The night was long and restless. He was cold inside his sleeping bag even though the three of them had worked so hard to make things cozy. And then, there was the wind. It blasted the tent relentlessly, and he was worried about getting blown off the ridge. What would that be like, he tried to imagine? There was no actual sleep. But there was a sort of vigilant grogginess. While his body was mostly still, his mind actively raced in a frenzy of hyperactive speculation. He was uncomfortable, and the situation was damn near depressing. But thankfully, he wasn’t outside climbing toward the summit- yet. That would happen soon enough.
The last time I canoed the Rio Grande through Boquillas Canyon was in 1979. After 40 years, it became time for me to remind myself of some of the lessons that 33 mile stretch of river taught me way back then. And so, I floated it.
It was a long downhill and flowed well. The section of the Colorado Trail we were riding drops slowly and steadily for miles as it winds its way down the Craig Creek drainage. It’s a fast, fun, and mostly effortless ride. Sure, there are plenty of obstacles along the way, such as unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed-out ruts. But the only tricky spots occur where small creeks, thick with willows, come in from the sides. While you can successfully ride most of the trail by using a combination of vigilance and good riding technique, the creek crossings generally require something a little more. And with all of their mud, roots, and big rocks, those parts often end up being walked. Despite the downsides, it’s mountain biking in the wilds of Colorado at its best.
The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.
It was a Fall Sunday during what was normally the slow part of the year. Autumn in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains is spectacular with Aspen trees turning gold and warm sunny days interrupted only by the occasional and temporary arrival of winter. Most years, late September is an ideal time to be there, with long pleasant days that are almost perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and climbing area peaks. But this particular year, my days were occupied with the aftermath of the burning down of the OWA base camp lodge rather than recreation. Instead of the comforts of my private lodge bedroom and bath, I was sharing an old one-room log cabin with an 18-year-old intern, and not doing much besides clean-up and prep for the new construction. On the day in question, I was piddling around the job site doing various chores. Since it was something of an off day, Lee (the intern) asked if he could go on a leisurely and straightforward hike toward Bison Peak. I considered the fact that he’d been on several backcountry trips with my outdoor program in the past. And since there was no work planned for him that afternoon, it seemed reasonable. And so, I gave him my blessing.
“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, 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, mostly teenage backpackers. Typically, I was confident about wherever Mike was leading us. But in this instance, 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, which caused me to be a tad bit skeptical of our route.
It wasn’t the easy way out of the predicament. But we ended up choosing 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.
I now concede the fact that it was undoubtedly the five candy bars I ate in celebration of successfully getting across the avalanche debris field that caused the distress. I should’ve known better, but for a variety of reasons, it’d seemed like a good thing to do at the time. At least, I reasoned once back at home, the whole thing had taught me a good lesson.
Where did Garret go? A misplaced backpacker out in the Wind River Range backcountry.
The camping spot we were aiming for would mark the end of our day’s walk. The destination was more of a “likely looking map location” than a formal campsite. But I knew that it would be easy enough to locate, given that on the map, it appeared to be only a few hundred yards beyond where the Middle Fork Trail forked in from the west and not too far past Stough Creek. After further map study, it looked to be only about 4 miles beyond our lunch stop, which meant that we had only about 2 hours of walking time after lunch left to get us there. It would be a straightforward and leisurely afternoon of backpacking, I assumed, as I grabbed one more handful of lunch.
Climbing Huayna Potosi in Bolivia without a morning cup of coffee.
It was cold and restless sleep at our high camp on Bolivia’s Huayna Potosi. As I think back, it was actually more like quiet time, except for the constant banging of the tent flap out in the frigid, high altitude night. When I’d gone outside briefly, I’d marveled at how clear and full of stars the sky was. But that marvel was tempered by my personal acknowledgment that ultimately the clear skies would just mean even colder temperatures. At least, I reasoned, since there was no threat of snow, I wasn’t going to have to get up and shovel any of it away from the tent in the wee hours of the morning.