Why do we hike? Why do we need to feel our muscles fully exerted, our skin warm, our foreheads sweaty? Why do we put ourselves through a process that can make knees pop, ankles swell, and bodies exhausted? I do it because through the process my body trains my mind to believe and fully feel that I CAN do it... And therefore, I can do anything.
One thing my hiking friends have said about me is that they never question whether or not we'll reach a summit together. Once the mission is set, there can be no failure. And it has been true so far. Maybe this mindset will be my downfall one day, but I'd like to think it is a strength for now. Of the 21 14ers I've completed, there was only once a route we had to rethink due to inclement weather. I was disappointed, sure, it wasn't what I had in mind, it wasn't going to be the enlivening Class IV I was eagerly anticipating, but it was still a long hike in the high alpine. The journey was enough, and we still summited the 14ers.
My first 14er was Huron. I went with women I'd learned to play soccer with, women who I'd careened barefoot in creeks through golf courses in the summers and worked after school on dioramas and class projects with. It was the October before Anna went to med school. We drove up, crammed into the old Jeep Wrangler she'd had since high school, our bodies being pushed around as rocks and potholes presented themselves as obstacles. The reds, oranges and deep ever greens were saturated in the morning light.
I remember getting past treeline and the oxygen levels thinning to the point that we couldn't stop laughing. Why is it that being at elevation makes life simpler? The chossy switchbacks were a thing of the past. The graupel snow falling muted any and all distractions, and the only thing to feel was our hearts beating furiously as our laughter rang out crisp and true. To feel so carefree, so safe and so wild, in our element, friends since before we could judge, before we felt shame or knew what falling in love felt like, is a feeling that is too easily taken for granted. It's a feeling I lost for a long time and it's a feeling that I greet openly when it appears.
Once we were standing on the brown earthen gravel at the summit, there was this moment of silence that descended as the great landscape and stolid mountain peaks rose around us, as far as we could see and no people except us. In that moment, I felt so deeply of my physical body and felt so deeply gazing out at the vast expanse- it both lifted me up and kept me grounded.
Hiking big mountains sets your drishti high. Even if you look down to be mindful of how you're stepping, your eyes are always seeking the horizon, the summit, the path that leads ever upwards. Even if there are obstacles, which there always are, that feeling at the top, at least for me, will always triumph.