We wake to a light covering of frost on our tents, morning seeping into the valley around us. Today’s the day. My first fourteener. Period. End of story. I’m doing it. The sun’s shining, the LATS1 weather report is clear, it’s nice and early, we’re camped less than a mile from the saddle – everything’s perfectly set up. I just have to get up about 900 feet in a mile to the saddle, and then another 1400 feet in a mile and a quarter to the top.
I didn’t know until now that one could be so confident about a positive outcome and terribly, undercutting-ly skeptical of that confidence all at once, but hey, that’s human emotion for you.
Still, the morning is beautiful, and full of anticipation.
We’re barely up and drying our things before NoDay’s acquaintance, MeHap, happens upon our camp. He’s thruhiking the CDT; having flipped2 to Canada to avoid the snows down here, he’s almost done with his trek, and he looks worn out, but happy to see fellow homo sapiens sapiens. He knew NoDay was out hiking, and it’s always nice to see a familiar face. I met him at the CDT Ruck this spring, and we exchange pleasantries through my light-hearted grumbles about consciousness.
I’m feeling particularly slow-moving this morning – I don’t know if it’s avoidance or exhaustion – and NoDay has less to pack than I do, so she’s up and out and ahead with him, looking to meet us at the saddle. Crank and I start off at the same pace, chatting, but she quickly moves ahead, powering up the hill, and I plod plod plod along behind, worries for the next climb growing greater in my mind.
When we get up to the saddle, NoDay and MeHap are still in intense conversation, but Crank helps me celebrate the up with a hug. We drop our packs and gather the things we plan to wear/take with us on the climb. I put a liter of water in my waistband, some Shot Bloks3 in my pocket, and MeHap hands us some Starburst to wish us well. Then Crank and I are off to the top, with me in the lead to give us a starting pace.
Crank quickly decides to race herself to the top; she’s done similar runs in the past, and wants to see how fast she can go. Yesterday, I set a goal of 3 hours for myself, up and down, and I’m just Thomas the Tank Engine-ing it up, one foot in front of the other, taking frequent breaks to “look at the scenery”4 and also look at the scenery.
NoDay and MeHap start up soon after us, and I watch their tiny figures slowly, slowly get bigger, catch up to me.
They each stop to chat before passing me – NoDay and I share a huge hug – and even though they’re just doing their thing, I feel a vague hurt, further inadequacy in the back of my mind. I’d known it would happen, known they each would pass me in turn, even with the lead I got, but it’s strange that it’s in the back of my mind today – it doesn’t hurt as much, not with this weather, not with these views, not while knowing I’m going to make it to the top. I watch Crankster summit, her red jacket a banner of how far I have left to go, and I keep plod plod plodding towards it.
Another hiker I didn’t even know was behind us comes and passes me, and I’m still not as upset as I’ve been about it in the past. It helps that he’s nice, helps that I keep pace with him for a while before he leaves me completely. And then, I crest a small ridge, and the red jacket-banner of victory comes closer and closer.
I make it to the top. I’d known I would, just like I’d known I could, but thinking something and actually doing something are two entirely different things. And I’m standing up there, and I’m taking obligatory selfies and panoramas because DAT VIEW and generally just grinning like an idiot, or someone who is really, really happy.
Guys. GUYS. I hiked up a goddamn mountain. Up a MOUNTAIN. I’m standing at 14,014 feet above sea level, and I got here by walking. Slowly. Yeah, lots of people do it in the hiking community, and do it faster, but I did it, too. Me. Insecure little me. A mountain. And if you don’t think that’s cool as shit, you can get the hell out of my face.
We stay up top until the wind chases us down. I’m buoyant the whole time, unable to help the lightness in my heart if not my feet, practically bouncing down the mountain. That I climbed. And which is heartachingly beautiful.
I fall behind even now, but I’m taking pictures practically every thirty seconds, resting my knees and foot and generally being human, or maybe something different – humans are always worried about things outside of the present moment, and right now I don’t have a care in the world.
We take a break to load back up at the saddle – the whole trip took 2.5 hours rather than the 3 I was expecting, and that with a break! – and NoDay and MeHap and Crank are chatting with Grim, the CDT thru who (passed me and) hung out with us at the top. As he and MeHap set off, I don’t think we’ll see them again, but we catch them at the next water source before they fly off down the trail, with NoDay close behind.
Me, I’m set with bouncing, bounce bounce bounce, happy happy happy, putting miles behind us as we move on with our day.
It’s never really goodbye on the trail, though, and Crank and I catch everyone at the end of the Section 20, where they’re all hanging out with another CDT thruhiker, NomNom. We eat lunch and try to convince Grim to go into Lake City instead of Creede, because we’re all going into Lake City, and we’re awesome, and he’s awesome, and we should all be awesome together. Clearly, he has no choice but to relent to the power of our combined excellence. Clearly. He laughs at our antics and agrees.
The CDTers – MeHap, Grim, and NomNom – all plan to make it into Lake City tonight, and Crank is just aching to get into town, so she flies off with them. NoDay’s faster than me, but I catch her at the top of the next saddle – there’s cell service up here, and she’s instabooking and facegramming and and and. I join her for a bit, before moving on along, knowing she’ll catch me before long.
She in fact, catches me singing – I’ve noticed I sing while I’m walking when I’m particularly happy – and while I’m a little embarrassed, it starts a conversation as we walk along together through the beetlekill and even more ups.
She asks me about my hike, my experience of being on trail, and after the day I’ve had I’m left with… a grand ambivalence about the whole thing. I’ve spent twenty-seven days being down on myself for not being good enough – being slow, being achy, being vaguely injured, being unable to breathe, being all these things that are negative – negative reinforcement as a child coming back to bite me in the ass, hiding all the positives from me, even though they’re everywhere. I’ve walked over 300 miles, and I’m closing in on 350. I’ve hit and passed my goal for my Big City Mountaineers fundraiser. In Spesh’s words, I’m out here, I’m hiking, I’m doing it, and I feel good, especially about today. She asks me if I’d hike another long trail, and I’m surprised that I feel empty, or something close to dread, at the prospect. Maybe, I respond. Hiking for me has come to be about the people – Tim and Chase, Terri and Nancy, Jane and Sarah, Trevor, Speshul 41, Crankster, MeHap, Grim, NomNom, and NoDay herself – that I’ve spent time with, and I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. Maybe something like the Camino de Santiago, something well-populated, about people more than the journey or maybe it’s that people are the journey or some such. But I don’t know. I feel like I have to finish this trail before my mind goes gallivanting off to others.
Today though, I tell her with a smile, today I feel good about.
We’re headed along when we run into Crankster, coming back towards us along the trail. She stopped for a nap after figuring she wouldn’t make it all the way to the road to Lake City before nightfall, then headed back to find us after she woke. She missed us, we missed her, and I’m happy to have her back with us.
We climb and climb, racing the setting sun around outcroppings to our West, then finally, FINALLY, start descending, to the cheers of the pikas in the talus. I get suddenly, violently ill – my body’s not happy about all the climbing I’ve done today – and then limp down the trail to catch NoDay and Crank as the sun descends and everything gets colder.
Snow Mesa’s beautiful in the setting sun, and we hit the lake we planned to camp at pretty quickly. The water’s full of strange swimming things, though, so we move on to the next water source to see what that’s like.
There are fewer life forms in this stream, so we fill up and filter and camp the appropriate distance off. I do some math – we’ve done about 5,600 feet of elevation gain and about 5,000 feet of elevation loss today, marking it as one of my biggest days on trail for that sort of thing. I marvel at what we’ve done so far – and what is yet to come – before I sleep.
Start: 337.5 • End: 352.4 • Day: 14.9
Notable Accomplishments: San Luis! • Many Much Up! • Positive Thoughts!
 Look At The Sky. Useful.
 To flip is to change the direction you were hiking. MeHap was hiking South to North; when he hit the San Juans all a’covered with snow, he decided to flip up to Canada and start hiking North to South. He’s almost done!
 I’m addicted. Sure, I prefer the Honey Stingers to actually suck on while climbing hills, but I love gummies of all sorts, and these are enormous and awesome to sink your teeth into. Plus, most of the flavors have caffeine.
 I.e. breathe