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Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Campfire Promise Kept

31 years ago, lakeside—in the burgeoning morning twilight on the first day of summer—a small wedding party climbed into a couple of rickety wicker baskets attached by rope to hot air balloons. With a deafening blast and flame, they ascended in unison...earth shrinking, love expanding...smiles all around. An acrophobic Justice of the Peace wondered out loud why in Christ's name he ever agreed to this gig. 

So what better way to commemorate our anniversary than ascend again; only this time, with feet firmly planted on the ground...more or less.

It's late June, but it follows a winter that showed up for a change. I know we will encounter snow on the way to Abram's summit because I can see it from our house, long fingered couloirs full of "white plague," streaking down it's north face.   

A couple hundred yards from the truck our  couloir to Heaven is filled with snow, more than I've ever witnessed on the first day of summer. But instead of foe, it was friend...soft enough to get a "bite," firm enough to not break through. We made good time getting to the ridge...less than an hour, despite psychotic verticality that would render whimpers from our Justice of the Peace, had he been along. 

Exiting the couloir: Up-to-the-task Sue, followed by Too-tall Kay, followed by Wonder Woman Bobbie

Eventually the snow-ladder steepens to the point where footing is problematic. We bail onto a steep slope of tundra; it, too, is a ladder. Old Man of the Mountain flowers pop along the way...little diversions that take minds off smoking glutes and the fire in quads and lungs. About this time it occurs to me that maybe this is why we have so few friends. Hmmm, something to ponder...

There seems to be a lack of leadership...or is it a lack of follower-ship?

Finally the ridge is gained. Red Mountains, full of grace and glory, enough to tear the eye of this grown man. Ungrateful Bastard that I am, I want more...a few puffy white clouds, please, but hold the lightening.

We adjust the route, trying to avoid snow. It's not a problem, really, but the detours add to the distance and elevational gain/loss.

Finally, running the ridge, our objective comes into view: Mount Abram.

Another detour...lest we slide down the wrong side of the mountain

It's a lovely ridge, full of color. Lavender volcanic tuff, sprinkled with brilliant orange lichen...

Kay remarks: We keep hiking, hiking, hiking, but it doesn't seem like we're getting closer. It does feel that way; distance, distorted by the size of the "room." The "detours" don't help, nor do all the ups and downs inherent in running ridge lines.

We get funneled to the one place I was worried about, a place where "the sun don't shine," so to speak. Snow still clings for it's life in the shade of a lichen speckled section of vertical rock. It's too steep to climb up or down to get around; we must cross, slowly, carefully. Since I'm the one with the biggest feet, I volunteer to carve a track, footsteps for the rest to follow in, not that anyone would ever want to do that. 

We take a break before the final push up Mount Abram's tundra slope. It's steep, of course, which keeps the crowds to a minimum. We have the whole hike and mountain summit to ourselves, friends, alone, appreciating the luck of living where we do. Is it luck, I wonder? No, not for me. I made a conscious decision to one day live in Ouray in the form of a pledge to my father. We were sitting around a campfire above Lovely Ouray, poking at coals and opening up about secret dreams and other private things that get un-muted by liquor and flames that lick the night. I turned to my dad, it was almost a whisper: "I can promise you this; one day I will live in Ouray, Colorado." He looked at me, said, "I believe you."

He died one month later. 

It took year to get my shit together. I was devastated.What's the point? But the dream didn't die...the promise smoldered like the coals in that campfire. 

One year later, I'm crossing Kansas bucking a crosswind, eyes welling with tears, headed "home." The one person I wanted to see that promise kept was gone. Somehow I hoped he knew.

Tuckered out


  1. Never had any doubt you would make it. Considering the hike you guys don't look tuckered out enough!

  2. Happy Anniversary to a special couple that sure enjoy their hikes together. Good choice on your hike up to Abrams!
    John Q

  3. Congrats on your anniversary. And thank you for all the beautiful photos!!

  4. How great that you were able to share those intimate thoughts with your Dad just one month before his exit. Although he may not have been around to see it through, he believed in your dreams and aspirations, which is bigger than a promise. Congrats to you and Bobbie on another milestone.

  5. The Spirit of the San Juans will live on thanks to your devotion as a man of your word Mark.
    Beautiful post!

  6. Congrats to you and Bobbie.

  7. Damn it's pretty, and no doubt your glutes are in better shape than mine. Congrats to you both! Awesome way to celebrate!


  8. Happy Anniversary you two.

    Did you get married in a hot air balloon? Is that what I'm to make of the opening paragraph? Riding in one sits squarely at the top of my bucket list.

    Also, your story made me think of the poem A Dream Deferred. Instead a dream realized, like yours to move to Ouray,is much to be ecstatic about.

    1. Yes, we got married in a hot air balloon. And we're still rising

  9. Mark forgot to add that his brother and sister-in-law went along on this beautifully crazy hot air balloon wedding as "witnesses." We were in the second balloon and followed them in this high-altitude ceremony. A beautiful experience!

    1. Wow, you really are checking in on the BCB !!!
      In the interest of "brevity" (which is the "soul of wit, I'm told) I left the wedding party out.
      It was a fantastic day, and you an Elaine were great sports to go along :)
      Love you Brother,

  10. Those are some extraordinarily steep mountainsides you conquered! Love the group selfie!


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