- ELISABETH BRENTANO
THE POWERFUL LESSON IN FAILURE
When you’re right smack in the middle of it, failure sucks. There’s uncertainty, pain, disappointment and a handful of other feelings, and there isn’t always an end in sight. But after the wave of negativity settles, what’s left? It might take years, or it might happen as soon as you realize you’re not going to meet your goal, but the most beautiful and redeeming part of failure is the chance to try again.
When Nicole Brown invited me to join her on the Three Peak Challenge in October, I said yes without a moment of hesitation. I would be documenting Nicole’s journey for Merrell's Create Your Trial campaign, and this would be her second attempt to summit the three tallest mountains in Southern California in under 24 hours. These aren’t fourteeners and they’re not technical, but with a total of total of 40 miles, 12,000 feet of gain (and 12,000 feet of descent), it’s easy to see why most people don’t choose to do this in one day. We trained hard, we went back and forth over logistics and through all of this, we started to become good friends. I was confident we had everything going for us…until I wasn’t.
Five days before the challenge, we met for a training run up Baldy, but before we even started the hike, I tripped and fell. As I was squeezing through the gate between the parking lot and the trail, I hooked my toe on a rock and fell face first onto a pile of even larger rocks, banging my left kneecap and right shin. There’s a reason they call me Clumsybeth, you know. I sat on the ground for a few seconds wondering if I should laugh, cry or think about pulling the plug on our plans for the following week. We were able to get up and down the mountain in a decent time, but I was limping when I got home. Over the next few says, I iced and elevated my legs, and the day before the Three Peak Challenge, I finally started feeling better, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure I’d be able to pull it off.
Nicole Brown on the summit of Mount San Antonio
We started with the slightly less intimidating Mount San Jacinto, and Nicole drove us to San Gorgonio Mountain, so I was able to ice my knees and prop them up in the passenger seat. It was a long slog, but I felt great — until we hit 11,000 feet. It was the middle of the night, I probably hadn’t been drinking enough water, and I could feel myself crashing. I took a hydration tablet and scarfed down a snack bar, and after resting for a few minutes, we ventured on. Once we reached the summit, I was on a high. I watched millions of city lights flicker in the distance, and I told Nicole I was pumped to hit Baldy next. I really believed I could do it. Prior to the hike, I had a few friends and family members express their concerns over me doing this, and part of me couldn’t wait to thumb my nose at them and tell them I had completed the challenge in under 24 hours.
But then, about two hours later, my body and mind seemed to have a bit of a disagreement. Working my way down 5,500 feet over the course of 8 miles was taking its toll on my already battered knees, and about an hour before we got back to the trailhead, I knew I couldn’t continue. A few tears trickled down my cheeks, mostly because my knees were on fire, but also because I was pissed at myself for giving up. I had already logged 30 of the 40 miles and 8,000 of the 12,000 feet of gain, so what was another ten? Maybe I should try. But with each step down, I knew it would be impossible, and bailing on Baldy was the only choice. There’s something to be said for pushing past the pain, but making a smart decision is never a bad idea either. I didn't feel like I could get up and down safely, and I didn’t want to risk further injury. I broke the news to Nicole, and sent her up Baldy with her GoPro and my vlogging camera. I’d film her when she came back down, but it was up to her to record some footage at the top. The first half of Baldy would be in the dark anyway, and there was only so much to talk about and shoot on the way up. If Nicole stayed with me and went my pace, I’d slow her down and she wouldn’t finish in time, so was there really a point in going? Short answer: No. It was over for me.
Nicole came scrambling down the bottom of the trail a few hours later, and she was beaming. I had a pretty good idea of how proud and elated she must have felt, and I was thrilled for her. I didn’t feel a single twinge of jealousy, because I knew this wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t my time. My only concern was whether or not we had enough footage, but after watching the clips of Nicole getting emotional at the top of Baldy, I knew we had everything we needed. It wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but this story would certainly inspire others to push themselves and set bigger goals. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the trail for a half day hike or gunning for Kilimanjaro, the path to get there will always teach you something, whether you succeed or not. After failing the previous year, Nicole completely crushed it.
As for me, I was disappointed that I failed, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could bag all three mountains in 24 hours. Still, I don’t know if it would be correct to call it failure. That’s the most mileage I’ve ever logged in one day, and it showed me what I need to improve upon for the bigger, higher hikes I want to do, like Mount Whitney. Just because you don’t nail something the first time around doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. If we never failed, and our goals were too easy to obtain, what would they be worth, anyway?
I didn’t think I would, but I want a redemption run on the Three Peak Challenge. You know where I’ll be next fall…