By JJ Taylor
The day started out just right. I woke up, grabbed a shower and a quick bite for breakfast, then set out to hike my first 14,000’ mountain in Colorado. A few days earlier I had decided I would hike Mt. Bierstadt just outside Georgetown, and so the research began. I started pulling up information via facebook posts, video blogs, and just about any other website that would give me as much info as I needed to test my hiking skills. After a few days of prepping and gathering info, the day had arrived that would allow me to get out and see the Colorado Rockies from a new and different perspective.
I loaded up my Subaru with my pack filled with ice cold water and some snacks for the summit, and of course my AKU hiking boots. Driving to the trailhead was pretty exciting. I had many thoughts racing through my mind about the hike - was I ready for this? Is my body and are my lungs ready for this unfamiliar altitude? How many others are going to be on the mountain with me? I reached the trailhead after a very steep and winding road, and after strapping on my pack, lacing up my boots and grabbing my trekking poles, it was finally time to hit the trail.
My first view of the mountain was breathtaking. It was beautiful, tall, and towering like a New York City skyscraper. My heart started racing as I started the hike through the brush and over a clear creek. The first mile started off rather smooth with not much elevation gain, but as I started up some rocky switchbacks, the steep climb began. It wasn’t long before I needed my first break to catch my breath. My breathing was so heavy and as I rested to acclimate to my environment, I tried to remind myself to take it slow, to go at my own pace and to not worry about others or try to get up the mountain as fast as possible.
All along the trail I took in the views of the blue skies and lakes, the sounds of the wind blowing through my hair, and the smells of clean, fresh mountain air. My breathing continued to be heavy as I climbed higher and higher, but I remained focused on the trail and took each step carefully, moving forward steadily. Determined to make it to the top, I began thinking to myself, why do I do this? Why do I challenge myself and my body and what motivates others to do the same? For me, I hike just to be outside and enjoy what God has created. Also, after hip surgery, I am grateful for the blessing that I am physically able to walk and appreciate the wonder of the outdoors. I love the incredible scenery, the challenges of each hike, and the company of people exploring nature with you. Often times, I enjoy the solitude of being alone on the mountain. This day, however, there were plenty of other folks out enduring the same challenge of summiting a 14,000’ mountain peak.
The final 700 feet were up and over small boulders. I really had to pay attention to the trail and even at times make my own trail. As I approached the summit, I could hear the laughter and voices, like little children, of many others who had made it, and with a few more steps, I made it to the top of my very first 14er! I did it! I had accomplished what I set out to do that day and the feeling was like winning a national championship. I unloaded my pack, put down my poles, and sat down for a minute to catch my breath and just take it all in. I have been atop many mountains before but mostly from having driven to the top or taking a chairlift on a ski run. The joy I felt running through my body was indescribable as I sat there taking in the magnificent views, in awe of the beauty around me, proud and thankful I could make this journey. The temperature had dropped, and the wind had picked up, but I sat there letting the sun warm my face, letting everything go with nothing to concern me in that moment.
After enjoying my lunch and taking many pictures of the spectacular views, I was ready for the descent back down to the trailhead. Heading down seemed to go twice as fast as coming up, although I had to be careful and take each step one at a time. I made it down to my car and by that point, I was wiped out. It took all the energy I had left to get my AKU hiking boots and socks off my feet. Packed up and ready to head out, I was loaded with visual memories of the entire hike. The smells and sounds still fresh in my mind, I drove away with that 14er mountain in my rearview mirror.