It's 5 o' clock in the morning on a Monday. I look around and see nothing but rocks, dirt, and trees. This is home for me. No cars nearby, just the sound of birds chirping with the wind blowing gently throughout the forest. Rays of light slowly rising from the east as I realize I'm 45 minutes away from witnessing another beautiful Colorado sunrise. The crisp Rocky Mountain air soothes my lungs every time I inhale. This is what it's all about. My friends and I gear up and arrive at the trailhead ready for a 6-plus hour day ascending above 14,000+ feet while enjoying a cold Coors Light at the peak.
Whether it's the San Juan, Sawatch, Elk Mountain, Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, each 14er offers a wide range of beauty. We begin most of our 14ers trekking through the paved dirt trail with blue spruce and quaking aspen trees shading us from the sun. I enjoy every single minute under the spruce and aspen trees as I know once I go past tree line my body will be exposed to the beaming sun. We encounter other hikers along the way exchanging good mornings and encouraging each other to keep moving forward. We hear the sound of pikas and their squeaky voices following us from the moment we go past tree line all the way to the summit. Marmots lay comfortably on rocks while nibbling on the green grass, gazing at us as we walk by. I still don't know whether they're fascinated by us or that they probably smell the Skittles and other sugary treats stored in our packs.
Nothing beats cold water during water breaks. As sweat rolls down my face, my legs feeling the burning sensation from steep switchbacks, I do a 360-degree view and see the beauty around me. I see 14ers from afar as my friends and I play a guessing game of which 14er it is. I see mountain towns, like Leadville, miles away and realize how blessed the locals are to wake up every morning to views of mountains. I stare to the east far into the great eastern plains. I look down and see more hikers arrive past tree line ready to tackle the second half of their hikes. My eyes shift and I look at the beautiful purple Columbines blossoming. Fields of purple, yellow, red, green dispersed throughout an entire mountain coupled with different shades of rocks. I glance up and see the summit of the mountain I'm excited to reach in less than an hour. Hm, I wonder if that's the very top or just a false peak. Regardless, I tighten the lid on my water bottle, wipe the sweat off my face and continue the climb.
One of the greatest feelings is reaching the home stretch. The last one hundred feet always brings a smile to my face. I'm almost there. I look at my friends and encourage us to push through all the tiredness as I know we can rest for awhile at the top. Hikers who summit the peak before us are snacking and taking pictures with their cardboard signs with the mountain name and elevation written in black sharpie. Dogs are playfully running around making friends with nearby dogs and humans. We have arrived. A sense of accomplishment fills me up as I realize another 14er is complete out of the 53 in Colorado. Whether it's 14,400+ feet or barely over 14,000 feet, it all feels the same to me. Through all the physical and mental pain, tiredness, sunscreen in my eyes, the views from 14,000 feet are always worth it. Colorado never ceases to amaze me.
Published by Kevin Leung