If you ever have an urge to really feel like a bad ass, and you happen to live in Colorado, then there are 58 ways that are guaranteed to do it. Before I moved to Colorado, I had never even heard of a 14er, much less considered hiking up one. In case you are new to this world of adventuring as well, let me enlighten you. A 14er is a mountain peak that exceeds 14,000 feet, and offer views that will take your breath away, literally.
I turned 50 last February, and on that day, I decided that this would be the year to do all the ‘never say nevers’ and to make it as different from the 49 previous years as possible. I’ve been following all the other 14er bad asses on their Facebook page for at least a year, slowly trying to build up my nerve while marveling at their accomplishments and thinking to myself, someday . .
With winter weather slowly returning, I had just about given up on the possibility of this goal being achieved before 2020, but then an opportunity appeared. Another hiking group I follow posted that they were going to host their first ever 14er group hike. I registered immediately, and only later realized I had less than 2 weeks to prepare. Nonetheless, I did what I could when I could and as the date rolled around, I was totally ready to meet a group of strangers at 4 a.m. and hike up a gigantic mountain.
Unfortunately, the night before we were all set to meet, the group organizer abruptly cancelled the hike. I was crushed. My dog was already with the pet sitter, my gear was at the front door, and my snacks were packed. I was trying to work out the details of getting up at the crack of dawn by myself and hiking a 14er alone when I got a call from a guy I had recently met on another hike. It turned out that he had been wanting to hike one more 14er before it got really cold, so plans were made and alarm clocks were set.
We decided to meet at 6 a.m. at the base of the road that leads to the Grays and Torreys trailhead. Numerous AllTrails reviews had warned that the drive was going to be slow and treacherous so we decided to park and drive together for the final 3 miles. By the time we got all our cold weather gear and backpacks situated, the first morning light started to peek over the mountain. The weather report had warned of high winds and cold temps and it was totally accurate.
The cold created ice crystals in the exposed tubing of our water bladders almost immediately, so we had to stop frequently to pull them out of our packs and drink without the tubing. Although this hike is listed as “hard” it is considered one of the “easier” 14ers and can be a great way to knock out two at once since Grays and Torreys are next door neighbors. I tried not to think about this as we trudged slowly up the mountain. It was taking all of my energy not to reconsider my decision to be there. I couldn’t let myself get caught up in anything other than the present moment.
As we made our way up the 3,556′ of elevation gain, we saw every kind of hiker imaginable. My personal favorite was the guy who had shown up in no-grip Nike’s, ankle socks, a pair of acrylic gloves and a thin hoody. To my utter surprise, not only did he make it, but he got there way before we did! The hours ticked by and my hands and feet took turns being miserably cold. Every time I managed to look more than two feet in front of me, all I could see where colorful dots zigzagging up a seemingly endless mountain top.
After 5 hours of non-stop inclines, I wanted it to end and was ready to give up. We had seen several other hikers turn around without summiting and their disappointment was tangible. As much as I wanted to give up, I also didn’t want to give up. It was a bizarre dichotomy.
I kept sighing in an effort to catch my breath and when that didn’t work, I would just stop walking and stare off into space until I felt strong enough to continue. I didn’t know we were close to our goal, but my friend did. He stopped and waited for me to catch up to him and said, “Come on Logynn. It’s not much further, and we are going to make it to the top together.” That’s when I almost lost it. I could feel the tears welling up and they almost got the best of me. I ducked my head so he wouldn’t notice, and within a few more steps, we were there. All the struggle, all the baby steps forward and suddenly we were rewarded with a view that must be seen in person to fully appreciate. It is something extraordinary to be so small and feel so big all at once.
The top is actually pretty long as it turns out, and it was humming with activity. People were walking around, smiling and taking photos. While my first instinct was to collapse and sprawl, savasana-style like a sunbathing starfish, I headed for the rocks and a barrier from the wind. I was in a daze.
As more and more people popped up over the edge, the realization that I had actually done it hit me full on. A complete stranger patted me on the shoulder and congratulated me. Just like that, I was home. I was among this unusual new family of people with one thing in common, an unquenchable thirst to experience the beauty and bigness of this planet.
I was leaning back on my rock observing the exquisite cloudless sky, trying to find the energy to eat, when a lone raven flew overhead. I snapped a few pictures of him trying to remember what my animal totem books say about ravens. Turns out, its fitting that he flew over when he did.
If Raven shows up, it means: “Magic is in the air, and something special is about to happen . . . You’re gradually shape-shifting to a more confident, powerful and spiritually based you that will continue to emerge the more you let go of your old self.” (Animal Spirit Guides by Steven D. Farmer, PhD.)
When I looked up the meaning of Raven the following day, I was stunned. I’m a big fan of signs and the Universe sends them frequently. Seeing that Raven at the top of that mountain was a beautiful reminder that I am on the right track.
Once we had rested enough to stand up, the temptation to “swing” over to Torrey’s and bag a 2nd 14er in one day was strong, but I was in full body fatigue and shivering too much to take that thought serious. The trek down seemed twice as long, and as we came off the trail, the once full parking lot was nearly empty.
One of the dangers of hiking 14ers is the weather and how quickly it can turn deadly with thunderstorms and lightning. Aside from the 22 degrees and even colder wind gusts, we had been blessed with a 100% chance of sun. The sunny drive back to the main road revealed all the golden aspen that were hidden in darkness when we had arrived several hours earlier.
Once we parked, my muscles were aching from sheer exhaustion. I had one of those slowly expanding headaches and started shaking again. I gathered up my gear, and prepared for the infamous bumper to bumper traffic on I-70 on my way back to Boulder. I thanked my friend for encouraging me to keep going and we hugged each other goodbye.
I am reminded of a quote I recently saw by Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. He said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” I conquered one mountain along with all kinds of fears and excuses as I hiked my first 14er. I realize that in doing something so previously unthinkable and foreign to the life I once had, I am opening the floodgates to a life unlimited. It’s a little scary but it is also exciting. Change is inevitable, and I’ve decided to embrace it.