A 3:00am alarm isn’t for everyone. Frankly, it’s for no one. Waking up at that hour is downright painful. Every single time I hear that alarm go off, the first thoughts in my mind are ones of doubt.
“Is this worth it?”
“Are my friends going to wake up?”
“Have I even gotten enough sleep to try and do this?”
But the truth is, I know that this is where most of the best days of my life have begun. So I drag myself out from under the covers, plant my feet on the floor, and get ready to go.
That’s where I started on the morning of January 15th. I was preparing to go meet my friend Conner for a relatively easy 13er hike in Colorado’s front range. Not an objective to write home about, but a chance to spend a day up high nonetheless, and that was good enough for me. We arrived at the trailhead around 6:00am and began the ritual that is gearing up before a climb. The stoke grew as we laced up our boots and triple checked our gear under a deep blue, star-spattered sky.
We began our steep ascent as the light of day began to brush across the horizon. There’s a special stillness to blue hour when it feels like the pace of the world and the pace of my soul become parallel, and I relish in those moments. Staring off at the distant peaks, feeling the cold wind whipping at our bodies, both of us began to feel like something about this day was particularly special.
Our legs pushed on and our lungs continued to fill with cold morning air as we pushed to the top of the first ridge. As we crested over the hill, a bright orange horizon, soft, pink clouds, and rose colored alpenglow on the snow-covered peaks awaited our eyes. As this scene unfolded, the wind increased to a staggering speed, so powerful that we could lean into it and be held up by it’s force. Once again, we felt a unique energy in the air.
We followed the trail along the ridge for several miles, battered by the winds and the snow but having the time of our lives nonetheless. Throughout our journey, the pyramid shaped Lenawee Mountain almost constantly drew our gaze. It went unspoken, but both of us really wanted to be up there. Soon, with several miles and more than 1,500 feet of climbing behind us, we stood on the summit of Grizzly Peak.
The peak was stunning, with views of snow-capped peaks, rugged ridgelines, and an expansive sky in every direction. What held our interest the most though, was the ridge that extended to the southwest towards Lenawee Mountain. We discussed our options, and ultimately decided that we both had enough energy and desire to make an attempt at climbing this mysterious peak. A push into the unknown is always near equal parts exciting and terrifying. There’s no telling what may await you on the other side, and there’s no telling what may await you on the other side. That’s the beautifully terrifying dilemma of experiencing the world as a human. You don’t know anything until you’ve lived long enough and pushed hard enough to find out. When it came to the unknowns of climbing this ridge though, we decided to give it our best shot and go until it no longer made sense to go.
The ridge held several stunning towers of rock, decorated and garnished with snow. Each tower was separated by a short saddle that held a cornice, overhanging steep chutes of snow that dropped all the way to the valley floor.
This was not a place to make any decision lightly because a misstep at any point could have had serious consequences. The choice to continue was made with deep consideration of the risk, our own physical ability, and our ability to pick safe routes through the unforgiving terrain as well as accountability between us to make sure neither put themselves in harm’s way. And so, we pushed on. Ascending and descending the towers and making our way to the true peak.
There is a flow to mountaineering, a focus that is hard to achieve in other scenarios, where every hold is tested and every move is calculated, because that’s what you have to do to survive. In those moments, nothing else matters. There is a deeply rooted sense of aliveness that grows in tandem with proximity to death. When confronted with mortality, we can either choose to be afraid or to be deeply, powerfully present.
This feeling is what I experienced as my feet and hands moved from rock to rock on the final pitch of the ascent. Conner had stayed on the previous ridge to enjoy his own moments of solitude, so it was just the rock, the snow, God, and me. I made each move with intention and the knowledge in the back of my mind that this ascent was an option, but my descent was mandatory.
(I am in this photo, bottom of the image just left of center)
Then, at last, the terrain relented and I walked onto the snowy summit. Waist deep in snow, perched on top of this sentinel of stone, I was at ease. In that moment, I can truly say that little else mattered. None of the struggles I’ve faced, the pain I’ve experienced, or my anxieties about the future had a place on top of that mountain. The wind continued to howl and snow continued to blow, pummeling the peaks and the two tiny humans who had somehow ended up in their midst. And yet, the mountain remained. Slowly carved and forged by time, but never fully succumbing to the chaos. It sits through season after season of storm after storm, and yet, it still exists exactly as it was created to. And in this way, I hope that one day, I can discover the mountain within myself.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed reading this story my reflections as much as I enjoyed putting it all together. This was by far one of my favorite days in the alpine and I look back on it as a turning point of sorts for the way I look at life.
Huge thanks to all of you who have subscribed so far, I appreciate each and every one of you!
Discussion question for the comments: Have you ever experienced a deep sense of aliveness or presence? Where did you find that feeling? What was it like?
Answering these questions in the comments is a way to spark meaningful conversations with others and give us deeper interactions than the social media we're used to!