The first few years I lived in Colorado my time in the mountains was spent skiing, not hiking. That’s because my first summer spent in Colorado wasn’t til after my junior year of college. The first two college summers I spent in northern Michigan as a zipline instructor and by the time I came back for school, the mountains were changing to winter again. Regardless, during my freshmen and sophomore year I did get a chance dabble with hiking a couple times and boy oh boy was I unprepared.
My first hike out west was during my freshman year of college. I went with a few other inexperienced girls from my class, I wore my Vibram toe shoes (yes, you read that right), and we piled in a jeep to head up a canyon to look for a spot we could stop at and ~maybe~ climb up a mountain. In my 8 years of hiking in Colorado, that was the only “hike” I didn’t see another hiker on. Because it wasn’t a trail. We scaled some rocks up a canyon wall to try to get to the top and after a fear filled two hours we finally, ungracefully, skidded/butt slid back down. It wasn’t fun. If this was what hiking in Colorado was like, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to hike after all.
After that, I stuck to a few easier popular trails like Red Rocks, the Boulder flatirons and some beginner trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t take on a more challenging hike until a year later when I heard about these mountains called “14ers”. There are 58 mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet tall and you can summit every one of them. When I came back from summer going into my sophomore year of college, I so badly wanted to do one.
I didn’t want to go alone so I coaxed one of my friends into going with me. We chose the closest 14er to Denver, and with only one day til classes started, we decided to go that next morning. I knew you had to start early due to afternoon storms and without checking weather, I grabbed my Nike Frees (bad choice!), a light jacket and we left at 5am to drive to the trailhead. What we didn’t know was it had snowed 2 inches over night. We were the only car at the trailhead which is very rare in Colorado and was probably a sign that it was not ideal weather to take on a 14er. Still, we were at the trailhead and we were going to climb this mountain. Immediately, we lost the trail. I was on all fours, afraid of heights and trying not to slip down rocks in my Nikes and just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, clouds covered us and we were smack dab in the middle of a snowstorm halfway up a 14er. We decided it was safer to push to the summit and run down the road you could drive up (drive up!!) to get down. We spent 6 hours on that mountain that day and not until several years later did I discover we actually never made it to the top.
It took me a long time and a lot of mistakes to finally become a prepared hiker. I never enjoyed my early hiking experiences because of my ignorance to what prepared hiking entails and my ignorance to the unpredictability and power of nature. If you’re just getting into hiking, check out hiking for beginners articles to ensure the best and safest experience on the trail. I promise, you’ll enjoy your time in nature so much more when you start prepared. For me, I’m glad my first trail experiences didn’t stop me from experiencing the beauty, peace, perseverance and awe I’ve found on all my trails since.
Until the next tale… Happy trails.