Real life lessons I’ve learned in the mountains


On Saturday, I climbed Mt. Massive, which was my 24th 14er, and my 10th of the summer (which checks #4 off my list of goals for 2011).  Saturday also marked the 4-year anniversary of my move from Seattle – which, in some ways, was the initial leap into really big adventure that’s still unfolding.  Needless to say, the two things danced around in my head all day – life in the mountains, and life in general.

There are a lot of ways in which mountain climbing can be compared to life – but how to convey this without sounding cheesy like a Miley Cyrus song?  (Although… sigh.  You know I love that Miley Cyrus song.)

Well, here.  Let’s try it this way.

– – – – – – – –

On the trail on Saturday, I passed a man who, impressed by my speed, told me I had “an engine” in me.  I grinned so big.  For a girl who has never been good at sports, who could never serve the volleyball over the net, who never scored a goal, can I just tell you how good it is to have found an activity that my body takes to naturally?  Hiking just fits – I’m really fast (faster than a lot of MEN), my body cooperates, and it brings me a lot of joy.

Real life lesson:
Find the things that come naturally, and that bring you a lot of joy, and do those.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try new things, or work hard at something that might be a stretch (or even a strain) – but pay attention to what it is that works for you.  Sometimes, it’s something that was obvious from a very early age.  Other times, you stumble upon it accidentally.  Whatever it is – music, running, writing, painting, cooking, traveling – foster it, protect it, make time for it, and then allow yourself to experience the joy.

– – – – – – – –

People die on 14ers every year, often when struck by lightning.  When climbing Mt. Yale a few weeks ago, the seemingly benign clouds above broke into a lightning storm right overhead – bolts of lightning overlapped by cracks of thunder that reverberated across the entire sky.  I’ve never prayed so urgently or run so frantically as in that moment – I bombed down the ridge toward treeline as fast as I could, projecting ahead to my own funeral and wondering how my family would find the password to my blog in order to post the bad news for you all to read.

After that, I was afraid to climb again.  That lightning had scared me on such a primal level, and when my alarm went off on Saturday morning, I was tempted to turn it off and stay safe and comfortable in my bed.

Several hours later, I was once again above treeline, watching the sky with such trepidation, thinking that the puffy clouds might unify and create the lightning that would be the death of me.  But they never did.  I made it to the summit, and then all the way back down to my car, and the entire day had been beautiful.

Real life lesson:
Learn the difference between the threats in your life.  Know when a situation is dangerous, when you should run for dear life.  Then again, know when it’s not worth your fear, because before you know it, the danger could simply burn off into blue sky, and you might as well enjoy your day.

– – – – – – – –

This summer, I had a hard time finding people to come climbing with me.  For some reason, no one wants to wake up at 4am on a Saturday only to drive 3 hours, hike 14 miles, gain and then lose 4,000 feet of elevation, stumble back to the Subaru, and then drive back to Denver in a silent daze.  I can’t imagine why.

As a result, 7 of my 10 14ers this summer were climbed by myself.

I’m not stupid about it – the peaks I’ve been climbing haven’t been super technical, and I plan my climbs to fall on days when there are sure to be others on the mountain.  I tell people where I’m going, and when I should be back – lest I wind up needing to cut off my own arm with a dull blade.  And sometimes, I make friends on the trail – kindred souls who also find the sacrifices worth it.

Real life lesson:
We live in a culture of safety and comfort.  The trail toward beauty and adventure and risk isn’t terribly popular, and thus, traveling companions may be scarce.  This is okay.  Certain paths can be walked alone.

But even in the midst of solitude, don’t disconnect from the people who love you most.  And don’t close yourself off to the unexpected friends you might meet along the way.

– – – – – – – –

You can hold it.  There is no reason to pee in the woods.
The sun burns.  Wear sunscreen.
Keep going.  Those miles aren’t going to walk themselves.

Real life lesson:
Those just kind of translate over.

– – – – – – – –

It’s been a great summer in the mountains.

And it’s been a great adventure I’ve been living.

Take a chance.  Wake up early.  Drive an unmarked road.  Work hard, and don’t quit.  You just might find yourself in the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.

American Basin - Lake City, CO



  1. Christina on September 12, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    I love this! You’ve inspired me today.

  2. Heather on September 12, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    This is beautiful – the writing, the sentiment and the photo. Thank you for sharing, and well done with the hiking – sounds like quite an achievement!

  3. mom on September 12, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    and you have no idea how your life lessons speak to me today. I love you.

  4. Tarrah on September 12, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Annie, I never got an invite to climb. I’m bitter. I am also jealous that you have climbed so many 14’ers in your short time here! Nice work, and beautiful pic!

  5. Julie on September 12, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    Thank you. Made my heart swell! Very inspiring, Annie.

  6. Nashville Miranda on September 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    Love this and agree wholeheartedly with everything…except “you can hold it.” Trust me, I can’t. Peeing in the woods is necessary. :)

  7. rachel on September 12, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    this makes me want to hit the trail and climb a mountain! i love hiking too … i can walk for hours and not really get tired. it’s a gift!

  8. Sarah Kate on September 12, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    I miss hiking. I totally would have gone with you this summer. Baby and all.

  9. Greta on September 12, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    This is one of my all time favorite Annie blogs. And THAT’S saying something.

  10. erin on September 12, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    but annie, when i climbed my 2 14-ers in one day i really couldn’t hold it. it hurt. so there, on the ridge, in front of god and everyone squatting behind a rock when you could clearly see me from the summit above…I.DROPPED.TROU. But maybe that’s because i’m not as fast at climbing.

  11. Peg on September 12, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    I’m with Greta on this one – you often make me laugh (and this one did too) – but wow, nice piece here!

  12. Ginger on September 13, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    I didn’t comment yesterday, but I woke up thinking about this post in the middle of the night. Thank you for true words, Lightening Girl!

  13. Carmen Goetschius on September 13, 2011 at 2:48 PM


    Does it make me weird that I kind of like to pee in the woods? I think it is a particular kind of testosterone floating around in my body.


  14. Bob on September 13, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Very, VERY well written.

  15. Matt on September 13, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    I agree with Greta. One of my favorite Annie posts ever! The photo is gorgeous too, and the best part is I know it only captures 1% of the actual beauty. Us hikers know these things. If we lived closer I would ABSOLUTELY accompany you on as many long treks as possible. Some day.

  16. Mike GP on September 13, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Definitely thought “Take a chance” in the last paragraph was going to precede “make a change…and break away.” You had the opportunity to quote Miley Cyrus and Kelly Clarkson in the same blog post. That opportunity might not present itself again, ya know

  17. Pamela on September 14, 2011 at 12:25 AM

    What I would give for your poignant eloquence. Wow.

    And I totally just watched the Miley Cyrus video and felt…touched. The lyrics resonate right now.

    You say when, I’ll come hike #15 with you.

  18. Kate Watson on September 20, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    So young and yet so wise. I wish I had been the one to convey these thoughts so well to my daughters. Shannon and Anastasia recommended your blog to me. Emily is probably aware of it now, too. Keep up the inspirational, great work. It may be the reason you are on the mountain.

  19. hootenannie » Blog Archive » Longs Peak on September 10, 2012 at 9:22 AM

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

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