I was 12 when I climbed Mt Elbert with my dad and older brother. For some reason, I was always fascinated by the world above trees, always seen from a distance but never up close. My dad was a hunter and fisherman, and when we went backpacking to some remote fishing lake, I was always bored by the lack of activity. Instead, I would hike the small features around camp, always wanting to go higher. With each step, the view became better.
Climbing a real mountain was something I would not pass up. The first day was challenging enough but the reward was real. Camping at tree line that night, I remember watching a massive thunderstorm’s lightning flash in the distant northeast while being blown away by the number of stars overhead. The Big Dipper – normally obvious – was hard to find in the bowl of sparkles. The thunderstorm, we later found out, was responsible for a significant hailstorm that caused a lot of damage in Longmont, close to where we lived.
The early cold start was not something I was ready for. Well behind my dad and brother during most of the climb, I let the complaints fly. Poor shoes…cold fingers and toes…unrelenting uphill…out of breath…typical 12-year-old stuff. My dad was patient but annoyed. Slowly, the summit – which initially seemed like climbing to Mars – became a remote possibility. Then a real possibility. Then steps away. I felt accomplished, proud. None of my friends had been this high on foot and I knew it. I was hooked by the world above trees.
Since then, I have climbed all 58 Fourteeners and dozens of other fun and prominent peaks in Colorado…each one with a unique memory and story. From standing on a ridge where clouds formed at my feet, to mountain goats tripping on tent lines in the middle of the night, to feeling the real danger and energy of an approaching thunderstorm, to laying in a sunny alpine meadow after a morning of climbing, to terrifying exposure, to witnessing a sunrise above a valley of tidal fog…the mountains have etched a place in my heart that can never be replaced. The mountains helped me build confidence in myself, a gift I can only return with gratitude. Before each climb, I silently ask permission from the mountain, and after, I offer thanks. Respect from a guest.
Back then (1986), we only saw a couple hikers on that clear August day. Today is a much different scene. The mountains are fragile, which is ironic given the harsh elements that thrash upon them. And the fact that their composition is basically rock. But enough time spent in that world reveals a wonder and sanctity that deserves respect and nurturing. I sincerely hope those who read this are as awe-inspired as I was and still am. We live in a beautiful world.
– Shane Jordan