It was 9:00 PM on a Friday. My friend Haley had just arrived at my house in full hiking gear and her two dogs strapped together with confused looks on their face as to why mom was taking them out for what they probably assume is “a walk” so late. I leashed up my dog Banyan who was literally shaking with excitement, and we headed out around 9:30 PM for the start of our 3 hour trek to Buena Vista, CO.
Another girl I had never met had planned the entire event and from the minute I accepted the invitation, I was wondering why in gods name we had to drive 3 hours to get to a peak good enough to trek to, but I knew there had to be a reason. I later came to find out it was because that particular trail was very easy to see in the dark and there is only a very small amount of forest you have to go through until you get above tree line where the full moon literally lights up everything around you and makes your headlamps seem utterly useless. We stopped at the gas station for some energy drinks and cliff bars because although we were exited for the trek that lied closely ahead, we still had 3 hours of driving to do at night and inevitably, we became sleepy after about an hour and a half in. We finally arrived at the long dirt road that would take us to the trailhead where we could begin our ascent to Huron Peak, approximately 14,009′ high in the sky. This was my second 14er I had done this summer, but my first that I had done during a full moon in the middle of the night. We arrived at about 1:30 AM to the trailhead where we met the other 8 people we would be accompanied by on our trek up. I had a lot of emotions running through me. A lot of excitement and happiness, some fear, some worry, and a dash of regret and just wishing that I was back home in my warm bed. But, only a very small dash of that. I knew I was doing this for a reason. I’ve told a lot of people about the hike, and they just couldn’t grasp as to why I would hike all through the night and followed up with questions like “Weren’t you cold?”, “Wasn’t it too dark to see?”, “Weren’t you afraid of bears or mountain lions jumping out and attacking you?” Ya know, the standard questions. The answer to all of those questions was “Yes” and that is exactly why I was hiking in the middle of the night in the first place. The cold. The wildlife. The dark. All things that make me step completely out of my comfort zone. Also, if a bear was really going to attack you, it would do it any time of day. Long story short, if it scares you: do it.
We all huddled together and discussed our ascent and made sure everyone had everything they needed from their cars, and then began our hike. We had arrived at the trailhead at the perfect time because we had estimated it would take around 4-5 hours to arrive at summit, and the sun was said to peak above the distant east mountain tops at around 6:00 AM, which was the main event. For about the first mile, it was switchback after switchback through the dark and dense forest. The moon was lighting up the trail through the trees and one of our friends brought his bluetooth speaker and was playing Pretty Lights and other similar artists to keep us on our feet and the momentum up. I think it was a very synchronized moment after about 2 minutes of walking at a slight incline, everyone truly realized how out of shape they were. Although the altitude obviously played a big part in our immediate loss of breath, our stamina was definitely from the lack of activity during the work week. The sitting at desks, the Netflix binging, the beer drinking. I was definitely feeling it. We all even warned each other that when we got to a certain point on the hike, we were just going to stop talking because it was just too much work to try and utter words to each other with zero breath. Which I was totally okay with. I can be completely content hiking with others while we’re talking, or in silence and just taking in the surroundings and having my thoughts to myself. Everyone always thinks you have to always be talking. To me, that’s a problem…but that’s for another topic. We continued on our trek. It was 3 others and myself leading the pack and we were going strong. We had probably gained an elevation of about 1,500′ at this point and we had reached above tree line and were there was a large open space with the trail still very defined that led you right to the rocky foothills of the mountain we were there to tackle. It was about 3:30 AM -4:00 AM and the higher we went up, the colder it got. We all dressed warm and brought appropriate layers, but I don’t think anyone had any idea the cold we were in for at the summit. It was flat ground for about half a mile where we passed small streams and mud pits. Every once in a while I would look up and see two glowing beady eyes roaming around or crouching in between bushes and my heart would completely drop to the floor and I would stop in my tracks and put my hand on my knife latched on to my backpack as the glowing eyes came closer and closer, sure enough I realized it was just our dogs running around like complete maniacs, just thrilled to be there. We had glow sticks attached to their collars which also helped spot them in the dark.
We finally reached the foothill of Mt. Huron, also known as the most inclined and most difficult part of the hike. It was 2,000ft of rocky incline, basically. The trail was still very apparent as we went around each rocky switchback and at this point we were all stopping about every two minutes or so. The air was getting thinner and thinner, and the temperature was dropping more and more each step we took. I know that stopping actually makes things worse because of the rapid lactic acid buildup in my legs, but stopping felt soooo good for those few seconds when we took sips from our camelbacks and stared at the moon. Once I got my legs moving again, however, it’s a uncomfortable burn that almost stings…if that makes sense. After a while, breaks after two minutes turned to breaks every 30 seconds, and then those breaks every 30 seconds turned into longer and longer breaks, which then eventually led me to a distinct moment that I know for a FACT every hiker and/or climber has at one point in their journey: SCREEEEEW THIS. I’M DONE. I CAN’T GO ON ANYMORE. I’M TURNING AROUND. THIS IS STUPID. I GIVE UP.….or something to that extent. I’ve had that moment of complete frustration on every hike I’ve been on. Here’s the thing though, if I didn’t have that “what the hell am I doing here, this sucks” moment, I wouldn’t feel nearly as accomplished. Knowing that I wanted to completely give up and turn around for a second, but then didn’t and kept going, makes the view at the top that much greater.
It was 5 AM when I reached the summit. It had to be in the low 20’s temperature wise, maybe even lower. Three of my friends were already hanging out at the top when I arrived either walking back and fourth trying to stay warm or huddled behind the largest rock they could find to keep themselves blocked from the piercing wind. I know this may sound dramatic or like I’m exaggerating, but I was seriously SERIOUSLY cold. I don’t think anyone expected it to be that chilly. Luckily, I did go prepared and packed my secret weapon: fireballs. No, not the booze. There’s a little epic camping hack that my boyfriend and I discovered, and that is simply stuffing as many cotton balls as you can fit into a hefty plastic container and then filling the entire thing with WD-40, and voila! Instant fire starters. They will start any fire and keep it going for quite a while. It’s seriously brilliant. I lit a couple of them in the crevice behind a large rock and had a mini fire going to keep my stiff hands warm, while also stuffing hand warmers in my boots do attempt to unthaw my toes. Slowly but surely, everyone else caught the small brightness of the flame out of the corner of their eye and wandered over and we were all huddling around these little fireballs rubbing our hands together waiting patiently for the main attraction to peak it’s head over the peaks. One of my friends even muttered out through her chattering teeth “I have never valued you as a friend as much as I do right now.” Fireballs just have that ability to bring people together.
Little by little everyone else started trickling up. It was about 6:00AM while I just sat there staring at the sky trying to get the cold thoughts out of my head and waiting patiently for the warmth.
Then, at about 6:10 AM, mountain time, at 14,009′ above sea level, magic happened.
I had never appreciated the sun more than I did at that moment in time.
I know I have a whole space here for this blog post to describe what I saw, but I can’t. There’s no way how I possibly could. I can only tell you this: I was alive. I’m not talking about merely breathing or existing, I’m talking about deep down to my core, I felt something. Almost some sort of awakening.
I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The air was the freshest and cleanest I have ever smelt it. I just wanted to breathe it all in.
The moon was setting behind us in the West, still full as could be. It felt like you could see Colorado in its entirety. The sun would touch the tops of the peaks the higher and higher it rose, giving them an orange and blue glow (Go…Broncos?)
Everyone was grabbing pictures of each other, barely having enough finger strength to even hold our own phones to get a focused shot because they were completely numb. I didn’t let the cold get to me though, how could I? When you’re up there, those peaks have a funny indescribable ability to make you completely worry free. Like you have the control and power to do and conquer anything you put your mind to.
Nothing could touch me.
I knew from that moment that I wanted more. I was completely addicted to that feeling of power and confidence. But it isn’t the kind of power and confidence that you’re probably thinking of. The obnoxious kind that gives people a big head so they think they can stomp all over people, no. It’s the feeling of power in a sense that I feel like nothing, nothing could bother me. For once, I had control over my own mind. Every worry, every care, every obligation, every priority I had that once clouded and cluttered up my mind,