This week I’m on vacation with my husband and my in-laws in Manitou Springs, Colorado. My husband Justin and I always debate about which is better, mountains or beaches. My family grew up going to a beach every summer, so I’ve always been on team beach. Justin has been to Colorado many times and has developed a heart for the mountains and often tries to make me admit mountains are better.

Yesterday, we climbed Pikes Peak. If you’re not familiar with this particular mountain, Google it, you’ll learn more than what I can tell you. Let’s just say, it’s a large mountain. 14,115 feet to the summit to be exact. The hike took us 7 hours and 15 minutes from trail head to summit, and within the first hour I was converted from “team beach” to “team mountain.” Now, to my family who will read this someday, don’t worry. The beach will always hold a special place in my heart, and to be honest I’m not so much choosing one over the other as I am appreciating what the mountains have to offer. If I had things my way I’d choose beach and mountains every summer for the rest of my life.

The climb yesterday was one of the best experiences of my life thus far. I enjoyed every step of the way, including the last half mile. That last half mile was tough. It took twice as long as a full mile (or more) early on in the hike. It even started snowing/sleeting, but I didn’t stop smiling. A headache, due to the altitude, was worth it for the hundreds of amazing things I learned and observed during the hike, but for your sake, I’ve narrowed it down to five.

  1. Who you hike with matters. When we started the trip in the dark at 5:15 am we were pretty silent as we settled into our hiking rhythms. But after a half an hour the conversations helped pass the time. If you can quote The Office, Lord of the Rings, and old Will Ferrell SNL skits with your hiking counterparts, you know you’re in good company. Not to mention how evenly-matched we were fitness wise. This would have been a very difficult task to undertake with someone at a different fitness level than you.
  2. Small goals are everything. Is it too cliche to say there are many life lessons to be learned while hiking? When the oxygen started getting thinner and our legs were tiring from the last five hours of hiking, a goal of even a quarter mile until the next quick stop made a big difference. Making that progress, no matter how small, was a positive mental boost. Then, when we were ready to start again after a minute or two, we knew we only had to go a little farther before stopping again. All the little progress adds up.
  3. Mountains are surreal. My husband and brother-in-law can confirm I didn’t shut up about this the entire hike. Probably a dozen different times I would say something to the effect of “I think I’m dreaming,” or “This doesn’t seem real,” or even, “This had to be what the hobbits felt like.” Even today as we drove past Pike’s Peak I looked up and couldn’t believe we actually climbed all that way. It seems impossible to do even after I had already done it!
  4. Pictures are worthless. Unless you have a serious, high-quality camera, pictures do mountains no justice. Some pictures of the hike and the company are priceless for the memories, but when it comes to capturing the beauty of the mountains my motto is ‘don’t bother.’ Rather than trying to get the lighting just right, or stage that perfect Instagram picture, just sit. Look at the mountains, and not through a screen. Just look. Soak it in and admire the depth and the magnitude of what lies before you, because no matter what you do, the picture won’t be as good as what you’re experiencing first-hand.
  5. God is amazing. I’ve learned this lesson about once a week for every week of my life. Somehow, with each new experience, I learn it deeper. Not only did he dream up the vision of a place like this, he designed it and created it with the words from his lips. Only he could have created something with such beauty. Not only did he create the mountain, but he allowed me to experience it. I have a healthy body, a loving family, and a blessed life. Add them all up and I’ve been given a beautiful opportunity to draw closer to him. I felt very small climbing all that way, but I also felt how vast and magnificent he is. To think, he created this unbelievable place, but did something even more incomprehensible when he sent his son to die in our place, humbles me over and over again.

If you haven’t been on a big hike before but are even remotely interested, I would urge you to do so as soon as you can. I can’t speak highly enough about the experience (see what I did there) and know you’ll be glad you did. Until then, and until next time for me, dream of the mountains and prepare for adventure.

KirstenElsa