The Highs and Lows of Life and Mountaineering
How my most challenging hike changed my perspective on comfort, routine, and lofty goals
The following is a guest post written by Ty Ellenbogen, reflecting on the moments that follow a crowning achievement.
All Quiet at First Light
The glow of my headlamp illuminated the patch of ground in front of me. The circle of light faded the farther I peered up at the trail, winding into the darkness.
Even before first light, the silhouette of Baldy Mountain broke the horizon. All was quiet, save for my crewmates unzipping their tents to join me in the predawn air.
So began the 10th day of my trek through the New Mexico backcountry at Philmont Scout Ranch. Baldy had loomed over us for the last 80 miles of hiking. Now, months of training would be put to a final test.
All that work I’d put in at lower elevation was far more important than I realized.
Lessons Learned on the Approach
In the days before that last ascent, I caught myself looking up, often. Not just to the sharp ridgelines of the peak, but to the night sky, the stars, and the path ahead.
Equally as often, I found joy looking down to smile at prairie dogs and roaming cattle, at the purple and gold wildflowers swaying in the field, and at the path behind me I’d already walked.
The trail had more to offer than its beauty. There was something profound in my interactions with everyone I met; a different story in every set of eyes, a different perspective they held.
The connections I made may not have been permanent, most only lasting a few brief hours, but each left an imprint on me that I carried with me on my journey.
Subscriptions are free, support independent writing, and ensure you never miss an edition.
Finding Joy in Simple Pleasures
For my time on the trail, I kept a simple routine:
Break down camp
Hike to the next destination
Set up camp again
Even though every day’s tasks stayed consistent, they held more meaning. I had none of the luxuries I enjoyed at home, and I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. Without day-to-day distractions to keep me from appreciating what was around me, I could appreciate life’s beauty from a new perspective.
All of this was on my mind that morning, as I prepared to summit. I wondered: where do I go from here? Will things be different when I go back to civilization?
The Final Push
I trekked upward as the sun rose over the top of the mountain, pausing with my crew before the top. We linked arms, and took the final steps together — speechless as we stepped over the ridge.
Breathtaking views surrounded us for miles. Shadows of clouds danced on snow-covered peaks, meadow grass blew gently in the breeze below, and trees crowded together in the valley. Baldy was the missing viewpoint I needed to see the complete picture of the landscape and, as I discovered, to see the complete picture of life.
No words can truly describe the beauty of the half-hour spent up there; because they would be missing the context provided by the days, weeks, and months of work it took to get there.
I finally understood why my time on the trail was so important; everything I experienced and everyone I met along the way gave meaning to my journey. To truly appreciate the top, I first needed to experience the bottom.
With perspective, we gain sight of what matters. It’s easy to overlook the value of our present. But the lowest points of our lives give us wisdom to appreciate our success.
I discovered the answer to my question:
I knew where I would go from here.
I would savor every step along my trail; looking up to my dreams now, so I can look back on my accomplishments later.
Next Time on Cole’s Climb
I chat with Ty about his experience summiting Baldy, what it’s like living on the trail for days on end, and the struggles of adapting to life without modern comforts.
In the meantime, you can follow Ty’s work on his website. His latest single, “See You Again,” is available here:
You can follow him on Spotify for plenty more great songs, and re-join me on Cole’s Climb in a couple days for the interview.
I Want to Hear from You
Have you felt your perspective change after a big accomplishment? How did you move forward from it?