By May Soricelli
On Aug. 2, 9-year-old Mollie Davidson faced a 14,000-foot mountain, set on summiting to raise money for charity. Her ambition was to join Second Mile Water’s “Colorado 54” effort to climb one of Colorado’s 14ers to raise funds to provide clean drinking water for families in Nicaragua.
“We’re never going to change the world by standing still,” Mollie said prior to the hike. She, unfortunately, did not reach the summit of this immensely challenging mountain peak, due to altitude illness and ice at the summit; however, through her effort and commitment she did raise enough money to change the lives of about 30 Nicaraguan families who will now have sustainable clean water.
“Changed people changing the world means that God created us to do something, and I’m going to do something; I’m climbing Longs Peak for clean water,” said Mollie in July.
Her team “Changed People Changing the World,” included her father, Colter Davidson, and another 9-year-old, Kaleb Johnson, and his father, Jeremiah Johnson, as well as three others who accompanied them on their hike. This was also Kaleb’s first time hiking a 14er. The children and their fathers teamed up and took the hike as a challenge to gain new experiences, learn new life skills, and support a good cause.
“Growing up in Colorado, I have always had a special place in my heart for the mountains. Now, having just moved back to Colorado while having two young boys, I’m thankful for the opportunity Second Mile Water and Colorado54 gave us to take our first adventure,” said Jeremiah. “As a parent it’s important for me to put my boys in situations that help them grow in character and faith. Colorado54 put us in a place that gave us some great father-son time, and we rallied around a great cause. We had the privilege to be on Mollie Davidson’s team to help get clean water for families in Nicaragua.”
Ascent Day One
Due to snow on the peak the previous day, Colter had concerns about the weather the day of the hike. After staying several days in Estes Park to acclimate, they left early the morning of Aug. 2 for the base of the climb. Though they experienced no foul weather that day there were continuous low-hanging, dense clouds just overhead which prevented them from seeing if storms would hit or not. Because of the looming possibility of a storm, they pushed harder up the mountain the first day to try and avoid afternoon storms. The team recalls that there was what felt like an endless amount of stone steps.
“When we started it was really steep and had a lot of stairs. My legs were getting tired,” said Mollie.
They also encountered difficult temperature fluctuations and felt hot in the sun and then the temperature would drop and it would be cold.
Despite the physical challenges, the team reached the day’s goal of hiking the six miles up to the boulder field where they camped for the night.
Looking back, Colter thinks this decision to climb harder the first day, as well as sleeping at the boulder field at altitude, may have contributed to altitude sickness and prolonged the difficulty of symptoms among the group the next day.
Mollie and Kaleb and their fathers set up tents and the kids played cards and had dinner. “When we hiked to the boulder field, Kaleb and I played games in the tent. I taught him the card game “gin.” Then we had hot chocolate and chili for dinner,” said Mollie.
Mollie recalls how difficult sleeping that night was, that despite the sleeping cushion she had, it was extremely uncomfortable. “It was hard to sleep on the ground because I wasn’t feeling very well and the rocks were hard,” said Mollie.
One fond memory for Colter was looking up at a clear spot in the sky that evening and seeing the extreme vibrancy of the stars. “I have seen some amazing stars camping before but these were much more than I had ever seen. It was pretty remarkable. Of course that was at 2 a.m. and Mollie was sleeping so she wasn’t able to see it,” said Colter.
Day Two Challenges
It had dropped to just below freezing during the night, and in the morning the kids found where the sun was hitting and warmed up on the rocks while watching the sunrise.
At 13,150 feet, the Keyhole was the original goal set for day two’s journey. They hoped to achieve more and reach the summit, but they wanted to play it smart and not take too many risks.
Throughout the day other climbers descending Longs Peak crossed the team’s path and had cautioned against taking children up the pass because of the risk of ice at the summit.
The day challenged the group as altitude sickness took a toll on Mollie and slight symptoms were experienced by other team members. Colter speculated that possibly she had needed more water and food, and a less heavy pack to carry.
“I didn’t feel well and dad had to carry my pack to the Keyhole,” said Mollie. Her symptoms were difficulty breathing and stomach pain, and yet she carried on up the mountain despite the ailment.
“Dad forced me to eat something, peanut butter with apples,” said Mollie.
Reaching the Keyhole was a major accomplishment despite the growing sickness Mollie felt. At the Keyhole they took in all they could see, including all the cities below to the north, and to the south the vast lakes and mountain ranges.
Mollie said the biggest thing she will remember are the views and the way there were mountains and large flat spaces just over the Keyhole.
The team decided that due to the altitude sickness, icy conditions, and cautions from others, to end their trek at the Keyhole. “I had to make sure I brought her home alive,” said Colter. For him the risk of ice was too much for them to take without having the proper gear.
It was a steep climb down. Others in the group descended faster while Mollie and Colter took their time. Colter had to carry both packs, which weighed roughly 60 pounds combined, down the mountain. “The whole way down she was pretty miserable,” said Colter. In spite of the difficulty, she kept going without giving up.
They were greeted by a familiar face at the Boulder Field when Mollie’s grandfather met them there to bring them lunch. He came bringing ample food, including cookies and wraps to fuel them for their hike down. “He thought the hike was pretty hard,” said Mollie.
At the base the team received their patches for reaching the Boulder Field and Keyhole. Davidson began to feel better once off the mountain and recovered fully by the next day.
“This was not a great mountain for our first 14er, but I’m thankful for the challenge. I’m so proud of Kaleb, because he endured through two days of strenuous hiking and climbing even though we only made it to the Keyhole,” said Jeremiah. “The best part of the whole trip was on the climb up, just past tree line Kaleb stops, gazes over the landscape and says ‘Man I can’t believe God created all of this! This is amazing.’”
“For me it was just fun to watch Mollie accomplish this,” said Colter. “I knew that whether or not we summited, we had learned a lot, especially about the experience, and a lot about each other.” Colter feels that his daughter was able to see firsthand how difficult it can be to accomplish something you set out to do and what it takes to keep going. He is proud to see her learn such valuable lessons at such a young age. In the car ride home, Mollie’s father asked “What did you learn?” Mollie’s responded, “That you will push me, but never too hard.”
After the hike, there was a celebration in the city of Boulder for all the Colorado 54 participants. There were speeches by some of the organization’s members. The team learned about the real necessity for clean water for families in Nicaragua because of all of the deaths and diseases attributed to their unclean water sources.
At the event, both Mollie and Kaleb received awards. Kaleb was honored with the best dance at the top of a mountain, while Mollie was awarded for having raised the most funds, and won two round-trip tickets to Nicaragua; making this experience even more life-changing for her. Her response of whom she will take with her was “I’m just going to go twice.”
Mollie raised $6,354, which was a big stride from her original goal of $500. Her team raised a total of $8,104, which equates to 32 families in Nicaragua receiving sustainable clean water. Colorado 54 raised a total of $77,501, exceeding their goal of $75,000.
“It certainly wasn’t the easiest hike we could have climbed, but it is the mountain we see every day,” said Colter. “We certainly aren’t done trying. But we can pick an easier 14er for our next hike.” They plan to tackle another 14er on Labor Day, but haven’t decided which they will climb yet.
The Davidson father-and-daughter duo eagerly anticipate a visit to Nicaragua and the ability to see in person the clean water systems put in place and meet the families in need whom Second Mile Water is helping.
“You can’t even imagine at 9 having an experience like this that will shape you,” said Mollie’s mother, Kellie Davidson. “It makes it more real to get to see in person what effect she has had.”