Colorado State of Mind
Colorado has always been one of my favorite states. I never traveled much as a child outside of North Dakota or Minnesota, but we did take one big road trip when I was 5 years old to Lyons, Colorado where my aunt and uncle ran a resort. I don’t remember much of that trip other than a bit of hiking and watching “A Christmas Story” in a movie theater over Thanksgiving weekend.
I didn’t go back until I was road tripping on my own from Portland to Fargo and stopped in Denver for several days, where I had a nice break to visit relatives and got to meet my cousin’s wife for the first time and wander around Boulder.
Years later when I was 30, I went on a road trip with my dad and my 10 year old niece to Colorado. We got to see the Garden of the Gods, the Sand Dunes national park, Mesa Verde, and take a train from New Mexico into Colorado. It was a challenging trip to try to keep everyone happy but we got to see so many beautiful places it was all worth it.
I went back another time for my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, which is a whole other story, and then went back a few years ago to see Brandi Carlile play at Red Rocks (bucket list!!) and climb my first 14er (Mt. Elbert!!).
This summer, I flew to Denver to attend my first Hike Like a Woman ambassador retreat in Wyoming and then had 3 full days in the Denver/Longmont area. The first full day I spent hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park with my cousin, Shannon, who is one of those rare people that you meet and felt like you have known them your whole life. We drove for an hour, hiked 7 miles, drove the hour back, and went out for ciders and had dinner, and talked non-stop the entire time.
The next day, I had asked my uncle if I could use his vehicle for a much needed adventure on my own. I knew that if I didn’t do a 14er or 13er (mountain summit), I would feel like I missed out on a Colorado experience. Originally, I had hoped to do some climbing or mountaineering with a friend out there, but she had to cancel for other plans. So, it was just me, trying to figure out the right place to hike and which one was the right one for me.
I chose Mt. Audubon, which was a fairly easy 13er, 4 miles to the top and 4 miles down and only an hours drive west from Longmont. My uncle graciously let me use his car and I left at 5:30 a.m. in the dark to head out. I was surprisingly nervous as I had no idea what to expect for the trailhead as I set out on my own to a new place.
I arrived at a mostly empty trailhead at 6:30 a.m. as the sun was rising, surprised to be of only a handful of hikers that morning. A single female hiker was ahead of me, as well as a man and woman pair. I noticed the mountain lion warning posted on the trailhead sign, and nervously went forward into the woods on my own.
I was nervous for that first mile alone in the woods, thinking about mountain lions around each corner, after I passed the man and woman who were taking a break early on, but once I was out of treeline, the views opened up to an endless view of other Colorado peaks and for the first time I could see my objective in the distance. I knew then I’d be o.k. and make it to the summit.
The hike itself was a lovely winding hike, with the most difficult part being the lack of oxygen at 13,000 ft. The trail gains 2789 total roundtrip elevation gain, with 2,715 ft. being on the way up. I was near the summit block by my goal time of 9 a.m., as I moved up carefully among the large boulders. At the top, the views took my breath away and I enjoyed a short rest in one of the wind shelters and took some selfie shots. There was about 4 people up on the top, the first people I had really seen since I had been passed by only one man on the way up. One guy offered to take my photo, and I didn’t linger too long, knowing I still had a ways to go before I got down.
Once off the summit boulders, I truly allowed myself to celebrate. I felt absolutely strong, happy, and confident to have done the summit alone, not knowing what to expect or what the trail or weather would have in store for me. The weather was clear and lovely, and on the way down, I took my time. I stopped as often as I wanted to take photos, and to eat snacks, trying to ward off the headache from elevation and probably lack of drinking enough water.
Once back at the car at noon, I felt a sense of pride as I saw a parking lot full of day hikers, as I had already had my private moments on the mountain without really seeing anyone all day. I changed into a skirt and tank top, and drove down to the beautiful lake to have a snack, dip my toes in the cold water, and enjoy the views.
My first solo summit pushed my limits, it made me feel powerful, and accomplished. It was the highlight of my entire trip. Sometimes, you have to take the risk to know the reward.