MY HIKING buddies and I pack up our tents and make our way towards the trailhead of Mt. Harvard in complete darkness. We’ve chosen the south slopes, and with the desire to see the sunrise from above the treeline, we make sure to start the 14-mile round trip hike before 4 AM. We turn our headlamps on and begin our journey to the 14,423’ summit of Mt. Harvard.

1

Sunrise wine

Views like this make waking up in the middle of the night on a Sunday worth it. We find a spot above the treeline to sit and watch as the first light illuminates Mt. Yale. The sky glows orange as I watch my friends catch their breath, relax with snacks, and pass around a can of wine to the beautiful sight of sunrise.

2

Yale

As we gaze at its immense height illuminated by a gentle light, my friend Sarah stops to describe a particular route on Yale. After joining the group of Colorado 14er finishers this year, Sarah has a vault of tales on her time in the mountains. A number of 14ers are visible from different trails, providing the opportunity for fellow hikers to share stories of their own triumphs and failures.

3

The views

We always joke that the folly of hiking is the inability to look around and not trip at the same time. It’s easy to get caught up in your hike, your step, your breath, and forget to take a glimpse at the incredible scenery surrounding you. We stopped to appreciate the low-lying clouds around us as they cover nearby peaks and dissolve into the air as quickly as they came.

4

Safety first

At around 12,600’ and just past the junction for Bear Lake, Walker scans the trail ahead. Initially meandering through pine forests and alpine tundra speckled with wildflowers, the trail turns into a boulder field with cairns guiding the way. On any hike, it’s important to research all aspects ranging from weather to the route to wildlife.

5

Going up

As the sun illuminates the ridgeline between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia, Kit makes his way over a talus field, rock hopping and avoiding the small flowers which help create the delicate yet tough ecosystem around us. With a constant battle of mind and body, we keep going upwards along a beautiful landscape that physically feels like climbing the stairwell of a skyscraper.

6

The break

With muscles aching and bellies rumbling from our recent push, we find a relatively flat piece of the mountain and take a much-deserved break. With the peak in sight, our spirits are high as we marvel at the beauty that surrounds us.

7

The final push

The peak looks close, but we know how far it truly is. At over 13,000 feet and nearing 14,000, the air is thin and you can feel it in your lungs, your muscles, and your head. With the clouds below us, we begin the slow ascent and the final push towards the summit.

8

The summit

With 58 official 14ers in Colorado, you’re typically at one of the highest points in sight when you wear a grin that could be a grimace. We clamber onto the tallest rock at 14,423’ and take in all that we’ve worked physically and mentally for.

9

Summit time’s over

As we relax among rocks and watch fellow hikers come and go from the summit, we decide we’ve had our fill of sweeping mountain vistas, speechlessness, and summit beers for the day. The way down often feels like a different hike, taking in the angles and views that were to your back or hidden in shadows during your ascent. In the image above, Walker hops across a small stream as we go along the path leading us back to our cars, burritos, and a sleepy drive home.

10

The descent

Sprawling before us, shadows of the clouds above create a patchwork of light and color along our trail. Kit, Elijah, Sarah, and Walker trek along the path with the incredible valley views before us. With the possibility of afternoon storms beginning to roll in, the early morning summit led to a relaxing descent as we were able to admire Bear Lake, Mt. Columbia, and Mt. Yale surrounding us without feeling rushed to get below treeline.

11

Below the treeline

The landscape looks fairly unrecognizable as we make our way through the thick pine forest we ascended in total darkness. Every turn feels as though it might lead us around the corner to our car, and as we hasten our step in the last half mile, we finally see the glint of metal in the sunlight as a full parking lot nestled in the forest comes into view.

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