It was a Fall Sunday during what should’ve been the slow part of the year. Our Colorado lodge in the Tarryall Mountains had burned to the ground a month or so before and I was up there dealing with it. I was sharing an old log cabin, which had not burned, with an 18-year- old intern—so, I was not alone. On the day in question, I was piddling around doing various things that needed to happen in the midst of rebuilding. That afternoon, Lee (the intern) had some leisure time and came up to the building site to let me know that he wanted to go on a simple and physically easy hike up the Ute Creek Trail toward Bison Peak and would plan to be back to the cabin before dark. Since he’d been on several backcountry trips with us in the past and I wouldn’t be needing his help with the work that I had planned for the afternoon, it sounded reasonable to me. And so, I gave him my blessing.
Ryan had never bonked before, at least in the metabolic shock overexertion sense of the word. When he started to bumble around and kept losing more and more of his edge, I knew that something was up and figured that’s what had happened. Not really realizing what was going on, he kept on trying to mountain bike further up the Colorado Trail, although with diminishing returns. The big patches of snow that still littered the trail, even though it was June, were probably a good thing since they ultimately turned us all around. His disrupted mental and physical state likely made the retreat more palatable to the 13-year-old, since he wasn’t one to be prone to turn around before his goal was reached, regardless of whatever difficulty he faced.
“You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are,”or something to that effect, is a famous quote. I repeated it several times to myself as we kept walking into the thick fog and headed toward the summit of Chiefs Head in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I was bringing up the rear of a group of ten teenage backpackers. Normally, I would’ve been completely confident about where Mike was leading us, except that one of his Colorado Mountain School guides, Dennis, was at the back of the line with me and kept muttering about how we were going up the wrong mountain.
He hadn’t felt very strong ever since lunch. His backpack felt increasingly heavy and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He was not a complainer and was intent on not becoming one at that point. He wondered if the weakness that he was experiencing perhaps had something to do with the water that he’d gotten out of the creek during the break before lunch. He realized that he hadn’t even looked at his water in the bottle before drinking it. What if it was full of all kinds of weird stuff, he wondered to himself?
A mysterious thirst is quenched.
The sixteen empty soda bottles sat on the counter in the Cerro Colorado store for two days before the shopkeeper finally stuck them down with the others. They’d been a good conversation piece while sitting out there in the open, but he’d found a spider in one of them just that morning and since he needed to move them anyway, put them into some of the empty slots in the wooden Fanta case down on the floor. After he’d tidied things up a bit more, he thought about dragging the whole box of empties out from behind the Sabritas rack where the bottles would be more visible and still be the talk of the town, but realized that if he did so, it would just be in the way and would make things look disorganized. And so he just drug it out and stuck it in the back room.
Climbing an unnamed buttress in the Winds…..
In Two Parts………..
There’s a place deep in the heart of the Wind River Range that we called Golden Lake. There are no marked trails that go there and if you look on a real map there’s nothing with that name. There actually is a lake up there, but it has another name. It sits in a basin of sorts, along with two others. The basin is actually a glacial cirque which sits at the top of an obscure drainage which leads down to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The main lake of the three is full of Golden Trout. Thus, the name.
It wasn’t the easy way out of the predicament, but we chose the more physically painful of the two options and climbed up the steep ridge and then over the saddle that led us out of Paradise Park and down into Hell Canyon.
This is how we got to that point:
Missing a Tutuburi
The countryside opened up as the Silver Trail left the Valley of the Churches. Our group of seven had passed a young Tarahumara man (the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon) earlier in the day and I’d asked about Nacho Kino, an old Tarahumara whom I’d met while mapping the Silver Trail a few years before.
We called it the Valley of the Dinosaurs mostly because of the monstrous rock formations that were scattered all around. Besides just overwhelming the remote high valley in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains with their sheer size, they breathed a strange sort of life into the area that had convinced me from early on that the whole place was on the move. I could never pick out any one thing that caused me to think that—it was more like a general, overwhelming and deep in the gut feeling that had me convinced. I was consumed by the place’s pure and simple beauty and a feeling that the whole area was way more alive than me from the very first time I blundered into it. Through the years, I took every opportunity to return and while the physical cost of getting there was never cheap- without fail, it was always worth it.
The names of places……
The various names that are attached to places are intriguing. Some that are acquired are obvious, since they either reflect some sort of location characteristic or simply commemorate an individual who was important to the place. But, others not quite so. Regardless of how or why, the names all tell a story in a few short words—some less straight-forward than others, but each worthy of knowing. Here’s a few such stories that I’ve heard. Listen, and maybe you will, too………………..