Bagging Peaks

Frank and I spent five days in Ouray, Colorado celebrating our fifth anniversary. Known as the Switzerland of America, it is surrounded by the high peaks of the San Juans and is home to mining, Jeeping, hiking, and ice climbing. Since we left Bea with Grandma and Grandpa, we hiked every day and stayed in a cute B&B so came home to relaxing hot tubs and comfy beds.

Descending into Ouray
Descending into Ouray

Our first morning in town, we set the alarm for 5:00, smeared peanut butter on bananas, filled our Camelbaks with water, threw our boots in the car, and headed into the mountains to hike Mt. Sneffels. It had been three years since I hiked a mountain. We took Bea halfway up Bierstadt last year and Frank hiked a couple in preparation for the Ascent, but we hadn’t truly hiked to summit since Bea was born.

We parked and were on the way to Yankee Boy Basin by 6:15. Not at the beginning of the pack, but with enough time to summit and be off the mountain before noon. Most hikers try to stick to that rule – regular afternoon thunderstorms can be deadly at 14,000 feet.

We set off up the Jeep road to the base of Sneffels. When we got there, the sign said 1.2 miles to the summit. This lends a false sense of distance, as this mile can take more than three hours to accomplish. We started up the path toward the long, challenging scree field of loose rocks.

Scree field
Scree field

I can’t remember how many of the 14ers I’ve summited – somewhere in the low teens. As my dad and I started hiking them, we stuck with Class 1 walk-ups, so my success rate was high. Even though I’ve spent most of my life in this state and do love the outdoors, I’m nowhere near as hardcore as many who embrace the adventurous lifestyle of our state.

“Bagging peaks” is an underlying mentality of most who climb Colorado’s mountains. As beautiful as the views are and as amazing as it is to get away from crowded trails, many don’t count a hike successful unless a summit is reached.

The scree field on Sneffels was long and hard. We stopped partway up for a Nutella snack but didn’t make it to the snowy saddle until 10:45. By this time, clouds were beginning to gather. We had met several hikers who had turned around at the saddle, saying it was too snowy to continue. As we assessed the situation, overlooking amazing alpine valleys, we chatted with hikers who had made it to the summit successfully. They were seasoned and had “bagged” harder peaks than I had attempted.

We were only about 300 feet from the summit but those feet involved scaling a boulder field, skirting the snowy trail, and mustering more confidence in climbing abilities than I had. After some debate, we decided to turn around at the saddle.

Last 300 feet
Last 300 feet

It was a tough hike down. I felt that I had let Frank down – he would have summited had I not been along. I wondered if, had he known my hiking limitations, he would have still married me. (I think that may have been the altitude talking…) We passed novice hikers in Converse sneakers without water and I thought, Surely I can summit if they can! (Who knows if they actually did summit…)

By the time we reached the bottom, I was feeling very inauthentic in my ability to live in Colorado, land of hikers. As we looked back, the dark clouds kept gathering and I knew we had made a wise decision. Thankfully, no one was hurt that day at the summit, but I didn’t want to take my chances. I learned that I’m more of a Class 2 hiker, not the Class 3 of Sneffels, and that is ok. There are still many more beautiful hikes and trails that don’t involve scaling boulders.

At the trailhead, we came across an older man who had fallen and broken his hip. Luckily, a doctor was present, but they needed more help. Frank offered his belt to stabilize the splint and then carefully helped lift the man into a waiting Jeep. As we sat among wildflowers, eating our lunch, and watching the Jeep slowly descend the trail, we reflected that, had we not turned around, we would not have been able to help. Maybe realizing limitations had farther reaching effects than my own insecurities.

The next morning at breakfast, we told our B&B host of our failure. He asked,

“Was the hike beautiful? Did you see amazing views?”

Yes…

“Then it was a success!”

The rest of our trip was filled with river hiking adventures, scrambling up waterfalls, and hiking rolling, wildflower-filled trails. It would be fun to go back and try Sneffels again, maybe later in the season. But, as I settle into my own self and the example I want to set for my family, I’m counting successes among wildflower trails rather than peaks bagged.

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s monthly theme: Authentic.

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8 thoughts on “Bagging Peaks

  1. What a thoughtful reflection on your hike. I agree with the B&B host. We are so often harder on ourselves than we need to be. We are all guilty of it. There are always going to be better hikers than you and you are going to be better than others, like me ;-).

  2. I like your host’s attitude. The views and the chance to be with nature is what should be the result of your hike; and not who is the best hiker and what category you are in.

  3. This is a great story! I, too, have had some experiences like yours–not making the summit, but learning to count the journey as worthwhile. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Hi Annie, and good to see you here again this month. So glad you made that decision, and for the example you are setting for your family. I have a terrible time turning back in the middle of anything. In fact probably should have on a pretty easy hike we took last weekend. I just wasn’t feeling well. But all that aside – glad you were able to help, to get time away together, to see wildflowers. It can be so hard to see straight in the middle of things, under pressure, and I bet altitude doesn’t help! Thanks for this.

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