Friday, June 1, 2012

Joy & Insanity at 14,000'

A year ago if someone told me I'd hike a 14,000 foot mountain buffeted by 90mph winds, I would have laughed in their face.

That was before I moved to Colorado.  Here that sort of insane behavior is considered normal, whereas in my hometown of NYC that would be grounds for involuntary committal.

So I've thrown laughter to the wind (literally) and embraced the insanity.

On Memorial Day weekend we headed up to the mountains to take advantage of the extra day of vacation.  The plan: knock off a few more 14'ers.

We headed to the Missouri Gulch trailhead in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness to begin our hike.  We suited up the dogs with their new backpacks, loaded up our gear, and headed about 2 miles in to camp for the night.  The trail winds fairly steeply up the gulch and gains about 2,000 feet of elevation in those 2 miles (oooh boy!).

We camped in the cool, blissfully quiet night and woke up early the next morning to start our hike to Mt. Belford (14,197'). The trail winds along a riverbed before beginning the steep ascent around 12,000'.  After countless switchbacks and a stop for snack, we reached the summit of Mt. Belford. It's a Class 2 and a pretty standard 14'er hike - complete with switchbacks and steep climbs - but a relatively easy climb with no exposure.

Now it gets interesting.

After summiting Mt. Belford, we initially planned on heading over the saddle to Mt. Oxford (14,153').  However, when we reached the summit we experienced extremely high wind speeds.  Now if you've ever hiked a 14'er, you'll know that the top of the mountain is usually always pretty windy and cold.  But, this was epic - definitely the highest wind speeds I've experienced in the 14'ers I've done.  Almost everyone we ran into on the trail had made the decision to turn back after summiting Mt. Belford.

But we're slightly insane. And luckily for us, some other folks are too.

When we reached the top, we ran into another couple and a solo guy & dog that were game to take on the winds.  And so we went - the 5 humans and 3 dogs heading over the 1/2 mile saddle to Mt. Oxford.  The winds were enough to knock us over and gave and made the hike pretty challenging.  As we walked, crawled, and clawed our way up the summit, I couldn't help thinking of how far I've come and how much my life has changed.  A year ago, I only dreamed of doing things like this.  And here I was, walking along a sliver of the Rocky Mountains being buffeted by 90mph winds strong enough to push me over and rip my glasses right off my face.  And I was overjoyed.

Maybe it's not for everyone, but something wild and delighted crackles within me in these moments.  And I feel alive.  And thankful.  And a little bit crazy.


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