Pagosa Peak, coming from a Native American name meaning “healing waters” that the nearby town of Pagosa Springs is famous for, was the first real peak that I ever climbed, close to sixteen years ago. While I have climbed many other peaks in the area since, I still try to get up there once a year if possible.
Now the years have been good to me in way other than giving me a love for mountains. My wife, Dawn, and I were married just a few weeks before that first climb and we have four beautiful children, Thalia age 8, Thaddeus age 6, Gwendolyn age 4,and Cianen age 2. We all get out in the mountains almost daily during the summer and fall to do a lot of wildcrafting, although most of the hiking and mountain climbing is left to me and my friends. So a couple of years ago we decided to try taking them up Pagosa Peak and see how they would do. They were very excited to be climbing a mountain so there was very little whining. But they were going a lot slower than I had expected and the clouds were beginning to build up. By the time we had reached the summit it had taken us about four hours to do three miles (albeit, almost every single step is uphill) and the last twenty minutes were through a misty kind of rain, with distant thunder that threatened more, and being above timberline we were totally exposed.
After a few minutes and a late, brief lunch we turned back and then the weather turned bad. Lightening began punching near us, deafening us with its thunder and sending Thalia into a panic. Then the downpour began. I have been through many mountain storms before, I even enjoy them for the most part, but this was almost too much for my little family. The trail had turned into a creek so my wife, with baby Cianen on her back, grabbed Thaddeus’s hand, while I grabbed Thalia’s and picked up Gwen while we slipped and slid our way down. More than once I had the two oldest just sit down and slide to a lower part of the trail. The rain stopped not to long after we were back in the trees but the path continued to be slick and treacherous, and with everyone wet and chilled I pushed them hard to keep moving fast until we reached our Jeep. The sun was shining when we got there and we all lay down to bask in its warming rays.
After that day Thalia was paranoid to go anywhere in the high country if we strayed more than a few hundred feet from the vehicle, frustrating us to no end. Finally, a little more than a year later, I convinced her to climb Pagosa Peak again, just the two of us, so we would be able to deal with her fear.
I chose a day that was forecast to be clear and we left very early, watching the almost full moon set while we drove. There was just enough light to see easily by when we reached the trailhead and it was cold, maybe around twenty degrees or so, being deep into autumn. We were no more than fifty steps down the trail when her fear kicked in and I eventually I was forcing myself not to get frustrated explaining and refuting all the wild things her fertile imagination thought could go wrong. At one point she was almost in hysterics, but she eventually calmed down when I just kept pushing her, not allowing any breaks or stops, and making her lead the way. From then on we just kept on the pace, she can be a steady hiker when she lets herself, and soon her confidence rose, and together we were able to rout her anxiety every time it arose.
By the time we reached the saddle, about two miles in, the sun was just emerging over it, greatly warming our spirits and not much further arrived at timberline. This is where the storm hit us last time, on an exposed ridge with very steep and rocky terrain on one side, and a sharp drop on the other. I could see the hysteria creeping up on Thalia again as we followed the steep ridge up, but I was able to talk it down and I tried to keep her occupied by constantly pointing out things we could see from here.
Before she even knew what was happening we were within a few minutes of the summit and she became very excited, telling me how glad she was we were doing this together. Pagosa Peak has a double peak actually, after you reach what you think is the top, you see another peak, slightly higher, just a couple hundred yards away, but with a deep dip in between the two. On Thalia’s first climb last year, it looked despairing to her seeing that there was still more to go. But this time she attacked it with relish, crossing it quicker than I thought she could.
Once there we removed our packs the conversation turned to her achievement, how happy and thankful she was that I had kept pushing her so we could experience this. A depth of fatherly pride welled up in me, and mingling with the sense of exhilaration that I always feel upon summiting a mountain, there was a profound and intense emotion that I had never experienced in the outdoors before.
This place that had once held a personal sacredness for me, being my first summit, had just changed, and I knew that I would no longer associate this mountain with just my own accomplishment anymore, but with my precious little girl overcoming her fears.