Are You Still A Tourist?

Have you ever been mocked for wanting to do a particular climb or hike because it’s such a cliche route? Too touristy?

I get made fun of for how much I like Longs Peak. “It’s what all the tourists do,” they say. “There are a million people up there.” “There are so many other mountains to climb where you won’t see another soul.” All legitimate points. But sometimes there’s a place—a mountain, a river bend, or even an amazing viewpoint in a bustling city—that just feels right. Special. No matter what anyone else thinks.

The towering, sheer Diamond face of Longs Peak has created my definition of a mountain for as long as I can remember. Pasted to the backseat window as a child, I would hold my breath in anticipation for when the peak would come into view as we drove to visit my grandparents’ cabin near Estes Park.

The summer my family moved from a Texas suburb—where my friends were in ska bands and wore Vans—to a Nebraska farm town too small for a stoplight, my dad proposed that we make a trip up Longs Peak during the last week of my summer break. I was 16.

Shivering in a sweat-soaked cotton shirt and wide-eyed from the exposure, I scrambled over the last small boulders to the top of the famous 14er for the first time. The summit was a flat field of rocks at least the size of a house, and almost 20 other people were already there. We were at eye level with the clouds, and the mountains were a vast, mysterious sea around us. I was overwhelmed by a desire to dive into it, to climb each one. To investigate what each glacial valley held, look deeply into every aqua-colored alpine lake. It was a pivotal moment in my teenage life, even though I shared it with a relative mob of other people.

I know it’s dorky to do the things all the tourists do—especially if it’s something in your own backyard. But I don’t care. I think we all have places that, places we love despite their over-popularity. They hold such a deep personal value to us, we don’t care that they’re cliche.

I love what the actor Simon Pegg says: “Being a geek means never having to play it cool about how much you like something.” Maybe some of us are just mountain geeks. Weighed down with political science books at Colorado State University, I would climb the stairs to the library’s third floor and stake out a table along the giant west-facing windows so I could gaze out at Longs Peak when I looked up from my studying.

In college and my young 20s, I would watch a blood-red sunrise from the boulder field, wade into the turquoise waters of Chasm Lake at the base of the Diamond, nearly have my tent blown off the mountain’s shoulder, and hike to the top with my sister. Sure, there are countless other stunning peaks we could have chosen to hike. Peaks we could have summited without a grueling 14-mile hike or dozens of other hikers on the trail. But my heart still moves every time I catch my first glimpse of that unfathomably sheer east face. And if all those other people trekking alongside me toward the top feel even a shred of that magnetism and awe, I’m more than happy to share the trail with them. Maybe in the mountains we’re all a little bit of a tourist.

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