My type A personality and teacher instincts are pressing me to write about the High Peaks in the order that I conquered them. My heart, however, keeps leading me to tell about my solo climb to Mount Colden. Sometimes, the ones that require the most strength, take on a meaning all their own. I’ve tackled 13.1 miles three times in my life…but set before me was an entirely different 13.1.
Mount Colden was my #6 of the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks. It was also, ironically, my first winter high peak as well. The irony was that it was a very warm December 26th when I arrived at the parking lot of the ADK Loj early that Saturday morning.
My route was an out and back via Lake Arnold up to Mount Colden. I hit the trail at 7:26 a.m. and knew I was contending with a late sunrise and an early sunset. My goal was to be back to the Loj parking lot before 4:00 p.m. so I wouldn’t be hiking in the dark. The temperature was 32 degrees when I signed in the trail register. The verse next to my name? Psalm 31:24
Off towards Marcy Dam..this is a nice 2 mile hike up and down a series of planks and steps here and there…I would be following the Van Hoevenberg Trail (blue) for phase 1 of the climb.
It undoubtedly was the perfect morning weather…the sun was waking up as well, peeking her head over the mountains. Walking briskly, my mind was racing a bit. This would be the longest and highest hike I have done at this point. Mount Colden stands at 4714 ft. and is the eleventh highest peak in the Adirondacks. My nerves began to stir inside, but my cadence became the music in my head as I walked on.
There is a sort of peace that encompasses you when you walk alone. An awareness of oneself. There is an immense clarity when I hike. I hear things in my mind that may have been silenced otherwise, due to life’s busy days. Emotions surface that may have been repressed. The cloudiness dissipates, the blinders are put away and a rebirth of consciousness comes to life. It is here, in the mountains, that I will find freedom.
I arrived at Marcy Dam at 8:04 a.m., approximately 40 minutes after I began. Gazing in wonder, I spent some time on the bridge, just taking it all in.
There were a few other hikers on the trail with me, most were much faster walkers. There was another trail register after the dam for those that would have entered from the South Meadow entrance, which is closed for the winter. I was continuing on The Avalanche Pass Trail (yellow) to Avalanche Camps for phase 2. It was exceptionally quiet. I would not see another hiker for the remainder of my hike to Colden. I guess the others I saw earlier had either hiked the loop or ascended Mount Marcy, or even possibly went to the MacIntyre Range instead. Either way, it would just be my thoughts, nerves and I on this 13 mile climb.
Onward! There were many Lean-Tos and more toilets along the way. I have to admit…it became slightly creepy to me around this point. I moved quicker as my mind began its regular tricks and taunting. In addition, new emotions began to stir inside me at this point as well. Unresolved feelings of the past…
This journey was about setting myself free. I had been reading works by Jeff Brown. About creating space within by releasing emotional debris. When we empty ourselves of what is still bunked up inside of us, our true callings reveal themselves. That is exactly what was happening to me in this moment. Emotional debris. Sadness. Anger. Lack of forgiveness. They were all rising to the surface, and I had to find a way to release them.
Sometimes the past sneaks up on us, and we are blindsided. Maybe a time you thought you had resolved truly wasn’t yet. So face it. Face the messiness, the anger, the sadness. I faced it…I gave myself permission to ride the emotional waves as they rolled in and out. “Breathe in…you are light. Breathe out…let go of the _____.” The only way to truly be transformed…to become a better you, is to get real with yourself. Your feelings. Your past. Your accountability.
I could do it..”One foot in front of the other Jen…just keep moving forward.” The Lake Arnold route requires you to follow and climb up and over rocks and rocks and even more rocks…it was definitely not my favorite part of the journey but soon proved to be the place that tested my inner heart and soul the greatest.
A mile hike to my next junction, where the Feldspar Brook Trail (blue, phase 3) comes into play. Only 2.9 miles to the summit of Colden. An easy 1.5 miles to Lake Arnold. No problem, right?
Wrong…as I was rock-hopping across the brook, I slipped on a rock and fell sideways into the water! The entire right side of my body was submerged, including my backpack and my phone. It took me a moment to get my bearings, because I was between 2 rocks and the current. “Come Jen, get up!” I shouted to myself.
I managed to find my way out (thankful that it had been mild temperatures this season so far) and changed my jacket, socks, gloves and put on my microspikes. Hand warmers went in! My phone miraculously still worked!! More irony… I was only .5 miles from the Lake Arnold junction when I fell…
I viewed this “mishap” as a “heart test”…maybe He was testing my faith? My trust in Him? My trust in myself? I felt the tears well up inside me but I refused to cry. I would beat this. I would press on and finish what I had set out to accomplish. Fear tried to seep in, but I would not let it. I was strong. I was courageous. I was not afraid, just like Psalm 31:24 says..
When I reached Lake Arnold, I didn’t even stop to take pictures. I had hiked 4.8 miles by this point and had about another 2 miles to go…
Another yellow trail (Porter Trail I think, I didn’t see a sign; phase 4) was my guide again for the final ascent. The path grew narrower as you climb above the tree line. My emotions had settled and my mind began to open up again. I remember saying to myself again, “Breathe in, you are light. Breathe out, let go of darkness.”
Breathe in…breathe out and let go….
I arrived at the false summit of Colden. The views from this peak alone were just incredible! My hope and faith began to be restored. You descend down a ladder from the trail off the false summit and then back up the longest ladder I have seen so far in the Adirondacks!
Yes!!! I had made it! I was standing at the summit of Mount Colden. It was 11:00 a.m. Just about 3 1/2 hours to reach the top.
I remained on the summit for 30 minutes for lunch. More peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a Cliff bar, and water. But first, I would pray. (as I always do) I prayed for love. I prayed for knowing what love felt like in my life. I prayed for healing and most importantly, I prayed for forgiveness. I thanked Him for guiding me to reveal my truth and for showing me how to give myself grace.
It was 50 degrees on the summit. I took off my boots and put foot warmers in them for the descent, as well as added another layer of pants. Your body gets cool once you’ve stopped moving for a period of time.
If I could find the words to describe just how quiet and serene it was that day on the summit…the mountain was just for me. Not another soul in sight. I did see people standing on the summit of Algonquin, which was pretty awesome! But Colden was for me this day. The sound of stillness was breathtaking, no wind at all. Complete silence veiled every ounce of my being. Even my mind had fallen still. I thought...this is what heaven must feel like.
Freedom. Peace. Serenity. Smiling…I was smiling. Now this is going to sound crazy…but I swear I heard God speak to me. Showing me the way to my calling…to the way to truly releasing the emotional debris and begin to heal. Write. Writing had always been the answer in the past. But it was personal…private…in my journal. The writing He urged me to risk was this: this blog…was birthed on my ascent to Colden. It was a pivotal moment in my life, where everything changed.
After a half hour, I remembered the early sunset would soon be approaching. So it was time to make the descent back down the mountain…
When I had reached the junction where I fell, I noticed a survey marker that recorded the elevation. I had also noticed some wet footprints on the rocks on the trail leading back to Marcy Dam. So strange because I had not seen another soul on this hike. Maybe it was someone descending from Mount Marcy? I followed the wet footprints as my guide down the mountain…
As I climbed down, rock over rock, I noticed some other prints as well..in the mud. I stopped dead in my tracks once I figured out what had made those prints…
Yes…a bear. Bear tracks going across the path. I looked all around me, as if I would honestly have known what to do if I spotted the bear?! Nothing…I saw nothing.
My cadence, however, kicked into high gear now as I continued the 5 mile journey still ahead of me. Remember, my goal was to be out before 4 p.m.
Although I moved swiftly, I felt lighter. My darkness remained on the summit and I returned lighter, freer, happier. The mountains have a mystical power that way I think.
I had truly forgiven myself. I walked on back through Avalanche Camps to Marcy Dam. Smiling, I was smiling. Once I reached Marcy Dam, I saw quite a few groups of hikers heading into camp or just walking the trail to Marcy Dam and back.
My legs were tired…my feet aching…but my soul was free. Light as a feather and full of grace. I stopped for one final picture at the dam…amazing that a few hours before I was standing at the summit of Mount Colden (to the left) and now I am back here…staring at it again in wonder.
It truly is about the climb…very symbolic of life. Ultimately, bravery and strength are found within. Resolve, forgiveness and love are as well. My journey to Mount Colden was alone…the entire trip. I was forced to deal with the challenges that arose, both physically and emotionally.
I reached the trail register to check out at 2:45 p.m. The day was 7 hours and 35 minutes long, not bad for 13 miles on my own. It was quite empowering, yet I was covered in calmness. I would later go on to Lake Placid that night for fish tacos and fried pickles at the Dancing Bears Restaurant. Followed by a viewing of Stars Wars with the rest of the visitors in Placid that evening.
As I walked back to the hotel, after the movie ended, I found myself smiling...again. I had found peace. True inner peace. Another beautiful challenge allowed me to emerge on the other side stronger, gentler…and full of love once again.
Still I rise…amen,
“And when it was over, nothing defined us, other than the moments that made us feel free.” r.m. drake