EO’s summer intern and Florida native, Sophia Zayas, learns what it takes to conquer three Colorado fourteeners in one day. 

When my fellow coworkers at Elevation Outdoors invited me to tackle Mount Bross, Mount Lincoln and Mount Democrat, all in one day, I never imagined how challenging checking off one of Colorado’s top summertime activities would be. I mean I’m a healthy, 21-year-old girl — the world is my oyster, right? And just days before embarking on my journey to 14,000 feet, a fellow Floridian posted her own fourteener accomplishment to the ‘Gram, so how hard could it be? Well, I’ve got to give it to you Coloradans, because this hike was no joke.

As I started walking up the steep mountainside, I quickly felt my heart begin to race. The racing turned to pounding, and my breath became heavy. I could feel the cold air creeping into my lungs, a cool steady burn residing inside of them with each passing breath. My body was cold but my head was hot. I felt weak and a bit scared. Maybe I wasn’t going to be able to prevail. This was my first time being at an elevation of 12,000 feet and all I could think to myself were the words “altitude sickness.” Doubt began to slowly creep in, but I did my best to push it out. “I will do this today,” I told myself, as I continued on, taking my time with each step. The members of my group assured me that the first 20 minutes would be the hardest. All I could do was trust them and continue up my first fourteen-thousand-foot mountain. Soon I began to find a rhythm, and as we ascended higher and higher, I looked out to all the parked cars below. Not even half way up our journey and they appeared as little as child’s toy. The view threw me for a loop. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the small parking lot beneath me. Half of me was struck with fear. Fear of falling, fear of sickness, fear of getting stuck on the mountain. The other half of me was filled with admiration. In Florida that kind of view just does not exist, unless of course, you are on top of a large building or parking garage. The act of simply being able to look back to see how far you’ve come was new to me.

I continued to follow my group of eight people and three dogs up the mountainside. As we advanced higher and higher, I became more comfortable on the trail and fell into a steady groove. My friends were right. I had finally begun to find my rhythm. A slow, very slow, but steady rhythm. Never mind my sloth like pace I was ascending up a 14,000 foot mountain. Something that I had really only read about before was coming to life before me. As we made our way to about a third of the way up our first peak, the steep and rocky side of the mountain unfolded before me. The rocks scattered all around like an unsolved puzzle. Just a thin hollowed path was maintained for guidance. I moved one foot at a time. As I pushed through what I believed was the last stretch of my first peak, the burning sensation of a good workout took over my calves and thighs. I pushed harder with each step, using my trekking poles to my full advantage. I could see my group waiting at the top for me, cheering me on. I was so excited; I had finally made it. I thought that perhaps we would stop here, breathe, and take in the unbelievable view, but once I arrived at the top, they were ready to carry on — even the dogs. I looked around in a bit of confusion, and asked “did we not make it?” They turned and pointed. “Oh this isn’t the summit,” they said. “That is.” I looked over to another mountain peak that truly put me in my place. I still had a bit of a ways to go before I could officially say that I had summited my first fourteener. A large part of me wanted to stay back and say “Hey guys, it’s been real, but I’ll meet you back at the bottom!” But I had come so far. I conjured up all the energy I had in me, grabbed my trekking poles, and kept walking.

We continued up, and a more beautiful view than the last one arose with each passing step. After many steps, stops, and a sensational burning in both of my legs, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had reached the summit at last. The 360-degree view was far beyond what I could have ever imagined. Along one side were snowcapped mountains that appeared blue by the sky’s reflection. They seemed to go on with no end in sight. The other side was full of lush green mountains, with streams running down their sides, eventually giving way to small alpine lakes. “So this is America?” I thought to myself. How could it have taken this long for me to see this vast beauty, here in my very own home! We sat together just under the peak, enjoying our first stop of the day. Our furry friends laid around us as we ate our snacks and took in the otherworldly view. The excitement and adrenaline of summiting my first fourteener made reaching the summits of the next two a breeze. As I carried on from peak to peak, I felt as though I was walking along a cloud; a feeling that ever since, I just can’t seem to shake.