I have spent the last 15 years of my life very angry at one human being. I have never forgiven him, and many would argue that it’s justified.
Fifteen years ago, on September 24th, 2005, my aunt went missing and never came home. She went on to hike Mt. of the Holy Cross, which is typically a routine Colorado fourteener. However, that day was anything but routine.
There were many factors that made this situation a disaster from the start, including a hidden trailhead, which resulted in starting on the wrong trail, running out of food and water, and a plethora of bad decisions by my aunt’s hiking partner, a family friend. The worst of these decisions was that he left her 500 feet below the summit, so he could summit the mountain himself, leaving her with no food or water, altitude sickness, no sense of direction, and very disoriented. This ego-fueled decision is the reason I have yet to forgive this individual, and it is also why I decided to hike the route myself so I could better understand the situation.
That is exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago. I contacted a local family friend and hiking guide, Nate Goldberg, to accompany me on the long and dangerous excursion. The experience was one of the most profound of my life.
The hike alone is enough to take your breath away. We started at 5:30AM and finished at 7:30PM. The day was filled with extreme scrambling, knife-edge ridge, huge exposure, and consistently stepping over massive crevasses.
(A picture of hiking guide, Nate Goldberg, traversing through the Notch preparing for the downclimb. This picture displays the summit of Holy cross (right) and beginning of the Halo Route (left), displaying the steepness and couloirs that await a slip or mistake while circumavigating the top of the route.)
It was humbling to see how difficult the hike was, but it was also very infuriating. I kept
asking myself why would an experienced hiker ever put an inexperienced hiker in this position? I was livid at this man. I honestly wanted to go confront him or at least see him go on trial for murder.
I called my uncle, my aunt’s husband, to tell him my findings from the excursion. I was the first person in my family to execute this route and likely the only due to its danger and high risk. I told him how enraged I was at the man who left my aunt, and how I wanted to see him testify in front of a judge. He told me one of the most powerful things I have ever heard in my life.
He said, “This man took everything away from me, the love of my life, and mother of four kids, but I had to forgive him because it is the only way to move on and to have a happy life.” In a situation with no closure, nothing ever found, no clothing, a backpack, or remains, the only way to achieve closure was to forgive him. Although it seemed like the last thing I ever wanted to do, it was a necessity.
I have yet to forgive this man, as it is very difficult, however, I am working on it. I am looking forward to the day I too will have closure and will be able to live in peace.
Other stories written on this day: https://www.vaildaily.com/news/gone-but-not-forgotten-remembering-missing-hiker-michelle-vanek-15-years-later/