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A week in Hong Kong

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Back in January, I had to run through the Denver airport like the Home Alone family to catch a flight. I made it onto the plane in the nick of time, and as I settled into the middle seat, I realized that I was completely out of breath.

I’ve lost my Colorado lungs. I had already said goodbye to my Colorado house, Colorado friends, Colorado hikes, Colorado weather — but my Colorado lungs? That’s a low blow, Minnesota. Luckily you’re the state that brought us the Bundt pan, so we’re even.

I have not, however, lost my Colorado hiking haunches. Oh hell no. My general thigh-rump area is as sturdy (read: un-dainty) as ever, meaning that when I was in Hong Kong, I couldn’t wait to get out into the jungle coated mountains to explore the trails. I mean, these glutes have got to be good for something — and in a world built to favor girls with skinny thighs, I take a lot of solace in the fact that I can out-hike them. It’s my only power.

So imagine my surprise when, there on the trails of Hong Kong, I finally met my hiking match, and an unusual suspect at that. When it comes to hoofing it, I now know my primary competition to be… the old Chinese man.

There he was, in his seventies, slight of frame, wearing nylon khaki pants and a little daypack — hauling ass up those hills. “Surely I can keep up,” I thought, and made it my personal aim to stay in step with him for the 1,800’ elevation gain of The Peak and beyond. But just like the time I tried to race a Segway up a hill on my bike (you’ve now heard the entire story, and it was every bit as ridiculous as it sounds), I labored in vain. I couldn’t keep up. The old Chinese man is the most hale and hearty person in the world.

Some might think “old and fit” to be a contradiction — but my way-too-short week in Hong Kong exposed me to all sorts of contradictions. Hong Kong-tradictions? (I’ll stop.)

Truly, Hong Kong is a mix of east and west, rich and poor, city and jungle, poodles and porcupines, glitz and grit. It’s fake Louis Vuitton and real Louis Vuitton. It’s skyscrapers surrounded by bamboo scaffolding. It’s cosmopolitan and outdoorsy, Maseratis and taxis, people toasting champagne on rooftop decks and people living in rural fishing villages. I ate dim sum and curry and noodles, but also McDonalds and Starbucks. You can find Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. There are tensions that I don’t fully understand, political rumblings with the potential to be seismic shifts, and just like anywhere, situations that need prayer and action and attention.

I soaked every single bit of it in. I explored and adventured and rested and basked in the presence of my dear friends like it was the world’s greatest gift, because it was. And I can’t wait to go back.

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The time I walked to Twin Lakes Village – and then got in a car and drove home

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

On Monday night I rolled my ankle, and that was that. Yesterday morning, I limped 11 miles out to Twin Lakes Village where Kristen and Lacey were waiting to resupply me, and after a few hours in Leadville in which I wrestled it over, I asked them to take me home.

Of course, the decision wasn’t that easy – and even the day after, my emotions are still as raw as my heels.

First, let’s back up. Since we last spoke, I’d been hauling ass across the state of Colorado. In the 4 days since Breckenridge, I hiked 73 miles; by the time I reached Twin Lakes Village, my grand total was 177.2. And despite dumping more than 8 lbs of my original weight, my pack was still hefty, and it was taking a toll on my shoulders, neck, and feet. I kept waiting for the moment when everything would click and I would start feeling good – but it just wasn’t happening.

In fact, my body seemed to revolt against me more and more.

While the original blisters started to heal up, new ones began to form. My shoulder sores grew more deeply bruised. My hands started to crack open – deep wounds that were more like cuts than cracks. I developed a wicked heat rash on my face and ears. My back started to feel strangely reminiscent of the days before I threw it out last year. I couldn’t sleep. And when my appetite all but disappeared, I knew that things were serious – because since when has Annie Parsons skipped a meal, especially after hiking 20 miles in a day?

So when my ankle rolled, I decided to call it – not quits, but good. I called it good. 11 days on the Colorado Trail had been good enough.

I could have slowed down. I could have taken a rest day in Leadville and hoped for my ankle to heal up. I could have dug deep and rallied and soldiered on a day or two later – but you know what? I didn’t want to. I’d had 11 days of adventure that had stretched me and challenged me and given me the confidence to call myself a Tough Ass Bitch. And now I wanted to go home.

It’s a humbling thing to realize that your dream wasn’t what you thought it would be. I had put so much into this experience – time and money and effort and planning – and my family had bent over backwards to help accommodate my plans. So many friends were invested in this trip. And if anything was going to get me back out on that trail, it was the knowledge that the people who love me were rooting for me, cheering me on, and pulling for me to reach Durango; honestly, it brings tears to my eyes to think about how supported I’ve felt through this whole thing.

But it’s especially humbling to realize that I wanted the end result – to say that I had hiked the Colorado Trail – more than I wanted to actually DO it.

I’m just sitting here staring at those words, and wondering when the last time was that I was able to be so honest. Like I said – humbling.

Somewhere deep inside, I think I believed that doing something like hiking the Colorado Trail would make me strong. It would justify me as a badass, and confirm me as a force to be reckoned with.

But here’s the truth about what 11 days solo in the backcountry did to me: it stripped me small. I woke up each morning alone in a tent, no shower, no real conveniences of any kind, and then strapped on a burdensome pack and walked for the next 11 hours. I applied bug spray like perfume, and SPF 100 like my life depended on it (which it kind of did). When I would walk around a tree to drop trou (because the world is now my bathroom), I would bring DEET to immediately spray on my haunches to avoid being eaten alive in the nether regions.

(The mosquitos were truly insulting. I was Thomas J. – they were the bees.)

But here’s the amazing thing: when you’re stripped of all comforts, all eyes, all mirrors, all bravado… you still exist. You still are, regardless of what you have or don’t have or can do or can’t do. I might have been waking up in a tent alone and uncomfortable and grosser than I’d ever been before – but I was still Annie, by nature of nothing except God having spoken me into being and continuing to hold me together.

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“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect.” –Richard Rohr

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It didn’t matter if I got up and hiked or stayed right there in my sleeping bag. It didn’t matter if I had a house in Denver or a job at a big company or was in a relationship or not in a relationship or was good at things or not good at things – I am just Annie, small and simple as I might be. How freeing – because when you no longer have to live up to the person you hope you might be, you get to be the person that you are.

And the person that I am is now off the trail, a size smaller, reunited with my bestie, and grateful to have 3 ½ weeks of unexpected vacation ahead of me. Thank you so much for your amazing encouragement and enthusiasm for this adventure – the stories I lived will forever be a part of who I am.

BFF

The time I walked to Breckenridge

Friday, July 4th, 2014

The night before I left, my mom said to me, “I just never want you to be scared, or anything to be hard.”

I laughed, because didn’t she know what I’d signed up for?

Like it or not, I was right: the first week on the Colorado Trail has been scary and hard – mostly hard. And despite the temptation to sugarcoat the details for my lovingly protective mother, I’m just going to give it to you straight.

I was prepared for a challenge. I was prepared for physical discomfort. But I was not prepared for the pain. On the first day, my pack weighed 45 lbs – the equivalent of a 5-year old child. My friend Sarah hiked the first two days with me, and when we would stop for breaks, we would unbuckle our packs to have them drop to the ground like boulders, like that ride at amusement parks that pulls you up, up, up, just to release and send you plummeting to the ground. Granted, Sarah’s pack was mostly a Bota Box of wine (of which we barely had any – sorry, Sarah).

Mine was just heavy.

I quickly developed sores on each of my shoulders, spots where my straps rubbed me raw. I hope you’re not offended by a bare collarbone, because here it is.

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Then came the blisters. First my left heel, then my right pinky toe and the one next to it, then the ball of my left foot, then the left pinky. I doctored them as best as I could, but there was no way around the first few days of excruciating pain. Every step was like walking on knives.

The heat wasn’t helpful, either. Saturday and Sunday, Sarah I went whole hog, hiking 21 miles the first day and 20 the second. The days were so hot, we’d arrive at our campsite ready to vomit (hence the minimal wine consumption).

Before Sarah left on Sunday night, she looked at me and said, “You’re really brave.” But is it really bravery if I didn’t feel afraid? I was too shell-shocked to feel fear.

“But what if I’m not tough?” I said, blinking back the tears.

“You can do this,” she said. “You can do this.” And then she drove back to Denver with her husband Tom, and I spent my first night alone in the woods.

I thought that the decision was made when I put in for my leave of absence last fall, or maybe when I gathered each piece of gear, or definitely when I stepped out on the trail on June 28. But I’m learning that the decision to hike this trail is made every single time I pull my pack back on, groaning under the weight, and then straightening my shoulders and moving forward. It’s a constant re-deciding to keep going.

I could tell you a lot of stories from this week – about how in a moment of desperation I lay on my back in the middle of the trail in Happy Baby pose (feeling anything but happy), or how I leapt an uncomfortably wide irrigation ditch with my full pack on (like a heavy-laden, off-balance superhero), or how I came across a felled tree blocking the path and it was too high to climb over so I opted to crawl under (and wound up stuck, belly to the ground), or how I feel a new kinship with Lance Armstrong (because if someone were to offer me performance enhancing drugs, I would take them), or how I came across car campers who said the 5 magic words (“Do you want a beer?”), or how I awoke on the fifth day with a fire in my bones and tore over the Continental Divide (like She-Ra, Princess of Power). I could tell you how amazing my shower in Breckenridge felt (a holy experience), how delicious my burger tasted (try the curry ketchup at Empire Burger), or how I cried this morning when my dad brought me a resupply of food (and a visit from Foxy).

But it’s time for me to close the computer and head back to the trail – I’m about to be dropped off at the trailhead to hike into tonight’s campsite, tears still in my eyes. I’m going to keep going. And that’s what the past week has really been about – deciding and re-deciding and walking even when I didn’t think I could walk any further, through the tears and discouragement and the most beautiful terrain.

I’m 104 miles in. Here’s to 104 more.

ContinentalDivide

Unplug and go outside

Friday, June 27th, 2014

It’s finally here. I head out tomorrow – and don’t think I haven’t been singing this in my head all morning – especially the part about “How can I live when we are parted?” (Foxy), and also “Tomorrow we’ll be far away” (except only maybe 20 miles max) and “Tomorrow is the judgment day” (it’s supposed to be 95 degrees this weekend).

In all honesty, I am having all of the feelings I could possibly have. Excitement? Check. Nerves? Check. Trepidation? So much. Gratitude? You bet. I recognize how lucky I am to have this opportunity at all, let alone the support of so many people (this #teamhootenannie thing is wringing my heart like a dishrag). I’ve had this dream for so long, and now I get a chance to try it. With the reality of storms and possibility of injury, I don’t have a guarantee of completing the trail end to end – but I’m going to hang as tough as I can.

If I have any cell service, I’ll be posting occasionally to Instagram. There’s a chance I may post a blog or two when I pass through a town, but this space will likely be pretty quiet. I look forward to sharing stories once I’m back – but until then, it’s time to walk away from this computer for a bit. Have a wonderful July, and I’ll see you on the other side.

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Trail food

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

This is the week! I leave on Saturday to hoof it across this beautiful state on the Colorado Trail. I am wrapping up details at work, trying to get my roof repaired (this is cutting it very close), writing out instructions for those taking care of Foxy, and triple checking my packing list.

The most complicated piece of the planning has been one of two things: arranging for food drops, or planning the food itself. Neither thing is completely ironed out yet – but I’m getting close on the food plan. It’s been awhile since I talked at you, so I made a video.

Trail Food from Annie Parsons on Vimeo.

Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Are you stressed? Aggravated? Fed up? Worn out?

Call Annie Parsons – the Bullshit Exterminator.

This is what one of my beloved co-workers called me today – a moniker I proudly accept.

Listen, life is too much these days. I’m inordinately stressed at work. I’m in the midst of an insurance battle over my roof. I cannot for the life of me get a single lawn service company to call me back. Foxy came back from our weekend backpacking trip with a “small wound” that had to be treated at the vet. Projects just keep not getting finished. My inbox is overflowing, my patience is dwindling, and today, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Shaky rage-voice was used. Emails went flying. I put my foot down. I took action. In essence, I exterminated the bullshit.

I am *thisclose* to teetering off the edge – so it’s a good thing that I leave on the Colorado Trail in just 12 days. I am so ready – so so so so ready – to close my computer.

Am I ready to be alone in the mountains for over 4 weeks? Who knows. But it’s happening – and it’s happening soon.

To be clear, my lack of emotional bandwidth is not solely about my job. For most of us, work is stressful – I’m not unique in this regard. It’s about so much more than work.

The further I grow into being a so-called grown-up, the more I feel myself bucking against the absolute nonsense that “adulthood” tends to bring with it. Some days I feel that I’m losing the person that I once was, the person that I want to believe that I still am, the one with dreams and passions and gumption and guts. I love Annie the Risk Taker. What happened to her? She’s been bound and gagged by what others have told her is “reality”: worst case scenarios and doomsday forecasts and fiscal cliffs and snowballs of disppointment and never, ever getting your hopes up.

But I know better than that.

It’s time to steal my life back. It’s time to remember all of the things that used to make me come alive, that used to make my heart skip a beat.

Who knows if walking alone into the mountains is the way to do it? But it seems worth a shot.

mountain

And I would walk 500 miles…

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

I’ve only used one vacation day in 2014. I have a couple on the horizon – but mostly, I’m saving them for July when I’ll combine the majority with a chunk of unpaid leave, close my computer, and walk away into the mountains. I finally have a chance to fulfill a dream that’s been years in the making: I’m going to thru-hike the Colorado Trail.

[Insert explosion of exclamation points here → !!!!!!!! ←]

COtrail

[See all that green? That means MOUNTAINS.]

Starting just outside of Denver, I’ll backpack nearly 500 miles to Durango carrying only the essentials on my back. I’m going by myself. In a perfect world I’d bring Foxy, but the days are going to be long; most days I hope to hike close to 20 miles. Between the distance, the fact that her enthusiasm over squirrels and geese could only translate to skunks and porcupines, and her propensity to respond to “Come!” with the equivalent of a bold middle finger, it’s probably not the wisest choice.

I’ve spent the last year or so gathering my gear – pack, sleeping bag, stove, tent – and recently have started carrying it on my walks around town. I look like a homeless person. A homeless person with a Patagonia pro deal. But the hope is that come July, the weight won’t faze me in the slightest.

When I tell people that I’m doing this, and that I’m going alone, I’m usually met with one of two reactions:
1) That is awesome.
2) That is the worst, stupidest, most dangerous idea ever.

You are welcome to either of those opinions; either way, I’m doing it. Also, reaction 2 is wrong.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked – if you have more, feel free to shout them out.

Are you bringing a gun?
No. Why is this the question I’ve been asked most frequently? Annie with a gun would be way more dangerous than Annie without a gun, despite the musical. However, I will have bear spray, and that sucker sprays for 7 whole seconds. (Again, you are welcome to your opinion on this matter. Please trust that I’ve thought this through, that I’m not taking my safety lightly, and that I, more than anyone, want to come out on the other side of this in one piece.)

What will you eat?
Oatmeal for breakfast, homemade dehydrated meals for dinner. In between? The usual hiking foods: trail mix, jerky, heavy-duty crackers with peanut butter, and obviously, so many LÄRABARs.

Speaking of LÄRABAR, how did you get 5 weeks off of work?
Believe it or not, I asked for it and they gave it to me. I am so grateful to work for a company that practices what it preaches when it comes to work/life balance, and for managers who have been supportive of this idea from the beginning. In the meantime, I am working like a crazy person to get all of my July work done in advance (and there’s a lot).

How will you charge your cell phone?
Well first of all, I don’t plan on using it all that much. Part of the appeal of this trip is to disconnect from the technology that I’m so married to. But to make sure I’m not left in the lurch, I will be harnessing the abundant sunshine and using this.

Have you read Wild?
Yes. Such a fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, do. But I’ve wanted to backpack the Colorado Trail since long before I read Wild.

Who will take care of Foxy?
My dad, and then my mom. I can’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to her, so I’m putting it out of my head for as long as I can.

How long is this going to take you?
Most people complete the trail in 4-6 weeks. I have a total of 38 days, and plan on finishing in plenty of time – because when it comes to hiking, I’ve got an engine in me.

Are you afraid?
Of hiking that far? No. Of being alone during the day? No. Of being alone at night? A tiny bit. Of wild animals? Yes. Of lightning? Yes. Of having my period in the woods? More than anything.

Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m actually going to do this. Mostly, I just can’t wait to go. If you have backpacking experience and any advice – what to bring, what not to bring, how to not be afraid of the dark – I’d love to hear it.

Intuition

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Three months ago, Colorado was in the midst of out-of-control wildfires. Everything was brittle and dead, and when the summer storms started, the lightning-induced fires were hard to contain.

And because this state is completely bi-polar, today is a very different story.

Unless you’ve been living under a (dry, well-insulated) rock, I’m sure you’ve heard that Colorado has been experiencing major flooding in the last week. The worst of it has been north of Denver in the Boulder/Longmont/Fort Collins area, and the images are heartbreaking. Some people have lost everything. Some have died. Hundreds are unaccounted for, and they expect the death toll to rise.

Still, I thought I’d wander alone into the wilderness on Saturday. DON’T WORRY – I headed south, away from the floods.

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“Have you ever been turned back by weather?” he asked.

I thought about it. There was that one time where we arrived at the trailhead and it was already snowing, so we knew we were doomed from the start – but aside from that, never. Each and every one of the 35 14ers I had attempted, I summited that same day.

“When it happens – and it will happen – it will be good for you,” he said. “It will make you a better climber.”

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On Saturday morning, I headed up Humboldt Peak with the hopes of it being my 36th 14er – but 4 miles in, I had to turn around at tree line. The top of the mountain was encased in a thick cloud, and even if I didn’t sense electricity above, I knew that if I lost the trail, I’d be done for.

I was disappointed. I had wanted to check another mountain off my list. But I listened to my gut, just like I did on the road to the trailhead when I came to a spot that I just didn’t think the Subaru could clear, and thus abandoned ship (have you ever reversed down a 4WD road? Lord, have mercy). And when you listen to your gut, when you act on conviction even when it goes against what you want – it builds confidence.

My friend was right: being turned back by weather was good for me. It confirmed that intuition is trustworthy – that instinct should be honored. I can only imagine the times in the future when this lesson is going to come in handy.

On the way back to Denver, I stopped in Westcliffe where I ordered coffee from a completely no-nonsense lady. Then I took a different route home from the road I’d driven to get there, soaking in the beauty of the state and feeling a million miles away from the flooding.

Despite the fact that I wanted to climb 7 14ers this summer and only got 4 (the last one being two months ago, for shame), I recognize that living life continually at full throttle sometimes just makes you want to throttle yourself. Maybe it’s better to enjoy the moment; after all, fires and floods remind us that nothing is guaranteed. And in the meantime, perhaps learning to trust your gut is as big an achievement as reaching your intended destination.

Re-entry

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Today I re-enter real life after a 9-day vacation – and oh, the pain.

I mean that figuratively, of course – but also literally. My body hurts. I climbed three 14ers last week, and I’m all scabs and bruises today. On a steep slope a week ago Sunday, a rock the size of a bowling ball dislodged above me and somehow rolled into my left knee, leaving only a small bloody mark but a deep bruise. Today, I’m left with a dilemma: I need to stretch my quad, but to do so would require bending my knee, which tears the scab.

We all face choices.

Anyway, this past Saturday I climbed Mt. Columbia. And it’s a good thing this 14er was my 34th and not my 1st – because had it been my 1st, I would never have climbed a mountain again. It was that horrible.

The top 2,000 feet is nothing but scree, a mixture of countless small loose rocks and slippery dirt that has only one goal: move down the mountain. To step is to dislodge it, leaving a climber feel like she’s in Indiana Jones, or a video game, or at least an episode of “Wipeout” – no matter what, you have to keep your feet moving. To stop is to slide. So I spent hours – HOURS – plodding straight up the mountain, and when the earth would start to give way beneath my feet, I’d run (fine, awkwardly scamper) to not be taken down with it.

The descent was even worse, so I decided to try to just ride the landslides down like I was skiing: SCREEING, I thought, proud of myself for being so clever.

Come to find out, the Internet already coined the term. The Internet always wins.

I have never cussed so much in my life – all the worst words, the ones that would convince you to never let me hold your babies again. I’d slide a bit, first cautiously, then out of control, causing one landslide after another, making me thankful that no one was below me. When I’d finally grind to a stop, pebbles in my boots and body shaking, I’d feel like screaming. I mean SCREEMING.

Thankfully, Mt. Columbia is over. Not so thankfully, vacation is too.

Keep your chin up out there today, people. Mondays can’t last forever, and neither can scabs. Words to live by.

Longs Peak

Monday, September 10th, 2012

On Saturday, I climbed my 31st 14er, and my toughest one to date, Longs Peak.

Believe me when I tell you that two days later, my entire body hurts.  Not just my quads, y’all – my entire body.  I’m talking about the fronts of my ankles, and the tops of my shoulders, and that fat little hand muscle below the thumb – the one that I imagine would taste like a buffalo wing.  (Consider yourself warned: if we ever find ourselves together in a life or death situation a la “Alive,” I’m going for the buffalo wing.)

The day started just two hours after I went to sleep.  My alarm went off at 12:30am, and I drove to meet the band of strangers that would be my companions for the day.  The only girl in the bunch, I introduced myself, ate a Pop-Tart, and at 2:30am, we were off.

The first 4 hours were in the dark, our path illuminated only by our headlamps and a half moon.  At one point, we turned off our lights to look at the stars – and I can’t remember when I’ve seen stars that bright.  Despite my lack of sleep, I was energetic, and kept up with the men just fine.

As the sky began to grow light, the mountain started to reveal itself.

Longs Peak looming large

And I turned just in time to see the sun come up.

Sunrise

Six miles in, we approached the Keyhole, a huge rock formation that serves as the gateway to the last mile and a half to the summit, and the game changer in terms of terrain.  Up until the Keyhole, it’s just a long hike – but everything from the Keyhole on is a tricky and challenging climb, with an abundance of narrow ledges, loose rock, and near vertical ascensions.  My dad’s advice to me the day before was to “manage my emotions”; he knows me all too well.

The Keyhole - Longs Peak

The Keyhole – Longs Peak

First came the Ledges, a series of vary narrow ridges along a cliff edge.  Hearing that I’ve historically harbored a fear of exposure, our fearless leader Mark gave me the advice to always keep a hand on the rock wall and to never look down.  Now usually, when presented with the command of “don’t look down,” I almost always look down; ever pragmatic, I want to know the grave reality of my circumstances.  But this time, I took Mark’s advice – and I made it across the Ledges with no moments of panic.

Next was the Trough, a 600 vertical foot couloir (a word that my fellow climber Jim taught me – one that makes me feel très French).  The gully is filled with loose rock, which made the wisdom of our climbing helmets all the more obvious.  At the top of the Trough, I was tired – but we weren’t to the summit yet.

Photo by Dan Biro – and that’s my booty

Then came the Narrows, a constricted ledge that took us across another vertical rock face.  Whoever named it “the Narrows” was not messing around; nothing forces you into the present moment like the potential of falling to your death.  I found this video that gives a brief glimpse of the path – and it’s even more dizzying than YouTube makes it look.

Finally, we came to the Homestretch, a polished granite slab at a nearly 90 degree angle.  Hand over foot, it took about 15 minutes to climb 300 feet – and by 9am, we were at the summit.

Homestretch

Photo via iorg.com

We had gorgeous weather, and stayed on the summit for a full hour – longer than I’ve ever hung out on top of a mountain.  I had a brief moment of cell service, and posted this picture for the world to see – bright eyed and proud to have conquered Longs Peak.

(And for those who are keeping score, yes, I realize that this is the exact same picture as the one I took on the summit of Mt. Elbert last summer.  Apparently it’s my signature mountain look.)

Believe it or not, the descent was tougher than the ascent, since we were basically forced to crab walk for a mile and a half back to the Keyhole.  Try climbing off the top of a mountain down steep, sheer rock faces – it’s not for sissies.  Many accidents occur on the way down from a summit, since it’s easy to think that “the hard part is over” when, all the while, your body is that much more tired.

When we made it through the Keyhole and back to the trail, I was exhausted.  It was hard to lift my feet, and my legs felt wobbly.  The miles stretched on and on.  With every twist in the trail, I hoped to see the end – only to be met with more of the same.  It felt like it would last forever.

But 6 hours from the summit, after talking about everything from snowshoeing to dating to “Brian’s Song” (note: if you want to see grown men get emotional, just mention “Brian’s Song”), we emerged from the trees.  We were finished, back at the cars, pulling off boots and peeling off socks.  No matter what you go through, I can tell you this: nothing compares to putting on sandals after a 15-mile excursion.

I was so fortunate to climb with a great group of men through the Colorado Mountain Club – seasoned mountaineers who were encouraging, experienced, and pleasant company – and I am more than proud to check Longs Peak off my list.  It’s a mountain that had given me stress dreams for weeks, as I read first-hand accounts of the challenges (and occasional deaths) along the trail.

But I was encouraged to find that my last few years of mountain climbing have strengthened my courage and confidence; as with so many things in life, experience builds backbone.  I didn’t have any moments of panic, never hyperventilated (something that has happened to me on mountains before), and hand over hand, step by step, focused on one move at a time. This climb forced me to live only in the present moment – which is the only place that life happens, anyway.

Chalk it up to another real life lesson learned in the mountains.