One year ago today, I was laid up, and severely drugged up, nestled in a fort of pillows and sipping on Cherry 7-Up at my parent’s house after having my third ACL/meniscus repair and my fifth knee surgery overall.
It was terrible.
It was the worst recovery that I’d ever experienced, and I can’t even express with words the type of depression that came with complete immobility and the loss of the active person that I had spent the past twenty-six years of my life as.
I was pretty devastated, and after spending a month on crutches, I spent a solid chunk of the rest of the year focusing on the little things, like walking, and completing deviating away from the activities that used to bring a giant smile over my face on a daily basis. I became a couch potato and a self-proclaimed work-a-holic. I started painting and writing more, and I made up every excuse in the book to remain a stationary object and avoid any situation that might once again result in a hospital stay.
I was scared, and I easily could have continued on that path without any cares—but the problem is—I live in Boulder. You can’t cross the street without dodging a cyclist or a runner or someone voluntarily walking home from work or the grocery store.
As soon as I got the doctor’s clearance to ease back in to being a functioning member of the fit Boulder society again, I jumped feet first back into everything. I woke up early on the weekends and went hiking. I bought a mountain bike, name her Liv, and collected some scrapes and bruises on the trails. I started playing softball again and I steered my road bike, Lilly, all over Boulder County. I found that part of me that had been lost for the past year, renewed the definition in my muscles and begged my lungs to help me through numerous heart-racing events.
After spending the last year moving mountains in my own way, it seemed fitting to finally end my summer by finally doing it for real. It was time partake in a timeless Colorado tradition by waking up before dawn and dragging myself up a 14er; and not just any 14er, but Long’s Peak—which at 14,259 feet towers over the Front Range. Go big or go home, right?
I hit the trailhead at 4 a.m., an hour behind the recommended start time, which meant that the trailhead parking lot was completely full, but parking was quickly found just down the road.
I couldn’t wait. I geared up, tightened the laces on my hiking boots, turned my head lamp on, took one last look at the trail map, and along with my best friend, took the first step of the 12 hour, 15-mile round trip climb to the summit. The complete darkness for the first two hours of the climb made the brilliant half-moon and blanket of starts even more spectacular.
Occasional breaks in the tree tops framed a scenic sky that stopped us in our tracks, mouths agape, appreciating life more than once. The first part of the climb was quiet, and so peaceful. The silence on the side of mountain at 4 a.m. is unlike anything else—it grabs your heart and squeezes it a little, but the steady sea of moving lights from headlamps along the mountainside make you feel completely safe—and like you’re part of something. Being part of something like that eases your worries and encourages your feet to keep moving forward.
Like clockwork, the sun greeted us with the most powerful performance that I’d ever seen. It chose a color of red that couldn’t even be found in a Crayola box to brush the sky with before taking its rightful place above us.
The next five hours were spent testing the strength of the new ligaments in my knee and pulling myself up and over rocks of just about every size. After a short break at the Keyhole to take in the view and catch our breaths, we made our way through the Narrows to the Trough (where I nearly found myself back at the bottom of the Trough at the hands of falling boulder) before eventually taking in the breathtaking view at the top.
My head has truly been in the clouds ever since.
Having my feet firmly planted on the ground just hasn’t been the same. I notice Long’s Peak all of the time now. I can feel it watching over me like we’re old friends.
Bluebird skies and perfect weather made this trip possible, and there’s still time for you to conquer this massive beast of a mountain before the weather makes It’s definitely a challenge, and not anything to be taken lightly. It sounds silly, but it’s important to show some respect for the mountain and come prepared. Gloves, a hat, proper layers and my down jacket made the experience so much better for me.
So go move your own mountain. And if you’re not quite up for climbing a Class 3 14er right out of the gate, then check out this detailed list of other 14ers in Colorado.
The view from the top is something you will never, ever forget.