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13,000 Feet and Climbing

Hiking up Mount Princeton
Hiking up Mount Princeton Images courtesy of Lauren Holmer

At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all heard life compared metaphorically to a river or a mountain. Or a box of chocolates. Or a country song. Personally, I vote country song.

But let’s be honest, there are definitely times in life that look a lot like a mountain...the whole uphill climb and all. A few weeks back when two friends and I decided to hike a “fourteener,” a.k.a. a mountain at least 14,000 feet tall, we couldn’t help but recite cheesy commentary about its deeper meaning along the way.

Lindsey Kroneberger, Lauren Holmer, and Leah Andersen prepare to climb a mountain.

I had flown out to Colorado to visit two former roommates (and one fellow Traveling Ink writer) in Lindsey Kroneberger and Leah Andersen. We had happily shared a little three-bedroom apartment in Charleston until Leah moved out to Buena Vista to be a white water rafting guide and Lindsey headed to Fort Collins to be closer to family. I was happy to pay the girls a visit.

Almost immediately, Lindsey and I vowed we were going to climb a mountain. A big mountain. When we drove down to see Leah, she suggested we tackle Mt. Princeton, a 14,197 foot tall hunk of rock that looms over the little town of Buena Vista. So, after a night of camping where I got attacked by a bush in the dark and had to abandon my hammock due to a torrential downpour, we rose with the sun and drove up the narrow trail along Mt. Princeton’s massive flank. In July, it still had a tad of snow left on the upper slopes (or possibly just white rock—Lindsey and I couldn’t quite agree). Maybe it was marshmallow fluff.

The drive in itself turned out to be a white-knuckle adventure, because it’s a rocky, rutted, one way road with no way to turn around if you meet someone coming from the opposite direction. It’s foolish to start hiking midday or you can get caught on the summit in fatal afternoon thunderstorms. Because of this, morning drivers are driving up and afternoon drivers are heading down preventing vehicle stand offs. Still, it’s rather intimidating to watch the pickup truck in front of you tip onto three wheels towards the drop-off as it goes over a particularly large bump in the narrow road. Eventually, we made it to the parking lot where we’d start our nine mile trek. I stepped out in my brand-new pair of Chacos, grabbed my water bladder, and hit the trail of my first fourteener.

The road we drove up on continued to switchback up the slope and served as the trail for a while, until we hit the edge of the tree line and a rough stone staircase appeared to the right. This in turn wound along for a bit, lined with gorgeous wildflowers and giving travelers a knock-out view of the top they are attempting to reach. From this point, the bare mountain summit looked like soft velvet, and if the Lord of the Rings soundtrack had played from a giant stereo in the sky, it would have seemed perfectly natural. It was an epic scene. It was here that the little Confucius inside each of us awoke.


“I can’t see the trail around this bend!”

“Life’s like a trail…”

It really is, though. And, in honor of that tiny voice of an Asian philosopher inside me, here are a few more things I learned about life from the Mt. Princeton hike.

1. Decisions made early on in life affect you later. Remember those brand new Chacos I was wearing? Well, the hike up in them was great. Actually, everything about the hike up was great. I was drinking lots of water, the day was new, the air was cool, and climbing over all those huge boulders was fairly simple. It turns out though, that hiking down a super rocky mountain in sandals, no matter how amazing they are, is a terrible idea. All the loose rock that came sliding down after me as I descended got lodged between my feet and my sandals. Furthermore, not being broken in, the straps gave me huge blisters and started cutting off circulation in my big toes. Lesson learned: some decisions are dumb. And they come back to haunt you later. Think through them carefully while you make them.

2. Sometimes your goal seems closer than it really is. Keep on trekking until you get there. The thing about mountains is that their massiveness distorts distance. It was very difficult to tell exactly how far away the top was. Watching the tiny colored specks that represented other hikers gave us some idea that the slope was huge. Even so, as we periodically paused to rest, sometimes it didn’t seem like we had gained much ground since our previous stop. It took a good deal of time to pick our way across the large jagged stones that stretched like a layer of granite dandruff across Princeton’s shoulders. And the path would disappear and then reappear to the far left or right of the trajectory we ended up pioneering for ourselves. Furthermore, Lindsey and I had to move slower to adjust gradually to the altitude change. As we got closer to the top and began passing people coming down, they would shout encouragement to us, cheering us on. Finally, the endless rock field met the sky, and we stood triumphant at the top. It was well worth it. The view is better than any description this English major could attempt. I think there are lots of things in life like that—things that are absolutely worth fighting for. But you have to fight.


On top of Mt. Princeton, Colorado. All Rights Reserved.
On top of Mt. Princeton.

3. Life is still beautiful, despite our mistakes and hardships along the way. To be honest, the hike down was really terrible. I used some choice words under my breath as I picked, slid, trudged, and limped my way down. In addition to my previously mentioned new Chaco-inflicted wounds, I also pulled a muscle in my back upper thigh because I was not used to downhill stair-stepping for 4.5 miles. By the time I reached the bottom, my legs felt like unstable rubber, I could barely walk, and my pride was hiding behind clenched teeth, steely eyes, and a curse word or two. The sun was high, and it was much hotter than it had been when we started. The path through the rocks seemed to have grown longer while we weren’t looking. But, when we made it to the bottom, I gazed up at the face of the giant we had just descended and had a sense of immense accomplishment. I had just climbed a fourteener. I was seriously out of shape and felt like I'd need a big toe amputation thanks to my Chaco straps pulling too tight, but I had just been on top of a mountain.

If someone had asked me right then, even in my pain, whether I regretted the decision to climb that day, I would have said no. I regretted some of the smaller choices surrounding the journey, but even if there were no way out of them in order to experience the view I saw at the top, I would have taken them. It was that good.

We have a choice in life. We can choose to focus on the negative decisions we make and allow them to define us. Or, we can accept that they happened, learn from them, and fix our eyes instead on the beautiful mountain tops—the moments in life that make us giggle with pure joy and jump up and down like little kids on the inside. Or on the outside. We should do that more.

And instead of finding wimpy hills to conquer just because we know we can do it, we should look for the tallest, most inspiring mountain around and give it our best shot...

Wearing hiking boots.  


Brand new Chacos...not the best for climbing down a mountain. All Rights Reserved.
Brand new Chacos...not the best for climbing down a mountain.
Lauren Holmer

Lauren's name means “A crown of laurel leaves,” which is what the ancient Greeks used to give the poets they wanted to honor. Perhaps that's why she loves to write. She also loves to sing Taylor Swift a little too loudly, paint, collect insects, laugh at what God’s doing in her life, and take care of her chameleon. She moved to Charleston because she was always cold and needed a warmer climate. She loves all this city has to offer—the history, the art, the romance, and, of course, the water!

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