It was a Fall Sunday during what should’ve been the slow part of the year. My lodge in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains had burned to the ground, and I was there dealing with it. I was sharing an old log cabin, which had not burned, with an 18-year-old intern—so, was not alone. On the day in question, I was piddling around the job site doing various rebuilding chores. Since it was our 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.
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, 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.
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………………..
Two trails, seven years later…
Old trails never die, they just get harder to see.
I remember those times of daily use well. Back then, many of the out of place rocks, logs, and limbs scattered along the way, were intentionally moved to where they ended up to improve a particular line of travel. Most people didn’t consider either of the trails to be particularly well-groomed, although they actually were. Regular maintenance was performed to keep them “clean,” and obstacles were moved around to create interest and make things flow better. But like many regularly used trails, both were mostly kept in their prime condition by constant use. Hikers moving fallen limbs out of the way, runners beating the tread in deeper, and mountain bikers flicking loose rocks off to the side with their tires all did their part. Any sort of unintended or unplanned obstacle that might get in the way of good trail time was not allowed to be there for long and was ultimately cleared out of the way.
A tree catches fire in the Colorado backcountry at a particularly inopportune time.
Lightning streaked across the sky and was followed instantly by an explosion of thunder, telling me that the thunderstorm was somewhere right above us. It was unsettling, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. I didn’t see any sort of flash hit the ground but had to wonder if there was one up there, wherever it was that lightning came from, that had one of our names written on it. The wind kept blowing relentlessly and the constant gusting made the whole situation seem all the more chaotic. But, where’s the rain, I thought? The Tarryall Mountains needed it. A real downpour might put an end to the monstrous Hayman Fire as well as whatever the smaller thing was that was visibly burning above us on the mountainside.