A Footloose and Fancy Free Freshman

Jackson Nielsen

I don’t recall much about the beginnings of my first real solo adventure. Only, that I was hit with the realization that now that I was in college, away from the watchful eye of my parents, I was free to travel as I wished. Moving west across the state of Nebraska put me within a six hour drive of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Feeling the anxious excitement of embarking into the unknown, I began my trek to Breckenridge, Colorado. 

The drive went by fast due to my optimism of a great adventure that was to ensue. The music was blasting and the miles were slowly ticking by. I was to the foothills of the Rockies by the time the sun hid behind the horizon. Being early in April, there was still much snow at the higher elevations. What I had not planned for, however, were the blizzard-like conditions that were plaguing my old, black Honda CR-V. Driving the treacherous roads of Colorado as a young, inexperienced driver in conditions that left me near blind was enough to make perspiration break out across my palms. As I descended into Breckenride, I can only recall being filled with relief that I had made it and hadn’t slid off the road into the valleys below. My hotel for the night would be the trunk of my car parked in the Walmart parking lot. Laying the backseats of my car into the flat position, I was able to sleep diagonally across the trunk. Geared with a plethora of blankets, I slipped into my makeshift bed in an attempt to find slumber. 

The few hours of shuteye that I got were enough to fuel my ambition for summits. Leaving the parking lot on that cold Saturday morning, I headed for the trailhead of Quandary Peak. Starting my hike that morning brought with it frigid temperatures and pitch blackness. Looking back, I now realize I was severely undergeared for this undertaking. Wearing only my boots, hats, gloves, a pair of sweatpants, and a few meager layers on my torso, I was in for a cold and uncomfortable hike. Using my headlamp to illuminate the snowy remnants of the trail, I began my trek upward, breathing in the cold, crisp air in big, desperate gulps.

As I cleared the treeline and gazed upwards towards the false summit, I saw a sea of fresh, white snow. With every step forward, I was met with a sinking of my body all the way to my hip. The standard trail was lost under many feet of snow so I was left to break my own trail, with the only objective being up. Swimming in the snow more than I was walking, the wind whipped angrily at my face leaving my skin red and frigid. I was cold, alone, and slightly scared by the way my fingers were feeling inside of the thin gloves that weren’t meant for this kind of abuse. I desperately willed myself forward, hoping to reach the summit. But with every fall into the snow, my determination slowly trickled out of me. At an elevation slightly above 13,000 feet, I had to turn around for the sake of my frozen fingers. The descent went much faster than the ascent. I glided down the mountain in search of warmer air and shelter from the gusts. Tasting defeat, I got back in my car, warmed my hands, and made the six hour drive back to Kearney, Nebraska.