" Each step became a test of will power and determination. "
There we were, fifteen veterans standing at the base of James Peak and looking upward to the summit, each anticipating the full day of climbing facing us and wondering what was yet to come. Personally, being the oldest team member, I knew this would be a gut check like I had not experienced in many years. I glanced about at my comrades, some with visible scarring and some with wounds carried in their souls. Every one of us had a challenge ahead and a hurdle to overcome.
Our adventure began in the early morning light with the team stepping off from our base camp on Mary’s Glacier. The guides were patient and encouraging with this team of novice climbers. We all started out together but as the first hour wore on, the team began to thin from a pack to a single file line as the incline became more vertical and the stronger individuals were keeping a steady pace. Some of us, including myself, were stopping every few hundred yards or so to catch our breath and adjust our gear and backpacks. The altitude was taking its toll.
Two hours into the climb, trudging through knee-deep snow at times, a summit appeared. This was encouraging, however, the guides had told us there was a false summit along the route and this was it. To reach the peak of the false summit was a challenge in itself and once at the crest we were able to see the pinnacle of James Peak. What lay ahead was a short downward movement and then the ascend of James Peak, which on the route we were taking, was almost vertical.
Okay, suck it up, here we go.
The final accent was steep and through a softening deep snow. Each step became a test of will power and determination. Breathing became much more labored and each pause felt like a vacation. Step after step, none of them of any great distance. Deep breaths. The summit was close, but still what seemed like an eternity away. The younger and stronger were far ahead and had stopped just below the peak waiting so we could all summit together.
As I neared the gathering point just below the summit I felt a surge of energy, knowing that the worst was over. I was welcomed by my teammates and found a spot to sit and wait for the final remaining climbers to reach us. I finally had a moment to look at the beauty that surrounded us: the Colorado Mountains, the Continental Divide, and my fellow veterans.
With all in at our temporary rally point, we climbed the 200 feet to the summit and let out loud cheers. High-fives abounded. I gave my best Jack Dawson impersonation, “I’m king of the world!” Suddenly it all went quiet as everyone took a moment to reflect on what we had accomplished. As novice climbers we had made our first accent of a mountain. There we were, veterans from different backgrounds, working as a team and united in the spirit of accomplishment. And for a moment, we were all kings of the world.