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Saturday, September 9th, my granddaughter, Amber, finally got her first opportunity to climb a fourteener for the year. We decided on Mt. Princeton, the peak which had turned her back with snow, not far above the trailhead, three years before.
Even though the Arkansas valley was completely socked in with fog in the early morning, we started the day in clear sunshine, above the clouds, at the radio towers on the Mt. Princeton Road. That was the first weather surprise—the positive one—of the day.
With her long hiatus from climbing, I didn’t expect Amber to be a fast hiker. Still, three hours in the sunshine got us up onto Princeton’s southeast ridge. A group of college-age hikers had passed us on the traverse leading to the ridge, but we actually saw very few other people that day.
By nine-thirty, clouds began to drift in from the west, intermittently covering the sun. They were also clearly dropping some new, if light, snow on the area near the summit. That was the second weather surprise—the negative one—of the day.
As we made our way to the base of the summit block, the real difficulty of the day began to appear. The slipperiness of the rocks was hard for Amber to face, as was the prospect of fresh snow falling on us farther up. This was why coming back and climbing this peak was so important to her in the first place: overcoming her fears. The final decision would be hers, but I knew she could do it.
Then, an amazing thing happened. Those college-age hikers reappeared, coming down toward us. We assumed they had summitted already. Instead, they said that they had abandoned their summit bid, indicating a location just a few hundred feet above us, and also just a few hundred feet short of the top! This seemed to galvanize Amber’s resolve, and she announced “I’m not giving up!” and we continued on up the ridge, even as the snow and wind intensified.
I had never felt that a real storm was in the offing and, sure enough, just a little while later, the clouds began to thin, the light increased, and the snowfall abated. Gusty wind did continue, sometimes becoming strong enough to make us stop and turn our backs. It would have been truly miserable without several layers of clothes, but we had come properly prepared. Then patches of blue began to appear overhead and, even though the going was slow as we guessed our way up over the rocks, we made it through the worst of the snowfall. Shortly before noon, I spied the spindly cairn which had to mark the summit.
We stayed on the summit for only about fifteen minutes, as the wind continued to make it less than comfortable. But we were able to take some summit pictures in decently bright sunlight. We were happy to find a register on such a popular mountain. Amber’s signing it was a great symbolic act for putting her fears to rest and exorcising her snow demons. She learned, like so many others, that she could conquer her fears, and could succeed at accomplishing things she had thought beyond her abilities. It was very rewarding for me to see this happen.
Even though the descent off the summit block was not much faster than the ascent, owing to the sun melting the snow and making everything good and slippery, we felt much more relaxed and contented. It was only a short time later that we were finally able to strip off some unneeded layers of clothing in the now-pleasant afternoon sun.
Even though this was a repeat climb for me, it was a great experience, and it marked fourteener number five for Amber.