It’s a vicious cycle.
Every step makes every breath shorter. Every step means less available oxygen as you inch your way up the mountain. The less oxygen there is, the faster your muscles fatigue.
But you climb on, one foot in front of the other, promising yourself that no matter how much it hurts and how taxed your lungs are, you can go five more steps before resting.
Stopping seemed to induce vertigo, so I just pressed on as best I could. In retrospect, I think the altitude affected me more than I thought it was while on the mountain. By the time I had come to just 1,000 feet from the summit of Quandary Peak, I just wanted it too badly to allow myself much rest.
I paced myself by taking short, choppy steps and fell into a rhythm that pushed me up the mountain. People often say that outdoor sports such as biking or climbing or kayaking are man vs. the elements. I would mostly agree, but by the time I had emerged from the tree line, I realized it was going to be Augie vs. Augie.
It takes reaching deep inside yourself to squash all doubt. Turning around and heading back down is not an option. At high altitudes, seconds slow to minutes and the summit seems to grow taller despite your upward effort. False summits are completely demoralizing.
But you go on.
And when you win, when you reach the summit and sign the regristry that forever proves your triumph, the pain and the aching turns into a joyous intoxication of soul. For me, hitting the 14,000 foot mark was a very spiritual thing. Many that I passed and those I shared the panoramic views with said it would not be worth the pain if not for the view. Not true of me.
For me it was beating myself, conquering a challenge and inwardly proving I have the guts to keep pushing on. It was about setting and meeting a goal. That’ s a special feeling, one that has my soul still a bit drunk on triumph, even a week after the fact.
Don’t be mistaken. The views are incredible and the sheer magnitude of where you are when you stand atop a peak is exhilirating. The world you know below seems so distant. The solitude and great expanse almost induces claustrophobia in a strange sort of way.
You don’t want to go back down, mostly because you know the hike back down is going to be brutal, but more so because the Heavens seem to be within reach. And let’s not be mistaken, the climb down is every bit as excruciating as the climb up.
Before I headed back down, I called my dad and said “Hello from 14,200 feet.” I sent the same text message to many of my friends. Yeah, I was bragging. Many were at work. I know, that’s just wrong of me.
But I am now most certainly addicted to climbing and am already planning my next ascent. I now understand why the oft considered “crazies” plan excursions up Everest. I now understand and appreciate John Krakauer’s writing about summit attempts much better.
Mountaineering is most certainly one of the more trying outdoor sports and in all its beauty and grandeur, is a symbol of man’s will to conquer the toughest Mother Nature has to offer, but most certainly within the confines of a deep respect for her.
In the pictures:
The first is of yours truly atop the summit, my back to the west. The second is of the mountain taken from Coloarado State Highway 9, about a mile south of the peak. It doesn’t look near as daunting as it is while climbing. The last is of the ridge leading up to the summit. You can see the trail snake along the spine nearly all the way down. The view is looking to the east.
You can learn more about the Colorado 14′ers by visiting the below link:
For more specific information on Quandary, use the links below. I took the east ridge trail, which is left difficult – though longer – than the other routes to the summit.