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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipsed by Oscar


“The roads of life are paved wide and skirt the mountains. And these very roads are choked with a steady stream of pathetically pedantic travelers who in reality have no intent of traveling. And if we are to discover the real travelers, much less join them, we will find them out on precarious paths that defy the roads and scale the mountains.”  Craig D. Lounsbrough


While scrambling up a hellish slant of scree, boulders, and rotten rock a couple weeks ago—across a vast and glorious basin—a sweeping rusty crest caught my attention and imagination. Six miles of continuous running ridge, 13,000 feet or better, populated by with a series of near 14'er summits too numerous to count. 

A pronounced "scar" of a trail zigzagged up through a massive tumble of scree, blemishing an otherwise unadulterated landscape. I need to walk that ridge.


Note the scar, right of center and just before the ridge disappears behind the darker mountain.

Here it is again, zoomed in. It appears too steep to be an old mining road.

Then again... maybe not. Lord, how would you like to be the guy on the dozer with the assignment of putting a road up and over that ridge?


So a couple weeks pass, we are still alive, and I remind my hiking partner of the opportunity to "connect a few more dots" up on that ridge. Of course this "opportunity" comes at the expense of enduring a rough four wheel drive in Pet Rex... a narrow, cliffed-out single-lane, etched onto the side of a mountain. It's not Bobbie's favorite thing in the world, to endure a bone-jarring, clenched jaw jaunt along the edge of a precipitous chasm. She'd rather hike it than ride it any day, but it is what it is and we must deal with reality.

Additionally, her legs aren't feeling "fresh." That scar looked steep and long, with an abundance of elevation gain, not to mention, how are we even going to find it? Bobbie suggests Red Mountain #3. Ugh. I'd rather kiss a slug. I need some new "dots." Another cup of coffee and she relents. Quick, before the caffeine wears off.  It's like Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people when it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." This is what we do. It's our job, let's get to work. It's the long, brutal hikes that stand out in memory, and we'll remember Ocar's Pass well into our nursing home days.   

From the driver's window...a small sky blue lake, the cute little town of Ophir, and 14'ers right to left, Wilson Peak, Mount Wilson, and El Diente ("the tooth"). All those "boxes" checked...dot's connected.   

This long section does not allow enough room for oncoming vehicles to pass, always nerve wracking...who's going to back up?


After two false starts, Bobbie and I stumble upon what we think is "the trail," which is actually a long untraveled road, now reduced to single-track.





Having started well below timberline where nary a cooling breeze could be felt, we are soon soaked with perspiration. I'm not keen on boring, see-nothing hikes through dense forests, and long for the alpine zone. The "trail" appears to have once been a rather ambitious mining road, steep, with long, merciless switchbacks that add miles between Point A and B. But the views? Priceless; memorable. 












Some 3,000 vertical feet and countless profanities later, we top Oscar's Pass. I had hoped to peer down on Columbine Lake from the ridge, but alas, it's one basin over blocked from view. We settle for Lewis Lake, a disappointment at best, and munch down a couple of energy bars. Though the moment has arrived, there is no visible sign of an eclipse. Oh well, we have no glasses anyway.



Rising above us, just another 300 vertical feet, Oscar Mountain beckons. Bobbie and I confer, then agree that we don't have enough "gas" left in our tanks, especially on loose, cobbled scree. We still have to get down, and if there is one thing more difficult than climbing 3,000 feet, it's descending 3,000 feet. Oscar is one handsome devil, though.




The "road" improves after Oscar's Pass. A couple more hours and we could be standing next to Bridal Veil Falls above Telluride. It's temping...for just a second. Long-hiker "Jill Outdoors" wouldn't think twice about extending this hike or getting back after dark. 


Dots connected, a few Demons cast out, mission accomplished. Time to start down. What took a little over two hours to climb up, sadly, wasn't much quicker going back down...maybe 25 minutes at best. I blame the marble footing, and creaky knees. 

Light and shadow put on a quite a show...


Little Ophir, way down at the bottom.







Looking back at the ridge from Ophir.


It's hard to explain, you either get it or you don't: There is something deeply satisfying about earning one's "views," the objective so high, the struggle to achieve it, the reward of having done it, and the sweet, sweet buzz of a celebratory beer after having pushed yourself to the limit. It doesn't do away with war, prejudice, strife, doesn't cure cancer in those who deserve better from whimsical gods, but it does do something inexplicable inside, something that empowers me to brave the "meantime" between summits, to cope with lunacy, bigotry, irreverence, greed, and filthy rich braggarts who don't have a clue as to what it's like to be stuck in the middle. Mountains are humbling, and remind me of my insignificance. 

I hope you enjoyed yet another excursion above timberline, the very best place to be. Life is good.

"...accept the mountain’s invitation to journey and create meaning in each step, (where) success is manifest...” T.A. Loeffler



20 comments:

  1. Your phrase "earning your view" captures it well. I remember taking my daughter then aged 7, on her first long walk to climb the highest mountain around here and when we got to the top and she saw the views it literally took her breath away. That experience has stayed with her and she now passes that on to her children. Something else after a good walk or cycle is that "you've earned your beer". Thanks for the posts and I'm glad you decided to carry on with the Blog. Cheers.

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    1. It's something to be proud of... to pass that on to our children. It took a while, but now when my son, Caleb, visits the first thing out of his mouth is, "Where we hiking?"...his wife, Kelli, too :).
      Thanks Dave,
      mark

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  2. I very much relate to your thoughts on that "hard to explain" thing about climbing mountains.

    I hiked up Oscar's Pass from Telluride in 2012, while Beat was running the Hardrock 100. I didn't continue down the other side, either. :) I found what I wrote about it in a blog post: http://www.jilloutside.com/2012/07/hardrock-from-sidelines-part-2.html

    "At the top of Oscar's Pass, elevation 13,100, I left a message for Beat near a rock cairn. I was bursting with adrenaline from my eight-mile climb and so excited that Beat was lucky enough to have a good excuse to travel these trails for a full hundred miles. Of course these thoughts changed dramatically as I watched his physical state deteriorate, but at the time I could still let myself believe that Hardrock was simple fun."

    ... Now five years later I'm certain that any attempt by me to run the Hardrock 100 would be a soul-wrenching descent into Hell. The things we learn about ourselves as the years pass. But I'd still love to return to that spot.

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    1. Some of the red flagging from this years (or a previous) Hardrock was still up there. I tried to imagine running that trail, in the dark, exhausted, lightning flashing, and couldn't. Cheers to those who still can and do...We know the loss they'll be facing when the day comes when they no longer can. That's where "memories" come in handy...
      thanks for your thoughts and link
      mark

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  3. Another grand report of your playing in Wonderland. Reading your words and seeing your pictures are one of the few things keeping me sane this time of year. Sitting here in the land of heat, humidity, and lovebugs; I look forward to every post. And, if you don't know what lovebugs are, consider yourself really lucky.

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    1. Thanks, Jerry...I know what love bugs are from when I lived in Missouri :)

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  4. I think the thrill has a lot to do with the pride boost we get from self-reliance. SO much of modern life requires relying on, accommodating to, or compromising with others. Setting a goal, achieving it, and feeling the capability of your own strengths can leave a lasting high for awhile.

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    1. Yeah, you nailed it, Jewlz...and if the goal is a physical one that takes place outdoors, I'm all in :)
      mark

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  5. Yes, it's all good above timberline! It's amazing you keep finding new places to hike given how long you've been doing this.

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  6. I think two flute glasses and a bottle of champagne opened and poured at the top would have eclipsed the beer.

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  7. You know Mark, I spent almost 30 years hiking the "high" mountains of Northern Idaho from the Clearwater to the Canadian border, with a pack and shovels and all the other paraphernalia needed to examine soils down to 2 meters. I would be enraged at the scrubby brush and crappy trees that would hide the views on even the highest peaks, and thrill when sometimes a south slope would open up into beargrass and views. I would imagine the high country of Colorado as I did this, and talked with other soil scientists who actually mapped landscapes like the ones you photograph. Those years were hard on my knees, even when I was 30, and I surely wish I could figure out a way to maybe actually get up there where you are, even for a little bit. Maybe someday...but as we both know, life is short and we are mortal, so I will have to settle for your photos and the delight of this gorgeous home we are building instead of those high open ridges.

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    1. Never "settle." We can get you to some phenomenal places that require only short hikes :)

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  8. DynOmite header picture!! Perfect quote. But then there is the second picture and the third and….good grief Mark these are fabulous pictures. I definitely enjoyed my trip above timberline with you and might even have gone alone had I been there and my flatlands lungs could take it. Really beautiful trail. Your philosophizing is a modern day John Muir. They give you good tidings to tide you over.

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    1. Thanks Sherry...it's impossible to take a bad photo above timberline.
      Re: John Muir? I think he just rolled over in his grave :).
      Keep having fun back east, and hope to see you and David out west soon!!!
      mark

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  9. Good to see you actually had a trail this time across that rocky section:) It is so worth the effort for those views. I just smile my way through your phones:)

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