Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Epic Hike

The last Monday of the festival, Krista and I went on an epic hike. We’d been planning for it and working up to it all summer, gradually ramping up our hikes so we could be prepared to be at 12,500 feet, so we could handle and elevation gain of roughly 3000 ft. and a duration of 7 hours. We’d been planning for it for a few weeks, and by 5AM on the prescribed day, we’d nearly talked ourselves out of it. We knew it was going to be hard, sometimes painful, work. It was 5AM on our day off. Staying in bed sounded like a really good idea.

We got up anyway and headed to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area to do the hike to Buckskin Pass. You’ve probably seen Maroon Bells, even if you’ve never been there. It is one of the most photographed scenic views in the US, and let me tell you, those photographers don’t even have to work for an amazing picture. It’s all right there. All you have to do is point and shoot. (Don’t ask me why they’re called “Bells.” I have no idea.)

We took a little break at Crater Lake for some water, snacks, and photos before heading off the beaten path towards the Pass. It’s quite cold in the mountains in the mornings and evenings. The sun in the source of most of the warmth, and without it, things cool off in a big hurry. It was in the upper 30s (farenheit) when we left, and at Crater Lake, most of the greenery was frosted over.

We passed Minnehaha Gulch, where we saw a mama and baby mule deer.

We stopped for a bit in the alpine meadow, where we dreamed of putting up a little cabin and never coming down.

We finally sighted the Pass (the snow covered bit on the left), and a marmot – a funny kind of cross between a woodchuck and a dog.

The thing about hiking so early is that your sense of time get so skewed. By the time we’d made it to the summit, it was only 10AM, and though we were sweaty and our legs were a little wobbly, it didn’t feel like we’d been hiking for 4 hours. One of the difficult things for us was hiking in the altitude. Though we were fully acclimated to 8000 ft, climbing steep switchbacks at 12,000 proved to be a bigger challenge on our lungs than our legs. We had to stop every couple hundred yards to catch our breath before continuing up. This was fine. We weren’t in a hurry. We just wanted to get there.

And, oh, there we were!

We were sitting down to some “lunch,” comfortably couched on some obliging rocks when Krista yelled, “Mountain goats! Mountain goats!” They were coming down the mountain right towards us. They got very close – Krista was actually quite scared at this point, and hunkered behind some rocks. I didn’t even have to zoom on this shot! I was a bit uncertain too. I had never encountered a mountain goat, and I had no idea what to expect from them – they really were very close! – and I didn’t know how to make them go away. Our talking didn’t seem to faze them, and neither did our singing. (To the tune of “A Spoon Full of Sugar:” A spoon full of mountain goat makes the hike a little scary, hike a little scary, hike a little scary….)

We did finally end up cutting the trail to avoid two goats who were getting a bit aggressive with each other right on the trail and we headed back down.

The thing about hiking in the mountains is that going up is hard work, but hiking downhill for hours is painful on the joints. The terrain is very rocky above the tree line and gravelly below it. Not such a problem going up, but on the way down makes for slippery and uncertain footing. Coming down got really old. It was hot and crowded by the time we made it back to Crater Lake, and we really wanted to no longer be vertical.

The other epic thing about our epic hike? An epic shower afterwards.

1 comment:

mel said...

Fantastic! That scenery (and the goats) are absolutely amazing. And you have that rosy-happy-hiker glow :) Love. Must get back to Colorado at some point.