Often when I am on the hiking trails of Colorado, I ponder the metaphorical meaning of my journey. It is easy for me to go inward and apply the parallels of walking on these hiking trails with the journey that we call life. My journey on Vestal Peak was to teach me many things one fine Labor Day weekend as I connected to nature and to myself.
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
~ William Shakespeare
On a trip to hike to the summit of Vestal Peak, my family and I took along a friend who had never done any mountaineering. She was young and enthusiastic and I was eager to show her what I knew about the mountain trails.
I had done many a hiking trail on mountaineering routes, some of it included technical mountain climbing. I had the experience to see us to the top of the mountain.
Vestal Peak in the early morning light on Climb Day
The novice and I set out to do the non-technical south face route (not shown on the above picture - it's around the back) on Vestal Peak, while the guys chose to do the technical mountain climbing route on Wham Ridge (The ridge on the right in this picture, at the edge of the sunlight). We gals set off by ourselves and I gayly joined in on the mountaineering spirit. Being in this special place of nature, high in the alpine environment is always a treasure for me.
Soon, on the high traverse on the south face, I lost the way. We were following cairns on the rocky mountain trail, until it seemed they just ran out! Even though I had Gerry Roach's guide to this mountain trail, I was unable to find the next cairn. No matter where I looked, I was unable to find the cairned hiking trail. In frustration, I placed my hiking poles by the last cairn we had seen so my hands would be free on the mountain climbing that was becoming ever more difficult.
We climbed upward, on several different paths of least resistance, searching for the route to the top, without any luck. We kept topping out on imaginary "hiking trails" that became too difficult, forcing us to turn back.
Finally, I gave up, in a fearful frame of mind and sat down to have a snack and to wait for our next move. Moments later we heard the guys whooping as they reached the summit above us, but out of our view. It only added to our frustration. As if we were frozen and not knowing what to do next, we sat there, to wait it out. The views were stunning. I could almost forget our plight. We talked about not having to reach the summit, that it would be OK to just sit here and take it all in.
My friend high on Vestal Peak's South Face
Eventually, we heard the guys descending from the summit and sure enough, they rounded a ridge and appeared before us in the distance. We quickly scrambled over to meet them. The joy on our faces was hard to hide.
After much chatter about what had transpired on both sides of the climb, they showed us the way of the mountain trail. The route soon became quite obvious to me. A single cairn, much lower than we were, marked the path over the next ridge. How could I have missed this?? How was it that I was unable to trust the trail, unable to look in ALL directions for the next cairn? How could the "experienced" one goof up so badly?
Even though we girls were tired and frustrated, we were able to muster our courage, once again to go on. We started off, down the mountain trail, rejuvenating our mountaineering spirits. The guys sensing our discouragement, ditched their packs and followed us, leading us to the top of the mountain. It took us only an additional 30 minutes to complete the climb. We had been so close!
We were able to all enjoy the summit together, and it was a special time. The views unfolded in an amazing panorama of beauty. I felt connected to the mountains, the earth and the sky, and all souls on the mountaintop with me that moment. We snapped pictures, ate some more and began the long descent.
My husband and I on Vestal Peak Summit
My stepson and his friend on Vestal Peak Summit
To add insult to injury, on our descent, I was unable to find my hiking poles along the hiking trail. The "last cairn" where I left them before joining the men, was nowhere to be seen now. It appeared we were on an entirely different route on the descent, and my GPS confirmed it. I descended to camp, minus my poles. I missed my poles, but did alright without them.
The following day, in our camp, the group decided they had had enough of mountain climbing, and decided to fish and hang out. I, however, could not let go of the experience of the previous day. Something was calling me back to that high mountain trail. I told my family I wanted to find my hiking poles. That was my excuse. But it was more than that. Something was calling me, deep within, to re-do the trail alone.
As I climbed back up that mountain trail, I used my GPS to try to re-trace my original steps. On the way up, I would frequently get confused in the boulder fields and loose my way. If, in my frustration, I would turn my head left or right, broadening my view, suddenly the next cairn would appear. Trust the trail, I told myself. Many have come before you that know the way.
As I clamored up boulder fields, scree fields (loose fine pebbles), and alpine rock, I would get emotional, and start sobbing. How did I fail so, to get lost when there was a hiking trail all along? Why did I not trust the trail? Why could I not see? I pushed upward, gaining elevation and with it some clarity as my emotions subsided.
High on the rocky south face traverse of Vestal Peak, despite my GPS bearings, I could not find my poles. In fact, I couldn't even find the exact hiking trail we took. The GPS would tell me to go one way, and I would set out on that route, and it would soon become apparent that this route would be difficult if not impossible.
When the GPS led me, to the "exact spot" where I left my poles and to the "last cairn" where I was sure I had left them, the poles were nowhere to be seen. An enigma. How could I have gone so wrong?
After about 20 minutes of searching, I gave up looking for my hiking poles and sat down. Once again I looked at the incredible views before me. I had re-climbed about 1500 vertical feet, over 2 miles, and I was happy. Just to have made the climb. To know that I could get it right, even if it took several tries. Even if I didn't summit anything. Even if I didn't find my hiking poles.
View of Turret and Pigeon Peaks to the South on the South Face of Vestal Peak
I knew that the poles no longer mattered. I knew that re-tracing my steps was impossible, even with a gadget in my hand. I knew it was about the journey alone. Trust the trail.
As I descended in my allotted time frame, so my family wouldn't worry about me, I felt very happy. I had learned something about myself on this high mountain hiking trail. The beauty of it all helped me trust the trail. The hated rocks with their cairns, now visible, had now become a blessing, guiding me down. I was trusting the trail. I was looking around more and widening my vision to see them. They were there all along. It was me who didn't see.
If I had trusted the trail, perhaps I would not have gotten off it. If I had not been so proud, I could have seen more clearly. I was so grateful for the guys who helped us see the hiking trail from above. The mountain trails are always easier to find coming down from above.
I vowed to myself, to never go mountaineering without my husband again. He is so much taller and stronger than I and I have relied on that many times before to get me out of jams. Today brought this realization to me fully. Trust in others now, and those who had gone before me. Trust in the trail.
My husband on Vestal Peak Summit, view of the Three Trinities in the background to the East.
If you haven't already figured out the metaphors of my experience on the hiking trail high on Vestal Peak, I will summarize for you:
***Note: To see the full description and lots of pictures of our climb on Vestal Peak, click here.