Travel Destination: Mount Bierstadt, Colorado
Stumbling along the trail among the open plain as I kept my focus on the location point where I was heading towards in exhaustion. My body left begging for any kind of drops of water to quench the extreme thirst I had. My breaths becoming heavier and heavier as I sat down to rest the aches felt throughout. Despite my own preparations, I found myself being proven wrong by the wilderness on how ill-prepared I was for this. How did I get to this point?
I did quite a lot of research on all of what the locals call "14ers": popular mountains people climb that are 14,000 feet above sea level. With so many choices among the famous Rocky Mountain range, I was unsure which was best at first. That was, until, I have spotted one popular hiking trail that lead up to the summit of one that was just south of Georgetown.
Once I saw it, I knew I wanted this to be the one. My very first 14er that I would sit upon and see the world differently than any other view. That mountain? It was named Mount Bierstadt. It was my first time doing something like this as someone who has lived his whole life in an urban environment. The most similar I have dealt with was the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and even then, it still had roads and plenty of people nearby.
A few things I had already noted in preparation for this climb: there was going to be no signal on my phone so it was better to have Airplane Mode set on so that the battery didn't drain to zero on the way up and back. I also knew that it would be best to do this climb in the morning, since thunderstorms have a habit of appearing out of nowhere during the afternoon and didn't want to be caught by one while in an open area. That would be asking for nature to strike you down with lightening. Since the climb itself was going to take several hours out of my day, it would also be good to bring some food and plenty of water. That last bit I underestimated, as you will soon enough find out.
I left very early in the morning from my AirBNB towards the location I have been planning for weeks. Planning for one shot in particular I was aiming for in my landscape photography. The morning sun rising over the mountain. For the few days driving towards Colorado I have been imagining what the view would be like. What will nature show me? Would it be extraordinary? Would it be colorful? Would it be full of golden lights streaming from the top? Would I even get there on time?!
Nature decided to answer that last question in the most glorious way as I walked away from the car and onto the trail. While not 100% what I wanted with the sun directly behind the mountain, it was still a spectacular view that only the good old wilderness could provide. Showers of golden lights flooded the valley below where I stood as the air began to warm up from the sun's comforting embrace. Like a special "Good Morning" to not only me, but the other hikers that arrived early.
The trek was quite a long one, with frequent breaks. I was already exhausted when one mentioned I was a quarter of the way there. A quarter?! I really need to get into shape and it looks like this hike up to the summit was the perfect opportunity for that. Even had one hiker mention that there is nothing wrong with turning back if necessary and that I wouldn't be the first. I have thought about it as I caught my breath from what felt like the billionth time I stopped to rest. This didn't deter me from my goal though. I already knew there wasn't going to be a second chance during this entire Colorado trip and kept going.
Each stop I took gave me a chance to look around and appreciate the view from even here. Multiple chances for me to photograph what felt like an endless landscape of the pure wilderness I was blessed to be able to immerse myself in. All those times visiting theme parks, cities, side attractions...for me it just doesn't compared to what is naturally provided by our planet in my opinion from experiencing all of this. Of what is always in front of us, yet always ignore.
I was finally at the snowy cap of the mountain itself. Only one obstacle left: climbing the steep side to the summit. Multiple times I found myself on all fours trying to keep the momentum going until I had to stop several times to rest. At this point my body was exhausted from something I have never done before and took its toll. Several people were already climbing back down, a few even with dogs that went up to the summit right by them. Must have been very well trained dogs that were obedient, since getting too near the edge would have someone making a long sharp fall. Despite my fear of heights going haywire at this point I kept on going. I refused to let fear rule how I live my life and miss out on something I knew was going to be amazing. I wasn't disappointed.
At the top, I saw the same woman I met who looked a little surprised to see me arrived and gave a warm greeting.
"Hey there, you made it!"
"Yep. I was too stubborn and determined to quit." I replied.
This climb was a valuable experience not only in terms of photography, not only in terms of reconnecting with nature, but a very important life lesson of moving forward towards your goals despite the obstacles placed in front of you. Before the trip, I was a little hesitant on going solo, yet I felt this trip was going to be very important for me. That I absolutely have to go and must climb a mountain as part of my trip.
I saw now how valuable this trip was for me and just this climb alone was worth it. Don't just think of the destination at the top, but think of the journey and the experience. Seeing the views from all aspects of the hike and to appreciate the value of each step taken. Each step being a lesson in some aspect of your life.
It wasn't just appreciating the journey that was the lesson. Being at the top and looking towards the horizon on either side, I truly felt small in comparison. How small I was n comparison to the mountain. How small that mountain was in comparison to the Earth. How small the Earth is to this solar system. To the Milky Way galaxy. To the Universe and beyond!
It showed me how small my problems truly are to the grand scheme of things. How getting that latest piece of tech or some other superficial reasoning to get something is so insignificant. My old persona, the old ego of being this autistic man who will not be able to do this or that melted away as I simply became. Simply be. A tiny pin in an infinite space that had no beginning and no end. To someone that lived in the area for most of their lives it might not mean much. To me it meant everything and more.
I sat at the summit admiring the view with everyone else that remained at the top. A couple walked on the gigantic boulders that lined the edge facing the Rocky Mountain Range admiring the view while applying sunscreen while clouds formed in the distance. Nearby a small family consisting of a grandfather, a mother and a small girl had a picnic towards the other end of the summit. All this while overlooking the rugged edge that lined towards the nearby Mount Evans like a spine. Even had a quick show of a falcon that flew overhead at such a high height than I would have thought!
While originally I wanted to meditate on top of the mountain, I instead decided to take photos with my camera and simply be in the moment. This moment of being on top of the world. One side revealing a long valley of plains leading towards Denver. The other side revealing the Rocky Mountains that lined the western horizon. This is one view I will treasure the most out of this trip!
Which leads us back to heading back and running out of water. I originally thoughts a rather large water bottle would suffice. Safe to say it was not. You will need two or three along with you for such a hike at the very least. After many rest stops I finally did reach the car, completely exhausted. I stayed sitting there, waiting for enough strength to come back before I drove back to Georgetown, Colorado to get a nice lunch and plenty of water to nourish my thirsty soul.
Yet I did not regret taking such a trip. Such a great way to start it off! I could not wait to see what else I would find in the Rocky Mountain National Park!
Want to discover more about my trips?
View my previous travel destination blog posts, such as the two part series of posts on my time in Gatlinburg an the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee!