What three lady mountaineers learned from not reaching their goal

A cold morning on top of Grey's Peak. Photo: 13-14-15
A cold morning on top of Grey’s Peak. Photo: 13-14-15

Climbing one 14er (mountaineering slang for a mountain that rises 14,000 feet or more above sea level) in a summer is usually cause enough for celebration. For three Colorado women, the goal for the season was 13.

Kate Curtis, 25; Elana Rabin, 28; and Sierra Voss, 23, spent months planning for a mountaineering project they dubbed “13-14-15,” setting their sights on successfully summitting 13 14ers in the span of a 2015 climbing season while raising money for a handful of organizations and non-profits.

It's a tricky task.

First, it's a fairly difficult physical challenge due to steep terrain and high elevations. Then there were the logistics of organizing their climbs during the weekends when they weren't at their full-time jobs. Add in the threat of dangerous weather conditions like avalanches and lightening storms, and the trio's window shrunk exponentially.

Their last attempt was in September, but the trio was forced to make the tough call to turn around short of the summit of Conundrum due to a white-out snow storm, which meant two things …

First, they'd fallen short of their original goal to complete 13 summits and, second, they'd learned one of the most prevalent lessons in mountaineering: Sometimes knowing when to turn around is the most important part.

Besides, says Voss, just being outdoors with her friends — summit or no summit — ended up being the most memorable part of their project.

“We can always climb harder, hike harder, or go on more extreme adventures," says Voss. "But, you have to ask [if] you're doing it for yourself. We decided to embark on this project for ourselves, not for our sponsors, friends or our social media handles.”

Here, five lessons the founders of the 13-14-15 founders learned from climbing 15 mountains in a single season:

Snacks are crucial

Snack time sitting on top of Mt. Quandary. Photo: 13-14-15
Snack time sitting on top of Mt. Quandary. Photo: 13-14-15

The first and maybe most important lesson from this project was just how important snacks are.

We used snack time not only to refuel, but as a chance to slow down and take in our surroundings. Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in trying to get to the top before a storm rolls in that you forget why you are actually out there in the first place.

Always push yourself for an early start

"Because why not try to cool glow stick photos while its freezing outside and 5am in the morning?" Photo: 13-14-15
“Because why not try to cool glow stick photos while its freezing outside and 5 a.m. in the morning?” Photo: 13-14-15

It's always worth it to wake up at 3 a.m. to start hiking.

The first hour always feels like it might [kill you], but as soon as you get above the tree line for the sunrise, your exhaustion vanishes as you hike up the mountain with the sun.

Nature is boss

hiking storm
A storm is no joke when you’re hiking a 14er. Photo: paguilera/Twenty20

At the end of the day, nature decides if you summit the mountain, no matter how much planning goes into each trip.

The outdoors will heal you

Team photo on top of Mt. Torreys. Photo: 13-14-15
Team photo on top of Mt. Torreys. Photo: 13-14-15

Spending time outdoors with [friends] is a powerful tool that can be restorative and healing.

Each one of our team members had pretty emotionally draining summers between our personal lives and work. This project pushed us to get outside and walk away from our screens and the business we create.

It was rarely all about the summit

Sunrise approach to Castle and Conundrum attempt number one. Photo: 13-14-15
Sunrise approach to Castle and Conundrum attempt number one. Photo: 13-14-15

If you go from goal to goal in life, you miss all the hours, days and years in between them.

We found that 95 percent of this project was planning which mountains we could climb, packing up the car, road tripping somewhere, setting up base camps and hiking all the miles before the last push to the peak.

The project's greatest moments were actually not standing on the top of each mountain. They were during the time spent traveling and hiking to them.

So, in the end, 13 was just a goal, and the 70+ miles we hiked were the real heart of the project.

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