“Well, we’re not going back THAT way,” my good friend, fellow Trojan, and current hiking partner, Dan O’Brien says, matter-of-factly. Dan was in from California and I was introducing him to the world of Colorado’s 14,000′ peaks. The primary routes for most Fourteeners are crowded with Peak Baggers so we chose to climb Mount of the Holy Cross by the much more difficult Halo Ridge approach and seemed to have it all to ourselves… This was the only way to view the eponymous cross on the east face and I wanted Dan to see the cross.
At the moment, we’re glancing across the long undulating spine of boulders we just traversed. We had reached the top of PT 13373, an unnamed peak noted only by its elevation. It was The Point of No Return – that point where it’s more dangerous to turn back than continue.
But what happens when you get to The Point of No Return and you just want to quit? Backward or forward doesn’t matter … you’re done. Now what?
Due to the severity of the terrain, it was taking much more time than expected, which meant water would soon become a problem. We were experienced backpackers. We knew quitting was not an option past the Point of No Return. At that moment, we both knew that we would have to carry on and finish what we started. We were, in fact, going to climb one of Colorado’s most storied Fourteeners. Not just because that’s what we had set out to do. It was really the only way to survive. There was no quit. “I can’t” wouldn’t fly. No one would be coming to save us. And Dan couldn’t carry both of us. The longer we took to get to the water source waiting on the other side of Holy Cross, the less likely we were to make it. It was time to move. And it was going to hurt.
Now looking toward our target, our 2 1/2-mile path lay clearly in front of us:
- Drop 400′
- Cross 10 yards of a 6′ wide catwalk (1,000′ drop on each side)
- Climb almost 1,000′ to another summit at 13,831′
- Drop another 600′
- Climb the final 800′ to the 14,005′ summit of Mount of the Holy Cross
All over seemingly endless piles of car-sized boulders, unstable talus, and loose scree.
Did I mention we were wearing 40-pound backpacks? For me and my back, I knew I was really going to suffer on the way off the mountain, dropping 3,000’ in 3 miles to our next camp (stay tuned for Part 2: How to Ride the Line Between Pain and Suffering for 8 Hours…).
When we reached the catwalk saddle between PT 13373 and PT 13831, Dan and I stopped to catch our breath and grab a snack before our next big climb. We talked about Dan’s experience as a Troop Leader for the Boy Scouts (shout out to Culver City Troop 108!). In nearly 5 years of leading groups of all ages throughout the California wilderness, Dan’s had many a Scout declare they were done, finished, couldn’t take another step, regardless of how far they were from either camp or car. And yet, they managed to persevere and make it out of the woods (he hasn’t left anyone behind, as far as he knows…). Somehow, despite the “I can’t take another step” story they’ve convinced themselves is true, they’re able to take another step, and then another, until they’ve made it to the end.
When you’re convinced you’re done, how do you get over it and press ahead?
We often have the ability, in this modern ‘on-demand’ society in which we live, to quit things that we don’t enjoy or just don’t feel like doing. Personally, my arch-nemesis is the Cover Letter … I can’t stand writing them so they rarely get done. I always start with the best of intentions but it’s too easy to quit, so I typically do. Without significant consequence, quitting becomes too easy, too commonplace, and too simply forgiven. Some may even get into the habit of quitting, quick to exclaim, “I can’t” whenever things start to get uncomfortable in the normal course of life.
From my perspective, this is all about comfort zones. We each have imaginary borders at the edge of our experience, and the closer we get to that boundary, the more internal discomfort we feel. The more discomfort we feel, the more powerful the story our Ego writes about what’s going to happen on the other side. We’re now operating in fear and that fear is holding us back. When we are aware of the fact that our minds are just predicting something we don’t want to happen, we can become curious about what’s really on the other side of that imaginary boundary. From there, we can push through it, one step at a time.
What’s waiting for us is magic. No more self-talk about being afraid, inadequate, or small. No more self-limiting beliefs about what you can’t do. The joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction of getting over the hump to success. The awareness that you can do anything when you let those fearful thoughts go.
If this can be accomplished in the face of death (or at least significant pain and suffering), it can be applied to any situation we face when we start to get uncomfortable. Just let those fearful thoughts go and get curious about what you will learn. Keep pushing those boundaries!
Dan and I did just that. As we finally finished Halo Ridge – two hours behind schedule and out of water – we joined the main access trail to our final summit. We started seeing ant-sized people winding their way down from the top and every group we passed buoyed our spirits with, “You’re almost there!” One couple even shared some life-saving water. The last hundred feet of climbing seemed to float by on their communal support as we crested the final boulder and took in the 360-degree view. We shared stories with a group on top and reveled in seeing the entirety of the route we just completed. “You hiked THAT? With THOSE packs?” they exclaimed. I was finally able to stand atop Mount of the Holy Cross (and make it back alive to tell this story and plan for the next adventure!).
If you would like to explore the full potential waiting for you outside your comfort zone, I can help … it’s what I do. You can message me here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.