I spend a lot of time hanging out on 14,000 foot mountains. I bagged my first 14er, Mt. Elbert, when I was a sophomore. I climbed in jeans and Nike tennis shoes and compared the experience to child birth, even though I had no idea at that time what that experience was likeJ After I married Chad, it wasn't very long until he fell in love with the mountains, so we started climbing as a team. On our first time climbing together, we tried Mount Princeton—in the Collegiate Peaks. Right above tree line, we came face to face with a boulder field, covered in snow. Even though I feel like I’m a pretty adventurous person, the minute my safety comes into question I’m out! It didn't take long on the boulder field to realize that Mt. Princeton had thwarted me, and I had to turn tail and hike back down (we were at the 8 hour mark when we turned around).
Over the last 11 years, my husband and I have tried to summit Mt. Princeton 4 times. The second attempt, we made it 500 feet below the summit. Chad was hiking with my 5 iron—he wanted to hit a golf ball from the summit (in retrospect we realize how crazy dangerous that idea was). He attached the club to the outside meshing of a day pack, so the face of the club was sticking straight up. One thing that I've learned from the mountains is that they mean business when the weather shifts. There are plaques all over Colorado honoring people who died due to lightening. This time we made it past the boulder field and could almost taste victory, when the clouds rolled in with a vengeance. One crack of thunder, and immediately the sky lit up. We frantically turned around and started scrabbling back across the now slippery boulder field. Chad was in front of me, and I realized that with my 5 iron, he had become a human lightening rod. I yelled at him over the din of hail bouncing off of the rocks—he yanked the club out of the backpack and hurled it down the mountain—never to be found again (and my set is still missing the 5 iron)!
The third attempt at Mt. Princeton was just by Chad and a group of hiking buddies. On the way up, they saw a mountain lion on the trail below them, so they decided not to take the same path down. They missed the window of time to summit before the storms rolled in, and began bush-whacking their own path, only to “cliff out” and get stuck at a precarious angle. Luckily they had a tracking device with them, called The Spot, so they pressed the button, which alerted search and rescue to their GPS location, and settled in for a really uncomfortable night. In the morning, Chad climbed down 1500 vertical feet to meet search and rescue, and then turned around to take the rescuers back up to where the guys were so they could assist them in repelling down. They survived the night with one Nalgene of water between them, a few rationed granola bars, and one emergency blanket (and the fear of a mountain lion looming in the dark).
Last summer, Chad and I invited a couple to Colorado with us. We decided one last time to attempt Mt. Princeton. Because I’m not the biggest, I don’t always get the say, so when the guys determined that we would try to avoid the boulder field by walking the ridgeline, my fit throwing fell on deaf ears. Even the best laid plans….so, at hour 6 as I found myself clinging to vegetation at a 45 degree angle, knowing that my window of opportunity was quickly closing, I had to make a decision—either kill my husband, or just give in to the journey and give up the destination.
I still haven’t bagged Mt. Princeton. I plan on making another attempt this summer in late July—the Aspens are the greenest then, and the marmots’ barking remind travelers that we are not alone on the mountain. If I don’t make it to the summit, I’ll still be reminded of the air in my lungs and the beauty of the hard-fought journey.