I never thought I’d be that person who had more than one sleeping bag, a backpack for any occasion, and 2 snowboard setups. But alas, it happened and hey, I’m pretty happy about it. However epically awesome “gear mountain” may become, there comes a time where plastic bins just don’t cut it anymore. That time for me was when I was packing for an impromptu backpacking trip and couldn’t find my headlamp. So what did I do? Waited six months until the weather got crappy and got to work fitting out some unfinished space in my basement to show off all my gear by building a DIY gear room. In the end I had one bitching backcountry closet that didn’t break the bank.
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?
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.
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.
The rock feels cold on my hands as I stare off into the distance. My mind is blank, empty, just enveloped in the moment. I’ve made it.The breeze brings a chill as the sweat evaporates off of my body. I breathe deeply. The sun’s strength is gaining, struggling against the increasing winds to wrap me in it’s warmth. I see the strip of trail across the valley, the lake off in the distance, and endless horizon of mountains and valleys below. Above me the sky stretches out with wispy clouds like fingers outstretched welcoming me into this beautiful day. In this moment I feel small. I am alive. It’s perfect.
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.
Flash. I’m on the mountain. At least I hope I am. I’m pretty much limited to the small beam of light my crappy headlamp from Target puts out. Every now and then I see green eyes up the trail, one of the dogs is looking back at us. But as I walk almost begrudgingly up hill my head slowly clears. As my heart rate rises and the oxygen thins an easy calm comes over me. A focus I only feel on the mountain. The physical exertion almost secondary to the mental peace I have.