Disclaimer: I should have posted this blog months ago. I had other plans for this post but due to outside circumstances, I am now posting it here. Enjoy!
Ouray is a small mountain town, nestled in a valley between the strikingly gorgeous San Juan mountain range and is home to Mt. Sneffels, one of Colorado’s more challenging 14ers. Not only will the views take your breath away, the lack of actual oxygen from being 7,792 feet above sea level will too. My family has been coming down here since I was little to hike, camp and go Jeeping on one of Ouray’s many 4×4 trails through Yankee Boy Basin. While I have nothing but fond memories of those trips, the ones I’ve made as an adult are the ones that will stick with me forever. These are the ones that have had me (literally) chasing the summit.
My dad and I hiked my first 14er together when I was 12 and ever since then, we’ve formed a bond over summiting these mountains. There is something soothing yet challenging about waking up at 4 AM and hiking 8 miles up to a summit, legs on fire, to feel like you’re on top of the world.
My dad and I are no strangers to Mt. Sneffels, but only one of us had actually reached the summit before this trip. We had both attempted a summit the year before, but were turned around by gray skies, low hanging clouds and 40 mph winds as we reached the saddle. Rather than letting Mother Nature deter us, we decided to make the trek again, more determined than before to reach the summit. Who could say no to the stunning views, cooler temperatures and hot springs that waited for us after our grueling climb?
So, last August, my dad and I packed up the Jeep and made the 7-hour drive down to Ouray in hopes of finally conquering this peak. When we arrived that night, the temperature was a cool 60 degrees and the summit of Mt. Sneffels could be seen majestically reaching towards the sky in the distance. As we set our alarms for 4:30 AM, I was optimistic about reaching the summit the next day.
We met my friends Heather and Josh in the camping area a few miles below the trailhead. As soon as their stuff was packed up, the 4 of us headed out and said goodbye to cell service for the next couple hours. Just 5 minutes into our hike, Josh pulled me aside and told me he was going to propose to Heather on the summit, so we had that much more motivation to make it to the top! Heather and I started out with a quick yet steady pace. As my lungs breathed in the mountain air, I could feel my heart start pounding a little faster. I’m not sure if it was because I was begging for more oxygen or because I was trying to keep one of the biggest secrets I’ve ever had to keep. Either way, we reached the saddle after an hour of hiking and the sky still looked blue so we made our way up the couloir, towards the summit. The year before, this is where we had turned back, facing icy rocks and raging winds. This year, the rocks were dry, the wind was low and the snow had almost completely melted.
After 45 grueling minutes and a sketchy climb up a narrow chute, the summit was within sight! I scrambled up the loose rock, trying to beat Heather without seeming too suspicious and set up my camera. As soon as Heather and Josh made it to the top, I started snapping pictures. Josh got on one knee and Heather had a gorgeous new rock on her finger (get the title now?)! Not only had my dad and I conquered the summit on our second attempt, Heather had made it up her 1st 14er! Amidst the excitement, cheer and happy tears, we noticed the clouds were starting to roll in and quickly started making our descent.
As we got back to the car, I had some time to reflect on what we had just accomplished. I have become addicted to chasing summits and the adrenaline rush it gives me every time I reach the top. My quads, knees and feet always thank me when I trade my North Face hiking boots for my Chacos after a long hike but the burning in my muscles reminds me why I love to hike. Something about the dirt trails takes away all my worries and pushes me beyond my physical limits. The only way to achieve new goals is to continually challenge yourself.
After celebrating with some pizza and beer, it was time to hit the hot springs and relax. While I can check this 14er off my list, I am far from accomplishing my goal of summiting all 54, so here’s to conquering more dirt trails, meeting new friends and continuing to celebrate the summits!