I climbed Mt. Garfield for the first time seven years ago, on my 41st birthday, about a year after moving to Grand Junction. My children were younger then, 8 and 10, and I knew it would be challenging for them. Heck, it was challenging for me. But as we got it accomplished, I remember telling my family that I wanted to do this same hike every year on my birthday. Doing so would prove to myself that I was still young and healthy and willing to have some fun in life.
Of course, I haven’t been able to climb the big G every year on or near my birthday. January can be snowy and Mt. Garfield has a few treacherous spots. And there were years when climbing Garfield wasn’t a priority. I think I’ve been up it four times now for my birthday, counting this year, and on numerous occasions during the spring, summer and fall months.
But this year’s birthday climb was just epic. For starters, there was a group of nearly 20 of us – my daughters, Jim and so many good friends. Friends who enrich my life in small but priceless ways and made my day all the more special, friends who think climbing a steep, slippery mountain sounds fun, friends who show up despite the freshly fallen show and daunting weather.
The weather. Yes, the weather was another factor that contributed to the grandeur of the day.
When I awoke on the morning of my birthday, big juicy flakes were falling outside my window. It wasn’t cold. 25 degrees. A wonderful hiking temperature, really. But I couldn’t see Mt. Garfield, which is, as you know, on most days a prominent landmark across the valley.
I sent out a message: The weather is a little iffy and I’ve never hiked Garfield when I can’t even see it, but let’s do this! I can’t call off my birthday hike due to a little weather; that wouldn’t bode well for the year!
The weather made the climb all the more memorable not just because of the management of layers, hats and gloves as we moved between sunshine, windy spots and in and out of clouds, but because of the impact it had on the scenery. The fickle sunlight, low-lying mist and larger cumulus clouds cast interesting light upon the impressive topography. The colors of the landscape – the dull gray of the clay soil, rusty rock outcroppings and cliff walls, the muted leftover greens of summer’s minimal vegetation – were amplified by the juxtaposing white of the snow fallen just that morning.
And then, of course, there was the timing. It was just a few days into the new year and everyone – even if they hadn’t made any formal commitments – had plans for self-improvement and living at least a wee bit more than they did last year. There’s good energy in the air when a group of friends embarks up a mountain in the beginning of January.
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Thank you to my friends. Thank you to my family. And a big shout-out to the splendor of the Grand Valley, life and all the possibilities of a new year.
Randee Bergen is a single mother of two teens and an elementary school teacher. Read her Fridays on HealthyMesaCounty.org.