On Hiking

I came to hiking late in life.

When young, I clamored to climb West Mountain with my friends. In reality, we ran up the first foothill, declared ourselves exhausted, and spent the rest of the afternoon acting silly and enjoying the ten pound lunches we’d packed.

I began to hike for pleasure in my twenties when I backpacked in the Sierra Nevadas with my first husband, a man of quirks. He ate freeze-dried food with gusto, scooted rattlers safely off the trail, and refused to build campfires or sleep in tents because to do so would isolate us from the night.

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I admit his desire to embrace the night advanced my stargazing from the Big Dipper and North Star to more difficult prey like Cassiopeia and the blue glow of Vega. It’s easy to recognize constellations and stars when they hang within reach like sparkling fruit.

While backpacking, I carried a fair share of weight and made do with minimal grooming. I knew I was a dawdler, not a pacesetter, so I walked second in line—though I’d heard that rattlesnakes, startled by the first hiker, tend to strike the second.

At times I felt fear.

I once walked a narrow path along a sheer cliff and pictured myself rolling away like a potato bug. When my husband joked that perhaps we’d fall to our deaths more quickly in the thin mountain air, I didn’t laugh. I edged into rivers: facing upstream for better control, side-stepping over slick rocks, probing for footholds with a hiking stick, my heart thumping in my chest. We once out-waited an unexpected lightning storm, crouched together under a clump of brush as jagged spears ignited the world and my terror.

But such moments of fear paled in comparison to my appreciation of the breathtaking beauty I walked through while carrying a pack on my back. I’ll never forget standing among Ponderosas of vanilla scent with my boots planted against the slope of the trail, while I gazed at a sky hidden by swaths of twilight clouds. The retreating sun stretched the shadows of the pines thin and long: a multitude of blackened arrows crossing contoured boulders, curtained cliffs, and a sunset-splashed river.

Since moving to Colorado in the nineties, Joel and I have climbed a few of Colorado’s fourteen-thousand-plus peaks called fourteeners. Standing on the summit of a towering mountain, mesmerized by a view stretching into eternity in all directions from a vantage point on top of the world, I feel enriched, alive, powerful.

Joel about to summit

Joel about to summit

Of course, on the way down, I’m brought back to reality by two knees, aghast at what I’ve done to them, muttering and complaining with each step.

Unwilling to give up a hobby that enriches my life, I swallow ibuprofen and ignore their grumbling.

 

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40 thoughts on “On Hiking

  1. I too am a dawdler, instead of a pacesetter, but there is something about being surrounded by nature that makes me feel so very alive. There are so many times, when feeling the pressures of life, my little family escapes to the mountains- just like my big family did years ago. 😊

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  2. They get tougher every day. I love the Ponderosas; they always look so old, and it’s good to see things much older than I am nowadays. I’ve tried to crawl inside my hat to hide from lightning, squatting on a trail. This was a wonderful celebration of the high country.

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  3. I enjoy hiking. I don’t do nearly as much as I did in my younger days, but I still enjoy it when I make the attempt. Nothing close to the height of the Rockies here on the east coast but you can find a variety of challenging hikes.

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  4. Beautiful story!

    I went hiking a few times as part of a group so we had a group leader. Whether I was a ‘pacesetter’ or ‘dawdler’ depended on the folks in the group. We talked, laughed, paused to administer first aid to those with blisters, paused to allow the stragglers to catch up, paused to take pictures etc etc. We were a fun, loud bunch. Good times were had once we reached the summit as we dug in and shared lunches and goodies we brought. Then on the way down, a few went swimming in a nearby lake. Not me though, if I can’t see the bottom I ain’t going in!

    The view of the nature surrounding us was amazing though… aahh good times 🙂

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  5. I’m envious. We have been hikers as you may know from some entries in my blog. PCT (Pacific Coast Trail) the Sierras, Washington Rain Forest, Mt. Rainier, etc.But no hiking for me since my accident, so it is lovely to read about others.

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    • I think my hiking days are numbered as well, but, like you, I have wonderful memories. I also take pleasure in living in the shadow of mountains so they are my constant companions.

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    • Not as tough as I used to be, and I don’t climb fourteeners with a full pack, but with a fanny pack. Even then, there have been times I’ve considered discarding it and probably would have if not for the littering factor! We also leave before morning fully breaks so we can be down before afternoon thunder and lightening storms start.

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  6. One of my favorite memories is hiking up to Emerald Lake in the Rockies. In the middle of hike up, hail and lightning (scary) but the only way through it was to keep moving. There really wasn’t much cover. Beautiful and terryifying at the same time.

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    • Frightened as I am when lightening strikes while I’m on a trail, and uncomfortable as I am in rain and hail storms, I agree there is something awesome about both of them. It’s as though nature is speaking directly to me and putting on a display of her power and beauty.

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  7. For me too, Janet. The mountains are grounding, like all of nature, they’re steadfast in an uncertain world and somewhere you can put your feet on solid ground. Beautiful post, I was there with you – again, without the achy knees 🙂 Linda

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  8. Love the photo, and the post. My happiest days were spent on the trails, pushing mind and body to it’s limits. I recall 10 days circling Stewart Island, now called Rakiura, very most Southern tip of New Zealand, sleeping out on the beaches, hearing the Kiwis call at night, wading neck deep through a swamp. When I dragged back to the mainland, first thing I learned was that your Space Shuttle “Challenger” was gone. I was sitting alone in an empty Youth Hostel, when a farmer came in, looked about, and asked- “Anyone here want to come out to the farm, and help me feed the pigs? Being the only one there, I had an enjoyable time feeding pigs. One need not seek adventure, but like a sailor, “Fetch it to you” One day I will see you rattlesnake climes- Thank you Janet.

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  9. Loved your post, Janet. Yes, I agree, it is on the way down that is difficult. I skipped up a mountain and hobbled down with my knees protesting the whole way. Quite frightening!

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    • You’re so right, Barbara. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me the first time my knees rebelled. Now I expect it and go prepared, though I’m not sure other fourteener is in store for me.

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  10. I am a dawdler too! I hike with friends quite frequently and I’m always the one who is distracted and picking flowers and admiring nature and climbing on logs and loving every minute of it.
    “It’s easy to recognize constellations and stars when they hang within reach like sparkling fruit.” My favorite description!!!

    I love reading your blogs as always, Janet! Thank you for sharing!
    http://montanaviolist.com/

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    • Thank you for noticing my hanging fruit sentence; I worked on it and felt pleased with the result, so appreciate your comment. Like you, I think dawdlers notice and enjoy more and am quite content being one.

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  11. Your beautiful descriptions make me wish I had done more climbing when I was young. But then, I danced ballet in a troupe and was a ruthless tennis player, both of which gave me great joy. I’m just happy that both you and I could have such rich experiences.

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  12. I just returned from a two week trip to the east coast (half of it without easy internet access) and was looking forward to reading your posts of the last two weeks.

    And… I love this post, Janet! As you know, this subject is a favorite of mine and I enjoyed reading of your hiking pleasures, as well as the terrors sometimes found along the trail.

    Which 14er is Joel hiking in the photo above? And which ones have you done?
    I have only hiked two 14ers—Uncompaghre and Handies—and would love to hike a few more of them. But that will have to wait until next summer, barring another injury of course!

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    • Does this mean I can look forward to another travel blog from you soon? I hope so. How is your shoulder doing? I know from Joel’s that it is a slow process. You’ve hiked 14ers I haven’t. We didn’t start until I was 62 and have done only three: Quandary, Mt. Elbert, and Huron; though we are talking about tackling another — when we are both healthy enough!

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      • Hi again, Janet.
        I’m still tending to back-from-vacation chores and have not yet started my next blog post. I know, I know, writing should be my top priority!
        The shoulder is coming along but it is a very slow healing process. I have more range of motion now but my right arm is still very weak. I just started strengthening exercises and am looking forward to regaining full use of the arm, although I heard it could take anywhere from six months to a year.
        Last fall I decided that I would try to get in shape to hike another 14er this year. And then I fell. Being healthy enough to do these things is starting to become a problem!

        Isn’t Mt. Elbert the highest mountain in Colorado? What was the hike like?

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      • Actually, Rita, I think healing should be your first priority. I remember how discourage Joel was when three months after his surgery he was still experiencing pain. But he did eventually feel much, much better than he did before surgery. It’s sad, isn’t it, that health has begun to interfere a bit with our plans. Yes, Elbert is the highest mountain in Colorado, but I think it’s a class 1 hike. It was long, but had a well marked path to the summit and no difficult, technical parts. A lot of people climbed it with us because several different trails lead to it. Keep me informed on your progress, please.

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  13. Aunt B, I am so behind in reading your blog. This one was just right as I took a great hike yesterday around Lake City and enjoyed the alone time and absolutely gorgeous scenery.
    Your words are always – just right!

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