The snow is melting and the grass is growing. It’s time to trade in the heavy coat for cut-off sleeves; put away the snowboard and pull out the tent. If your like me, it is a time full of both sorrow and hope. I am sorry to call the last run and say fair-well to the slopes until next season. However, I am excited to load up the back-pack for new trails, to grab the tackle and pole and return to my favorite hole, and go camping under the stars. Sitting at home, I anxiously plan trips to hidden places others have whispered about, to top-five destinations, and to the places I long to return. So if you too are in a spring time mood, remember the chill times from winter with gratitude while looking forward to good times of summer with patience.
“Just one more step. One more…Dude, I’m done…No, your not…Keep moving!”
This is my internal dialog while climbing the seeming endless Ellingwood Ridge. I have nearly a dozen 14ers marked done and over 200 miles of the Colorado Trail completed. Aside from myself, there is Shayna (who has gained nearly as much experience since introducing her to the sport), and a rookie named Bean. When we decided to take the most difficult route to La Plata’s 14,336 foot peak, I assumed we had more than enough expertise.
Keeping to tradition, we start the day before sunrise. Maybe this is why we failed to see the trail-head or maybe its the precursor for the day. Either way, after back tracking CO 82, we find it thirty minutes behind schedule. The main trail takes us past a rushing waterfall, unseen in the dark. Soon after, we split off in search for the ridge. As night turns to dawn, we realize there is no path beneath our feat. Not wanting to discourage anyone, I assure them, “We just need to head towards that big mountain to our left. No problem!”
“Its too close to be La Plata,” Shayna insists.
Adamantly, I respond, “It has to be! It’s the only one we can see.” Bean seems completely unworried that neither so called expert knows where we are. We keep moving. Rounding a smaller rock face, the full scope of our journey comes to light. What I thought to be our mountain is merely the beginning of Ellingwood Ridge and not at all where it should be approached. Jagged lines lead the entire way to the summit with no easy route in sight.
The lowest point (where we should start) is back the other way. Not wanting to waste more time, we opt for the “short” route. Straight up a rock chute. Each step requires every muscle and results in rock slides. To avoid being swept away, one person goes, the other two wait. Another person goes, two wait. Talk about wasting time! So we separate. Bean goes left, Shayna right, leaving me the center route. They soon disappear from view and I shout to check on their progress. They both respond the first few times. Then Bean goes quiet. We scramble to find a vantage point. Luckily, he found an easy path and has been patiently waiting near the top. This is good except for I am exhausted and have onset of leg cramps with most a class 4 ridge to finish. That’s fine. We’re all back together with a path to follow…so we think.
Ellingwood Ridge, turns out, has a lot of different paths. Some lead to manageable traverses while others lead straight to rock faces. Fun for those with equipment, which we do not have. We rotate taking point, guessing at the most likely safe route. Admittedly, I may have chose wrong a few times and I may have been to stubborn to turn back. “So, this is you all’s idea of fun huh,” Bean questions skeptically. We laugh and assure him this is not the norm. He has a point though. This is not the adventure we had in mind.
About halfway through the ridge, we find a cheat. Or I should say, one finds us. A solo hiker coming from where we had just been starts to over take us. We selfishly offer to let him join our small party and he accepts. He just happens to have a detailed route plan for navigating the false paths. Fortunately, he came along at one of the more difficult ridges to get around. A forty foot stair case that requires climbers to lower themselves down over each step. We would have figured it out but only after second, maybe even third, guessing ourselves. That done and another false summit later, it becomes apparent our guest is much quicker than any of us. We part ways after one last peek at the remaining route. It’s not encouraging.
This is about where my self dialog comes in. Watching the distance grow between me and the others, it’s all that can be done to keep going. I’m used to offering encouragement, just not to myself. Each horizon, I hope for the summit, but it is one false summit after another. It seems like we never get any closer. We have been going more than eight hours and there is still the return trip of our nine and half miles journey. Only this once have I seriously considered staying a night on the mountain.
They graciously stop to wait, each of us trying not to let the others know just how done we are. Bean is the most convincing. Shayna is clearly exhausted but still determined. I can barely put two words together but theres no choice but up now. The next half hour is spent dragging our feet, forcing knees to lift high enough to not trip over jagged rocks or loose boulders. Finally, we summit. There are hugs and high fives all around. Congratulating each other and feeling like bad-asses, we look back on Ellingwood Ridge. That being said, I have never felt like such a rookie, been so relieved to be on top a mountain, or excited to get back down.
We return on the main trail. Everything is surreal, exhaustion and fatigue mixing reality with imagination. Even now, it’s hard to remember details of getting back. What I do remember is that no matter how many peaks are summited, number of miles hiked, or amount of experience, there is no way of knowing until it’s done. Each mountain is different. There is no amount of planning to fully prepare for anything and if someone crazy as myself asks to take some kid named Bean up the side of a mountain, not to assume anything!
As I sit here with a blown rotator cuff, the famous words of John Muir tease my soul. “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I must and would if only I could (with out making injuries worse anyway). I can sit in misery, letting the foolishness of my actions wear me down, feeling pittiful and crass at those who can still answer that call or…
I can take this time to become more informed (and hopefully broaden my passion). Since the same words helped to inspire the founding of our national parks and monuments, that is where I’ll start. Muir, along with small groups of other naturalists, pressed for the protection of our more spectacular wilderness areas. It was because of this that Lincoln put Yosimite under the protection of California. Later, in 1872, President Grant made it the first National Park ever. (A position Ulyssis may not have been in had he decided to attend the theatre during Lincolns assination)
The idea to protect our wilderness areas started to become a reality. Theodore Roosevelt gave the movement real momentum by signing the “Antiquities Act” of 1906. This allowed him to name eighteen areas as national monuments with out having to go through congress as is required for parks. Whether it was this or the 100 million plus acres of national forest, Roosevelt has been dubbed “the conservation president.” (Ironic because he also is known for frequently hunting many species that are considered endangered or even extinct today.)
The job of actually protecting these sites and wilderness areas was spread across many agencies of the U.S. government. That was before 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson put into effect the “Organic Act.” This established the National Park Service.
Though this act required the president’s signature, it came about from efforts of the man he put in charge. A conservationalist and millionair industrialist, (awsome combination) Stephen Mather believed that parks needed preservation, not just protection. This is perhaps why the last lines read, “which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historical objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Something we should be more than gratefull for today (even if it is slightly wordy).
The National Park Service had been given responsibility of maintaining the entire park system. There still existed many military and historical areas in the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. Franklin D. Roosevelt rectified this with “Executive Order Act of 1933.” This left the Forest Service, along with fifty six additional sites, under one authority, the Department of the Interior. The idea being, keep it in the family, just like FDR’s marriage. (Yeah, look it up.)
The president and congress continued to create national monuments and parks but it was over thirty years later that serious change started to happen again. During his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the “Wilderness Act,” the “Land and Water Conservation Fund Act,” the “Historic Preservation Act,” and the “Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.” These were brought about due to the influence of his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. Not only an environmentalist, she was more involved in legislation than any first lady before. She is considered to be the driving force behind Johnson taking the seat of commander in chief at all. (Her and the assination of John F. Kennedy)
Today, the preservation and protection of natural areas is more important than ever before. With a population reaching astronomical numbers, commerce and industry being focused on more than environment, we need presidents, first ladies, and anyone of influence to help protect what is left. Obama, now nearly out of office, has actually set a high bar. His most recognised act was creating the Stonewall National Monument (in commemoration of the Stonewall riots marking the start of the current LGBQT equality movement). More importantly, he put over 265 million acres of land and water under protection of the National Park Service, which is more than any president to date. There are now four hundred thirteen sites of various registration in the National Park system, over forty of which being designated this past year (2016).
Now I sit, not in misery, but in appreciation. All the wilderness areas there are to explore and enjoy exist only because of things I took forgranted. It all started with the words of a wonderlust writer, then a decision from a war general (president at the time), the actions of a big game hunter, influence from a millionare, consolidation by a man who married his cousin, persuasion of a wife, records set by our current leader, and all of it through beurocracy.
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/early-history/ http://findyourpark.com/news/presidents-who-paved-the-way-for-national-parks https://www.nps.gov/thrb/learn/historyculture/trandthenpsystem.htm https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/history.htm https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_family https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Bird_Johnson https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_areas_in_the_United_States_National_Park_System
In snowboarding, the trend is progression. Resorts cater to this trend by offering larger and more complicated features. Devotees of the sport respond to the challenge with out a second thought. Successfully landing after four digit rotations (any axis) followed by C- rail switchbacks, they cheer and ask, “what next?”
They should be asking “what happened?” Amongst this competitive camaraderie, it is easy to neglect the simple joys of riding. Progression is inevitable in a sport and should be reguarded with enthusiasm. Lets be honost though, majority of those that ride do not do so at a professional level. Most ride for enjoyment and only so many for accomplishment. Many reach personal levels but most are just tourists at best.
Transitioning from heel to toe seamlessly, plumes of snow post carve, floating over freshly groomed runs. These things get out grown, replaced with sensations of flying through the air and teasing gravity by going vertical. The humble ollie is forgotten when there are twenty-five foot kickers to launch off.
The open slope can’t compare to carving through trees, finding that perfect powdery line. Fellow riders call out with delight, heard but unseen. Nature provides the obstacles, showing the best, and some times only route.
Wide-eyed newbies soon become park junkies. Holding exact balance through to the end, with zero room for error. Rails act as invisible wires, like riding on nothing. Boxes allow every rule of the snow to be broken. Of course, they can do the same to bones.
That’s the price of progression. For every successful landing, the mountain makes another into a fool. The second there is confidence, she reaches out to give a slap to the face. When this happens, one must decide if a personal level has been reached. Its time to ask if risk is worth reward. Take comfort in a simple turn. Acknowledge the beauty in waves of snow flying from edges. The point is to enjoy the experience and appreciate the mountain, regardless the level of riding.
Colorado is home to fifty-four mountain peaks exceeding fourteen-thousand feet. Every year, thousands of people attempt to summit them and every year, hundreds of these people are lost, injured, or even killed. Some are newbies that fail to do proper planning while others are experienced mountaineers who take dangerous risks. Regardless of experience, there are certain aspects one needs to be aware of before attempting a fourteener. Anything from equipment we bring to the way we walk can determine the destination.
- Having someone with you makes all the difference should anything go wrong. Try to find at least one friend to go with, especially if this is your first ascent. Friends and family don’t want to go? There are inexpensive guides for most mountains.
- Have a well-worn pair of shoes that still offer ankle and foot support. Shoes that have not been conformed to the contours of your feet can cause blisters and make an otherwise pleasant day miserable.
- Bring at least two containers or around eighty ounces of water. This makes it easy to ration for the return trip. Always know how much is left. If done properly, there should be just enough for in case you end up staying longer than expected or need to wash out a wound.
- A simple first aid kit may prove helpful as well. Accidents happen. Need I say more?
- Have rain gear, a jacket, sunglasses, gloves, and a warm hat. A typical day hiking at high elevations can consist of running from a dirt devil, finding shelter from rain, walking through knee-deep snow, and still going home with a tan. Be ready for almost any kind of weather and do not call it just because, “It looks like rain!”
- A headlamp is a good piece of equipment to bring as well. Many fourteeners such as Long’s Peak, traverse from Bearstad to Evans, and the Maroon Bells take an average person ten plus hours to complete. Chances are anyone attempting a climb like these will spend time night hiking.
- Be mindful of your pack weight. When it comes to hiking at high elevation, forget the old adage, “It is better to have and not need than to need and not have.” Instead, think, “To not have is to not need and to have all that is needed.” Completing a fourteener is more about you than the things you bring.
- It does not matter what is in your pack as much as what is in your heart. The will to keep going, to make it to the next destination (be it the peak or civilization) is the ultimate survival tool. Look past the shitty in order to see the best out-come and do what is necessary to get there.
- Drink small amounts of water often. Our bodies will tell us that we need more but too much too quickly will bring on cramps and make a hard climb that much more difficult. Water and food consumption is best kept to a minimum because our bodies use more energy to process it.
- Find a comfortable pace and maintain it. As elevation is gained, this pace will slow down and you will want to stop more often. This is fine. Go whatever speed you can to continue at for twenty minutes. Stop and let your body adjust then keep going. This should take a few minutes but if you break for too long, it will be harder on your muscles and lungs to start again.
- Altitude sickness can happen to any of us and it sucks! Shortness of breath, light-headedness, extreme dehydration, and of course the dreaded diarrhea are the main symptoms. There are precautions that help limit the affects but ultimately, our bodies just have to get used to it. Camping at an elevation of ten thousand feet the day before helps our bodies to adjust.
- Be attentive to breathing. Panting can cause the body to hyper ventilate increasing the risks of altitude sickness. Take deep controlled breaths and when exerting energy, do not hold it in. During breaks, concentrate on taking long, slow breaths through the nose. Take in as much air as possible, then immediately exhale everything through the mouth.
- This might seem ridiculous but watch how you walk. Keep the knees bent and maintain even strides for low impact. When the ground is flat, feet should land more or less flat. If there is an incline, use the toes and when there is a decline, dig in with the heels.
- Do not go off trail! I know how tempting it is. It might cut a good mile or more off but the trail goes where it does for a reason. Switchbacks are to prevent erosion and maintain an acceptable incline. Long turns (opposed to keeping a straight line between A and B) are so we may avoid obstacles. These are where most people are lost or injured.
Climbing a fourteener can be as dangerous as it is exhilarating. These fourteen precautions make fourteen thousand foot mountains manageable. Each one is to insure a good state of mind allowing for proper decision-making. Some days, the top may not be reached, but so long as everyone comes home, it can still be an amazing day.