I remember the first time I went hiking in Colorado. It was a couple of years ago and a few of us ladies hiked out to Ouzel Falls; ever since then I have been enamored with not only the mountains, but also the gorgeous skies they reach up to. Those days I would send pictures of the sunrises back home almost daily, which I’m sure my friends and family just loved (especially at 5 in the morning…). So often, I would just pull over and stare.
Fast forward to this past weekend- a few of us decided, as the season is drawing to a close, we wanted to try to catch Mt. Sherman (a fourteener) at sunrise. Despite my best effort to dissuade everyone from a midnight meetup, at 12:02 am we arrived at our first friend’s house to begin the journey. Up until this point, most of our hikes started in the sunshine, with just a few that required a predawn meet up. Our goal with Sherman was to be standing at the trailhead ready to go by 2:30/3am. So, being that it was about a 2 hour drive we had no choice but to leave at midnight. Official sunrise was set for 6:28, but we would need to be up at the summit by 6am to catch it all.
We met up with our next companion at 12:30 and after a quick stop for coffee and nutrition (because it wasn’t dinner or breakfast- so what do you call it?) we got on our way. The nice thing about starting at that hour is that there isn’t anyone else around to fight with for parking etc. We found the trail head with little issue, and in the darkness we nearly drove up onto the mountain itself. We parked the car, got our headlamps and windbreakers on and began the ascent.
Hiking in the dark is strange– I had only done it once before, when we hiked Long’s Peak, and then too I found myself lost in my thoughts.
With your headlamp focused on the trail ahead it’s very easy to get tunnel vision. Step look, step look, on and on in the night. A few minutes into the hike the wind started and it did not relent then entire time we were on Sherman. I have never in my life experienced gales like that. Full power and force repeatedly knocked me off of my footing- a sight that I’m sure made those around me think I was drunk.
We worked our way through the dark following my friend’s GPS and at one point we realized that we had gotten off the trail, needing to work our way back. I’ve not been so grateful for a piece of technology as I was in that moment. My mind started to run away, as we made our way back to the course, and I imagined being lost in the darkness, alone for hours. I can’t imagine that my crew would do that to me, but in the dark on the side of a peak, it’s hard to not let the enemy get inside your head…
Once back on the trail we started to move confidently forward again. Onward and upward we pressed until we reached what I barely recall reading about on the trip reports- the sawtooth/saddle. I couldn’t tell at the time, because of the pitch black surroundings that engulfed me, but we were VERY high up and there wasn’t much to either side of us. The wind was brutal and I frequently found myself touching the rock face next to me for assurance. I needed the rock to *literally* be my rock.
As I came over one ridge I realized that I couldn’t see my party, and for a brief moment Bross came running back into my mind. No no no, this is not happening again.
Then I heard “Turn off your light and sit down.’ My friends were huddled inside a windbreak and when I killed my headlamp and joined them, my eyes caught sight of a million stars.
I lost my words. The sky was amazing, the wind was calm, and here in the middle of desolation and darkness, there was an overwhelming beauty that I cannot explain.
I could’ve sat in that windbreak all night.
But, the sky to the east was starting to get warm, and we had a sunrise to catch.
My friend had his GPS out again and we realized we had less that a tenth of a mile to go for the summit. We climbed out of our little camp and pushed onward, towards the finish line. We made it to the summit a little before 6am and found a windbreak to hunker down in. After a little building, which I cannot take credit for, our hut was complete. We sat there on our throne atop Mount Sherman and watched as the sun stretched out and caught the sky. The colors that we saw that morning were incomparable to anything you can visualize and paint with, and in that moment everything was right with the world.
After a few minutes of enjoying the view, I started to realize that I could not feel my fingers. The wind was so bad that I was also starting to lose feeling in my face. We posed for a couple more photos and then decided we better start to head down the mountain.
The sun was coming up, but the brutal wind was relentless and it made the descent more difficult for me than it probably should’ve been. I had on enough layers, but the whipping wind continued to throw me off of my balance. We slowly made our way down, through the terrain that was now well illuminated and so very foreign to me.
We came over the sawtooth and around cliffs that screamed “Nope” but knowing that we had already conquered them made the process easier to handle.
The sun was well out by now and I finally had feeling back in my face and fingers. I was shocked at the number of people who were still making the pilgrimage to the top and one of our seasoned teammates was advising them of the weather. Off in the distance we could see the clouds rolling in- bad weather was coming, and these folks and their kiddos were ill prepared for what we had just encountered (and was about to get worse).
It was kind of fun seeing all the things we had missed in the darkness as we finished our descent. There was a few old mining structures that we falling apart, but somehow still there. There were many off shoots to the trail that we were on- it was crazy to think that we only got slightly off track once!
We finished our hike totally thawed out (I was relieved to have all of my digits in tact) and got in the car to head home. So many people were still coming to conquer this animal, and I don’t know if I would’ve gone with had I known all the wind we encountered.
Who am I kidding. I totally would’ve still gone.
Hey guys! All the photos in today’s blog are property of my friend over at images by mikel. You should probably check out his website and pictures- there are some incredible shots of things that you and I never even think to look at twice! Cheers :)