Mt Elbert – Elevation 14,439
August 29, 2020 we set out to summit Mt Elbert. Its the highest 14’er in Colorado, there are no technical sections, and it’s “supposedly” the easiest one. My daughter Rachael had hiking a 14’er on her dream board this year and asked if I would like to do with her. I said “YES!”
At the beginning of the summer, we started out on easy hikes close to us and worked our way to hiking 10 miles or so every weekend. I loved every step. The beauty, plus exercise and spending time with family was wonderful. My daughter Danielle, husband Collin and my friend Karen decided to also hike Mt Elbert with us and we set the date.
The night before we stayed in Leadville and got up at 4:30 am to make our way to the trailhead. Head lamps secured and on our way up the trail by 6:00 am.
Me, Danielle, Rachael and Collin, Karen taking the photo
We were told that you should summit a 14’er by 1:00 pm because of the chance of thunderstorms. We hoped to be at the top by 10:30 am ( Not speedsters here.) and be down before trouble could set in. Karen has climbed multiple 14’ers before and she was off to the races. (She summited in 3 hours and 20 minutes.)
The rest of us started hiking at our pace. It was steady and steep almost the whole way. There was a 40% chance of rain and so far the weather was cooperating. Up to this day, we had been in the ’90s for almost 5 weeks and the thought of 50-degree weather and light rain sounded lovely.
Rachael and I were in the back of our group. We were about 3.5 miles in and came upon Danielle who was in full distress. She had parted with Karen and had been struck with severe altitude sickness. She had managed to text Collin and he then had made his way back down to us. After some discussion, Rachael decided to hike back down with Danielle in hopes that she would feel better once she was back in the hotel room. I decided to keep going. I thought that we were only .8 miles from the top.
The sign clearly reads Mt Elbert Trail is 1 mile from the trailhead.
(We had read that the Mt. Elbert trail was 9.2 miles. But in our research somehow missed the fact that we would also be on the Colorado Trail an extra mile each way.) So, girded with false assumptions about Danielle’s well being along and how far I really was from the top, I headed up. Collin did not want me to go alone and went up with me. We slowly but surely made our way, and it started to rain. We get another half mile up and Collin had hit his limit and wisely decided to turn around.
The weather was clearly going to get worse but I did not assume how bad. I kept going. Karen had not passed us, which meant she was still waiting at the top. The last mile was navigating through rocks and very slow. Now it is snowing and cold but I am so close. (I don’t know how close because my phone had died.) I feel good, strong with no signs of altitude sickness and I continue. I can now see the last ridge and think I must be almost there. I asked someone on their way down and they said it was another hour. I realized that my GPS must be off and decided that another hour in the snow was not a good idea. I turned around and about 20 minutes later Karen comes bopping down. She had waited over an hour and a half at the top! She had calculated that we would be way behind her but when that time had come and gone, she started back down. Plus the weather was horrible. We make our way down and it gets worse. Blowing snow and temperatures were ridiculous. Karen could literally run down if she hadn’t agreed to be with me.
My body is fully rebelling at this point. I am an ice cube, my waterproof boots are mini lakes, and my waterproof jacket was drenched. My teeth are chattering and whole body is trembling. I finally make it to treeline where Karen is waiting for me. I know I am in trouble. My legs are locking up and I think I have pooped my pants. (not sure but highly suspected) We keep going and I am now a turtle. Karen would hike ahead and wait, hike ahead and wait. She is trying to stay warm but having no luck. I decided to check the poopy pants situation. The thought of pulling down my pants was a nightmare. But I have had 3 natural childbirths, so I call upon my brave inner self and check. Sure enough, it was bad and I do my best to “clean up.” (I will spare you the details.) Now, back to trying to get off the mountain. Karen is now colder than cold and she asks if she can run ahead, I don’t respond because I had no words. I wanted her to be warm but I was not sure about well being. I said nothing and she read my mind. She stayed within 100 yards of me.
We finally get within about half a mile from the bottom and she decided to run ahead. It is now warming up and the sun had come out. I slowly make my way down and proceed to take a wrong turn! I make my way to the road and come upon the parking lot for Mt Massive. I see what appears to be nice people drying out and asked where the Mt Elbert parking lot was. It was half mile the other way and the crushed look on my face must have given me away. They ask me where I had come from and we exchange our horror stories of hiking in the miserable weather. They then asked if I would like a ride to the parking lot and I jumped at it. All thoughts of my personal safety were set aside and I hopped in the car. Now, my next issue was how to sit in these nice strangers’ car. I was defiantly concerned about staining the seat underneath me. (The poopy pants were still real.) So I sat but not sat down. They quickly got me to my destination where I see Karen. She changed into a sundress and had all her wet clothes drying in the sun. I clearly had taken forever, of course getting lost didn’t help!
We make our way back to the hotel and we see that all the mountain tops are covered with snow. Karen drops me off and heads home. Collin and the girls are waiting for me. I need to get cleaned up and put on fresh clothes. One of my thoughts on the way down was “did I pack fresh underwear?” When I saw the nicely folded underwear in my suitcase, I practically cried. I had not cried all the way down but the underwear did me in. I finally get in the shower, and it was lukewarm. A hot shower would have been nice.
I had made one bad decision after another all day but honestly, I always had hope. I was clearly in trouble at various times and I still felt hope. I could feel people praying for me. I could feel God with me.
God was with me:
- When Danielle told me she didn’t have peace about me continuing on and I still did.
- When I incorrectly assessed the severity of Danielle’s altitude sickness.
- When Collin decided to continue hiking when he didn’t feel like it, to be with me.
- When Collin decided to turn around and I unwisely kept going solo.
- When the stranger at the top gave me the wrong information about how close I was to the summit.
- When my rabbit friend Karen stayed with her turtle friend most of the way down, at her expense.
- When I could barely put one foot in front of the other.
- When nice people saw my distress and encouraged me on the trail.
- When kind people gave me a ride to the correct parking lot even though I looked like what the cat dragged in.
He never left me and got me off the mountain! I think that sometimes we believe that we have to perform/work for God, follow his will and he will be faithful to us. But it’s not an exchange, its a relationship. Even when you make bad decisions, God is with you. Even when you ignore His promptings, other people’s advice, and literal storm clouds on the horizon, God is still with you. I am so grateful for His faithfulness. God is good all the time, not just when you are good.
By the way, I was able to check my GPS the next day and I was only 663 feet from the top! So close!
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Rachael’s Side of the Story
Mt. Elbert aka Catching the Wind
Just to give a preface to my own story:
November 2018, I was coming out of one of the most challenging seasons that life could possibly throw at me and I decided that I was ready for a change. I did what any millennial would do in a crisis, I googled what other people do. I found a youtube video from a girl I already subscribed to where she talked about intentionality and success. She had stated that she used a Dream Board or a Vision Board and whatever she put on her board came true. She has years of documentation proving that if you see it and talk about it, you can indeed accomplish it. I have never really been someone who would complete a task and maybe actually completing something will be the step I need to a healthier life. So step 1 – I put my first dream board together and enjoyed the experience of dreaming again. Asking God to help me and praying into my goals gave me so much hope. Step 2 – Waiting until 2019 to place the board on my wall. Step 3 – Don’t wait, just start. I had both easy and long term goals and I can say that 2019 did not disappoint. I was able to accomplish 80% of the goals on my board. Now for my 2020 board, I can say that even though it is only September, most of my board is accomplished, yes including Mt. Elbert. Here is why I include Mt. Elbert to be a success.
Like my Mom has stated, we have been training for Mt. Elbert since March and when we ironed out the details and set the date, the race was on if you will. Everyone in our party marched on ahead of us and my Mom and I stayed true to who we were and hiked together.
On our way up we ended up following the pace of an older man in jeans and found his literal 1MPH pace was perfect for how steep this was and soon after we got into this groove we heard Danielle. After she catches us up on what is going on with her, I look around at my family and think to myself, what have I done to my family? We are not prepared for something like this. I go into survival mode, I’m thinking that if I don’t go with Danielle, then none of us are going to make it home tonight and Danielle won’t be able to stay in that room for a whole other night. I take Danielle back to the hotel and immediately drive back to the trailhead (the drive to and from the trailhead an hour total). I then proceed to wait two hours in the car for my parents to get off the mountain only to find my limping Dad at the trailhead. During those two hours, my Dad and I had very little communication and I had thought that my parents were together; so when my Dad turned that corner and my Mom wasn’t with him, I thought that she was stuck up there. He then tells me that Karen is walking down with her and that we can go. “So we are leaving her on the mountain?” “Yep.” Ok then, I drove my Dad back to the room but stopped for a coffee of course. We then waited another two hours before we saw my Mom and Karen at the hotel. One quick shower later and I was driving us all back to Carbondale. I look in the rearview mirror and see my whole family in one sort of pain or another and it was all of me to keep it together and not blame myself.
On that drive home, I realized 3 things:
- That my family having a horrible experience is not my fault.
- That I am strong and totally awesome for doing a hike like that, even though I didn’t summit, I know that I had the strength too.
- That my dream board doesn’t say summit a 14’er, it says hike and I did just that. *I understand that is a loophole in my own board but it doesn’t bother me.*
God wants us to dream big, shoot for the stars and He wants to be a part of the process. So even though this dream didn’t quite turn out how I imagined, God was with us, with me. He protected my family, He carried all of us down that mountain and His Faithfulness is pure and redemptive. I am so thankful for this experience and especially my Mom, without her I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this goal. She pushed me when I needed it and gave me grace when I needed it. Mom, you really are the best there is and I am so proud to call you my mother and i’m also so proud that we did it! We. Did. It!
“I am bold, no fear inside
Spread my wings, open my life
Like an eagle, whose home is the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind
I’m gonna catch the wind
Your faithfulness will never let me down
I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now
I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out
There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now”
-Catch the Wind by Bethel Music