky. Physically, I’ve always been able to push through heaving lungs and tired legs. Mentally, all I can say is “bring it.” I love the game of trying to figure out how to push myself through the challenge of giving up. I realized Mt. Massive was a good reminder of what I’ve achieved. It was hard admitting defeat but wow, if this is the first time I’ve ever had to tap out, I’ve been lucky. All this did was motivate me more to push myself physically and mentally so I can keep up with challenges in the future.
Here are some of the views I remember before the head pounding/floaters/nausea began…..
Part 2 of the Great Summer adventure- In the spirit of always looking for a fitness and mental challenge, and wanting to show the bf what it’s like to climb a 14,000 foot mountain (14er), we finished out desert adventure in Moab, Utah and headed southeast to Ouray, Colorado. It was a big switch going to higher altitudes and colder temps but we were ready after slow roasting in the heat of Moab. I love Ouray because you can still see evidence of all the old mines littering the mountainside and many of the smaller towns (like nearby Silverton) capitalize on reliving that history. These towns are super cute with little Main streets and fun shops to spend the afternoon exploring. Oh yeah, and the mountains. There’s a reason Ouray is known as the little Switzerland of America. It’s gorgeous!
After a quick tour of the towns and rugged landscape, we decided to climb a nearby 14er, Mt Sneffels, the next day. At 14,150 feet, this wasn’t the highest of 14ers but we were reading conflicting reports of it being somewhat difficult to climb due to huge areas of loose, unstable rock and extremely steep inclines. Since it was the bf first time climbing in general, I was worried about getting him the best introductory experience and making sure this wasn’t the most miserable day of his life. Not wanting to chicken out but still trying to respect the fact that mountains kill, we decided to feel out the situation and turn around if either of us felt unsafe.
The next day started at 5AM with us leaving my car on the mining road to the mountain. The mining roads are usually one-way, with steep drop-offs and potholes that can blow a tire or break an axle and this one proved no different. Not looking to add to the adventure, we added a couple of miles hike up the road to the trailhead. This took way longer than expected but on the way up, super nice hiker Ashely pulled over in her Jeep and offered us a ride. Followed closely behind her was Shephanie, from Quebec, Canada. Turns out all of us had the same plan of climbing the mountain and decided to start together.
What makes Sneffels seem like an easy climb is that the trailhead starts almost 2 miles below the peak. No prob, right? Well factor in the almost 2,000 foot gain in elevation and it becomes a bit of a doozy. At one point we were almost at a 70 angle climbing. My face was so close to the ground I was practically inhaling the rocks right up my nose. We both knew we weren’t quite acclimated to climbing yet so we were fine taking things really, really slow. At one point, a group of 60+ year-old runners literally bounced right passed us. Ahhh, crush my ego. In all fairness, they were part of a mountain marathon club and they spent their weekends kicking ass. Finding out we were from Kansas, they did give us an encouraging thumbs up for trying and said it would be worth it up top and away they sprinted. I’ve never envied a 60 year-old like I did in that moment. They are who I want to be. We finally peaked out to some amazing views and the bf got to claim his first 14er. In typical Colorado fashion, a storm was close on the horizon, and not wanting to be lightning rods, we cut the celebration short and started picking/rolling/falling our way down the mountain. Little did we know this would be a warm-up to the rest of our week……
Mmmmm, rugged and rocky…..
This literally was the view the entire way up. I had to lean waaaaay back to get this picture. Notice the tiny red dot in the center of the picture under the large shadow. That’s a person and you’re not even looking at the top. We have a long way to go.And this is why I crave climbing. Seeing this picture makes me happy.
What’s your favorite view from up top?
Early morning run in Frisco, Colorado. Crisp, fragrant air with mountains all around me. My trail is lined with aspens. My heart is happy.