Sierra Trading Post is pulling together stories of “biggest mistakes” and “lessons learned” for an upcoming Twitter chat. I’ve done some stupid things while exploring Colorado but naively hiking in the afternoon during predictable summer storms has by far been the most dangerous. Re-reading the stories I posted about these “adventures” is actually painful! Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes…
I have survived a few mishaps in the backcountry – hiking the wrong mountain on my first 14er attempt, nearly dying and desperately wanting to sell my mountain bike after misreading directions and shivering a lot on my first winter camping trip are a few of the more exciting ones. And I’m sure I’ll add to that list with time – sometimes I don’t extensively Google adventures before I pack my bags and head out.
Each time I screwed up I learned a thing or two. I look back and laugh at the misfortune of each mishap. With the exception of one very stupid decision we made, repeatedly, in our first month of Colorado life. We moved from Wisconsin to Colorado unemployed. We finally had zero responsibilities to get up early and take on the day…so we slept in and went exploring in the afternoon. Seems luxurious, and it was, usually.
We weren’t sure how long we’d be unemployed so we jumped right into exploring our new state. By the second week of residency we decided to make the 2 hour drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park to check out the trails. We packed sandwiches, grabbed the one backpack we owned (oh, how things have changed) and left Denver around 11am. We drove into an emptying Bear Lake parking lot at about 1pm, grabbed a trail map and headed for Alberta Falls.
The first hour of hiking was fun – we were on a mission to get photos for our “hey, look, we moved to Colorado” cards for family so we fit every possible tourist stereotype. At least we were wearing running shoes, not sandals! We even took photos of the Garmin when it spit out 10,200 for elevation! We had eaten up all of our snacks but had not yet talked ourselves into heading back to the car when the skies opened up with thunder accompanied by pelting snow and rain. Of course, we didn’t own rain jackets so we were soaked within minutes.
As we headed back for the car we tromped through snow, followed barely visible trail and slipped down streams of mud. I was completely dumbfounded by the rumble of thunder. It was incredible. You could actually feel the rumble in your chest, this video does it no justice…
[Listening to that footage has me cringing – we were making so many horrible decisions…and my voice is so squeaky!]
We arrived back at the car, soaking wet, just as the storm moved out. It was an incredible experience and I still love the sound of thunder crashing through the mountains – we’ve backcountry camped through a few thunder storms, nothing compares to this day in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Looking back – we should NOT have been out in that storm. We should have paid attention to the skies as we parked and at least stuck closer to the car, on trails that were clearly defined. I never felt like my life was at risk, but what we did was not the best decision ever.
But we didn’t learn that lesson overnight. Two days later we headed back up to Rocky Mountain National Park (the “day pass” is good for 7 days) with big plans for hiking up an actual mountain! We picked Twin Sisters Peak, just outside of the park, near the Longs Peak Trailhead. Once again we slept in, left Denver late and arrived at the trailhead parking lot as people were leaving. We got a tad smarter this time and had packed extra food and layers. The hike up was roughly 3.5 miles with 2,000 feet of climbing – a challenge, but probably not hard enough to kill us.
As we hiked up we met lots of people coming down…the smart people who actually read websites and stuff like that. By mile 2 we stopped seeing people and we started seeing clouds roll in. We should have turned around. But, no, we were far too stubborn for that! We only had 1.5 miles to go…we would get to the top!
Before long the clouds rolled over the top of Twin Sisters Peak and let loose with rain. We ducked under nearby trees and decided we’d wait 30 minutes before heading back down. Just before the 30 minute timeline hit the rain stopped…and we stupidly continued upward. We hit treeline to see a mountain top surrounded by clouds. It wasn’t engulfed in clouds, just completely surrounded, giving it an ominous backdrop. Once again out stubborn stupidity had us hiking across a boulder field while listening to thunder in the distance. The wind was incredible, the clouds were scooting across the mountain tops and we were still plodding our way up.
We did make it to the top, snapped a few photos to prove it and then headed back down. As we descended through the boulder field we watched the clouds dip in and out, hiding the treeline from view. The thunder was still ricocheting off the nearby mountains but we never saw a streak of lightning, but clapping booms of thunder.
Once again we made it back to the car rather wet as the storm was clearing out. In exactly 3 days time we managed to get soaked to the bone while trekking around Rocky Mountain National Park in conditions that would have kept any sensible, slightly seasoned Coloradoan in their car!
Looking back both adventures were stupid. We should NOT have been wandering unfamiliar trails in a storm and we definitely should NOT have hiked up a rocky mountain as a storm raged around us. We had only been in the state for two weeks so we had not yet come to realize the predictability of Colorado’s afternoon summer storms. Now we know and every time I see someone hiking up a 14er at 3pm I want to stop them and turn them around…maybe they aren’t stupid, maybe they just don’t know!
So, have we made mistakes in the backcountry? Heck yes! More often than not I learn from my mistakes, sometimes it just takes a few tries. Luckily I survived each lesson in regards to afternoon hiking!
What mistakes have you made?
Please share something good so I don’t feel so ridiculous!
If you really want to share your stories – and listen to everyone else’s so you feel better about your mistakes – come hang out on Thursday afternoon for the #STPLive Twitter chat. We’ll be talking about learning lessons the hard way…and we’d love to have your input!