In the middle of the night, on grassy slopes near 12,000 feet, Pikes Peak summit-bound Mandy Horvath listened to faint rumbles and watched lightning flash in silvery clouds that covered Colorado Springs far below.
At daybreak Wednesday, it was time to settle the storm that had raged in her for the better part of three days.
She woke with a puffy left eye - the result of an allergic reaction, she suspected - that matched the swollen hands she had used to propel her legless body along Barr Trail's rocky 10 miles. She had 3 more miles to go to Pikes Peak's 14,115-foot summit, 3 more miles of hell.
Around 4 p.m., the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student and double amputee came into view. From the Summit House, her family spotted her on a cold, hard plateau alongside her companion of the past three nights, Daniel Pond, who never dared asked if she wanted to piggyback throughout the crawl.
"That's my baby, that's my baby," Lisa Horvath, her mother, uttered as tears welled in her eyes.
"Go, Mandy! Go!" shouted her brother, Maverick. "Don't stop!"
The lack of oxygen, the exposure, the mountain's most wicked terrain, her partial visibility, her searing hands and muscles - nothing could stop her during her final assault.
"Can you believe this?" a man said in the crowd that gathered as it approached 6 p.m. "We're here to witness this! Unbelievable!"
Horvath turned 25 on Sunday, and the quest started later that evening, after a media event to promote the two nonprofits she raised money for during the climb: the Battle Buddy Foundation and Operation Ward 57, both dedicated to veterans. "The Butt Scootin' Boogie Birthday Bash" was held on the Manitou Incline, where she garnered global attention in April, becoming the first known female double amputee to ascend the trail that climbs nearly 2,000 feet in less than a mile.
She started up as her mother cried. But Lisa knew there was no dissuading her daughter, whose chest is tattooed with the words, "Tell me that I can't and I'll show you that I can."
On the Incline, Horvath's father, Clay, recalled something a doctor said during his girl's long path to recovery that started four years ago: "She's gonna do things, she's gonna go places, and nothing's gonna stop her."
But it took months for Horvath to find that confidence. She fell into a deep depression following the early hours of July 26, 2014. She says she was slipped a date rape drug at a bar that night and has no memory of how she came to wake on train tracks, her legs crushed by a locomotive.
She says she still suffers from post-traumatic stress, something that Pond could relate to. He had internal battles of his own in 2008 when he came home from Iraq after his service with the Marines, eventually turning to the mountains as a way to heal.
"A lot of the time I spend with people in the backcountry is because I think it would benefit them throughout the rest of their life, and it was the same with Mandy," said Pond, a mountain guide. "She's an amazing, strong-willed individual, and those are the people who thrive in the backcountry and push the envelope."
While Horvath has found the outdoors to be a platform to inspire - her first Incline trek was to raise awareness for Limb Loss Awareness Month - she's also realizing a new peace. She fought pain and frustrations, especially when the journey extended one night longer than expected. But the moments of solitude made it worthwhile.
On America's Mountain, she saw wildflowers like she's never seen before. The views made her feel fortunate. At camp above treeline Tuesday night, she saw the city lights twinkling beyond the hills and lyrics by singer-songwriter John Moreland came to her:
"I don't want to come back down to earth/No, I don't want to come back down to earth. My heart is growing heavy from the ever-endless hurt/So I don't want to come back down to earth."
But she had a message to spread and a family to see.
"Don't stop!" her brother shouted, his echo carrying down to the plateau she navigated. "We're very, very proud of you!"
Dark clouds gathered and snow swirled, and she kept crawling. Soon the sun appeared. A rainbow arched above her.
Just before 6 p.m., 74 hours and 7,600 feet of elevation later, she reached the mountaintop and fell into her family's arms. Her father held her and told her that rainbow was "God's way of saying, He's gonna bless you and bless everybody."