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Sunday, June 10, 2018

The price of admission

“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”  Sophocles

It only took 30 minutes for déjà vu to rear it's ugly head. I believe it was the summer of 2009 when Bobbie and I last hiked Hayden Trail, after which we took an oath, swearing on bloody palms and elbows, never again

While Hayden is precipitous as "trails" go, it's not like you could fall to your death. Tumble, maybe...but not fall. Oh sure, when you live in a place like Ouray there's no accounting for the occasional left-footed flatland tourist who doesn't know a "game trail" from a Forest Service trail. We hear the "Flight For Life" copter all to often as it circles for a landing in the grassy park next to the Hot Springs pool. 

A blend of rigor with a touch of panache, Hayden winds it way up within striking distance of  "Little Hayden." At 12,200 feet, it is the smallest of a handful of summits in the Hayden massif, the tallest being Hayden Mountain at 13,206 feet and big enough for a game of Frisbee Football if one had the lungs for it. 

Views of Pinnacles and Hoo Doos almost offset the negative footing on Hayden Trail...almost.
After a steep mile through a forest littered with deadfall, hikers are rewarded with a saw-tooth skyline. The narrow Slip-N-Slide starts soon so keep your eyes as much on the trail as the scenery. For now, smoke is held at bay by a prevailing breeze out of the southwest. Maybe we made a good choice... 

Bobbie and I used to climb "Little" and "Big" Hayden every summer, usually during wildflower season. In the early days Little Hayden Trail held up fine under relatively minor traffic, due, in part, to it's "vigorous" reputation at a time when few tourists braved more than a few steps from rental Jeeps for the "I was here" photo op. Well that's what happens when you wear casual flip-flops on Colorado vacations :). 

Looking across valley to an impressive San Juan ridge line
By 2009 the steep exposed portions of Hayden Trail had degenerated into insidious collections of marble-like stones that frequently put us on heels and ass. While fighting our way up was doable, coming back down with heavy packs on weary legs was a treacherous, bloodletting experience. Ultimately, after slip-falling our way down Hayden year in and year out, we declared in 2009 that the price of admission too high for reruns of Little Hayden. Big Hayden, via Richmond Pass, from either Camp Bird Road or Highway 550 took its place, where columbine, paintbrush and bluebells put on their annual summer riot on steep, but surefooted, tundran steppes.

Above and below: the trail up Big Hayden...

But, as with hangovers and childbirth, pain is easily forgotten and we eventually make the same ole mistakes again.

This whole mess came about last week when Bobbie and I hatched a plan to summit Mount Abram...one of Lovely Ouray's sentential icons. It's long winded approach requires the services of Petroleus Rex, our trusty 4X4 V-10 Gas Guzzler pickup from bygone times when thirsty vehicles were immune to slings and arrows from the EPA. 

Rumbling down our driveway bright and early, we noticed Abram was shrouded in clouds of smoke from forest fires raging between Durango and Silverton. Not wanting to breath smoke-filled air, I made made a last second executive decision to hang a right on Camp Bird Road toward clear blue skies. A few minutes later, at the intersection of Overconfidence and Senility, we found ourselves donning heavy packs and reprising the marbled switchbacks up Little Hayden's trail from Hell...the one we swore off in 2009. 

For reasons beyond human understanding, the Universe dictates that suffering is as critical to character building as chunks of dark chocolate is to a Mouse's Scrap Cookie. If it's true that "character" is a byproduct of struggle, then the San Juans are both Boot Camp and Field of Dreams for "slackers."  

More and more these days, Bobbie and I embark on what seems like a reasonably sane outing beforehand, only to end up foolhardy in retrospect. Yes, it's hard to see potential pitfalls through rose-colored glasses. It goes without saying that we are Poster Geezers for going off halfcocked and ill prepared. Though we don't lack experience, we do tend to snub expensive gadgets and gear that could save our lives.   

Hindsight is pointless for those who fail to heed it's lessons. This is especially true for Geezers 40 years beyond their "prime," the kind who are easily deceived by the jolt of youthful energy after 3 cups of morning coffee. Suddenly I think I can still do the crazy things I did 10 years ago. But I'm here to warn you, in the land in and around Septuagenaria, 10 years is a lifetime of difference. It's like coffee turns me into Clark Kent every morning: Honey, have you seen my cape...the one with the big red "S" and blood all over it?  

The problem with hindsight is that it happens too late...You know, after the carnage, train wrecks and that one night stand with some floozy you found in a bar.

Potosi Peak...over Mount Sneffels way

An hour and change into our slow-going, slippery ascent, "Little Hayden" comes into full view. We must gain a saddle to the left, then the climb begins in earnest. My legs felt flat and my arches were cramping from trying to dig toes through the soles of my boots in search of additional traction.

In order to climb Little Hayden we forsake what had finally turned into a rather nice trail. Above the "saddle" a mile or so we came upon a tempting option. Had we mustered the logistical foresight to arrange for a return ride we could stay on-trail, bypassed Little Hayden's summit and ended up at Crystal Lake next to Highway 550. I considered it a viable option. We could "thumb a ride" home, instead of playing Russian roulette with the dreaded trail of marbles. Naw, better stick to the plan. It'd be our luck to catch a ride with some ex-con, lunatic ax-murderer with a macabre fetish for licking sweat from dead Geezers...or worse. 

Thus we opted to summit Little Hayden and risk the slip-n-slide down. But first, we must summit, and it looks so far away, above tundra so steep...

Bobbie rises above timberline, waging war with leg and lung demons
I sometimes break onerous, steep, step-by-step ladder-climbs into smaller, more palatable pieces...sub-goals that gives one the illusion of progress. It seldom works very long. Ultimately, you just have to gut it out. 

If I can just get to those trees...

Note Bobbie grinding out Hayden's summit...barely visible in the center-right of the above photo. Ouray lies below the colorful "blowout" to the far left.  Smoke is tolerable so far...
Jesus, are you kidding me?

With two-thirds of the final pitch behind us, we pause for food and drink and to complain about the weather. It's too hot for early June...dry as a mouth full of cinnamon. Bobbie points to a visitor eyeballing us from the summit. A person? No, it's a cow elk.

Back to the relentless climb. 15 more minutes, I yell...knowing it's a big fat lie that doesn't fool anyone, including me. We are both fading. I pop another caffeinated Shot-Block.

Near the Ridgeline the tundra steepens. In places we are forced to go "all-fours," clinging to grass, literally pulling ourselves up the next step. Neither of us remember it being this difficult back in twenty-oh-my-God-nine (sigh).

We viewed the elk from that knob, just above the snow patch. With only a couple hundred yards to go I wonder if she will still be on top when we arrive...if we arrive.

Finally, just as spirits, glucose and caffeine fizzles, we top out on the ridge to the summit. Smoke was moving in so I grabbed a few quick photos.

Yonder lies the summit
A haphazard pile of rocks marks the top. No Summit Register on such a minor sub-peak. 
With Big Hayden in the background, Bobbie plies the remaining ridge...almost level.
Thinking we were going to climb a still snowy Abram, we wore gators...hot, hot, hot...and totally unnecessary...
After enjoying the fruit of our labor for all of 30 minutes, it was time to head down. Dry-As-Corn-Flakes tundra crunched under foot. I imagined those ugly white bands around lakes Powell and Mead, growing larger after such a dry winter. That retirement promotion and development continues to thrive in places like Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson...California...is astonishing. Cape town comes to mind...reminding us that the only thing that can cut through all the greed and politics is to run completely out of water. 

We inched our way down through the "marbles." Bobbie fell twice, while I, with great exertion and cramping arches, fell only once. It should have been twice, but as I began slip-sliding over the edge I grabbed the limb of a piece of dry vegetation. It was just enough to halt what would have been a nasty fall, but, of course, it was a thorn bush. Thanks to being on blood thinners, my hand bled with some profusion, and satisfied the adage that good hikes requires leaving a little blood on the trail. Regrettably, I did not take a photo as both hands were required to safely extricate myself from the "luge run" portion of Hayden Trail.

FYI, the City of Ouray just initiated Stage II water conservation measures. 

Note from the wise: When hiking Hayden, take two hiking poles, gloves and plenty of gauze...


  1. Always a joy to see your wonderful views up there and to read about your shared pain with Bobbie!

  2. Sweet Jesus.....I didn't get to see your 09 post on this hike and glad I didn't, this Little Hayden is one hell of a hike, thankfully we know if your posting you are still in the World.
    Did love the scenery, Ouray is really nestled in quit a unique location in them Rocky Mountains, San Juans more specifically.
    We saw the smoke filled air on the live web cam on Fri & Sat and e-mail friends there but never heard back, yet.
    Ok like James Bond is always saying (I believe it's he) you have lived to Die another Day!
    Great post though.
    Stay Thirsty my friends.

  3. are there bears in the area ?

  4. And those of us even wiser will not attempt to hike Hayden :-)

    1. Must say I totally agree with Jim and Gayle! There comes a time to let those past adventures of younger years be just that. Glad you made it back down without breaking a hip:)

  5. This looks like a hike from hell! Thanks for showing it to me, so I don't even have to consider doing it!

    I bet if we ran out of water it would only exacerbate the greed and politics...

  6. Oh Mark! I am learning as well that the difference 10 years makes is daunting. 62 and 72 are very different animals. Keep on climbing!

    1. I have nightmares about the difference between 72 and 82!!!!

  7. Please change "floozy" to "lovely" (or something more positive. Anyone who'd spend the night with *you* deserves better. ; - )

  8. "HUUUURRAAYYY!!!", cried the children (excerpted w/o permission from Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

    Way tuh go!!

  9. In the event you haven't discovered Dav Pilkey, here's a link to his website. I really enjoyed his talk about: His Favorite Teacher" which, I think, is the one on this page.


  10. Love those views from your hike to Hayden. I was breathing heavier just reading about the climb up. Bobbie looks cute in her hiking gators. Hope the fires near Durango get rain to stop the loss of trees.

  11. Your way with metaphor is always impressive and fun to read

  12. Haha. I enjoy your trip reports! You claim age as the source of difficulties, but it's easy the imagine how beastly this hike must be for anyone.

  13. I prefer to think of you guys as bold, not "half cocked and ill prepared". It's looking beautiful up there aside from the smoke.

  14. Ha ha! You had me from the "intersection of Senility and Overconfidence". I laughed my way through the rest of it.

    The smoke doesn't look as bad as I expected...

  15. I'm not sure if you're crazy or braver than anyone else at know at our age. I'll just enjoy your magnificent photos from here.

  16. I love your adventures! As always, fabulous photos and story telling. But must say, you guys are nuts!!!


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