Sunday, July 24, 2016

Colorado, the first weekend

We spread the big paper map across the coffee table to plan the weekend. Fingers sliding along jagged lines, here or here or there. 

I finally pulled out his camera and all its accessories, sorting and assessing. I examined them, one by one. I wonder what this filter is for? I'll have to ask Dad - 

Full stop.

Guess I'll figure it out.

Long after dark we drove into the Sangre De Cristo mountains to find our carefully selected 14er. We navigated miles of four wheel drive trails and back roads as midnight came and went until

A road closed due to landslide saw an abrupt end to our carefully constructed plans. Full stop. 

The next morning we drove back out of the woods to a small town we'd gone through the night before - Gardner - and a cafe/grocery called Wildflower, the only place in town. 


Shortly after we sat we noticed a guy digging through some bins labeled Free Stuff because another guy started yelling and whaling on him. FILTH AND FOUL AND FOUL AND FILTH smack. Rinse and repeat. 

We exchanged looks with the only other guy in the cafe, who sat calmly reading the paper. With raised eyebrows and a small deprecating smirk and shrug he said to us "Welcome to Gardner."

We soon determined the only plan that couldn't go wrong was the one we didn't make, so after consulting the map we started driving down around the peninsula of the Sangre De Cristos, and up the other side. 

Passing through a dusty little town of unknown name we passed this sign 

"Want to go to a yard sale?" I said, half joking.
"Yeah yeah, let's go," he said, whipping a  uey.  "Ok we'll do a drive by first and you check to see if there's anything worth getting out for." 
"Oh we're getting out," I declared, in for a pound by then. "Totally getting out," he agreed. "I see tons of stuff." Which I thought was hilarious until I realized he wasn't kidding. 

("Tons of stuff.")
(Still in the package! Score!)

(Napkin holder comes with napkins! What a steal.)


("What's this?" Asked the young boy. "It's a rotary phone." His dad answered. "But what's it for?" We all laugh in that way that makes friends of strangers and another man says "Does anyone else here feel suddenly old?")

It was hot and dry and mercilessly sunny and we chugged along in the old jeep, the soft top and my hair flapping in the wind, until we reached the Great Sand Dunes, which were sandy and duney as you might imagine and which were so hot they burned my Chaco feet until I had to turn back. 

We drove around the backside on a rough four wheel drive road,  past the Point of No Return ("There's never a point of no return in a jeep"), until we found the side where tourists don't venture. I took a cool picture and then mosquitos basically had me for dinner and I made a run for it and we high tailed it out of there, in search of yet another misadventure. 


Crestone is off the beaten path and works its easy way up the base of the mountains. Small and charming and quirky with a hippie vibe. I bought local peaches from a boy in a booth alongside the road. 

"We're debating the legitimacy of cotton candy ice cream," Matt said to the man behind the counter at the ice cream shop. "Well come on over here and have a look and I'll explain it to you," said the man with the beautiful eyes, gently smiling and with professional pride. He wasn't an ice cream guy, he was a connoisseur, an ice cream artist, creating taste with natural local organic ingredients, and blending flavors with care and exquisite precision. I had blueberry and lemon and Matt had blueberry and mint chocolate chip because he's a peasant, apparently, and there's no accounting for taste. It was life changing ice cream. Amen and amen. 


"I have to pee so bad," I said rhetorically twenty minutes from Buena Vista as the long day started to wane. "Are you ok?" He asked seriously. "Can you hold it? I can pull off somewhere. Just let me know." Of course I can hold it, I've been an adult in full control of my bladder for quite some time now, but his guileless concern is always completely organic and unaffected. Sometimes that weekend his southern ways drove me crazy - I wanted to GO and he wanted to mosey - but how can you be aggravated with someone who is so sincere?

Finally that night outside Buena Vista we almost declared ourselves adventured out and returned to Golden without having gotten to climb a 14er, after all that. 

I wanted to love you, Colorado, with your mountains and dramatic skies, but Lordy your crowds. I decided the mountains are like one giant mountainous city. People. Everywhere. I love mountains but your mountains full of crowds are unforgivable, Colorado. 

"I'm over it," we agreed, me disenchanted and disappointed, but after midnight when we'd turned back we found a spot to camp for the night and decided to have a go at it yet.

At dark o'clock in the chill morning, after four hours of sleep and a leaky camel bak which soaked clothes and left us short on water and after a minor melt down by yours truly, we started up the mountain with dozens of other people. 

Three miles and 4,500 feet altitude later we reached rhe summit, and started down the back side, through alpine meadows of flowers and snow. The people were few and far between by then, the mountain was lovely and good and offered some solitude and peace as I walked ahead and alone for a time, Dad's camera clutched in my hand. The mountain understood, kept silent company and didn't say anything when I cried. 


(I took dozens and dozens of photos, but due to technical difficulty and lack of tech support #thanksdad I cannot use my computer to edit and upload photos so this process is painfully slow, time consuming and frustrating, so this is what you get. You probably don't care but it's hard for me, to not edit and make it perfect.)

Finally finally after a long weekend we reached Leadville, and I forgave Colorado for everything for the sake of Leadville. I fell in love and felt at home, stress and fatigue fading away in the embrace of that small town and its mountains and mines and friendly people and good food. I could write an entire post on that evening in Leadville but I won't. Not now. Maybe not ever. We'll see. 


Well that was snippets of my first weekend in Colorado. Not at all as planned but all together as it was meant to be, I suppose, and at the end of the day I wouldn't change a thing. We had many and many interesting and wonderful encounters. 

"The majority of important things cannot be said outright, they cannot be made explicit. They can only be implied."


P.S. The hours of time it took to make this blog happen are dedicated to my mom with love for being my biggest fan! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

One weekend in Wyoming

...I set off on an adventure with people I hardly knew.

I liked that we weren't brought together by our love for each other, but by our love for the mountains and mutual interests. We all wanted to be away for the weekend, to be in the mountains ice climbing, to go adventuring. I knew by the end of the trip we'd be friends.

Maybe one might say we'd been spoiled in our previous ice climbing experiences by the easy accessibility of Ouray and the Black Hills. But I don't think that's the case. These climbs, though prolific, were not easily obtained. The searching in those mountains, however, wandering around the steep rocky, snowy slopes, amidst the scraggly evergreens and sage, was an equal part of the adventure.

 It's never just about the climbing. It's about being out and exploring, and finding. We earned our ice and were pleased to do so.

When we finally trudged, out of breath, around that bend in the canyon and saw our ice fall, there all along, all still and blue and validating, it was like finding hidden treasure.

Matt. Unassuming, cheerful, much to say and not in a hurry. 

An Atlanta boy grown to be a Colorado mountain man who didn't lose the Georgia drawl. 

We talked about poop.

We fancied ourselves nature experts. We argued about whether or not it was deer or elk or goat poop (by the end of the day it made no difference in Eddie's scooping it up and throwing it over his shoulder at me as we hiked back to the vehicle) (he used to play baseball, he never missed), horse or bear poop (I hope you're picking up on the irony of the nature experts comment by now), whether or not bear poop changes drastically depending on whether they last ate berries or people.

We argued about whether or not bears hibernate in winter if there hasn't been much snow or cold ("Don't they build snow caves?"), whether that was a coyote or a wolf cry, if moose travel in herds, if mountain sheep can really fall over dead from fright (they can), and how much work it would actually be to have an ostrich farm.

(Of course we talked of other things too - of how they met and past relationships, of politics and travel and our jobs and previous ice climbing trips and mutual friends and childhood and injuries. But who wants to read about all that?)

We learned about Cody, Wyoming. That it's the rodeo capital of the world ...

...and that it's the gateway to Yellowstone, and the home of Buffalo Bill. And from experience we learned that although the mountains around Cody contain the most backcountry ice climbing routes in the United States, the locals don't care. They care about religion, guns, trucks and cattle. They do not care that out their back doors there are over 150 natural frozen waterfalls in a 10 mile radius.

We even went to the outdoor shop and they could tell us nothing to help us in our quest for ice. But there was a certain appeal in this, too. It wasn't a trendy Colorado sporty town full of Patagonia clad enthusiasts and wannabes. These were just cowboys and there happens to be ice out there.

So we poured over the guidebook, in all its vague and misleading glory, discussing and puzzling it out together, and ventured our way into the mountains.

We were like kids in a candy store as we pointed out to one another climb after blue iced climb, far up into those mystic canyons.

Lovely, imposing, poignant, remote and mostly unattainable to the likes of us. They whispered promises of someday, those endless frozen flows, those elusive heights, holding secrets of things beyond our skill and knowledge and strength to know. Maybe we haven't the heart for it, maybe we'll never have the courage for the potential heartbreak found in the magnitude of that level of climbing. But it whispers to us, and we wonder what if. What if we could climb that high. What would we know then? The secret of the universe lies in those heights.

We don't speak of it aloud, but the wonder of it is in our hearts and leaks through our eyes as we gaze up at those summits in longing and fear and contemplate things beyond our knowing.

I saw a moose, which I've always claimed don't exist because I've never seen one before in all my travels.

"Did you see the moose?" Matt asked casually, like it was just another mule deer. "It wasn't!" I exclaimed. "Oh, was it an elk?" He asked. Matt, in his unusual and unpretentious innocence, assuming I must be right. "I thought it was a moose." Eddie whipped the truck around and there it was, it was a moose.

It reminded me of the time I stood in an orange sunset deep down in Mexico where the river meets the Gulf, and suddenly there were dolphins jumping in the waves below. How I was so astounded and consumed with delight at the long awaited sighting. Seeing the moose felt like that.

A mile down the road we saw a magnificent herd of elk lounging in a high desert meadow.

We heard a wolf's cry and an owl's hoot.

We shared puffies and advice.

Puffy on puffy on shell on hoodie on wool.
We watched the sun set behind the high and broken horizon.

We saw the laziest of snows mosey down defiantly from a blue sky.

I broke through the ice on a creek crossing.

We dug out seats in the steeply angled slopes and sat conversing in the snow, shivering and uncomplaining, waiting our turn on the rope, drinking in the crisp mountain air.

Just another day in the mountains.

In another year Eddie will be transferred out of state for his job, and Ashley - by then his wife - will go with him. Maybe we'll meet up from time to time on impromptu climbing trips. Or maybe we won't.

Matt will probably still be in Colorado and we'll remain uncommunicative Facebook friends.

But for this weekend we were together, an unlikely team, adventure buddies, sharing inside jokes and staring together at unknowable heights with our hearts in our throats. When axes and cleats slipped their icy grip and someone gasped in startled fear as they came off the ice we'd holler up "I have you. You're good", holding calmly to their belay, their safety.

We stood on belay, hunched with our faces toward the ground as shards of ice rained down like shrapnel to thwack mightily upon our helmets. We called encouragement and challenges, high fived successes, exhaled deep breaths of relief when he finally made that clip and the danger was past for the moment.

For this weekend we were in the mountains, holding the rope and each other's lives in our hands.

How could we not be friends after that?

I love things like that, sports like ice climbing, that bring random strangers together in the mountains and make friends of them.

There was that. And what else is there? For that moment, in that present, there is nothing else.

Nothing that I know of.