Trails traveled: Goat Mountain Trail, Waterton Canyon Trail, Difficulty: Black (Difficult)
Out-and-Back, 6.1 miles round-trip, 1,844ft elevation gain
Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Weather: Partly Cloudy
- South Platte River
- Waterton Canyon
- Denver Water
- Lockheed Martin
- After-work Hike
- Scrub Oak
- Prickly Pear
- Bugling Elk
This was a hard hike. I didn’t give myself enough time after work and I didn’t believe it was as hard as everyone said it was. A co-worker warned me about the difficulty of this hike, and my bravado laughed him off. I have read over hiking bloggers talk about this hike and not summiting, and I ignored them.
Let me add to the chorus of people warning you, fellow hiker, to proceed with caution.
This hike was hard. I didn’t make it to the top. It was kind of disappointing.
I am still processing the fact that I “didn’t make it,” and re-evaluating why I hike and what the point is.
It’s funny because when I started out hiking about 4 times per month, there was a three-fold purpose behind it: getting exercise, spending time outside in nature, and having something to do on the weekends.
I have been on all lengths of hikes with varying degrees of difficulty. I like to take my time on most hikes without a time goal in mind. It’s fun to “record” my hike on AllTrails and see my stats and calories burned. But that’s not why I hike. Most the time it is a place to clear my head. It is some time for me to find comfort in solitude. I spend much of my time hiking in prayer either on the trail or off-trail where I found a place to steal away. I love to spend time writing poetry and journaling about my life, my hike, and what are the next steps coming up for me.
More recently, I have been doing some summit hikes. I climbed two fourteeners, and in the past climbed to the summit of some other not-as-tall peaks. When you climb a fourteener, there is a completely different mindset compared to your average local hike around the foothills or even in a wilderness area. There is a lot of concentration and focus for every step you make going up the mountain. At elevation, the stakes are even higher and you don’t stop to reflect along the way. At the summit, there may be a few minutes to jot down some notes or scribble a poem, but you don’t want to stay there for long. There are real risks up there. Weather is a major risk factor that needs to be constantly monitored and considered. Above the treeline, hikers are the tallest point on the slopes. If you get stuck in a lightning storm, the danger to your life is very real. On some of the more technical climbs, a fourteener has serious risks of falling and exposure on the side of some very tall cliffs. Every year, hikers fall to their deaths in the Rocky Mountains climbing these peaks.
Not reaching the summit on Goat Mountain was disappointing, but I ran out of time. By the time I made it off the trail down to the flat Waterton Canyon trail, it was almost completely dark out. If I had made it to the trailhead at 4:45pm, rather than 5:15pm, I could have likely made it all the way up. The problem wasn’t my endurance or conditioning, it was the fading sunlight. I made it to the final “false summit” about half a mile from the top. I could see the summit, but it was too late.
I think there are different hikes for different reasons. Some are about the challenge. Pushing myself and growing. Some about are basking in the nature, feeling the fresh air, the spectacular views at elevation of the world below. Some are about flaneuring on a flat trail, wandering around in a somewhat aimless state, listening to the forest, and focusing more on being present to your surroundings.
I think I am going to land on setting realistic expectations before leaving the car. Most trailheads have several hikes where you could do a number of things while visiting the park. Decide when you leave the car what this trip will be. Do you need a challenge? Are you looking to take your time and get refreshed in the outdoors? Will this hike be a “forest-bathing” trip?
After answering that question, check your expectations to confirm that what you are attempting is realistic. If there are a million people on the trail with you, do you really think the outing will be a meditative one? If the hike is expected to take 3+ hours and sunset is at 7:15pm, do you really think you can reach the summit if you start at 5pm?
Life is a journey, not a destination. Reaching the summit can’t be our only goal. Hopefully, each of us will learn a lot of new things along the path.