The Continental Divide in Colorado from a Meteorological balloon at 86,000 feet by Patrick Cullis.

The Continental Divide in Colorado from a Meteorological balloon at 86,000 feet.  Picture by Patrick Cullis.

Our journey started on a crisp, beautiful day in the Colorado Mountains with a day-hike to the top of the Continental Divide above Bear Lake.  My friend and I hiked up the trail that began with large, beautiful trees, but the trees became smaller and then nonexistent as the air thinned with altitude.  My breathing became more labored as the trees got smaller; this flatlander was not acclimatized, unlike the friend I was visiting in Colorado.  We hiked various trails at the top of the Continental Divide and were treated to incredible views of mountains and wildlife.

Mountain Storm

Late afternoon, we arrived at an outcropping of rocks/boulder field and my friend wanted to spend some time bouldering.  I was tired and decided to get a head start down the mountain.  I traveled the trail for about 20 minutes and seemingly out of nowhere, a storm overtook the area.  The wind blew fiercely, the clouds became a thick fog, and the temperature dropped.  My thin windbreaker was not enough to keep warm, but it helped.   I found protection from the wind behind a boulder hoping for my friend to catch up.  Near me was a cliff that dropped sharply into a cirque (valley).  The wind blew the clouds/fog straight up from the edge of the cliff, blasting like an angry, billowing smokestack; it was amazing and beautiful.  I waited for ten minutes and wondered what had become of my friend.  Another ten minutes passed, it was getting darker and I was questioning if we would get off of the mountain that night because we didn’t have headlamps.  It would be a long night because we had eaten all of our food, and were low on water.   I had to find my friend because I knew it would be difficult if not impossible to survive the night alone in that weather.

Exhausted, I climbed back up the mountain and only had cairns (rocks stacked to mark a trail) to follow when I got back to the top of the Continental Divide.  Once there, I could hear my friend in the distance loudly calling my name.  I followed the sound of his voice through the fog and found him in the outcropping of boulders where we originally split.  He said he was unable to find his way to the trail.  Having just come from the trail, I was confident I could lead him to where I had just traveled.  We walked a short distance and found ourselves at the edge of a cliff.  Confused as to how this could happen, we went back to the original place where I found him and tried again only to be rewarded with another cliff.  It was like a scene from a bad horror movie where the people keep ending up where they started no matter what they do.  We then took a different route that seemed illogical at the time and thankfully, it led to the trail.

It would be nice if the story ended there, but things got worse.  We continued making our way through the thick soup and suddenly we were tormented by ice pellets and then lightening.  We were cold, tired, and disoriented with an element of fear due to the lighting.  I felt anger for not having prepared better for inclement weather or better yet, getting off the mountain earlier.  We moved as quickly as possible to find the main trail off the mountain.  Feelings of relief came as we found the trail and the storm began to pass; the winds of fate were shifting.  By the time we got to the trailhead, darkness was upon us.

10 Lessons:

  • “If you find yourself dwelling on all your problems, try offering your assistance to someone else who needs it. I know it seems counterintuitive, but by doing something for somebody else, your mind will relax, open up, and allow you to gain clarity about your own issues.” Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D. (2011)
  • Academic training and academia in general often promote specialization, individualized thinking, and autonomy, but the road less traveled through collaboration will lead to greater success.
  • If you find yourself in the midst of a storm, good choices result in survival.  While fear is a motivator, it also can result in reactive responses that are counterproductive.  Take the time to be mindful and accept the storm as your teacher.
  • Be prepared for storms because they are part of life.  In critical moments, feelings of anger about not being prepared enough or feelings of fear may surface.  At these times, it may be best to think of this question by Christina Feldman, author of Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World, who wrote, “Can you accept the moments of anger and fear as guests, be willing to receive them with kindness, without feeling obliged to serve them a five-course meal?” (p. 12).
  • Confidence in a path can be shattered when you reach a cliff.  Sometimes you have to backtrack and take a less obvious path.
  • “Ice pellets and lightening” can be distracting and divert mental energy away from a goal, but the most important thing is not to focus on the ice pellets and lightening; there always will be distractions that come in many forms, but it is best to focus physical and mental energy on common goals.
  • If you feel lost, it is important to work with others to find a path.
  • Human endurance typically goes beyond perceived limits.
  • There are beautiful things to observe, even in the midst of life’s storms.
  • The “Cardinal rule” of not hiking alone should always be followed.  Besides, the journey is more meaningful when traveled together.

Shared Value: Life-long learning

Feldman, C. (2005). Compassion: Listening to the cries of the world. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press.

Goldsmith, B. (2011).  Six tips to bring in more positive energy.  Retrieved November 3, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201110/six-tips-bring-in-more-positive-energy

Image 1 (2013). Retrieved November 3, 2013 from: http://www.universetoday.com/103203/no-this-image-was-not-taken-from-the-space-station-but-it-sure-looks-like-it/

Image 2 (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2013 from: http://irunmountains.blogspot.com/2012/07/week-ending-july-8.html