This morning, my crazy husband and I awoke to our alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. We got dressed (long underwear underneath our clothes), made lattes, woke our sleeping children and dressed them in warm gear, and were on the road at 5:40 to head to the mountains. Our plan: to summit Grays Peak, elevation 14, 270 feet, with our friends. Using a book called Colorado’s Fourteeners as our guide, we decided that our route should be up the eastern slope of Grays. According to the book, this was a shorter climb that was just a bit more difficult than the more heavily traveled climb up Grays’ western slope. With three kids between the ages of 9-11 in tow, we thought the shorter route might be advisable.
At 8 a.m. and only 38 degrees we left our cars and, laden with filled personal hydration packs, we began the trek to the trailhead. The book said the trailhead was .3 miles from the parking lot. It was not. It was over a mile up a 4-wheel drive road before we began seeing markers for the ascent. This was definitely going to put a damper on the “lower mileage” we were hoping for. The kids were slow to get started because of the cold. As the heart-pumping climbing began to warm us, we shed of layers of gloves, knit hats, wind gear, and fleece jackets so we could continue. We reapplied sunscreen and tried to fill up on snacks. We were stopping as much as we were moving, which was not a good sign. Still, we trudged along, taking several false trails before finally deciding on a direction to head.
By the time we had reached 13,251 feet on our climb (we’d started at 11,095 feet), we had been traveling nearly four hours. With all the stopping and starting, we had exhausted most of our water supply. Luke was complaining of a headache (dehydration related, I’m sure), Joe was starting to freak out because there was no clear cut path to the summit, and we weren’t sure what to do. We estimated that it would take us about 2 additional hours to reach the summit because there was no clearly marked trail. We’re smart parents, though, and knowing we were low on water and patience we decided the best course of action would be to pack it in, so we began our descent without ever reaching our intended goal.
Three years ago, when he was just 8, Joe climbed his first 14er (there are 53 mountain peaks in Colorado with elevations in excess of 14,000 feet, affectionately called 14ers). Two years ago, when Luke was just 7, we attempted to summit Mt. Sherman, but high winds and children with fear of heights kept us from that goal. We had hoped today would mark Luke’s first ascent over 14,000 feet, but it was not to be. I wanted to be upset because we did not accomplish our goal, but I wasn’t. We’d climbed 2,393 feet (all at high elevation) and walked nearly 7 miles, sometimes on slopes so steep that we were leaning into the hill to climb. The kids scrambled rocks and scree and were sure-footed as little goats. They made me proud.
As we were walking down, I could tell our friend’s daughter was a bit disappointed that she wasn’t going to be able to finish the climb because our boys had wanted to call it quits and we had agreed. Then I heard her repeat something to her dad. He asked her about the priorities for the day.
“Number One: Be Safe. Number Two: Have Fun. Number Three: Reach The Top,” she recited.
That got me to thinking about how often in life we feel that if we don’t reach the goal, the effort was wasted. But, that’s not really the case, is it? Was it a waste of a day because we didn’t summit Grays Peak? I don’t think so. I mean, we were on a mountain with three kids climbing at high altitude for a long distance. None of us got hurt. We all returned to the cars without a scratch. Item Number One: Check. Although the climbing was difficult and we all took turns being slow and stopping, we had fun. We laughed, commented on the gorgeous scenery, and appreciated the Rocky Mountain High views. We had great conversations with people we truly love. Item Number Two: Check. We didn’t reach the top, but that was the last priority.
After a long day, we went to Beau Jo’s for some Colorado-style pizza and beers (microbrews for the adults, root beers for the kids) to celebrate. We returned home 12 hours after we’d departed, exhausted and a bit sunburned, but feeling good about our effort. We will make some changes next time we attempt this climb (and we will attempt it again). Still, today really did prove the Chinese proverb, “The journey is the reward.” We may not have reached the goal, but the time we spent with our children and our friends, the beauty of the Colorado back country on a cloudless day with deep blue skies, the joy of seeing mountain goats in the distance walking around on Grays Peak, and the serenity of the nearly vacant east side of that awesome 14,270 foot peak made the journey worthwhile. It really comes down to perspective. You can beat yourself up over not reaching your intended target, or you can stop to enjoy what you discovered along the way. The choice is yours.