What’s the difference between confidence and arrogance?
A mountain trail gave me an early lesson between the two. It was Labor Day my freshman year of high school, and my friend Mike asked if I wanted to hike a “fourteener” with him.
In Colorado, “fourteener” or “14er” refers to the tallest mountain peaks — those that rise above fourteen thousand feet. The state boasts fifty-three of these peaks (fifty-eight if you use the most generous definition). Hiking them is a pastime for many Colorado outdoor enthusiasts, but up to that point in my life, I had yet to do it.
A key feature of hiking these peaks is that you start early. Like, you get up at 4 a.m., drive, grab breakfast, and arrive at the trailhead by 6 a.m. or earlier. You start early to get up and down the mountain before afternoon lightning storms.
I waited in the dark outside my house for Mike and his mom to pick me up. I wore brand-new hiking boots and a pair of blue floral print shorts my mom had sewn for me. We arrived at the Mount Bierstadt trailhead and started hiking just before sunrise. Crusts of ice lined the edge of the mountain stream, and icy dewdrops weighed down the willow branches.
Oh, the willows. The trail winds through acres of shrubby willow bogs before climbing up the stony peak. The soil in these bogs was wet and soft in places, a tenuous mat of decayed branches that held you up like a suspension bridge above icy dark willow juice.
In the middle of the trail, we encountered a churned-up, muddy stretch. It looked like the muck would be soft and slimy during the day, but right now, the frosty mountain morning had frozen the mud. The dark ice looked cold and solid. Nevertheless, Mike, his mom, and our friend Matt walked around the mud.
I, however, had new boots. Strong boots. Boots that wouldn’t mind a little muck. After all, isn’t that what boots are made for? And so, I boldly stepped on the ice-encrusted mud.
And sank up to my waist.
My friends tried to pull me out, but the cold, wet slime created a vacuum. As they pulled, I could feel my feet sliding out of my boots. Ultimately, my friends found several long branches that we were able to wedge down by my feet and work around, moving aside enough mud…