Monday, August 16, 2010

Climbing Quandary

On Saturday I disappeared into thin air. Well I didn't disappear, but anyone on the trail thousands of feet below would have seen nothing more than an ant trudging up a giant anthill. Anyway at 14,265 feet up, the air is indeed thin, and the views breathtaking. Or should I say breath-catching!

Here I am celebrating an arduous climb to the summit of Quandary Peak, my first 14er, those tallest kings among mountains that Colorado is famous for. I and six girlfriends left the trailhead in the valley at 7am and 5-1/2 hours later this was our reward.

I'd expected to do the whole hike, up and back, in that amount of time! Some of our husbands had done it a month ago in 5 hours. But unfortunately two of our group suffered bad altitude sickness requiring a slow pace and frequent rest stops on the ascent. (One did feel a little better after throwing up. That bad.)

Around the same time I took the above photo looking up and the summit felt sooo far away, I turned around and looked down to the highway where I'd come from. Wow. It really boosted my mood and confidence when fatigue was taking a toll.

I also contemplated the golden value of such friends I have. No one had an ego to show off. No one was trying to prove anything. There was nothing but patience and encouragement for those who were lagging. (Little did I know that would be me on the way down, running out of water two hours early and bad knees screaming their displeasure at the steep rocks.) I realized that I myself was far more flexible and patient than I used to be, willing to stay with my friends at the end of the line or offering to share my hiking poles. That's big for me, someone who has always been highly competetive. This was just not the time for that.

I love my girlfriends, their strength, humor, complete support and solidarity. Only recently have our friendships gone deep like this, and it's like drinking cool water from a deep clear mountain spring. I will take care of them. Frienships like this should be nurtured. As a Nigerian proverb says, "Hold a true friend with both your hands."

But my friends weren't the only ones that amazed me. And I'm not talking about the guy who passed us early on wearing a kilt. (We asked if it was a skirt or a kilt and he said, "It's only a skirt if you have something under it." Eeek.) I was truly inspired by a Chinese grandfather and his seven year old grandson who held hands most of the way up the mountain. Their pace was slow like ours, so they passed us, we passed them, repeat, and it wasn't until the final and steepest stretch that they went up without us. This photo shows the two of them resting a moment (with mom) and you can see how steep the trail gets. I just accidentally typed "trial" but maybe that really isn't a typo after all.

The high elevation made me far more emotional than I generally am. I nearly cried when I heard other hikers talking about an accident on the top involving a two year old girl in a child backpack that we had seen leave the trailhead on her father's back just before we did. Apparently he had set down the pack with her inside and she kicked her legs enough to topple over forward, hitting her face on the rocks. I didn't see them coming down (I believe I was squatting behind a big rock, he he) but my friends said she had bandaids and blood across her forehead. That was it, tears in my eyes. I have kids. I hate it when kids get hurt. I honestly felt like scurrying back down the trail to see if she was alright. I also got teary watching a big black dog of all things. The poor animal looked disoriented and thirsty and had run ahead of its owner down the mountain. It kept running ahead of us and behind us looking for a familiar face.

By the time we got back to the car it had been an 8-1/2 hour trek. I took some time to reflect on observations about myself. Right there in the back seat I wrote a list, so might as well share it that way.
  • I'm easily obsessive. I spent more time on 14ers.com than facebook the week prior, reading trip reports from Quandary and other peaks and searching for advice. I memorized the driving directions even though I wasn't driving. I printed a trail map even though it would be impossible to get lost with weekend crowds. I packed extra clothes, first aid, rain gear, and twice the food I needed. I spent two hours loading my backpack just right.
  • My exercise classes all summer have paid off! I felt much better than I expected. On the other hand, I still have far to go to be as fit as I want to. This was good motivation to stick with it.
  • I still have a sense of wild adventure and spontaneity even though I haven't been able to live it out for many years. I hope this is just the beginning of rebirthing that aspect of my heart.
  • I've lost my fear of indecent exposure when nature calls. There was a time when I probably would have chosen extreme bladder discomfort rather than crouching behind rocks and trees without worrying about what people think. It's liberating.
  • Lastly, I observed that I tend to be a bit self-promoting and I need to learn to listen and engage others without talking up myself. It seemed that so often when one of my friends was telling a story, I would push my own similar stories into the conversation. I'm not as good a listener as I want to be. As I think about it, I realize I frequently do the same thing when commenting on blogs or facebook. That's kind of hard to admit, but it's something to work on.
Saturday was a special day - my first 14er and the first time I ever spent a whole day with girlfriends. We climbed a mountain together, and I climbed a personal mountain, that of bonding with a spectacular group of women. We scaled so many rocks that we all called each other rock stars! Our next adventure will be awesome, I am sure.

1 comment:

Peg said...

Kristina, congratulations on such an accomplishment! I really like the way you added your reflections on what you learned at the end. I enjoyed this piece very much.