Life Lessons at Ice Lake

ice-lakes-flowers2What is your life trying to teach you about yourself? Go on a hike and you’ll find out!

Five years ago to the day, I hiked Ice Lake Basin near Silverton, CO with my husband and a friend. At the time I was living on the Front Range and not used to hiking above 10,000 ft., so I was having a hard time making it up the steep trail. I felt so drained of energy and out of breath that after an hour I decided to stop and catch my breath and go no further. My hiking partners forged ahead another ten minutes or so, but out of consideration for me, they, too, made the decision to turn around.

This time when I hiked this same trail, I had been living at 7,500 ft. in Ridgway for two months, so I was better acclimated to the altitude. As I passed it, I made a mental note of the spot, where, five years earlier, I had stopped and turned around. I had no reason to stop this time, I felt fine. To my shock, just a few minutes past that point, the trail made a slight turn and opened up to the most magnificent flower-filled meadow! In the distance I could see Ulysses Grant mountain and the Ice Lake Basin. Had I kept going just five more minutes, I would have been treated to this incredible view!

I was astounded that had I not stopped where I had, I would have been rewarded with this treat five years earlier. I wondered what this said about my life. Don’t quit, you can be very close to your goal? Sometimes you’re closer to what you love than you think? I could interpret this “message” in a multitude of ways. I just laughed to myself and kept going.

Ice Lake
Ice Lake

From that point, the trail ascends another mile and a half to a turquoise lake situated at 11,000 ft or so. It also gets steeper, way steeper, and much more precarious in a couple of spots. In fact, one stretch of the trail is perhaps 8 feet wide, rocky and sloped over a dramatic drop-off. Uphill, you just have to scramble and GO. Not so on the way back. You have to psyche yourself up for navigating it downhill. Five years ago there was no way I could have done that. I have a phobia of heights and steep declines. So even though I would have seen something magical had I kept going five more minutes, I wouldn’t have been capable of doing the rest of the hike due to the difficulty and steepness. It took me five years of experience and conditioning to be rewarded with the brilliant jewel at the basin.

ice-lakes-valley-belowThis day, I was able to handle the descent in that spot by singing songs out loud and acting (and feeling) goofy. The singing took my brain away from panic mode and allowed me to maintain my momentum when in the past, I would have been frozen in terror with vertigo. I don’t know how I decided to try this strategy, but I did, and it worked brilliantly for me.

The hike was also telling me that what is true for me one day may not be true for me a different day. It was telling me that I can always change my mind and circumstances if I choose. It was telling me that there can be more beauty ahead, but it won’t always be available to me, not until I’m ready. Or maybe it won’t ever be there for me because life isn’t limitless and neither is the body. How many hikes will I never do? Thousands.

In hindsight I also realize that my hiking partners five years ago didn’t tell me about the meadow up ahead. They must have seen it. Was it not spectacular then? I’m not sure why, maybe they were being kind and not letting me feel regret. Maybe they didn’t want to push me when I wasn’t feeling well. I can only guess what lesson the trail is trying to teach me about that.