What I learned from climbing Windom Peak


Mountains are geological features rising from the surface of the earth. They are comprised of various types of rock depending on the location. The Rockies, found in the western United States, are made mostly of granite. Granite in its unfinished state is jagged and coarse. As elevation increases, the Rockies have less vegetation and more exposed rock, hence the name. 

Colorado is known for its many 14,000 foot peaks. Some are easily accessible by a trailhead: some are more off the beaten path. Some require little technical skill to summit: some require rock climbing maneuvers and safety equipment to scale. All of these peaks are made mostly of granite and expose one to the elements in some way. Taking a peak requires quite a bit of effort  

Then there is the altitude. As altitude increases, oxygen saturation decreases. At 14,000 feet above sea level, oxygen saturation is about 50% of that at sea level. Simply put, two breaths at 14,000 feet equals one at sea level. 

Windom Peak lies at the eastern side of the Chicago Basin, along with Sunlight Peak and Mount Eolus. To get to the basin, one must ride the Durango & Silverton Railroad 30 miles north of Durango, Colorado to Needle Creek and trek alongside the creek for 7.5 miles. Once in the Basin, the three peaks are an additional 3 miles east and three-quarter miles up.  

This was my first attempt to summit a 14er as they are called. The only training I did was CrossFit classes at CrossFit Eta. I have never hiked more than 2 miles at once at any type of altitude and generally speaking I have very limited mountaineering education. 

All that said, this was a very new and formatitive experience. Throughout the hike, I kept thinking about these three things and how they apply to fitness, mindset, and life. Here is what I learned from climbing Windom Peak: 

1. The mind gives in much longer before the body  

Before the trip, many told me about the effects of altitude and what to expect while climbing. Strangely enough, I did not experience any of the effects. No headache, dizziness, confusion, or shortness of breath. But I kept expecting them. Because I was told of them, I expected myself to have them and lowered my effort in order to avoid them.  

So when I finally was attempting to summit, I pushed the last half mile by myself. I had to scramble on granite boulders and make a path for myself. At this point I saw the Peak and threw off any limiting thoughts in order to get to it. After making it, I found myself only hungry. No issue with altitude or dehydration. Just hungry.  

Most of that time, my limitations were made by thoughts given to me by others, not literal physical limitations. The mind gave in before the body.  

2. I am quite small  

When I was walking through the Chicago Basin, I noticed the mountains getting higher and higher along with the trail getting higher. The further in I got, the larger the mountains on either side of the Basin seemed, and these were not even 14,000 feet.  

In order to get to the 14ers, I had to hike to the Twin Lakes at approximately 12,000 feet. Once at the lakes, I could see all three 14ers, and they all still seemed so far away. As I climbed to Windom, I could see all the mountains once hidden by the peaks themselves. And when finally on top, I could see all the mountains laying in all directions.  

The benchmark, the second picture at the beginning of this post, is about four inches in diameter. When I got to it and looked around, I realized how very small I am. Windom Peak is a dot on the earth. Every place I stand is also a dot on the earth. I am not quite so big as I tend to think. 

3. The most important thing in life is the thing right in front of me  

While in the Basin, I had no cell service. Whenever we went somewhere, we only had the journey. I had never been there before so I had no idea what the terrain would be like or what laid ahead until we got there. 

When attempting to summit, I had no plan other than to take the Peak. I saw the Peak and moved towards it. All I had was the next step in front of me.  

In life, especially day to day, I get caught up in a lot of future thinking. I tend to visualize the future. But sometimes I do so at the expense of what is directly in front of me.  

Climbing the Peak slowed me down. Not slow in terms of speed, but slow in terms of focus. My focus shifted to the immediate action I took rather than the line of actions to potentially take me to the future. Amazingly, I was much less anxious when only thinking about the next immediate action. I was not trying to move super fast just to get to the future. I was focused on making the next step the most beneficial it could be. 

Life is like a mountain. It has an entry point, a path, features all along the way, and ultimately a destination. Make sure to take meaningful steps on the way to the destination. Question mental limitations, remember how big the journey is and how small we are, and always pay attention to the immediate actions in front of us.