All I ever wanted to do since I read Aron Ralston‘s Between a Rock and a Hard Place was to hike a fourteener, a mountain higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. Ralston talked about the magic of it, the majestic peaks, and the heart-stopping views. He talked about the accomplishment of hiking one and the pride that comes when you conquer that mountain. But as much as I always wanted to, I thought it was just a dream. I’d never get out west, or get acclimated enough, and I’m not in the best shape. So instead of writing “Hike a 14er” on my bucket list, I wrote “Hike a really big mountain.” But when I knew I was moving to Colorado, the bug was back, and all I wanted was to prove myself wrong and bag a fourteener.
Connor and I had talked abstractly about hiking nearby Pikes Peak, but figured with our weekends before the Games quickly disappearing that we just wouldn’t get there. Then it hit us: Breckenridge. We were in luck: six miles away sat Quandary Peak at 14, 265 feet, and the planning commenced. We gathered up our friends and decided that would be the weekend we bagged our first 14er. As the weekend got closer, we all got more and more anxious, excited to conquer Quandary. As we drove towards Breckenridge, we kept looking out the windows and then looking at the GPS on our phones, trying to figure out which was Quandary. Among the Rockies, “it could be any of these!” was the general consensus.
The morning of our hike, Connor, Dom, Jimmy, Courtney, and I woke up at 4:30am, made bagels, packed our bags, bundled up for the near-40-degree temperatures (in July!), and left the house by 5. Connor spontaneously DJ’d a hiking playlist for us, with songs titled with “high” or “higher,” minus J. Cole’s “Higher,” for fear the car would be subject to my awful singing voice at an ungodly hour. We made it to the trailhead by 5:35 and started our ascent through the woods. By the time we came to our first overlook, the sun was just rising. While the trail wasn’t that difficult at first, I had immense trouble breathing, so we had to take a few breaks on my account. As we neared the tree line, the point at 12,000 ft where trees can no longer grow, the three boys took off, hustling for the summit. Courtney and I took our time through the second part of the hike, an all-rock maze called a scramble. Surprisingly, it was easier to breathe and, while the path was treacherously narrow at points for someone like me who is terrified of heights, the views were well worth it.
When we reached the false summit, we were met by two mountain goats, much to my surprise. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen the fake mountain goats on the fake mountain at Cabela’s, so I was pretty excited. When we looked up at the last part of the climb, we couldn’t even see people, which was discouraging, knowing that we still had so far to go. The last part of the scramble up to the summit was difficult, as there wasn’t a clear path, and the elevation gain was steep.
But what made it all worth while was getting to the top and seeing the smiles on the guys’ faces and the enthusiastic high-fives and hugs we got as we summited, knowing that we made it in just over three hours, still well within the average time. Connor grabbed my camera to get pictures of everything he’d been waiting to take pictures of, and I just stood there for a minute, in awe of it all, taking in the views. It was magical, majestic, heart-stopping, and every other adjective that Aron Ralston couldn’t possibly have put to paper. It was one of the coolest moments of my life, standing on top of Quandary Peak with some of my best friends, knowing I’d made it.
I’d bagged my first fourteener.
We spent a while on the summit, taking pictures and just staring out at everything laid out below us, in awe of what we had just done. As we set off on our descent, we saw thunderstorms in the distance, and knew that they’d be there soon, just like they are every afternoon on a fourteener. I followed the feet in front of me down the scramble, just concentrating on where they had last stepped. The rocks were steep and loose, and we each took a fall or two. Just before we reached the tree line, the rain started coming fast, and we ducked into the trees just in time. By the time we made it back to the car, we were sopping wet, but even the rain couldn’t wash off the permanent smiles we were all wearing.
I can’t describe to you the moment you’re standing on top of your first fourteener, and I don’t think Ralston could, either. To feel like you’re on top of the world was cool, but it was knowing how hard I’d climbed to get there, and what a beast of a mountain I was able to conquer. It was just downright incredible, and I got addicted to the high of climbing a mountain like that. I can’t wait to decide which one to climb next.
Quandary Peak. Bagged.