The first Sunday of my Taos experience, I hiked up to Williams Lake with several students as well as members of the Taos community. I was told that the lake sits at about 11,000 feet, and that Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet, is another mile trail to the top. I was feeling pretty accomplished after the hike to the lake. Little did I know that two weeks later I would be climbing the peak itself!
Let me preface my Wheeler Peak morning with the fact that I had to drive six-and-a-half hours to and from Pueblo, CO the day before (and this after an eventful night of camping … ) to meet my mother in order to sign a form for the Congo’s new visa requirements. Why must a country decide to change things only a week and a half before we leave? Alas, I do not know.
What I do know is that I was tired, sore, dirty, and apparently going to climb a mountain the next day. Blessed be the mother who bought me and Sarah, my driving companion, an approximately 4-pound bag of Dark Chocolate M&Ms. Chocolate makes everything better.
Sunday morning I found myself once again en route to Williams Lake. It is an even more beautiful hike by daylight! Most of the snow had melted, and mud had happily taken its place, next to the looming trees above and ferns below. We braked for about ten minutes at the lake. I munched on a few jalapeno potato chips. Mmmm, oily crunchiness has never tasted so good.
We inched our way through the last pockets of trees, using the clumps of grass as natural stairs. Lots of rocks and beautiful little flowers all over the place … more grass clumps. Grass clump after grass clump. How long is this hike again? Only a mile. Climbing rugged stairs for a mile. Phew. OK, I’m sweating now. Short of breath. Need water. Lots of water. Grass clumps, and more rocks. More rocks. No more grass clumps – just rocks. Big ones at first, like stairs. Smaller, smaller. Sliding rocks. Rocks that tell me if I put my foot in the wrong place, I will slide and tumble all the way down the mountain to my gruesome death. What? Oh, no, I’m fine. All right, here we go … more rocks … what are those animals that look like beavers? Marmots? Oh. Cool. I was just thinking “Chronicles of Narnia,” that’s all … more more more rocks!! God, You win. You totally win. You are waaaaay bigger than me. You’re HUGE. You’re like a million mountains bigger than me. Probably more than a million. Wow, my scope is small. Just keep climbing, just keep climbing …
Hiking is certainly a test of endurance. You can only have the joy of the peak by enduring the climb. And oh, what an incredible joy it is to cross the ridge, and see that, yes! Indeed, there is another side of the mountain! And it is possible to reach the top! I almost started crying when I found myself looking at the mountains below me and the miles and miles of land that stretch beyond, almost enough to see the curve of the earth. Tears not because I was worn out, but rather because I was exhilarated! However, the incredibly powerful wind would jerk anyone out of pensive thought, and remind them that they can still be blown off the mountain.