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Sunday, August 10, 2014
"Perfect Day" conclusion: Tortoise Versus Hare—Unlikely Winners on Mountaintops
It was the first week in August but hotter than the fourth of July. Two guys headed off to LA from New York City—Joe in his brand new fully loaded, fuel injected Lexus, and John in his '64 Dodge Dart "slant-six" with three on the column. It had an AM radio, but no AC. Ultimately, both Joe and John got to LA...
It was the kind of day that fulfills all the promises on Lovely Ouray's website—brilliant sunshine, cobalt skies, a smattering of puffball clouds on the horizon—just for photographers—and temperatures that loitered in the mid 60's. Bobbie and I were to lead a hike with friends, Bruce and Leonard, up the standard route to Mount Abram's summit. We drove south out of Lovely Ouray—up the innumerable switchbacks of the Million Dollar Highway—and hung a left on Corkscrew Gulch Road. A hundred yards and another left put us on Brown Mountain Road, where I reluctantly engaged four wheel drive on our gas guzzling pickup, Petroleous Rex. Three and a half gut wrenching miles later, we clamored out into a knee-high grassy meadow, awash in early morning sunshine and steam.
With backpacks and hiking poles, we set off in crisp, clean air, the kind that reminds you of fall. Another quarter mile put us above timberline, where the trail dead ended into a rather precipitous V-notch ravine. An ankle-deep stream rippled through loose scree at the bottom. "This is the route," I said. "Straight up to the ridge." Within minutes we were huffing and puffing—feeling a little daunted and wondering what became of the "second winds" of younger days. Conversation withered and died for lack of oxygen as we inched our way up a near vertical ladder of wet scree. "It gets easier once we make the ridge," I gasped, sensing a dip in es·prit de corps.
There's no easy way to gain that ridge, there's no trail, no signs, no cairns—you just head toward the sky and put one foot in front of the other. After a half hour on the "Stairmaster," I broke northeast out of the ravine, up a broad slope of tundra every bit as steep, but at least dry. Attempting to assuage the brutal gradient, I charted a zigzag course. The group strung out below—five steps, pause for breath; seven steps, pause for breath. Hey, we're Geezers. What do you expect? I tried to focus on the rewards—the impending summit, appreciating things that had gone unnoticed on previous ascents, and grateful to still be ascending "stairways to heaven." Nearing the ridge, a flash flood of sweat streamed. I mopped my brow with my old ball cap, noting the "Life is Good" logo embroidered above the bill. It sought affirmation, as if there was a question mark at the end. "Yes," I agreed. "It's good, if good means hard."
Upon reaching the saddle I let out a "whoop." Strung out below, Bobbie, Leonard, and Bruce leaned into the mountain and looked up—as if they might fall over backward and tumble down if not careful. "I'm on the ridge," I yelled, hoping to boost their resolve. What a breathtaking surround. Red Mountain's one, two, and three glowed scarlet, ocher, and orange, while a rainbow of wildflowers smiled up from my feet. Several thousand feet below a straight-as-an-arrow section of the "Million Dollar Highway" split Ironton's valley in two; an unnatural scar amongst a kaleidoscopic of visual chaos. Too bad they didn't break that stretch up with a few soft serpentine curves. I snapped photos as each person in our group gained the saddle. More "whoops," followed by a few "Man-oh-mans" and hands on knees. A battle won, but the "war" is still up for grabs.
Time for the ridge run, a long snake that coils up and down and over and back between the east and west facing slopes. The route avoids anything resembling technical, but it's not without noticeable gains and losses in elevation. Then, a final push up another ladder of tundra landed us on Abram's glorious summit.
Now, back to the point of this diatribe. Judging from comments left on the previous Abram post I got the feeling that our climb seemed out of reach for all but the fittest, that it was beyond most reader's "perceived" capability. Humbug! Was it a grunt? Yes. Did legs and lungs burn? Of course. But here's something to mull over: The only difference between an old hiker and a young mountaineer is in how long it takes to get to the top. So what if it takes four hours instead of two? The views and exhilaration are the same for you as it is for the mountaineer, and guess who has the greater sense of accomplishment? A Geezer.
Bobbie and I discussed this many times over the course of our Peak Bagging lives after we'd pass some geezer guy or geezer couple plodding their way up a 14'er. I believe it was on our way up Wetterhorn—a climb that made me feel a little squeamish due to its "airy" drop-offs on the final pitch—when we encountered an eighty year old guy working to cross the last two 14'ers off his bucket list (there are 54), most of which he climbed in "retirement." He starts at first light, and sometimes doesn't get down till late afternoon, if not dark. But the essence of my argument is—he goes, he gets there, same as anybody else, if not better, in some respects, because his effort and accomplishment is mightier than the sum total of every other "younger" person on the mountain.
The laws of physics tells us that X amount of work expended over greater time requires less horsepower. The Dodge Dart might lack horsepower, speed, and comfort—might even have bald "tires," leak a little "oil" and overheat once in a while (sound familiar?). But both Joe and John got to LA, baby, John just paid a higher price in the sore and stiff department.
If the ultimate goal for (some) retired folks is to spend more time outdoors, who is more triumphant, the "tortoise" or the "hare." We don't have to miss out on summit views and wild flowered trails, not yet. The quickest way to fail is to not even try. You can't climb a mountain if you don't strap on your boots and show up at the trailhead. Don't let fear or mountains or anything else you are avoiding psyche you out. Now go take a hike, or jump off a bridge with only a rubber band tied to your waist :)