Saturday, August 9, 2014

Collegiate West: Day 1

Helene and I arrive at the trailhead at Twin Lakes around 10:30 under a sky that is more cloudy than blue. A quick check of my gear, I put on my shoes and gators, and I am on my way. The first few miles are easy with a nice tread and relatively flat geography, and I soon find a pretty quick pace that feels good. My goal is to get up and over Hope Pass, at an exposed 12,500’, before the threat of lightning, typically an afternoon concern, becomes an issue. The late start and Hope Pass being nearly nine miles away and 3500’ higher has much to do with the pace I set.


The sky is slowly losing its clouds to a rich blue that puts any thoughts of needing my raingear away. In spite of my desire to get up and over the pass, I can’t help but notice – and stop to photograph – several wildflowers that welcome me to the trail – senecio, cinquefoil, lupine, wild rose. After a few miles, the trail takes a left for a more southerly bearing, and the flat easy trail becomes steep and rocky. The quick pace is soon put away with the thoughts of raingear.

A short break to lose my fleece jacket, apply some sunscreen, and have a snack, and I am back on what feels like a slow trudge up an unpleasant rock-strewn trail that once was an old jeep trail. I’ve been climbing for a mile or so when I begin to hear voices. I soon discover they are coming from a group of about 25 teenagers that apparently are finding the trail much more difficult than I am. I leave them behind just as the trail is opening up into a gorgeous alpine wonderland.

The trail narrows and is no longer full of bowling ball sized rocks – that’s good. But the steepness only intensifies as I near the pass. I begin some of the little games I use when a climb brings that “this is sort of like having fun, only different” thought to my oxygen deprived brain. Fifty steps, then I stop for a rest. Thirty steps, then rest. Ten steps… I will make it to that rock, and then stop for a rest. Fortunately, the skies remain nonthreatening, so I don’t feel any great need to move any faster than I am moving. If I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will get there. What seems like a torturously slow pace on legs that sometimes feel like they are filled with wet cement, I still eventually make it to the top of the pass. OK, I have earned a sit down break, and something substantial to eat.                 
Shortly after making it to the top, a fellow, around age 30, wearing red running attire that included what looked like a light pair of open sandals, arrives and sits down nearby. I remember seeing him two or more hours ago, running down the rocky trail I was climbing. We get to talking, and I learn that Daniel is training for the Leadville 100, a 100-mile mountain footrace that includes two runs to the top of Hope Pass, one from each side. This is his second visit to the top of the pass today in a 25-mile training run. Suddenly, I feel kind of wimpy – here is this guy, running up and down and all around these mountains, in these ultra-light sandals or whatever they are, and I’m complaining to myself about how steep and rocky the trail is. I rationalize that this is my first day on this trek, and I will soon find my trail legs. And he’s so much younger than me. Yeah, that too! These thoughts kind of make me feel a little less like a wimp. Kind of. A little.
The hike down the other side does not have the long, lung-busting climb, but the steepness in reverse on many scree-filled switchbacks is not all that fun either. I finally make it down off the mountainside and begin looking for a place to camp – relatively flat with water nearby. The right spot is not appearing, so I keep on hiking. I hear the howls of several coyotes and smile. I’m tired, as it must be approaching 7pm, but it feels good to once again be out in wild Nature. Knowing I got here, self-powered on these two feet of mine (the original ATV), carrying all that I need to be nourished and warm and dry on my back, with coyote music in the aspen air, makes this moment all the more satisfying. I am feeling a lot less wimpy too.

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