One of the best feelings in life is the feeling of accomplishment. It gives you a confidence that shines through from within. Not a false sense of confidence, but one that comes from knowing you have earned it with your own effort and hard work.
You might be wondering how you can get this feeling of accomplishment. Many activities qualify as confidence boosters like planning an event or reaching a goal. I recently reached a new goal, more accurately a new height, that taught me this forgotten but extremely valuable lesson.
I climbed my first fourteener. That’s right, a mountain that measures taller than 14,000 feet. Living in Colorado, you would think that everybody is climbing mountains, but the truth is, it’s not for everyone. Climbing a fourteener is hard work and takes both physical and psychological commitment. And, as the sign at the start of the trail read, “There are NO easy fourteeners.”
The first one third of the trail I climbed with my friend, but when we reached the end of the tree line, my friend had to turn back due to an injury. This was a deciding moment for me. Do I turn back with my friend or do I go on without her? With my friend’s encouragement, I decided to go on alone. Though I wasn’t entirely alone (there are always people on the trail), the people I met didn’t know me, my history, my purpose, and they didn’t owe it to stay with me, talk to me, or look out for me. They also didn’t know the monumental accomplishment this would signify for me.
I continued to ascend the mountain with apprehension. What if something happened? What if I got hurt? What if I failed? What if I didn’t summit? I banished those thoughts and reminded myself that nobody made me do this, I was here on my own accord, and I could leave anytime on my own accord, summit or no summit. This journey required me to leave my old thinking and old fears behind. At 13,000 feet, negativity won’t just slow you down, it will stop you cold in your tracks.
So, I continued on. I persevered. I repeated my mantra for the morning what seemed like a million times. I climbed over little rocks and big rocks. I climbed up a narrow tunnel of snow. I climbed the last quarter mile of mountain covered in slippery, slushy snow with all the grit I could muster. The air was so thin I had to stop every ten steps to breathe and adjust to the altitude. I had lost the ability to repeat my mantra and thought, “how am I going to do this?” I decided I could count my steps. And so, I did. I counted 950 steps (to be exact) to the top of the summit.
As I arrived at the summit I felt tears begin to escape my eyes and immediately dry in the cold wind that was hitting my face. I felt overwhelming joy and gratitude that I made it! I walked further onto the area where people were gathered congratulating each other for a job well-done and handed a total stranger my phone and asked him to please take a video of me. Then I proceeded to really sob for having accomplished something that seemed so out of reach for someone like me. You see, I was never particularly athletic, I never played team sports, and I did not have the reputation for being rugged and strong. I had been handed an image that said I was weak and needed taking care of. I was taught not to participate in life due to a fear of getting hurt. I was not a risk taker. Especially not with everything I had dealt with in the last few years. And yet, here I was, on top of a 14er, and on top of the world!
The perspective I gained from this new place was remarkable! For miles and miles, I saw mountains. Some snow capped, some green. I felt closer to the clouds and the heavens than I ever had. I felt at peace as I looked out and saw blue skies that stretched out in front of me as far as the eye can see. I stood for a moment, unsure of what to do next, just taking it all in. I felt so small on top of these gigantic mountains. Small, yet mighty. I felt grateful to be alive, to have had this experience, to feel that I can.
You may think that the trek down was easier than the trek up, but before you make that assumption, let me say that it took four hours to ascend the mountain. I was tired, out of breath, hungry for REAL food (not snacky stuff and an almond butter sandwich on gluten free bread), cold, and wet. On the way down my toes kept hitting the front of my hiking shoes, and I still had another two hours to get down. There was snow to traverse and rocks to climb down. I just wanted to be down. But there is only one way down, the same way I came up. So, I braced myself psychologically and started my descend. No complaining, no quitting!
“Character is the impulse reined down into steady continuance.” ~ Charles Henry Parkhurst
When I finally got back to my car, my friend was waiting for me, elated and wanting to hear all about my experience of climbing my first fourteener. We drove into town and went to our favorite healthy place for lunch. I sat and relished my salad – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and hummus. As I walked across the street to an artist colony, I noticed my shoulders drop as I walked a little taller. This was not a feeling of arrogance, but a feeling of pride in my accomplishment.
I was grateful for the other hikers I met on my journey, some of them experienced, many of them newcomers like myself, all of us there with a purpose. Some reclaiming a lost love; some pursuing a passion; me, discovering new love, new heights, new parts of me.