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Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Rage against the dying light"

"It has come quickly... this crushing, industrial love of paradise. The pervert-free, less-trammeled, hundred-mile-view days were little more than two decades past, not so very long ago." The Anthropology of Turquoise, by Ellen Meloy.

Recalling her wild and free Sierra Mountain roots, Meloy writes, "The true heart of a place does not come in a week's vacation. To know it well...'one must wait its occasions'—follow full seasons and cycles... a retreating snowpack, a six-year drought, a ponderosa pine eating up a porch. Wild mountains offer a promise of undomesticated life...and by necessity and sheer numbers of nature-starved pilgrims, visits there must be brief. Memory...still ignite(s) a consuming longing for those Sierra days of witless youth and enflamed senses. I still carry the land so deep in my bones that I cannot bear to go back."

As you must know by now, I am enraptured by Ellen Meloy "poetry." I wonder some nights if we might not be fraternal twins from different mothers. Utterly beguiled, I fall asleep to her wit-infused prose, her tender, evocative portrayals of landscapes, and her reckless abandon with "right-field" adjectives and metaphors. Rest assured, I will soon turn the last page and put her quotes to rest. But until that midnight hour rolls around, I intend to share her "nuggets," her well-phrased insights that resonate within my aging heart and mind.

"To the east lay Whitney crest and a precipitous plunge to Death Valley and other lowlands of the Gread Basin, places of salt and irrational immensity and heat so fierce you stop noticing things."  Ellen Meloy.


The Wednesday forecast called for a one-day break in the monsoonal turbine; "cool, cloudy, and humid." On the heels of a waterlogged Tuesday, and with a prediction for a dismal and wet Thursday, "hump-day" would be our window for escape, our only opportunity to offset rain-delayed "play." I didn't want to drive and didn't want a "re-do" of some hike we've already done this year... which pretty much left Bridge of Heaven."   It's a tad short of 11 miles, with 4000 feet of elevation gain. "Are we sure about this?"

Well, one should never be "sure" about anything at our age. You just dream up a daily destination and/or challenge, put on your boots, and put one foot in front of the other until you either succeed, run out of gas, or slip the confines of this world while attempting to make your dream a reality. A good way to go.    

"In the old days people knew how to dream. And they didn't have to go to sleep first." Fredrick Nietzsche 

One thing I like about Bridge of Heaven is that one of its two trail heads (the harder/longer one) is only a quarter mile from our front door. Maybe it was the third cup of coffee, but I was excited and determined to hike from home. 

As predicted, we were greeted by a cool, damp morning. It smelled earthy, a soggy forest scent permeated the air. Fresh snow and low clouds capped our mountain surround... insinuating summer's early demise. 

Throughly rested and properly over-caffeinated, we set off at an eager pace, on a hike we hadn't polished off for over a year. Dismal day and another-year-older be damned.

In view of heavy clouds and flat light, I opted to not lug the DSLR five and a half miles and 4000 feet up to the "Bridge." Elphie would have to do.

A little snow on Potosi. 
Like most trails that usher one up and out of Lovely Ouray's Crevice, Bridge of Heaven doesn't mess around. Even with switchbacks out the wazoo, it climbs as if in a hurry. It crosses several precipitous zones of falling rock and earth slides that all but made the trail disappear. At the trail register we noted that the last two sign-ins remarks about "dangerous ledges." One couple even turned back. It didn't seem that bad to us, but we understand that if one is not used to heights, Bridge of Heaven could be intimidating through the rockfall zones.

Lovely Ouray, after topping out about the halfway point

Being a wetter than normal summer, we were treated to an abundance of raspberries as we clawed our way up and out of The Crevice... an unexpected delay :). 

Bridge of Heaven Trail affords numerous opportunities to look back on town. We call these "rest breaks." They give a sense of progress on the way up. On the way down, however, it makes us feel like we weren't getting any closer to home.

Lovely Ouray and Bobbie, from the ridge to the Bridge of Heaven. Only 2000 vertical feet to go... 

Looking north... toward Ridgway's green pastures and beyond

Courthouse Mountain... been up there a number of times.

Finally, The Bridge... which is really a ridge, but Ridge to Heaven goes lacking in the symbolism department. A few shots from on top... 

Time to head down, always the hardest part. Jammed toes. Achy knees. Muscular woes. 

About this time every year, the tourist season slides from head to shoulder. We had the luxury of an empty trail to an empty "bridge." Forty minutes into our descent we ran into Craig.

"You the Johnsons?" he asks, chewing on an energy bar and looking plum tuckered. 
"I been trying to catch you since I saw your name on the trail register... 9 AM, right?" 
He was by himself and looked to be "fifty something." 
"You make it to the top? Well good for you. I had to toss in the towel bout timberline." 
I explained that timberline was only about 30 minutes from the "Bridge." He looked disappointed, then went on again about getting "older," accusing Bobbie of being in her 40's.
"You're only thirty years off," she laughed. 

Exhausted. I can't remember ever being more thrilled to see our driveway. The coup de grace was that it was trash day, and I had to lug a huge, two-wheeled, Bear Proof, Mack Truck Mother of all garbage containers, plus recycle bins, up the 12% grade. 

"Bridge of Heaven: Check," I said as we staggered through the front door. Seven hours and change after a light-footed departure. Though only a year had passed, Bridge of Heaven felt twice as hard. So this is how it happens...
But not this year, it was in the bag 'at close of day." 

Some of you probably tire of the metaphorical "bleed outs" here on the BCB... the seeming preoccupation with strenuous to arduous treks at altitude. Why Why Why? 

I don't know the answer, really; "Because it's there" sounds like a copout, and trips to Walmart, though challenging, aren't all that interesting. All I know is how I feel. Life is Good, make that Better, when one finds the groove of a natural niche. We fight for "the pervert-free, less-trammeled, hundred-mile-view days," those distant places beyond points of en mass surrender. Someday soon, Father Time will impose his will and we will settle for less. 
Until then, Rage against the dying light...

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas


  1. You have an amazing neighborhood ... great photos.

  2. Advise from the OFM. As long as you can still do it, DO IT.

  3. Always like the sound of a hike when you can do it our your front door, that's the best place to live.
    We are trying not to go gently into the dying night, unfortunately for us the end is not that far out of sight.
    It's getting down to where that 4wdr Tacoma can take us that keeps hope alive.
    Have to go check out this Ellen Meloy.
    Stay Thirsty my friends

  4. Again...sooo much resemblence with Switzerland. The narrow trails along the slopes, the climbing over rocks, the deep-down valley floor and far-away tops.

  5. As you may be aware, for the past week, we're over here in the Wallowas of extreme northeastern Oregon. Yesterday, we spent most of the day hiking above 8,000 feet after 3,700 feet of elevation gain. You can do it too. Just get behind the idea of a tramway from Lovely Ouray to the Bridge to Heaven. That's what they did here. You can have one too, you old frat. :)

  6. I've enjoyed reading your last couple posts and the pictures. It was nice to have a bite to eat with you both last week. Our time in Ouray has ended, but we really enjoyed it. We didn't get in as many hikes as we would've liked, but we did have fun. Got wet on the last one. Jeeped our last day as the thunder and hail arrived. I just love being on a hike and thinking how privileged I am to see these wonderful sights. Sights that most people never get to see. Rage On!

    1. Thanks Debbie,
      It was good to get together over Beer and Burgers (or salad) at the Ouray Brewery. I noticed on my run up Camp Bird Road earlier this week you were still camped by the bridge. Then today, on our way up to Governor Basis/Saint Sopia Ridge, I noticed you had moved on... to Silverton, I presume. It has been tough getting hikes in with the Monsoons persisting into late August. Don't forget Ice and Island Lakes while down in Silverton... up Mineral Creek. I know a short cut if you want one. It cuts off a mile :)
      Cheers to you and Steve, getting a jump on seeing the USA. Some don't make it to "retirement."
      mark and bobbie

  7. Glorious views from up high. I love this quote and thought you and Bobbie might, too: "You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know."
    Rene Daumal


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