Mt. Elbert – The climb up my first 14er

Mt. Elbert, CO

Yesterday, I summited my first 14er when I reached the top of Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert, using the North Mt. Elbert Trail. It was the hardest hike I’ve done to date and one that challenged me mentally as much as it did physically. It was steep, long, and high in altitude, making it one of the harder hikes you can do.

Since I underestimated the hike because I hadn’t done adequate research, I was surprised by the intensity of the challenge it presented me with. There were times I didn’t think I could make it and times I felt like the most badass lady in the world. Mountains like that will do that to you… they present a constant wave of emotions while you step foot by foot in the direction of the summit that you know you must reach to be content with yourself.

The trail started out with gradual switchbacks through the pine forest, a glorious flat ground for about half a mile and began to hardcore steepen before we were even past the tree line. I remember telling my friends “wow that part was so steep”… little did I know the rest of the trail would be that way… Once we were past the tree line, two friends and I stopped to take a break, looking back at a beautiful view of the mountain range in front of us and trees below us. At that point, we were already tired and realizing this hike was going to be much harder than we realized. We asked passerby’s how much longer we had and while they were honest and told us we had quite a while, they were encouraging and confident we would get there. That is where the real trek began… From then on, it was straight up the mountain from hell (jk but kinda). I had to take several breaks at nearly every sort of turn or even halfway up a stretch to catch my breath and motivate myself to continue.

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Inclining for the whole rest of the hike was tough. At first it didn’t seem so bad (hence when I felt like a badass) but as the elevation increased, it only got harder to breathe and to exert the energy required to take steps towards the summit. I must’ve taken a break every 12 ft. or so before I would have to stop and take a breather, and sometimes even sit down and have a snack and some water before I could even imagine continuing on. That is where the mental challenge came in. At that point, I had to have patience with myself and awareness of my body like I never had to before. I had to pay close attention to how much my muscles could handle and how much my lungs could take without much oxygen before I had to stop again.

There stretch before the final climb to the top was a bit of a scramble. It was rocky, sandy and slippery, and so so high up. It took enough mental strength to keep going as it was… I can’t imagine if I was afraid of heights. Looking down at the peaks of Colorado made me realize just how high up I was and while beautiful, it was also incredibly humbling to think how little you are in this big, big planet.

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As I slowly yet excitedly trekked up my last stretch to the top, many people who had passed me going up were coming down with encouraging words and smiles, happy they were going down and genuinely happy to see me going up. Somehow on the mountain other’s accomplishments become almost as important as your own. You want to see everyone achieve the summit and be able to walk down with pride. Everyone on the trail becomes your team, and if it isn’t enough to make yourself proud, you want to make them proud as well. After all, they took time to encourage you and believe in your ability to reach the top when you doubted yourself, and you don’t want to let them down. As much as it is a solo journey and achievement to summit a 14er, it is a social achievement. As my friend’s who hiked behind me trickled up to the summit, I was so happy and relieved to see they made it. After all the challenges you and your crew goes through to reach that peak, the last thing you want to think is that you don’t all make it. You experience raw human emotion, humility and unique perspective climbing up a mountain like that and as hard and hellish as it may sound, it was purely and beautifully awesome.

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I think 14er trails like the one to the top of Mt. Elbert put human struggles into perspective and challenge our bodies and minds in ways we are not commonly challenged anymore. What our bodies are capable of is amazing and how well they can adapt to a range of climates and elements makes you wonder why we don’t use these strengths more often. I suppose this is the reason many love to hike, to climb, to bike, to play sports, etc… because it is re-creating the activity that was once required of us. While in today’s world this kind of strenuous physical activity is rarely required, it still brings people joy to realize what their body is capable of. It’s human nature. It’s what we’re supposed to do. And you can bet I’m going to keep doing it.

-Annaleigh

 

 

 

Jazzy in Telluride

Telluride, CO

You know those places you see in Instagram photos and wonder what kind of filter that person must’ve used to make the colors THAT vibrant and the place THAT stunning? Telluride is one of those. It’s not because of a filter though…

People definitely hype it up so there was no surprise that it was gorgeous, but to be able to sit and stare at the tall, lush peaks in person for a weekend was magical. The way the town snuggles up into the narrow valley between some of the tallest mountains on the map makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale. And to think over and over in my head that it is just a 6-hour drive from my house was something else incredible. Thankful is the best way to describe that feeling.

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The reason we headed to Telluride last weekend was because we were volunteering at the Telluride Jazz Fest, which ended up being a lot of old people and high school jazz bands. But how could we complain with the environment surrounding us? For our volunteer shifts, we were assigned to the “Jazz After Dark” concerts on both Saturday and Sunday nights to sell tickets and basically be the gate-keepers for the separately ticketed events. By the time we went to our shift each night we were exhausted, but it was fun to get behind-the-festival and get a closer glimpse into Telluride nightlife.

Our full days on Saturday and Sunday were relaxing and fun. We took our time getting to the festival each day as there was so much of the town to see and so many activities to enjoy. On Saturday, we took the Gondola to Mountain View Village and explored Telluride’s ski town to get a feel for the other side of the town. It was such an incredible view from the Gondola on top of the mountain, staring back at town. From up there, it felt as if we were living in a painting.

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Sunday morning we participated in a New Orleans-inspired second line parade. People wore Mardi Gras beads, threw cups to the crowd, and danced down the street with a view of the mountains the whole way down to the main stage. At the bottom, the jazz band who marched in the parade stopped and finished off with an incredible full-sounding finale. I felt so lucky to be there in that moment.

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Later in the day we found a trail near our campsite and took off on a hike up in the mountains. Although I think the trail we went on wasn’t a used trail anymore, we could tell it was leading us to waterfalls so we used it anyway. Alas, it bought us to a couple different waterfalls and to the shore of a stream where we dipped our heads in the fresh, mountain water and took in the nature surrounding us. It was a fun little adventure away from all the hoopla of the festival.

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The jazz during the festival was great too, of course. My personal favorite was Cory Henry, an award-winning pianist who can play the keys like crazy and gets everyone jamming. I couldn’t help but turn around and look at the mountains and the smiling people every now and then. It almost didn’t feel real to be dancing right in the middle of so much natural beauty.

The next time I make it to Telluride I doubt it will be for the jazz festival, but I hope it is not too long as I predict I’ll keep its natural beauty fresh in my mind for quite a bit of time.

– Annaleigh

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West Elk Scenic Byway

Southwest Colorado, USA

Even though the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year, I didn’t want to give up a celebratory, adventure-filled weekend. Following an Independence Day spent people-watching in the Clear Creek river in Golden and then drinking around Denver with friends, James and I headed southwest for toward Crested Butte and then Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for a quick, yet fulfilling weekend adventure.

I knew the Wildflower Festival was going on in Crested Butte so I wanted to check out the mountain town known for its wildflowers while headed that direction. We never found the site of the wildflower festivities but did end up at a great campsite in a dispersed camping area about 20 minutes north of the town. Located in a meadow surrounded by yellow wildflowers and the well-photographed Mt. Crested Butte, we found ourselves in the kind of picturesque Colorado summer setting we had one imagined. We got there close to dark so we really only had time to make dinner before heading to bed but we did spot a Fox in the meadow just before we headed into our tents. Nature, man…

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On the road to Crested Butte

The next morning the bright sun woke us up just after sunrise so we made an oatmeal breakfast and coffee, and then picked a few wildflowers to make a lovely bouquet. Of course I had to have a little photo shoot with my freshly picked flowers… 😉

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An alright way to wake up
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Hand-picked wildflowers
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I had to…

The town of Crested Butte was charming, beautiful and a tad bit cookie-cutter. I realized it is one of the more “exclusive” mountain towns I’ve been to with a lot more retired couples than young people, but that didn’t change the fact that is was in fact, very lovely. Clean and quaint with fresh mountain air and views surrounding it, it had a certain Colorado charm.

After a walk down the one Main Street in town, we headed toward the rougher town of Gunnison to begin our journey farther west to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Like many others who visit Colorado, I had never heard of this place until I moved here but began hearing about it as “the most underrated National Park” by people and backpacker magazines. Because of its remote location, not many visitors make it down there. Lucky for the locals though because it gives Colorado natives their own secluded, striking canyon to enjoy.

We set up camp at the North Rim of the canyon, which was a longer drive to get to but also a more secluded place to view the canyon from. Just behind our campsite we could climb down a bit and be standing on the edge of the canyon. It was a wild feeling to be so close to the canyon wall without a fence or a crowd of people taking pictures. It was there to soak in without any noise except for the flowing Gunnison river below.

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The intimidating view behind our campsite

We did a hike that day that took us around the rim a bit higher to get a more aerial perspective of the canyon. The entire way the depth and colors of the canyon continued to blow us away. And all the while there was hardly anyone else there to disturb the peace 🙂

The weekend finished off watching the sunrise from the other side of the campground, where we could watch the sun semi-light up the canyon before we left. It was pretty amazing to sit there in peace and take in the power of nature before us. The pictures could never do the moment justice but believe me when I say the serenity that comes with the sun coming over a black, deep canyon is quite the way to start a day.

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Sunrise at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

It was back to Denver after two amazing days exploring Colorado’s southwest. While the driving took a toll, the views are always worth it.