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Where not all roads less traveled are roads...

Header Photo: Table Mountain, Golden, Colorado, with views of downtown Denver.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Imperfect Storm


In the throws of wildflower season, wading waist-deep through blossoms of shimmering purple Delphiniums, shin-deep through rainbows of neon Paintbrush, over and around incessant mounds of startling Blue Columbine, Bobbie and I are aghast at this year's apparent Super-bloom.

Sitting at the Imax this morning, peering out over Lovely Ouray as it rises from slumber and takes on a typhoon of hungry tourists, I reflect on the wonder of this week's hikes above timberline and the good fortune of our landing in such an exquisite setting. 

In contemplative times, good fortune is not something I take for granted. I honestly and earnestly honor and appreciate our adopted/adapted lifestyle, the blend of a wonderful hearth and home with that of RV dalliances in nearby Utah and Arizona, as well as other regions of the west that tug at heartstrings. Amen, and amen.


We enjoyed a fine week with John and Joalenn Q. As they roll homeward to Indiana, Illinoisans Chris and Mindy roll into the 4J campground, just a stones-throw down the street. An hour later I'm husking half a bushel of corn straight from Chris's "field of dreams." Tonight we will rendezvous at Buen Tiempo, Ouray's finest Mexican food/drinking establishment, for food and frothy pulls of on-tap IPA's.

Enough muse. Time to climb one of Hayden Mountain's several peaks... the tallest, at 13,200 feet. This time we will take the Northern approach... a direct assault up its vertiginous slopes of tundra and wildflowers.

Recall that we tried to summit Hayden this spring via the southern approach (Richmond Pass) only to be stopped short by a immense wall of snow that both stymied our mission and broke our spirits. 

This time, however, it's thunderstorms that threaten our mission... if not our pulse. It's always something, you know? In the end, the resourceful just go, and find ways to make the best out of whatever life throws their way. 





The Northern approach requires Petroleos Rex's 4WD to get us near the trailhead, about 5 miles above Camp Bird Mine and halfway to Imogene Pass. With the threat of thunderstorms and associated lightning, we also get an early start. 



The day begins with a promising mix of blue skies and puffball clouds. I'm carting both cameras up Hayden's steep slopes, so I breathe a prayer to Thor in hopes that he will not drop his almighty "hammer," maybe even grant a little sunlight on the wildflowers. He cooperates, at least initially.  




We've done this hike before. We know the summit is a long grunt up clump-steps of tundra. With clouds building over Sneffels, the "stopwatch" begins to tick. It would nice to take our time, play in the flowers, roll in the grass. But Thor begins to raise his hammer, and we push on with all due alacrity. 

The air thins; our direct route bends evermore upward; breaths come in heaves.  





I keep glancing over my shoulder... to see what Thor's up to over Mount Sneffels way (second distant peak from the right). I'm startled by a rumble... which turns out to be a low flying private Lear Jet... heading for Telluride. I wave, wondering if the passengers see us.


Skies continue to darken. Clouds look bottom-heavy. A couple raindrops smack bare skin and the temperature drops. I plop down, pausing to catch breath and look around. Bobbie's hard at work below, using all "fours" now, grasping at tundra in an effort to overcome the clutch of gravity. She's literally pulling herself up the mountainside. 

Beyond Bobbie, I spy the tongue of glacial scree we skirted some 40 minutes ago. Though we've made considerable progress, we are approaching the spot where lightning pinned us down the last time we tried to climb Hayden's north slope. It's always something on this mountain... snow protects one side, lightning and verticality the other. 


Still, it's beautiful... in spite of, or maybe even due to the "weather." You invest so much time and effort just to get in position to summit. After that, it's up to the gods as to whether you succeed or run for your life. 


Waiting for Bobbie to pull herself up the mountain, my eyes are drawn to Sneffels pyramidal summit in the gap. I study the small patch of snow near the top, remembering the (justifiable) trepidation at having to make my way across it a couple weeks prior. That's when it occurs to me: If not for obstacles, there would be no accomplishments worth a mention. A well-trafficked, wide-paved-road neither sets one apart from the mundane masses nor makes for gripping storytelling at cocktail parties.  



Forced to skirt scree and ledges, we continue our climb. Only on tundra can we keep feet under us and cling to the mountainside. I worry... what if Bobbie's trick knee gives out in such a spot??? 



Finally, the route relents into a more plausible incline. Bobbie's head bobs above the tundran horizon... followed by shoulders, waist, legs, and boots. Her breath comes in heaves and gasps and grunts. My Wonder-woman!





When the traction of alpine tundra turns into the slip-slide scrabble of scree, I know we are closing in on the summit. We soon gain the ridge and rest our eyes on Hayden's broad, bald summit. It suddenly goes from mountain lion to "kitten," and softens into a far less intimidating version of itself. 



In spite of intermittent pellets of rain, the weather holds... not getting better, but not getting worse... finally, an imperfect storm. Best of all, no thunder. The gods might just favor us with a summit.


Above, Bobbie appears ant-like as she treads the final hundred yards to the summit of Hayden.

Below, standing on a pile of rocks that marks the "top," she gestures a la Vanna White, Mount Sneffels.



 After quick lunch, we decide to not press our luck and begin the trek back to Pet Rex on a longer, but kinder-gentler, route down.












Next up, the Supercalifragilistic Neon Aqua Blues of Ice and Island Lakes. My first time to lay eyes on Island Lake does not disappoint. And the wildflower abundance makes Hayden's slopes look barren.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tour from a mere mortal.

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  2. Heaven on earth...absolutely amazing!

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  3. No way would Vanna White be up there with you and Bobbie..
    Thanks for the pictures..
    David

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  4. Love your narrative Mark and the pictures are so beautiful and we are so envious, but HEY you are in Little Switzerland for God's sake ,wouldn't expect anything less. (just wish we were with you).
    D&A

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  5. Beautiful area. Thank you for showing it to us.

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