“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.
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.
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.
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.
There must’ve been close to 100 elk filling the valley below me, and I was astounded. I didn’t want to do anything to call attention to myself, so just sat there quietly peering over the boulder from afar. It was some sort of luck or fate that put me in that right place and at the right time, because I certainly hadn’t been thinking about it as I I’d climbed toward the top of yet another ridge.
Old trails never die, they just get harder to see.
Their names did, and still do, a good job of describing them in a few short words- The Puke Loop and The Meatgrinder. While their heydays of being a few open, flowing pieces of path connecting extended sections of tight turns, rocks, overhanging limbs, short and steep climbs, poorly angled roots, complicated descents, cactus and riding/hiking/trail running bliss have long passed, they can still be mostly followed. More than just a few body scars remain on people to help tell something about what the two were like back in the day and undoubtedly there are those that still think of mountain biking the Puke Loop whenever they find themselves hugging a commode.
Adventurers weather a violent storm near the Continental Divide in the Wind River Range.
It’d been a long day, but by mid-afternoon, we were finally up on the spine of the Wind River Range. The Continental Divide never failed to intrigue me, as I invariably ended up trying to envision how, when it rained, the water would run down from the highest point, ultimately going to either the Pacific or the Atlantic. I would sometimes stand up on one of those high points and let the rain drip from my body and visualize how it was already on its way and would sooner or later end up in an ocean. This time, not surprisingly, my thoughts were the same. Continue reading “Storm in the Wind River Range”
The stillness was almost eerie. I’d never been on a mountain summit when there was anything less than a stiff wind blowing. Since I didn’t have to try and find any sort of wind break, there was extra time to sit and take it all in. A pure luxury. There was plenty of time, no approaching storm, all kinds of sunlight and we all had full water bottles and snacks to spare. Continue reading “The Summit”