At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak is the tallest natural peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Charlie, my husband, and I have hiked the southern trail to Harney in the spring. It is beautiful, rugged, and a challenge to hike to the summit on a nice summer day.
Charlie and I have never hiked Harney in the winter -so when a friend invited me to go with her and two others last weekend, we took the challenge. However, we did not go the easier southern trail, as I anticipated. We took the more challenging northern trail – a 2,200 foot ascent in 5 miles.
I realize that there are individuals who hike this type, or harder, on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I considered this a strenuous hike. At our starting point, it was 42 degrees, snow on the ground and sustained winds of 20-30 mph. There were several fallen trees across the trail we had to find our way over or around. The snow got deeper, winds increased, and temperatures decreased as we made the ascent.
It was slow going for me and after 3 ½ hours (about a half hour before reaching the summit) Charlie and I left the group and headed back to the car. My body said “no more” and the risk of injury was not worth the push.
It was a 2 ½ hour descent and I admit that I was miserable, exhausted, and my body hurt. My hiking pole broke; I was fed up with crawling over fallen trees; and every time I got to a slight uphill climb I would scream an obscenity at the top of my lungs (Charlie would be at the top of the hill watching this spectacle then run back and encourage me forward). With one mile left, Charlie somehow hurt his paw and I was the one encouraging him to continue on to the car (he is okay – only a minor cut). Neither of us moved very well for the next few days.
Despite the in-the-moment misery, I can celebrate this experience. All of the obstacles, deep snow, and broken pole reminded me of how life itself is not easy. Sometimes we hurt and are exhausted from the challenges thrown our way. Sometimes we have to yell obscenities just to get the frustration out. Sometimes we have to sit down on a fallen tree to catch our breath and look around just to summon the courage and energy to keep going. Sometimes we need a friend to encourage us. Sometimes we take a wrong turn and end up a mile out of the way (yep – that happened). And sometimes we don’t make it to our intended destination.
But that is all okay because I learned a lot about myself during this adventure. I learned that I have more endurance than I gave myself credit. I learned that I am never alone, even if it feels like I am the only one on the planet. I learned that I can find my way back to the starting point. I learned that I can set my discomfort aside to be with a friend. I learned that I know how to take care of myself.
Most of all, I learned that I can look back on something, which in the moment felt wretched, and notice the beauty in the experience.