One of the main reasons I wanted to move to Colorado was for the peak bagging. I enjoy your average half-day hike, sure, but what I really love to do is work my ass off all morning to reach a summit with a breathtaking view. I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming an ADK 46er, which I haven’t given up yet, but now that I’m in Colorado, I’m ready to bag as many 14ers as possible.
I waited about a month to better acclimate to the area before I attempted my first 14er, Mt. Bierstadt. Why so long? Well, living at 5,000 feet was getting me more winded and exhausted then I ever imagined. Because of this, starting a hike at 11,000 or so feet was way more daunting to me than summiting Katahdin, Mt. Adams, or Algonquin; all of which had a greater elevation gain and longer mileage than Mt. Bierstadt.
Hiking Bierstadt caught me a bit off guard. Some friends and I decided pretty last minute that we’d attempt this hike. We had left the Denver area on Saturday evening during the 4th holiday weekend and searched for a free campsite off of Guanella Pass (probably not the ideal time to find a free site). After more than an hour of driving and searching, then checking out the trailhead, then listening to coyotes howl at the moon, we got incredibly lucky. We found 2 more parking spots off the side of the road and a few awesome sites from which to choose. We set up our tents, made a fire, and started chugging water to prepare for the next day’s hike.
It was at this point where my mental struggle began. Shortly after setting up camp and running to and from the car to put our food away, I felt incredibly lightheaded. I already felt defeated and I hadn’t even stepped onto the trail. We were camping just below 12,000 feet; an elevation my body was definitely not used to. I decided to head to bed quite early in hopes of better preparing my body for the hike.
I woke up a bit lightheaded so I drank another liter of water before even leaving the campsite. We woke up quite late in the morning due to the bitter chill in the air and took our time making it to the trailhead. I was super excited for my first 14er, yet for some reason, super anxious as well. I was not my super chipper, happy-go-lucky ‘I’m going to go bag a summit’ self on this morning, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
Truthfully, the entire hike wasn’t overly exciting. The views from the trail were breathtaking. My friends and fellow hikers were wonderful. The stories I heard while chatting with people during our rest breaks were incredible. But unfortunately my shortness of breath and dragging of my feet were totally taking precedent to everything else. Looking back on it, it wasn’t a physical struggle. I mean sure, climbing at altitude is a physical challenge for nearly everyone. But really, what I had on my hands was a mental struggle. An incredibly large mental struggle bus, in fact.
This was something I brought upon myself. It’s like when you read WebMD when you have a stomach ache and you close your laptop thinking it may be time to head to the hospital. I had read and heard too many stories of climbing at altitude and how much more difficult it is. I built it up way too much in my head before I even tried it out for myself.
The Bierstadt trail was filled with children, beginners, and travelers who perhaps wouldn’t even consider themselves a hiker. Truthfully, with enough desire and a good amount of water, almost anyone could make it to this summit. Looking back on it, it wasn’t all that physically demanding. Though, my head was exhausted.
I’m super excited for my next 14er. Now I know a bit more of what to expect and how I’m going to prepare for it. I’m pumped that I now know not to build up unwarranted fear for it and I truthfully cannot wait much longer for the next view from the summit.
Learn to psych yourself up for something, don’t psych yourself out.
Has there been a time when you got in your own head before a new adventure? How’d that affect your trip? Shout it out in the comments below!