Wandering in the Whiteout
Updated: Aug 20
First of all, I hope you all are being safe, healthy, and using this opportunity of economic difficulty as one to truly value those in your life that mean the most. We have the unique opportunity to change focus - our careers and our priorities have the opportunity to shift in orientation, as we care about the lives and souls and hearts that surround us. Take a little extra effort towards others, in order to reveal that relationship and love mean more than the superficial and fleeting circumstances of this unpredictable world.
Now, it's storytime. So, to truly embrace social distancing, I enjoy driving hours away from humans, into the backcountry of Colorado, and proceeding to hike peaks that exceed 14,000ft in height. These peaks, known as 14ers, are quite difficult to scale in the winter, and require careful planning and preparation. Avalanche danger, cornices, and other environmental conditions play a role in winter ascents. Lack of drivability to the trailheads (winter treks usually begin with at least 2miles of snow hiking, before the actually trailhead is reached and the ascent can begin).
In addition to some difficult mileage, lack of oxygen as one attempts to summit also poses time frame considerations.
A "typical" time frame for a winter ascent is can vary - 5hrs-12hrs easily.
Proper survival gear, snowshoes, water, food and supplies all packed into a large and secure backpack, snowpants, gloves, and appropriate winter attire all play a role into winter 14er ascents.
Ultramaroning / Spartaning / Winter 14er Ascents.... guys, are we surprised that I enjoy these?
I have been SO blessed to have two physically able feet and a motivated spirit to get after some of these tough ascents.
Recently, I achieved the highest peak in Colorado. Even in the winter months, this trek is low avalanche risk and low cornice danger.
I began the trek, starting at near 9650ft, and as I exited the treeline at about 11,900 feet, I noticed that the summit of the mountain was no longer visible. Clouds were rolling in, although the day had been forecasted to be sunny and a warm 16 degrees, but 50mph-60 winds. As I slogged on, keeping an eye on the clouds, my visibility began to decrease, and I could see only about 250m ahead of me at a time. A whiteout was impending. I made a decision: if I was at the summit by noon, I would turn around no matter what. A failed summit is totally doable- rather that, than potentially lose my life in the cold lonely Rockies.
Every 250m, I assessed the situation. I assessed my own levels of fatigue, and my condition. With every 250m, I could look up, and still establish the next gauge of 250m. Slowly, I chugged on. I was on my path, and I knew my heading. I was hopeful to summit, but I was in complete ownership of my decision to turn around if necessary. I hoped that the weather would become better. But I was only in control of my decisions, and my steps forward, in the face of the reality of the situation.
I was only given vision of the path directly ahead. I couldn't see the summit for the majority of my trek. My gasping for oxygen, my icicle crusted goggles, and my slow steps assured me that I was gaining elevation, but I had really no vision to see where the peak was. Then, as though an answer to prayer, the skies cleared. The sun pierced the clouds and broke the whiteout. I looked up. The summit was 100m away! With a renewed energy, I "sprinted" to the top.
I summited before my cutoff!
The breathtaking views caused a surge of awe and bewilderment.
I am not worthy to behold these majestic and powerful peaks.
I am so small, to have the capability to use my two feet and heart to strive towards these gifts of commanding rock.
I am so blessed.
And so humbled by the greatness of the Lord, who created these peaks, to care about an insignificant nugget like me.
As I reflect on this ascent specifically, I am reminded how little we have control over our path's ahead of us. We have goals, visions, and "peaks" we want to reach, but we are only able to see and to control what is directly ahead of us. We act on faith, trust without the vision to tangibly see, to work step by step towards our goals.
Faith is connected to hope.
We hope for a future goal, and the strength of this hope determines the intensity to which we prioritize the steps we take in faith towards that goal. In as much as we are uncomfortable when we cannot see what lies ahead, hope is a mindset in which we HAVE to be willing to be flexible and develop perseverance. It takes practice. The research conducted by Brene Brown indicates that hope is a combination of setting goals, PRACTICING the tenacity and the perseverance to pursue them, believing in our own abilities (gifts and talents), choosing to be tolerant of disappointment, and embracing that hope precedes the POWER to affect change.
In hardship, choose to hope.
In an abandonment of comfort, decide to hope.
In the midst of uncertainty, be the beacon of hope.
Gratitude will spark this process!
And from a place of gratitude, hope has no ceiling.
Spark hope today for your heart, and for someone else's.
And make sure to have a hand warmer at the ready, just in case of high winds.
Climb new heights (of hope, and rock :) )