I’m always talking about doing things that you’ll be able to look back on and say “man, that was some top-shelf shit.” Well, this is a story of just that…
The photo above was taken just before things were about to get real. This area is known as St. Mary’s Glacier just outside of Idaho Springs, Colorado. I anticipated nothing more than a casual hike, on a worn out goat path to see some awesome views. Nothing could prepare me for what was about to happen.
Shortly after enjoying this breathtaking view, we headed higher up the mountain. At this point, we were having to bear crawl up the mountain as we had lost all sign of any trail and the train was getting rough and steep.
I turn to my buddy and say, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about how we’re going to get down from here.” He shared my concern and we decided that we would start to go across the mountain to where the glacier was. (The glacier is not seen in the above picture but it would be to my left).
My buddy went more diagonal and I went slight up and over. One instance we were both visible but we quickly lost sight of each other. We stayed separated for a solid half-hour. This was shaping up to be one of those movies where two guys get lost in the wilderness and need to be rescued.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we slap-dap, middle of the face of this mountain. I found myself in some tight situations. At time, I was never more than a slip away from sliding down this mountain.
I wasn’t thinking about my next move, I was thinking about my next 7-8 moves. A handful of times, I found myself with no stable rocks to hold on to. In which case, I would dig my elbow into the loose rocks and dirt.
I can honestly say that I never realistically feared for my life but I can say that this was the scariest situation I had ever gotten myself into. I thought to myself, way to go Nick, once again your Relentless-ness has gotten you in a bit of trouble. I found myself praying “…the Lord is my Shephard, I shall not fear…” over and over.
“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.”
– John Muir
I had called my buddy and asked him were he was. He did his best to describe his location but logistically, had no context of where I was to give direction. What he thought was a trail, was actually a water run off. I knew this because I crossed it higher up the mountain and saw that it was still wet.
After 30 minutes of trying to get back to were we once we split up, I see him down below. He’s a solid 100-150 yards below me. I was simultaneously hit with joy and dread because the path down was no easy feat.
After a twenty minute, very, very, careful decent we are reunited. At that point, I thought we were home free. But, to my surprise, we had a few more challenges ahead.
As I said earlier, we were coming down the face of St. Mary’s Glacier. We are basically, crab crawling down this mountain. Sliding down a foot at a time. At one point, we have to go straight through some dead shrubbery, which was actually pretty nice because it provided a solid place to grip.
We’ve maneuvered our way down and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just one more obstacle awaits… We find ourselves looking at straight drop of about 15 feet. There were very very places for hands or feet. My buddy was ahead of me and went first.
After finding initial foot and hand placements, he quickly shouted to me, “don’t go this way!” I had already been looking at all my options and found what I thought might be a bit better route.
[about this time, you can hear a voice yell in the distance “look! There’s two of them!” This whole thing was being watched. Whether or not they knew we were amateurs, is unknown. For all they know, we could’ve had this planned the whole time]
Mind you, I’m still crab crawling with my butt facing the mountain and head facing out towards the lake. In order to get to these hand and foot placements, I’ve got to rotate and turn and face the mountain. So, that’s what I do.
I’ve got a solid grip with my hand and foot finds what I thought was a good spot for my foot to rest. That would turn out to be wrong. My foot slips and I’m left with only my left hand holding on to this rock.
From here, I realize that there are no other places to go. I cannot rotate back to my original position and a fall from here could be dangerous.
My buddy managed to get down from his path by this time. He looks up and sees me in this position and says, “you look pretty badass right now.”
I somehow muster up, “right on.”
But, I am incredible focus and in problem solving mode! I look above me and see some dead shrubs sticking out of these rocks. The only thing I can do is pull myself up a bit (one handed) and reach out for these shrubs.
I gather my mind and take a deep breath and then without thinking too much, make the move to leave any point of contact on the rock and attempt to grab on to these dead shrubs. These shrubs could’ve just ripped and fallen with me.
The gamble paid off and I was ‘safely’ dangling from these shrubs above a 12 foot drop now. I allow the shrubs to pass through my fingers so that I lower myself to the flat, grassy area below. I’m able to slowly slide down another 2 feet and from there I extend my arm, in order to bring my feet as close to the ground as possible.
I’m left with about a 5 foot drop and at this point, I have no choice but to let go and hope for a smooth landing. I gather myself, take a deep breath, and let go of the shrubs. I slide down the rock and land safely on both feet. Huge sigh of relief!
We were home free.
After a celebratory hug and high five, we decide to make our way to see the glacier close up. In the midst, of coming down this mountain face, we notice across the lake, there’s the trail. The trail that we somehow got turned around on.
We find our way over to the glacier and take a seat on some rocks to post-game our performance and take a look at the feat we just accomplished.
We end up starting a conversation with a guy coming down from the glacier. We told him what we just did, and he seemed pretty impress. He then went on to say that people climb the face with picks, and snow-climbing shoes. He also told us that not too long ago there had been an avalanche and a guy was climbing and tumbled down with the rocks.
[The picture hardly does it justice but just over our heads is where all the struggles took place. St. Mary’s Glacier is a place I’ll never forget.]
So, I kid you not about the danger of the situation we found ourselves in. At times, I was wishing that I was back home in DeKalb, laying on the couch, watching football. It was scary at the time but now that I look back, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
The guy we talked to also confirmed that, that side of the mountain provided the best views. Looking back, those views were worth it. Not worth it from just simply admiring the beauty of nature (although there was no shortage of that) but from an inspirational standpoint.
In life, we all have our own mountains, the climb is difficult but sometimes the decent offers challenges too. The mountains wouldn’t be so awesome without the valleys. In life, the good times wouldn’t mean so much without the struggles.
Wherever you find yourself at this moment, just know that it’s for reason and it’s all part of the big picture. I wanted out of this situation. But, there was no way out. I had put my back up against the wall. My Relentless, never back down attitude had gotten me in this situation and it would have to get me out!
I’m thankful for this physical struggle and overcoming the adversity I had put myself in. I will use it to motivate me further. For knowing that I was able to overcome this obstacle will only make things in life I was thought were difficult that much easier.
Stay #Relentless my friends.