I couldn’t find the trail as I moved through the trees. There were several boulders in front of me and after an hour of following a well-defined trail I knew I had come off course at some point.
It was one o’clock in the morning and my headlamp offered a shadowed view of the path, which sometimes makes trail hunting difficult. As I was now at 12,000 feet and in need of a rest from trying to breath in thin air I decided this was a good spot to stop for moment and reassess.
When you’re alone in the dark the worse part is stopping. You are left with the dead quiet, the feeling of being watched, and it is impossible to look all directions at once. This is where you dwell on the mountain lion attacks you’ve read about in Backpacker Magazine, or worry about the lone stranger that killed people on the Appalachian Trail. It is you against the dark. It’s a moment when you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?”
Just a few hours before I was stepping on an American Airlines flight to Colorado Springs. Second Mile Water is an organization that raises money to build wells in Nicaragua and I had decided to climb Pikes Peak to raise funds.
Landing in Colorado Springs at 10:00 pm, I jumped in my rental car and headed to the trailhead on the backside of this iconic mountain. This was my first solo climb of a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado and about my twenty-fifth “fourteener” climb.
I drove up the gravel road to trailhead at about 11:45 pm and immediately began layering up in the cold air. It was Aug 2nd, but unusually cold even for high elevation in Colorado. At midnight, I started up the trail.
Silence is powerful. The only sounds were my steps and breathing. There was not one soul on the trail at this hour, and as much as I was wishing to bump into someone, I was hoping more that I would not. Time alone on the trail is a great gift in a busy, noisy world. The silence makes you think, pray, and wrestle with yourself.
“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,” wrote Blaise Pascal. He argued we do not like to sit alone in the quiet because we would have to deal with the evil within ourselves. And so, I started facing the issues of the hour one by one as I walked. I considered how to be a better Christian, husband, father, and friends as I spoke out loud into the darkness from my single beam of light. I dwelt on issues at work and talked out solutions. I prayed out loud for God’s direction and wisdom. I prayed I would not be attacked by mountain lion even though I was the fool who choice to come out here alone in the dark.
Back at the boulders and a few sips of Diet Mountain Dew later I was ready to retrace my steps to get back on course. I shimmied around the boulders to ensure there was no identifiable trail on the other side; there was not. Back over the rocks I worked up and down the steep slope looking for any sign of a worn path. Several hundred feet later, I had the trail again. I was just now coming out of tree line – now the real work began.
Pikes Peak is vast. Once above tree line the peak is still two miles and another 1,500 feet to go. I felt like I was on another planet; The orange glow from Colorado Springs, the light atop the peak that most people drive up, and the incredible silence.
I made the summit at 5:45 am before sunrise. I was again surprised at how cold it was for the first August. I walked around the peak and there was not one person. No cars, no one inside the shop on top. I had Pikes Peak all to myself and I was captured by the thought and a bit giddy as the sun came up.
I shot a few video clips for the Second Mile Water event and then sat behind the building and grabbed a granola bar. Alone with the silence and the sunrise I was simply amazed at God’s creativity.
Four hours I pushed upward, dwelt on the people and things important to me and as prepared to make the seven-mile trek down I had answers to many questions. I thought of some lyrics from Jimmy Buffet as I headed down,
“Hello mister other me
It's been a long time
We hardly get to have these chats
That in itself's a crime
So tell me all your troubles
I'll surely tell you mine
We'll laugh and smoke and cuss and joke
And have a glass of wine
That's where it always happens
Same place every year
I come down and talk to me
When the coast is clear”
My trek up Pikes Peak started a habit for me - a habit of finding time to hike alone.
Since that day I have spent days alone on the Appalachian Trail, in the deserts of the west, and on the coast. Each is refreshing, enlightening, and leaves me looking forward to the next time I have the chance.
I encourage you to make time to get away. Sit in the darkness and the quiet and listen to yourself and God’s voice on the wind. It will do wonders for your self, your relationships, your direction, and your work.