The morning started as all mornings do when we go hiking or fishing, by checking the weather. Multiple apps and websites all agreed– partly cloudy + wind for the Idaho Springs area with no threat of snow or rain. Our plans were a go. Today we would hike to the summit of Chief Mountain, or so we thought.
It was 50 degrees when we left the house, and still quite pleasant when we reached the trailhead. Thinking we’d made it before the big winds, we began what we thought would be a short hike to the summit of Chief Mountain. After navigating the confusing first 1/4 mile of trail, we we were making good time. The dense forest cut the wind, and I even took off my hat and mittens because it was such a pleasant spring day. With only 2 miles to go, nothing could stop us now!
Two hikers approached us from above. Their thick parkas half covered wind-burned cheeks. They looked cold and tired. Ummm… how was that possible? This was such a nice day for a hike! Everything was perfect! We greeted them with Hello’s as we moved off the trail for them to pass, but instead of exchanging pleasantries they had a warning for us.
THEM: “It is extremely windy up there, you guys may want to reconsider summiting.”
US: “Oh! Thanks for the warning.”
THEM: “No, seriously. It is so windy we had to hunker down for like 2 minutes waiting for it to stop before we continued walking. We only made it because we had our poles to steady us. Without them, I don’t know what would have happened.”
US: “Uh… we forgot our poles. We’ll be careful. Thank you.”
THEM: “Just be really cautious and maybe reassess when you get to the tree line. Have a great hike!”
And with that they were off.
Andre and I looked at each other. Because we write this blog, we always take pictures and film time lapses at the top of every mountain we climb, which means plenty of gloves-off time. On the Not-Butlers-Gulch trail I almost froze my fingers and toes off due to the windchill factor. Should we summit today, after learning what these hikers experienced? For now, still within the sweet comfort of the tree line, we decided to continue on and reassess as conditions changed.
Well, conditions changed about here:
The wind picked up and the temperature plummeted. You can see the summit from this point– it’s not too far away. But looks can be deceiving. It could be 1/2 mile or it could be a whole mile. I don’t know about you, but I quickly become miserable in high wind/low temperature conditions. I also like my hiking to be fun. If I’m not having fun, there’s no point– I don’t climb just for the sake of climbing. Yeah, we heard the view of Mt. Evans is AMAAAAAZING from the summit, but if I was miserable up there would I be able to truly appreciate it? Meh, probably not. So we hiked about 100 yards further and plopped down behind the shelter of a tree to do this time lapse of the stunning scenery to the North.
We also ate lunch.
Because, how could you not, when your view is this:
Summit Fever is a very real thing. You are so close to the top that you want to keep going, ignoring the very real signs that you should turn back. It wasn’t just windy, it was WINDY. Guy-with-the-poles was right; the wind almost knocked me over several times, even while standing behind the protection of a tree. My hands were freezing, and the cold was starting to creep in toward my core. It was time to go back down.
Suddenly some hikers came up the hill toward us.
US: “Hey! How’s it going? We heard it’s real windy at the top, be careful up there.”
THEM: “Did you summit?”
US: “No, we’re turning back from here.”
THEM: “You really should try. The views are AMAZING. You are so close, you can’t miss it!”
US: “Thanks, we’ll consider it.”
Ahh… peer pressure. Another very strong factor contributing to Summit Fever. If someone says “We’re so close! Let’s keep going!” but you feel that it would be dangerous or unpleasant to do so, for the love of all that is holy, turn around and go back down. You can always come back another day, that is, unless you were injured or died on a mountain top following bad advice. Ok, so we probably wouldn’t have died up there, but it just wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience. When I finally summit Chief Mountain, short as it is, I want to be able to do so with happiness still in my heart. I don’t want to be counting down the minutes until my hands turn black and my fingers die, and even if that is an incredibly unlikely scenario, I just don’t ever want to be miserable on top of a mountain. That’s not why I climb. I climb because it’s fun, exhilarating, and it makes me smile. And when that feeling stops, so do I.
– C. Egli