I just got back from a long trip to Colorado, the home of my heart. I’ve grown to associate feelings with the word “home,” not places, as I’ve always felt like an outsider in most locations. My family, my friends, my husband, my dog and the things I feel when I think of them is what “home” has always been, but in CO, the mountains and the birds of prey and every rock and every person is somehow familiar and embracing of my existence. I hike and I climb there and nearly everyone I meet along the way becomes a friend I will come back and visit. They smile, they share, they expose themselves to me; there is no barrier preventing us from connecting. I feel like everyone has a place where they feel most familiar and in love with life, though some are still searching. For me, Colorado is it.
Part of the fun of trips to Colorado is never knowing what to expect. We’ve gone there in May and donned snowshoes on a couple feet of snow in the Rockies. We’ve gone there in December and comfortably climbed with a tank top and shorts. The weather is always entirely unpredictable, but always beautiful in its own way. This trip was no different. The forecast a couple weeks before called for 50’s, 50’s, 50’s. A week later, it changed to negatives, negatives, and maybe some 20’s and 30’s during the day. The initial plan was to sleep in our rental car the whole time. When we saw that forecast, though, we realized this would not be the climbing trip we had envisioned. We connected with our hiking friends in CO and climbing friends of our climbing friends where we live and managed to get a guaranteed four nights of the seven inside out of the freezing cold before we even left. We felt so lucky to have such generous and amazing people in our lives. This brought us to our first lesson of the trip: Trust connections.
After flying into Denver, we picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed to our friends in Loveland. They were organizing a Christmas party for that night and had invited us to the party and to stay with them that weekend. D and I are not usually the party people (being former complete introverted wallflowers), but we’ve found over time that friends of friends are usually friends of ours. We kept an open mind and had a blast- D having a heated debate with party guests and I playing fun games with our friends’ family and friends. Second lesson of the trip: Be genuine and you will receive genuine.
The next day, we looked at the frigid temperatures outside and thought “We came to be outside. Let’s go!” We ate breakfast in Estes and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with our friends. As we headed up the hills to Glacier Gorge parking, the temps continued to climb. When we hit the valley, the numbers dropped again. At 8 degrees Fahrenheit, we reached the trailhead, took a deep breath, put on some yak tracks and balaclavas, gloves, hats, snow pants, and pack on top of three layers of smart wool clothing, and we were off. I’m originally from Florida, so this degree of cold is totally foreign to me. Even with all this gear, my fingers and toes were still cold. I guess that is what -4 degrees does. However, I was comfortable otherwise and warmed up a bit while hiking. I was just so glad to be physically capable of hiking and appreciative that we were with friends (friends we’d met hiking in RMNP a couple years ago) and in this gorgeous place that the cold didn’t matter too much. As we hiked towards Loch Lake, a man in his 70’s+ lapped us at least twice. Then, a nineteen-year-old girl passed us, hiking solo in the wilderness of RMNP. Third lesson of the trip: Don’t make excuses for not doing what you love (not even age or negative temperatures)- Just do it.
Monday and it was still too cold to go climbing outdoors, so we decided to hike in Boulder instead and end the day climbing indoors at an awesome climbing gym. Some air outside combined with the variety of new climbing routes was enough to satisfy our outside and climbing desires. We met up with the girl who lapped us in RMNP at the gym and made another new friend. After getting some dinner, we headed to a climbing friend of a friend’s place with beer in hand and settled in for the night. Fourth lesson of the trip: Go with the flow.
Throughout the next few days, we continued to seek good views where we could, layering up for the cold, and meeting up with friends and family in the area. We enjoyed hiking in new and familiar places and exploring on our own as well as meeting new people and sharing time with them in their passion. We found a number of people were raw and open with us when there was nothing between us but time and shared experiences, and we had the opportunity to help people in their time of need. Fifth lesson: Give and you will receive.
Wednesday, it was finally warm enough (in the 40’s) to climb outdoors. The combination of the floods and snow and ice had wiped away much of the approach trail, so what should have taken 10 minutes took almost an hour of stepping/slipping/sliding in others’ icy footsteps and searching through scree for a path to the route. We came across a couple of people climbing a 5.13. Their impression of the climbing was “It’s cold.” After finding the route and dropping our packs, I sat down to put on my climbing shoes, only to stick both hands into a cactus. Fun times. Another 20 minutes of picking spines out of my hand and we were finally ready to head up a 4-pitch climb. Thankfully, D led, as there were a number of moves that were very height-dependent (as in NOT meant for a person my height). Three pitches up, the belay station was immediately over the top of the canyon and the winds picked up. While belaying D, I was being slammed into the wall numerous times by the wind and only a few feet above me was a sheltered roost. So yes, I think the impression the other climbers had was perfectly accurate- it was freakin’ cold. It was not my most outstanding climbing attitude or day. The coolest part? Seeing a huge, perfect peregrine falcon’s nest up close. It was big enough for me to sit in- and don’t think I wasn’t tempted, as it was sheltered by the wind entirely. Rappelling down was an adventure in itself, as was the approach- which was more like a non-graceful glissade down the icy, snowy, rocky slopes. Sixth lesson: Adventure is not always “fun,” but it is always something to look back on fondly (unless someone dies…).
After such an adventurous day, we were up for slightly less adventure the next. What did this mean? Aerial pursuits, of course. After seeing an amazing aerial silks performance in Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year, I had been intent on trying it. I knew it would be easier with the climbing skills we possessed. I had seen advertisements for some circus classes in the area and signed us up for a holiday aerial silks sampler. Unfortunately, no pictures as proof, but it was a whole lot of fun. I was impressed the skills I’d acquired in climbing were not only directly physically applicable, but also mentally. Before climbing, I would have been nervous about trying any of it, but I was more than happy to throw myself into moves I’d never tried before and loved it. Seventh lesson: Be open to new experiences.
The rest of the time, we spent time hiking and climbing indoors and hanging out with new and old friends alike. Okay, not unlike the rest of the trip. Still, it reminded me that not all trips need to be “productive,” that really it is all about finding the vacation balance. Moreover, it reminded me that constantly “seeking” something- anything- makes me unhappy. There is a time and a place for just being, for laughing, for socializing, not thinking too much, not working towards something, not having an agenda. Lesson eight: Stop searching for the sake of searching.
Any trips over the holidays that have taught you something?