Because one summer was not enough, I returned to SMU-in-Taos this year to take Business Law classes. Although I knew what to expect this time, Taos did not fail to provide me with new experiences and opportunities to build great friendships.
One of the coolest things about school out in Taos is that some days I would wake up before 6 a.m., hike the trail up to the ridge of the mountain behind campus, and then descend in time for breakfast at 7:45 a.m. Remarkably, I’d easily be in time for my 8:30 a.m. class. The quiet and serene climb provided me with personal time for prayer or contemplation. Sometimes friends came along, and I can assure you that you get to know your companions well on the tough and rocky ascent up a mountain.
In fact, I believe a group of people cannot help but become friends after they’ve worked together to accomplish a common goal. Conquering mountains has that effect on people. For this reason, I believe my hiking adventures were my favorite part of my May term.
One Sunday, I woke up early and drove with my friends Danny, Stephen, and Kyle to the base of Wheeler Peak, which is the highest peak in New Mexico. I had climbed this mountain the previous June and knew it took around seven hours to make the entire trip. Although there was a trail that led to the top, we heard snow made the path undesirable so an alternative route up the mountain was necessary.
We determined that the best method would be to climb straight up the mountain. It was a sunny 70 degree day, we had phones, a GPS, and all essentials to safely get to the top, so we began our climb. When the incline got too steep, we put on work gloves and continued on all fours.
Generally, climbing straight up a mountain is a bad idea. Switchbacks are usually used to make a climb manageable; however, without a trail we disregarded this convention and dealt with the consequences as they came.
I’ll readily admit that I was the slowest of our group. After climbing for over an hour, we passed the tree line. Each time we thought we were nearing the top, we’d cross over a ridge and see that an entire mountain still lay ahead. We looked below and could see the minuscule people walking at the base, and soon the people, too, disappeared.
As we were climbing over rocks, the wind picked up because we no longer had the trees to protect us. I had been using the long grass pull myself up, and soon it disappeared into rocks. We would never be able to climb down this way because the mountainside grew much too steep.
With each pause in our journey, we’d just stare out at the beautiful, mountainous region around us. We were walking through entirely untouched land, and I remember my friend Stephen said to me, “Monica, you’re probably one of the only girls to ever hike this way!”
No sooner had he said that than an older woman came trotting down the mountainside by herself with no hesitation in her step. She was practically a mountain goat. Humbled, we realized that we were not exactly pioneers of this land. But this did not dampen the sense of adventure we felt.
Thus, we made our way to the top, where we had to walk along the ridge to reach Wheeler Peak, which was still a far way off. With our jackets on and the wind pushing against us, we made our way to our destination. Once there we ate lunch together and enjoyed the view from 13,167 feet.
On the way down, we determined that we should follow the path of previous hikers. We saw vast expanses of snow and decided that sliding down snow would be fun and efficient.
Let me tell you that sledding down that mountain in the summer was one of the most fantastic adventures I’ve had at SMU-in-Taos. Together we cheered each other on as we quickly made our way down from Wheeler Peak just in time for the volleyball tournament and bonfire that evening.
Sharing that extraordinary day brought our hiking group closer in an unspoken way. Not everyone who goes to Taos has to hike massive mountains, raft in the Rio Grande, or horse ride through the New Mexican desert. But the greatest gift that the campus gives its students is the opportunity to have these great adventures each day if we wish.