The drive is frightening enough. Gabe's truck has a name―Munson―and appears not to be affected by the gravitational forces that limit other vehicles. We negotiate a rutted dirt path that rises nearly straight up. We pitch to the right, then tilt 40° to the left, providing a nose-to-glass view of the sheer drop inches away. I yelp. A couple has joined us, so Gabe has five passengers. All five of us yelp. Gabe is calm. He seems confused: Why the commotion? My heart pounds as we unload at the trailhead. And the hike hasn't begun.
We follow a path through the Montezuma Basin, then cut across slopes of scree. Along with the other man in the group, Kate and Sam bound off up the mountain. I am more of a plodder than a hiker. Gabe and I, with the man's wife, another Lisa, bring up the rear.
Lisa had mentioned the night before that she has a fear of heights. But she clearly didn't anticipate how this would affect her. Once we get over the first ridge, the view opens up. We see the puce Maroon Bells to the north, the ridges of the Elk Mountains to the south. Everything, except the trail rising before us and the white-bellied clouds overhead, is far, far below.
Lisa freezes. "I can't do this."
"Yes, you can," Gabe tells her. Her legs have stiffened, knees locked. She can't seem to walk. Gabe takes her arm, urging her along the 2-foot-wide path. "You're fine." When the path narrows, she drops to all fours.
"I'll just stay here," she begs. "Go on without me." She clings to a boulder.
Gabe shakes his head. He ties a rope around her waist and attaches it to his own. Lisa starts to laugh, but there are tears in her eyes. She is crawling on her hands and knees on the path, Gabe guiding her with the rope. She rises unsteadily to a crouch. "I have a leash," she points out. But the trick gives her enough security to keep going.
I was thinking that the whole 14,000-foot thing was just a numbers game. But I am beyond exhilaration by the time we reach the 14,265-foot summit of Castle Peak. Lisa makes it too; we are all breathless. On the rocky, bald mountaintop, with nearly all of the world below us, we take pictures and sign the register to mark our triumph.