This story comes from Emily, who went on a 15-day alpine backpacking course in the Gore Range of Colorado.
It was 4:00 AM and the stars were glistening above my tarp with the shadows of mountains surrounding me. There we were; 15 strangers on the 5th day of our Outward Bound Course hovering over the gas stove trying to grasp some heat. We had just discovered that we were going to begin our hike up the tallest mountain in the Gore Range. Sitting on the cold grass with the icy wind kissing my face, I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t we first learn how to read a map or use a compass?”
At 6:00 AM after stuffing our backpacks with pots, sleeping bags, ropes, and purifying our water with iodine, we began our climb. An hour later, the clouds diminished and rays of sun reflected off our skin. After a couple of falls and splinters we began to climb a rocky steep slope causing my shoulders to ache and my legs to shake uncontrollably. My feet kept losing their grasp and admitting I fell more than 50 times would be an understatement. “This is it. Why did I ever put
myself through this?” I was phoneless, tired, anxious, and feeling lost. The struggles I have at home were nothing compared to what I was experiencing being in the wild.
It was 4:00 PM and we were now 5,000 ft. above ground—I was now taller than the skyscrapers back home. Malory kept reminding me to not look down, but I did not listen. There I was looking down at the trees and mountain goats, which were now the size of ants, as my hands burned and my legs struggled for support. My heart was beating at a rhythm of its own, chills were biting down my spine, and a mixture of tears and sweat dripped from my freckles onto the gravel beneath me.
I repeated to myself one last time before everything went black, “Why did I ever put myself through this?”
Within five minutes I became vulnerable to 15 strangers who I was now beginning to view as family. I bit my tongue on how I was feeling because I was consumed with my thoughts… “Am I really going to blow this scholarship—this once in a lifetime opportunity? The boys will think I’m weak. Of course, you couldn’t do it Emily, you’ve had NO training.” I mustered the courage to tell everyone I needed to stop.
Something about sitting huddled at the saddle of a peak with my 15 new friends from different backgrounds, stories, and identities motivated me to push forward. David expressed he felt the same urge to give up but that it would not do anyone any good to give up now. Malory reminded me of the support I had from the other two women in our group. After 20 minutes of crying endlessly, I wiped my tears, hoisted my backpack, looked at my surroundings, and resumed my journey. I could not stop now.
It was now 8:00 PM. My skin was as red as the sunset surrounding us. We reached 13,000 feet. We looked from the peak to see what turned out to be our greatest accomplishment. As the sun fell, the world shut down. It was pitch black and 10:00 PM struck my watch. The idea of climbing back down to stable ground was a bittersweet feeling. My legs were now purple with bruises, my leggings torn from my falls, and my hands still bleeding from grasping the rocks. My focus was narrow—I had one mission.
25 hours after 4:00 AM, I touched stable ground. As my feet finally landed, I found the answer to what I had constantly asked myself throughout the entire trip. I took on this challenge to learn about myself: I am capable and strong enough to conquer the world in whatever condition it may be—giving up is simply not an option. Thanks to you I uncovered the strength I had within me an I am eternally grateful for that.