Zerrpppppp, click. Zerrrrpppp click. Zerrrrpppp click. My legs sound robotic as they slide across the skin track on their makeshift skis. The only thing that reminds me that I’m human is my heavy breathing. “Phew this most certainly is killer,” I huff as make my way up, slowly, towards what I hope is the top of the ridge. We had taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on a steep skin track through some rather dense trees.
The 3:30am wake up call came with some ease this go around. Surprisingly, my eyes naturally popped open without an alarm. It’s as if my natural body clock knew what was coming. I rolled out of bed and got moving for today’s destination: Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park. Who doesn’t want to ring in a new year watching the sun rise dramatically over the snow caped mountains?
As I finally clear the boulders and begin to rip my spikes off Nina does a happy dance and starts rolling furiously across the patches of snow. She’s happy to be outside enjoying the great white wonderland. Seeing her joy brings a warmth to my heart. I look up at the beautiful lake snuggled against the steep couliors of the 13,000′ peaks surrounding me. Life is perfect. This is why I snowshoe with a dog.
It’s cold, well below freezing. You’re a few miles in and the weather is starting to roll in quick. 40-50mph freezing winds whip down the steep face of the mountain your hiking next to. You lose sight of your partner in front of you. Despite the seemingly brutal conditions you’re warm. The wind actually feels good. You’ve been working hard through the drifts. You stop, look at the swirling landscape around you and you’re overcome with pure joy, even though you know you can’t go on. You aren’t making it to your intended destination a mere 1.5 miles ahead. In that moment, you realize that you’ve arrived at the day’s destination. You are here.
A lot of people look at me sideways when I tell them I use Couchsurfing. I usually get a shake of the head “you’re crazy.” Or a gasp, “You let strangers stay in your house?” Or, my favorite, the quizzical, “Isn’t that dangerous?” To which my normal reply is “Getting in your car and driving to work is dangerous, does that stop you?” I’ve met some amazing people and forged life long connections through the Couchsurfing network. For those who have no idea what I’m referring to, Couchsurfing is an online network that connects travelers with local residents. You can stay or host or just meet up for events.
5 miles deep in some tougher terrain. The trail was slick with ice and snow and at times littered with rocks and boulders. Overall it was nothing too difficult, but I had been the only person I’d seen all morning. Just me and Nina walking along this beautiful valley soaking in the early morning sun. Steep snow dusted cliffs towered above the east side of the valley, while sun kissed steep hill covered in burned trees flanked the west. I took a deep breath and smiled as I watched the steam from my breath on the exhale I heard it.
Despite the challenges, reaching the base of Jones Mountain while being enveloped by the weather at Ptarmigan Lake made that extra mis-mile of hiking worth it. Sitting next to a roaring fire with some of your closest friends, laughing so hard it hurts kept the cold at bay. Watching my severely socially challenged dog chase a young pup around the fire erased whatever she was thinking by sitting next to a stream and refusing to move in 34 degree weather. The morning sun after 2 days of nothing but cold and clouds felt like a gift sent from the heavens. Being in the mountains is a beautiful balance. Beckoning you in for more, but just as often reminding you that you are a mere mortal; humbling you to the fullest.
Another weekend up before the sun. Another wind-whipped cold morning. Another high altitude struggle. Another summit sunrise. Another smile. Another day well spent in the mountains.
Squirrel and I set out to achieve a pretty ambitious goal: climb three (4 named) 14,000’+ peaks in one morning. That alone is a pretty tall order, but it doesn’t stop there. Only in Colorado can you go and do something like that, then see a show at a natural amphitheater (Red Rocks) that night. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and totally worth it. The promise of a full moon and good weather, this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.
I inched closer to the fire, the chill of night started to seep through my damp clothes. Rain gear was strewn about, for about 8 miles the skies opened up on us. Drenched to the core is never a fun way to start off 32 miles, but we endured. Looking up I could see the shadows of the fire dancing against the trees, beyond that the first stars were starting to twinkle. Despite the picturesque scene something just didn’t quite feel right.