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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Climbing Duco: An Exercise in Mental and Physical Maintenance

"I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.”  Jonathan Waterman

Maybe not where you live, but here in Lovely Ouray I sense a growing unease as summer wanes. It's subtle, yet noticeable. Like a begrudged deadline closing in, my annual slip toward melancholy and panic is well founded. Daylight, a precious tonic, now slinks toward long nights—millimeter by millimeter (in hopes I won't notice). But I do notice, every year about this time, the gradual shift from long savory summer days to winter's interminable nights that require jackets and (sigh) the inevitable sentence to imprisonment in long pants. If rich, I would flee to the southern hemisphere every year come November through May. 

With the ides of summer behind us, we vow to keep the "pedal to the metal," for those who dwell in the future and/or past lose the present. This motivates a surge in carpe diem, and we decide to paint some new "dots" on our life's canvas. If "hope" counts for anything, our motivation will match the mountain, this time, Duco. At 13,339 feet, Duco is the highest peak within the Brown Mountain Massif...a northerly neighbor to "The Reds." 

In order to cheat the long, boring forest grind up Grey-Copper Gulch, we wake the slumbering beast, Petroleous Rex. His surefooted four-wheel drive lands us at Duco's timberline base, where we gaze in unison and fear at a Geezer-mocking 2000 foot ladder of tundra and rock that stands between us and our (ahem) lofty goal. 

There is no "trail" to Duco's summit, thus we are left with the gift of choosing our path. The "ladder" begins right out the door, where legs and lungs are immediately thrust into a state of anaerobic shock. We struggle upward, lightheaded, waiting for the Second-Wind Fairy who never seems to show up when ambition exceeds aptness.

If there is one thing that can distract a mind from hard labor, it would be the always lovely "Reds," with their paranormal, reason-defying, in-your-face charisma

A Bristlecone snag and lichen adorn the foreground of a Red Mountain calendar shot

“This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us,  made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.”  Bridget Asher
Pet Rex shrinks from view as we succumb to insignificance in such an expansive and ever-humbling landscape.

Thankfully, the "ladder" is mostly tundra, with some interspersed boulder fields to keep us on our toes. Tests of agility are many on Duco Mountain. I can only pray that it grades on a "curve" rather than "Pass/Fail."

Though Duco is the subject of our climb, "The Reds" steal the limelight like a puppy at a party.  We catch each other gazing over our shoulders more than watching our steps.

Pockets of flowers still thrive at 13,000 feet (Egads, more calendar shots!). The forecast called for thunderstorms, and, sure enough, clouds begin to build overhead. Our pace quickens, as does the drip, drip, drip of adrenaline.

Clouds lollygag over mountaintops, casting come and go spotlights amid shadows. They create a dizzying show...like an art gallery where exhibits change minute to minute. 

As in Life, Bobbie expresses disappoint (*%^$#!  *#@%^& !) upon finding this a "false summit." 

My bedside Neitszche is right, “He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.“  I am convinced that most society induced anxiety could be remedied by prescribing mountains instead of pills.

Sometimes it's easier to use all "fours" when climbing mountains
Finally, we gain the rolling summit ridge and spy the objective. The ridge undulates all the way to Mount Abram, then disappears into an abyss of far views. We've been on Abram's summit often...gazing off boot-tips at the annual summer invasion of ice cream licking tourist-ants, snapping up postcards, t-shirts and burgers in Lovely Ouray. 

A nearby cloud darkens noticeably while we lunch on the Duco's petite summit. Thunder rolls overhead. A decision is made to forego retracing our hike and bail the Hell down off Duco's exposed ridge line. A Jeep trail awaits below, one that will take us back to our Pet Rex shelter. 

We're still above timberline walking that Jeep trail, and there's no real "protection" anymore than up on Duco's ridge. Still, it feels better...safer. But the reality? Lightning is a fickle bitch... unpredictable in that it would just as soon strike you on a Jeep trail as a ridge line. We have literally ran off many mountains after being caught by lightning (right John Q?). The irony is in how being so close to certain instantaneous death makes you tingle with life! Too tired to run, we put distance between us, turn off our cell phones, and pray to gods who laugh at such banal human proclivities. 

The storm moves south, taking its show to Silverton. Hurrah; we live to climb tomorrow, which, if not mistaken, will be a Courthouse Mountain summit. Another Stair-master, but short and sweet. 
Peace out,
mark and bobbie...feeling "lucky just to be here."


  1. Such spectacular photos with those Red Mountains in the background!

    Having to climb on all fours probably means I would not have made it up to that summit :-)

  2. It's so strange to read about summer waning when it feels like it just began. Here, in SoCal, the summers are longer and hotter than in my youth...lasting well into October in recent years.

    Thanks for the lovely postcards!

  3. An art gallery with changing exhibits minute by minute, perfect description! Your photos especially with Bobbie giving perspective, and those flowers and lichen, and the RED streaked mountains of course, everything is just incredibly beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  4. Amazing beauty, especially the shots of the Reds and the wildflowers.

  5. I agree July 29th is way to early to think of Summer's demise although we understand that at higher elevations that changes come surprisingly early. We tried living in Hawaii but eternal Summer got pretty boring Mark.
    We love the change, change is good won't be longhand our favorite season will be here; our Earth never disappoints, only we humans do.

    Gorgeous views once again Mark, glad you made a fast escape and stayed safe.
    Putting the check in the mail tomorrow for the cabin, now we have to plan the trip, will see Minneapolis lst then onto Springfield, Ill to visit family and finally LITTLE SWITZERLAND.
    Stay Thirsty my Friends and we will be seeing you before you know it

    Oh and tonight on Nat Geo channel This Strange Rock will delve into The Strangest Mystery of the Universe, not to be missed!
    Who knew little old Guerneville would have instant access to the White House should the need arise (like a Wild Fire) all we have to do is say it's The Russian River is calling. :)

  6. It seems that the drip, drip, drip of daylight waning and summer fading hits us both at the same time. I am feeling it too. We will soon start up the LabMobile and take a long visit to the highest areas, before returning home to true autumn.

    I love your carpe diem attitude. I also love the photos with flowers in the foreground and the Reds in the background.

  7. Lovely indeed. I was just in Ouray for the shortest of visits, and yearn to return for more exploring. I laughed at your sentiment that lightning doesn't really care about where you're standing. It's funny how we glean so much security from "not being the highest thing around," but really, that fickle bitch can strike us either way.

    1. Congrats to Beat for "beating" his expectations in the Ouray 100 Miler...and to you for "crewing" when you would probably rather be running it. Someday...if not Ouray, somewhere.
      Certainly had some "fickle bitch" going on in that race!


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