Path of the Week: Why will we insist on climbing large mountains?

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Last weekend my boyfriend, his sister and I hiked up the mountain. Beer City. It was his sister’s first 14er, or a summit over 14,000 feet. In the car after finishing the hike, she said she probably won’t add hiking the 14s to her list of activities to do for fun.

I’ve been thinking about this statement ever since.

I don’t think I would think about having that much fun with a 14er either. If I’m honest, there is very little fun in the experience. We woke up at 3 a.m. and drove 90 minutes first thing in the morning. We used the toilet in a 24 hour gas station and then started hiking in the cold.

The hike was a little over 3 miles, but difficult, and our bags were heavy with water and snacks that I could never get enough of. Once at the top, the wind prevented us from relaxing. We inhaled something to eat, took a few photos, and climbed from the summit. The descent was no relief and arguably worse than the climb as my knees and thighs screeched.

But when I finished the hike, I was delighted and proud and felt complete.

That Sunday, the sunrise colored the pass lavender for a few minutes, and the pikas, marmots, and mountain goats were as active as we were. It put a smile on my face even as I heaved myself up the mountain.

There are wonderful moments that make the climb more bearable, but overall most of the morning has been hard work and some suffering.

While hiking Mt. Bierstadt last Sunday we met a pair of mountain goats. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

I don’t think I climb 14ers or do a hard hike for fun. When I think about it, I don’t even think I’m running for fun. I run and hike to challenge myself and remind myself that I am able to do hard things.

It’s exciting to do a tough hike knowing you’ve seen parts of this world that only a small percentage of people have seen. Sometimes when dozens of people are on the summit it’s hard to think that way, but it’s true anyway.

When we set out to hike or cycle insane inclines, we are doing so to suffer on purpose. Not masochistically, but to prove to ourselves that we can push it through. When we get to the top it feels a lot better because we remembered that we are strong and can handle a little suffering.

Last Sunday, Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Shelby Reardon celebrated her second 14, Mt. Bierstadt. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

On the whole, Bierstadt wasn’t all that bad. The path slowly starts up an incline, first meanders through meadows and then pushes its way up the foot of the mountain through bush-lined serpentines.

The trail is wide and mostly unpaved, unlike some trails that involve a lot of scree or small rocks that are difficult to navigate. We encountered marmots and pika and chipmunks, as well as some birds hopping along the path in front of us.

The last section is very rocky, very steep, but short. The summit is lower than the summit of Quandary and offers a 360 degree view of Longs Peak, the alpine lakes and the neighboring peaks. We also saw a pair of mountain goats stop the crowd on their way from one side of the mountain to the other.

The descent flew by and we got back to the car around 10:45 am trying to figure out why we thought it was a good idea to exhaust ourselves so early in the day.