A few months ago the opportunity for me to join a group of avid hikers arose. Our friend and neighbor, Srikanth, who often joins us on our many travels invited me to join him and his mutual friends on a trip to Colorado to hike Mt.Evans. This group was on its 4th annual trip to Colorado to scale another 14,000 ft + mountain, aka “a 14er”.
Whether you are an adventure traveler or not, my account will give you a glimpse into my recent journey which taught me strength, perseverance and comradery. All of us on the hike were bonded by these virtues such that age, walk of life, or background posed no bar. We are all equal in the eyes of Mother Nature as we conserved to scale the challenging summit of Mt. Evans.
Over the course of the Chicago Lakes Trail (Trail No. 52) we traversed 4 lakes each which had their own unique charm. We began our quest of Mt.Evans at Echo Lake Lodge and embarked from our trailhead at the lofty elevation of 10,650 ft. Meandering streams bearing chilled water as they descended from the mountains crossed our path. Leaving civilization behind, we began as a jolly group of 20+ hikers ready for anything and zipped down a series of switchbacks descending 400 feet. I quickly learned the unspoken rule of hiking-when you go down, you always have to hike back UP. From there it was all uphill on our first day, which was about a 2-3 hour (3-4 mile) hike to our campground above the Lower Chicago Lake. Encircled around the fire we indulged in a drink, savored some delicious chapathis (Indian bread), and laughed at jokes.
We retreated to our tents by 8 pm as the multicolored sun fell behind the surrounding mountain peaks. In the darkness we prepared for the long day ahead to the summit and our fatigue allowed us to drift into slumber for a few hours. As I fell asleep, I pondered how life must have been this way for millennia.
We were up by 5 am and set out for the summit before the first light of dawn, guided by the light of our headlamps. Shortly after we set out from the campsite, a member of our team suffered from a minor injury. We halted, waiting for an update, until a few members of our team helped him back to the campground to rest and arrange for him to return to the trailhead. Fortunately he was not severely injured and we were able to share the spirit of the climb with those of the team who missed the summit itself. Afterall, we were bonded together by journey itself. The rest of the hiking party, although a few members short, continued inching towards the summit. We were rewarded by glorious views of the sunrise over Upper Chicago Lake. After making our way up a precarious rocky ascent we arrived at the Summit Lake, seated at just over 12,000 ft. Off in the distance was our prize, Mt.Evans, but it seemed farther than ever with the lower oxygen levels. But team spirit kept us motivated with our eyes on the prize.
We ended up taking a route that required us to ascend to the peak of neighboring Mt. Spaulding en-route to Mt.Evans. As we crossed an elevation of 13,000 feet it seemed that we were moving in slow motion. At least I was. Despite a few months of training and half marathon training back in Nashville, the highest I had practiced at was 8,000 ft. The stunning views of surrounding peaks, glimpses of mountain wildlife and the team spirit kept me going one step at a time. There were always striking changes in terrain as we traversed 3 ecological life zones: Subalpine, Timberline, and Alpine. Once you pass the Timberline zone the treeline falls behind you and the scene is dominated by rugged rocks, huge boulders and very thin cold air.
Reaching the summit of Mt.Evans was surreal. For a moment, I thought was I really here? 14264 ft. Perched atop boulders we had reached the 17th highest peak in the continental United States. In a moment all the effort, breathlessness and countless uphill miles were worth it. Many other visitors, also had the opportunity to experience the summit of Mt.Evans as they drove to the summit parking lot and scaled the final 100 feet.
It’s wonderful since this offered infants to octogenarians and everyone in between the opportunity to experience the towering height of Mt.Evans. I was blessed to have traversed 17 miles of stunning wilderness and challenged my mind and body to then taste the victory of this accomplishment. This was a reminder that I am much more than a traveler, but a world citizen and a human. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said “Nothing worth having comes easy”. This was certainly one of those experiences in life that lived up to those words. A hearty thanks to my hiking companions for welcoming me to the crew. Cheers to many more mountainous adventures in the years to come for me and for you!