Pushing the limits at 14,000 feet

***Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals. I’m participating in Jessica Lawlor’s #GetGutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details.***

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When I was seven years old, my mom dragged my older brother and I up an endless rocky slope to the summit of Mount Sherman to pose for a Christmas card picture.  I remember being tired and cold, and my mom still talks about how my lips tuned blue from the thin air, signaling the time for us to head back down to the car.  I also remember how proud I was.  After all, not many girls my age were out climbing to the tops of 14,000 foot peaks.

After that,

climbing a fourteener became something we did as a family every year.  There are fifty-eight peaks in Colorado that exceed 14,000 feet elevation—some simple walk-ups and some nearly-technical rock climbs—and at a very young age I determined that I would climb them all.

In 2013 I finally accomplished that life-long goal.

You would think that after 21 years of climbing fourteeners, finishing them would have been easy, and in some ways it was.  I knew how to pack, nourish and hydrate.  I could pace myself, read the weather, and pick a solid trail through a boulder field.  The hard part was that I’d completed all the easy peaks when I was a kid, and by the time 2013 rolled around all I had left were the gnarly ones.  Oh, and I also decided to finish the fourteeners by climbing eighteen of them in a single summer.

Piece of cake.

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First came the four peaks in the Sunlight Group, accessible only by train and a long backpack in.  Next, a group of the prettiest southwestern mountains I’ve ever seen.  In the Wilson Group my friend and I were almost defeated by El Diente until we found a different way up.  I did the next three peaks with my boyfriend, and then my climbing friend and I were off again to tackle two of the most difficult fourteeners in Colorado:  Maroon Peak and Capitol Peak.

It was on Capitol Peak that I began to doubt myself.  There’s a fine line between gutsy and downright dangerous, and there were times I felt like I was tiptoeing along it.  Even the safest climbers sometimes have accidents on high peaks, and with every mountain I summitted, I felt like I was pushing my luck that much further.  When I looked at the ridge leading to the summit of Capitol Peak, my goal seemed utterly out of reach.  I was scared, I was intimidated, and I was overwhelmed.  So I took a deep, steadying breath, and reminded myself it was a process.  You don’t achieve such a huge, scary goal in one step.  It addition to guts, it takes time, patience, a willingness to learn, and the ability to pause, look around, and make sure you’re on the right path.  When I took the time to remember those things, I felt brave enough to conquer anything, including endless miles of exposed, class IV rock.

I made it to the top of Capitol Peak, and, even more challenging, I made it back down safely.  After that experience, my remaining summits were almost easy.  Three peaks later my friends and I stood atop number fifty-eight, Mount Sneffles, where I laughed and cried and whooped at the sky with an incomparable feeling of joy and satisfaction.

Summit of Mount Sneffels

Summit of Mount Sneffels

I will continue to use the wisdom I gained in 2013 as I set out on 2014’s big adventure.  I’ll be leaving in July for an epic around-the-world trip in the footsteps of my hero, the traveler and writer Richard Halliburton.  I’m working hard on it every day: developing this website, applying for sponsorships and grants, entering essay contests (!), researching visa requirements for China and Morocco and Borneo, trying to figure out how to rent an elephant in Paris, and buffing up on history and Greek literature.  Did I mention I’m also finishing my Master’s degree this semester?  It’s a lot to handle, but when I feel overwhelmed by everything I have to do, I just take a deep breath, and think:  take your time, be patient, learn from your mistakes, and every so often, look around and make sure you’re on the right path.

Then I find that I’m brave again, and I keep on going.

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4 Comments

  1. Sarah,
    You are the Amazon Queen. Wow, I am blown away at your travels. You are fierce, courageous and simply, amazing. You are truly a gutsy lady!

    Namaste.

  2. Sarah,

    WHOA. You rock. Seriously.

    This was an incredible story to read. I can’t even imagine the physical and mental strength it takes to achieve all that you have achieved.

    The photos are beautiful, as well. I wish you the best of luck with your many gutsy goals for 2014, including traveling the world!

    I know I’ll certainly be following your travels.

    xox

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