On August 3, 2014, I climbed Mt. Hope in Colorado with three friends: Mary, Amy, and Payton. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. And by far the most rewarding.
The first night we climbed maybe 30 minutes to low camp, set up tents, experienced the wonder that is camping food out of a bag, and giggled nervously about bears and having to pee in the bushes. We all had heavy packs on, having brought too much, and my feet already hurt.
The next morning we hiked several hours up to high camp. It felt like 5 hours though it may have been less. However, this is where I started to think, “What the hell have I agreed to do?” In the months leading up to the hike, I’d been playing all kinds of sports like I do, mostly 4-6 times a week. And I’d been hiking with my brother with his 35-pound EMT pack. I hadn’t lost any weight like I’d hoped but still, I was physically prepared for a long hike. I thought.
Thankfully we made it and that night we celebrated by sharing whiskey around a campfire, watching shooting stars, and sharing stories about life, love, and everything in between.
The third day was solo day at high camp. That meant we got to sleep in, lounge around, and have some time to journal and take pictures. And this is when my meltdown began.
If you’re an introvert like me, somewhere around 11,000 feet on a strange mountain with a group of people you don’t really know all that well, you start to question everything. What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? What did I already miss? How deep am I supposed to dig the hole before I go to the bathroom?
I had chosen a flat rock nestled under some pine trees that overlooked the valley below. I sat and watched the clouds slowly roll by, and I cried for about 20 minutes. In the amazing beauty of nature, all I could think about was the negatives and the unknowns. What I had missed. What I was doing wrong. When I realized how ridiculous that all was, I gave myself a little pep-talk. But I still felt alone, and still burdened.
The next morning, our guide, Payton, woke us up at 5 a.m. while it was still dark to summit the mountain. Within the first 15 minutes of walking across the grassy field and around the lake to the base of the final climb, I said I wanted to quit. I couldn’t go on. I was gently encouraged by my mates. So I tried to concentrate on walking…one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving.
But then I couldn’t catch my breath. I started crying. Every step felt like I was slogging through mud wearing concrete boots. There was no way I could do this! No. Way. And I said so. Repeatedly.
By this time, I had dropped to the end of the line. I knew the group had a goal and I thought they’d be able to reach it without me. I didn’t want to hold anyone up. Better if I just walked back down to the tent and stayed by myself all day. Like every other time in recent history when something felt too hard.
When I told Payton I was heading back, he turned around and loudly said, “Nope! We’re doing this together.” I was doomed. And I was having my first full-blown panic attack, complete with hyperventilation and the ugly cry. But they all meant it. Mary and Amy had done these kinds of hikes before. Payton has been a wilderness guide for years. I imagine they’ve seen all types of people on the mountain. I imagine they’re very familiar with quitters like me.
So they let me catch my breath. And we walked up that mountain step by step. It was never easy, but it strangely became easier.
In fact, when we were only about 50 feet from the summit, Payton had us stop, circle up, and pray together. When he said, “Jesus, thank You for letting us reach the summit,” and we realized we were nearly there, we all sprinted to the top, screaming and jumping like kids at a county fair.
It was beautiful. I had done it! We had done it. Together.
It’s an amazing feeling to accomplish something you’ve set out to do. And even more amazing when you tried to walk away but were encouraged on.
It’s also a refreshing feeling to be able to let go of labels you’ve held on to for years and enjoy a fresh start. Now I can no longer say I’m a quitter. Standing on Mt. Hope, looking out over the clouds, I had to admit to myself that there are very few things in life that I can not accomplish, goals I can’t achieve, or excuses I can allow myself to create.
There will be no soccer match, no volleyball game, no 3 sets of tennis, and no book project that will ever be able to rival the mental and physical battle I had against Mt. Hope.
And I won.