LONGS PEAKDeep in the heart of the Rockies lies the small mountain village of Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park borders Rocky Mountain National Park and it was my summer retreat. Never in my life had I seen someplace taken directly out of a fairy tale. The mountains swallowed the town. One particular mountain immediately caught my eye. I knew that it had to be the tallest, for it was the only mountain that was still covered in May snow. I later learned that the enormous mountain was Longs Peak.
Longs Peak happened to be a ‘fourteener”, a Colorado mountain over fourteen thousand feet. The mountain could be seen from every corner of the park as well as from distant cities such as Denver or Boulder, which were well over fifty miles away. The mountain held an intense mystification for me. It reminded me of a Cardinals game, which I saw prior to my visit to Estes Park. Mark McGuire was coming up to bat, and shocks rippled down my spine when I saw him. An atomic power radiated from him. Even though there were several other players on the field I simply could not keep my eyes off him. Longs Peak also stood head and shoulders over the other players.
I had to climb Longs Peak before I left Estes Park. I felt a call that told me if I failed to climb the mountain I would be missing out on a life changing opportunity. Perhaps I wanted to climb it because everyday when I went outside, it was the first thing I saw.
Maybe I wanted simply to prove to myself that I could do anything that I set my mind and body to. I am not sure what it was; all I know is that it was constantly in the back of my head pushing me. Longs Peak is an extremely difficult and technical climb. It offers challenges to every level of climbers, especially to a slacker like myself. The trail is only a little over eight miles long.
It has a very steep elevation gain of over four thousand feet. The climb takes over two days of intensely strenuous hiking. Water is the most important thing in climbing; the body must remain fully hydrated at all times in order to maximize best performance. It is extremely unsafe to climb alone; therefore, my friend Bobby accompanied me on the expedition. We started our journey at midnight; the night air was cold, causing goose bumps to stream through my body. The first part of our pilgrimage up Longs Peak would take place in the dense woods. It was pitch dark and for hours the only things I could see were my partner’s legs moving quickly in front of me.
We had to bundle up in thermal gear just to stay warm and I knew that it would only get colder as we gained elevation. I could hear a distant stream trickling down the mountain, and the heavy wind whistling through the trees. I began to feel butterflies in my stomach in anticipation for what lay ahead of me. Our initial goal was to reach the tree line where we would take our first little break. The tree line usually occurs somewhere around twelve thousand feet.
The first three or four hours passed very quickly, with no sign of the tree line. Had I misjudged how long it would take, or had we taken a wrong turn somewhere? We hiked on with increasing speed in silence. We must have hiked for fifteen extra minutes before realizing we were above the tree line. It was revitalizing to know that our work was not futile. We were quite exhausted and needed a break. How marvelous it was to sit on the cool rocks and remove the burdensome packs from our backs. An artificial surge of energy pulsed through my body.
Upon looking up, an overwhelming joy filled my soul. I did not feel the heavy wind or the chill in the air. All my attention was immediately focused on the slumbering cities below. I felt the omnipresence of God gazing from the heavens. Yet it left me feeling sad.
Sad to know that the majority of the people below would never experience such satisfaction. After crossing the tree line we would begin tundra hiking. Tundra is a delicate ecosystem, which takes thousands of years to mature. To the common eye it appears simply as dried up weeds. Upon closer examination I noticed the thousands of tiny flowers preparing to bloom. How similar this is to the real world. People today would rather judge you based on your appearance than to really take the time to get to know you.
The trails going through the tundra were extremely underdeveloped, which proved to be – counteract our advancement. We lost over a half-hour of precious time trying to recover the trail. We reached the boulder field, our second goal right before sunrise. Stars once bright began to drown in a deep blue ocean. The mountains on the eastern horizon exhibited the first signs of the coming dawn as fiery gold light framed each peak. At the Boulder field our hike began to intensify.
The boulder field is located directly below the majestic summit of Longs Peak. No longer would we be hiking over a smooth trail; we didn’t even have a trail to follow only a destination; up. Climbing the boulder field proved to be an extremely slow and painful process. Every muscle in my body began to tense up from over use. The air began to get thin forcing repeated breaks. My body ached to be home in my bed.
This last stretch of the hike took hours, and it seemed like days. When my partner finally pulled me over the edge the only thing I could do was lie flat on my back. The last thing I had to do before heading down was to look over what I had just climbed. Nothing could quite prepare me for what I was about to see when I looked over the summit of Longs Peak. The mountains captivated me and left me completely and totally awe struck by their sheer size.
Never had I been through such a humbling experience. Directly in front of me I could see the heavens, or my interpretation of what heaven was. The continental divide twisted and turned majestically at my feet, crashing against the mountain as waves would crash upon the seashore. Large lakes, which I knew, appeared to be small blue dots. I am not sure if it was the rising sun or the whistling wind across my face, yet at that moment everything in my life seemed so insignificant. The mountains stood for everything that was solid in life, the important things.
They are the pillars of existence. We should all be so lucky to be like mountains, all knowing, ever patient, and rock solid in our beliefs. To see mountains of this magnitude made me almost ashamed of having nothing in my life permanent or solid to cling to. I realized that people are not mountains, and we will not be here forever. This trip made me focus on what was important in life and why we are even here in the first place.
Selfishness has no worth in forever. Nourishing our minds and souls does affect forever, just like mountains.