Gap, Trek: Resilience & Brownies in the Sawatch

When we departed Tennessee Pass on September 24th, we could not have predicted the conversations, laughs, and challenges ahead of us. Although our Trek community grew a little stronger every day, our 6 mile hike from Timberline to Virginia Lake stands out in particular.

The morning started like most others had around that time in the expedition, freezing cold and wet from the snow and rain of the night before. This time, however, we were delighted to see some sun in the sky as we made sugary oatmeal and packed our bags for the big day.

We had to begin by “hand railing” a stream until we broke treeline, climbing up steep embankments with our freshly heavy packs, full of food from our re-ration the previous day. When we reached the edge of the lodgepole forest, marked by a small group of alpine lakes, most people would be satisfied with a tiring, yet fulfilling hiking day.

We, however, had barely begun. As we stared up at the steep rock face and the continental divide ridge above us, we were struck with what we truly had to do that day. We started chanting songs and telling stories, anything to distract our minds from the difficult work our bodies had to do. We were greeted with a steep boulder field, where we had to learn a special way of switchbacking in order to avoid rock fall. Cresting the top and feeling our sore legs relax as we saw the tower marking the summit was a high moment in all of our lives.

We stood at the summit in disbelief, looking down at the boulder field we had just climbed and out at the beautiful mountains behind us. The group’s emotions during this freeze frame can be summed up in one word: spiritual. This time, we had REALLY proven to ourselves that we were capable of hard things. Some of us cried, some of us smiled, some of us stood in silence. Then, as if we needed any more proof of our resilience, it began to hail. This, however, was no impediment to us – we had a destination in mind and the willpower to achieve it.

After heartfelt dedications to our friends and each other at the summit, we continued trekking along the Continental Divide. The views of the Sawatch and Mosquito range to the East and snowy Mount Massive to the West made our abrupt and rigorous climb worth every footstep. Our sore legs and determined minds finally carried us to the point right above the alpine lake, and with Virginia in sight, we began our 600 foot descent. The first hiking group, after settling down at the base of the bowl, cheered on the second group on their way down the ridge.

After setting up our tents and covering our wobbly limbs with our warm puffy layers, the group exchanged hugs and stories from the harrowing day now behind us. As the sun dipped below the ridgeline, we fired up our stoves for dinner. What was on the menu, you ask? A quesadilla appetizer followed by veggie pasta, topped off with Brownie scramble for dessert. This three course meal was, for lack of a better word, scrumptious.

To close out the night, our Leaders of the Day guided us through evening circle. The question, “what was the greatest challenge you’ve overcome and how are you different because of it,” elicited thoughtful and tear jerking responses from the community. Now pitch black outside, we tilted our heads to gaze at the unmatched Colorado stars as we closed out our daily reflection. When we slipped into our sleeping bags and our toes began to warm, we felt more self assured than ever about taking on tomorrow.