|By the time Jusko and I wake up, B.K. and Mifin are loooong gone. We pop in the car, drive out along the winding, ridiculous road, and hit the highway.|
On the way in, we're treated to a great view of Long's Peak: they're up there somewheres.
Arriving in Estes Park, we wander the town looking for breakfast, but all the places Jusko wanted to eat at have stopped serving and all the places I know are either too expensive or don't really serve lunch.
We eventually settle on the best of all places: a cafe bordering the park with a broad porch letting out on to a view of all the mountains and ridges on that side of town.
Omelettes finished, we stop by a photography shop next door, feel completely inadequate (stupid pro photographers), and then wonder what to do.
|Jusko's agreed, without too much qualification, to take a walk/hike with me. We've been wanting to do this for a while, but it just hasn't worked out. Not that we haven't had awesome substitutes. In fact, the first time we left Minneapolis to do it, we stopped off at a party my other friend—Tegal—was having. Now they're engaged. So that's what hiking (or trying to) can do for you folks!|
I know, though, that Jusko's worried that I'm going to hike too quickly for him to keep up with his "short, stubby legs". It's a fear that he shares with others. In New Mexico people were afraid to hike with me because I was "all about the journey". And that's still true. It doesn't matter to me too much where we're going, where we end up, or where we sleep (on longer hikes!). It's the process of going from beginning to end that's of prime interest, and I like to experience it while in motion.
Sad to say, but I have work on my mind for the first part of the hike. It's okay with my professor that I'm out here doing this, but I'm my own best source of pressure and I somehow feel like finishing something will vindicate the trip. As we round the end of the first ridge, though, the pressure slips away and I become immersed in the journey.
|Just one of many growy things I can't identify. Do you know what this is, Reader?|
It's not too warm a day and we make good progress upwards and along the trails which crossover from low-land deciduous forests towards pines as we move higher.
|During the summers where I end up staying in warmer climes, I miss my glaciers. It's nice finding snow on mountains because you know that the snow is just waiting its chance to start grind the mountain down, if only it would stay cold enough. This little river was covered with snow, which made a convenient bridge.|
As we crossed, we looked upstream and were amazed that such a little river seemed to have made such a big difference during the forest fire that had swept through the area.
Speaking of forest fires, check this out!
At first we thought this was Calypso Falls, but it turned out just to be some beautiful river flowing down the mountains and over the path, because this…
…was Calypso Falls.
From the bridge crossing the torrent we could see a rocky out-cropping in the middle of the river. Luckily, upstream of us a tree, long-since stripped of bark, had fallen out over and landed on it. We pushed our way through the thick undergrowth of the forest, the soil damp and spongy the whole way, to the the trunk, clambered on, and worked our way across using broken shards of limbs for balance.
The island turned out to be small, but there was another tree leading to another, even smaller island.
In this way, we continued to work our way right up the middle of the rapids/waterfall until we were staring at a five-foot strip of white, gushing water and a boulder on the far side. Were our rock climbing skills that good…?
Maybe. But we'll have to find out another time.
They say that migration from East to West has brought ideas of Eastern deciduous forests with thick undergrowth, tall grasses, rotting limbs, et cetera, to the West and with devastating consequences. Fires are part of the natural cycle and all that undergrowth leads to extreme heat and tree mortality where it would otherwise not occur.
When I was living in New Mexico, there was a place where the fire had been just the right temperature to melt or boil all the sap out of the trees, leaving it in an impenetrable layer all across the ground. They'd been chipping it away, piece by piece, with pick axes for years.
Maybe this was a controlled burn? In my mind, fires generally head for the tops of ridges.
Farther up the trail, we found another, waterfall with a little more fall goin' on.
Unable to resist getting closer, we worked our way through the trees to the pond at the fall's bottom. There are no pictures from there because the mist the 'fall was throwing off was too thick.
And it's at such times that you look up. Would it be possible to climb it? The cliffs on either side were sheer, but, around the corner, we found a steep snow—I mean ice, really—slope heading upwards. Perfect, if only we had ice axes.
No matter, we found some sticks and started kicking our shoes in. Going one foot down for every two feet we made it up. At one point, I missed and slid down a good ten feet coming close to bowling Jusko over.
Generally when you get to the top, the climb's done. Not so here.
|We topped out on a stable patch of snow less than a foot wide. On the one side was the slick, icy slope we'd just ascended. On the other side, a crevasse heading down… presumably to the bottom of the slope we'd just climbed up. The rocks, absorbing the day's heat, had been melting the snow away from their face leaving a dangerous gap about a foot wide wandering down into darkness. "Mind the gap!", I said to Jusko as he climbed up next to me. It was no moulin, but it had its own peculiar fear.|
The rock past it didn't look easily climbable, either, but, after we'd finished picking splinters out of our hands, I convinced Jusko to walk along the top with me. Which was when we found the notch.
A narrow cleft in the rock eroded downwards to the point where, if you stretched, you might be able to get a foot and even a hand into it. My shoes, being all grippy and good and ready for adventure, grabbed the rock and I pulled myself across the gap and worked upwards. Slipping wouldn't have been good, but it wasn't terribly dangerous either.
Jusko on the other hand, had shoes which were now getting a bit wet inside and which seemed like they were determined to slip out from under him. He's stronger than me, though, and a better climber, and, after playing with the idea in his head for a few moments, he followed me up.
What lay spreading before us was a kind of virgin country without track or trail. We both agreed that going back down the chute we'd just climbed up wouldn't be the most fun thing in the world; I was pretty sure we could find a trail farther on, so we continued in that direction. Initially, the river's plunge was hidden from us by an out-cropping, but, as we hiked inwards, we could see the mist shooting up. The end was hidden beneath a blanket of snow; you could see dark, rushing water through holes here and there. We turned our backs and pointedly walked away.
The river meandered through a long, low valley which had sometime previously been burnt out. Like all the other burns we passed, the ash and char had long-since been washed from the trees, leaving them eerily bare and dead, though you could find evidence of the inferno on the ground. The area by the river was squishy moss and yellowing grass with criss-crossing fallen trees lying on top. As we walked through it, tightrope-style, I tried to sift through the flood of flashbacks it inspired.
We were both feeling pretty good about the hike, but there were dark clouds sweeping in ahead of us from the mountains. Watch them boil down towards us, we sat down on a log and had our Clif bars. Jusko pulled out a packet of Goo. For those that don't know, Goo is a little tube sold by the Clif bar people (and, let's be honest, everyone else) which is essentially a hundred calories of pure sugar. It's quick, simple energy and has been used (and abused) to power people through every sort of extreme activity. Including afternoon hikes. Jusko passes the tube over: it tastes almost exactly like Sprite. Kind of creepy, actually.
I theorise that we'll find a trail if we cross the river, climb up and over the ridge, and down the other side. Jusko reminds me about a previous adventure where that took a little longer than I expected, so we agree to go to the apex of the ridge, look around, and then head back if necessary.
As we continue down the river, it looks kind of hopeless. Just fast, cold glacial melt rushing by towards that waterfall.
Then we see it.
We balance our way down to it, in a route resembling the Drunkard's Walk. Now, you, Reader, may have seen that log and thought to yourself: "Sketchy." But don't worry, everything's gonna be fine.
"If only the log were this big!"
I remarked, as I crossed the log, that it would be kind of bad if it were rotten and just snapped in two. Jusko remarked, as he crossed the log, that there was no way he was stopping in the middle for me to take a picture—it was slippy!
A few more logs brought us to the ridge, which I was pretty happy about.
We set out along the ridge-top at a jog and, in short order, reached the high point I'd wanted to go to. In the meantime, the storm had been running towards us at a jog. In a romantic comedy, a violin would have been playing somewhere. We arrived at the same time and a gust of rain embraced us before a steady downpour obscured the mountains. Looking off to the side, we could see sheets of rain spiraling in the wind past us. I love this sort of weather!
But, pragmatically speaking, it's not good to stay out in it. Thankfully, the trail we were looking for passed right through the point I'd wanted to visit, so we were able to start following it back down.
Which is when the storm blew past us.
No longer pressed for time, Jusko pulled out Zodiac and I took a little detour solo hike up the trail.
|One of the oddities of my life for the longest time is that my memory seems to be geographic. I can only remember things happening or existing if I associate them with a place. As a consequence, when one place reminds me of another (as above), I find multiple realities and times crashing in disorientatingly on the present. Looking out towards the Great Plains, I have this dizzying sensation as Όλυμπος comes back to me. I purposefully turn my back on the view and head into the mountains.|
Later, I return and we plunge down the trail, which turns out to mean slip-sliding down icy, if less steep, snow.
Snow which dogs us all the way back to the waterfall. Some things there's just no avoiding.
Back at the Falls, I realise we've missed the trail I want to take, so we have to recover some old ground. But, soon enough, we find ourselves speed hiking downwards into the valley. The river beside us keeps gathering tributaries and getting larger and larger. Some of the tributaries have washed over or are actually flowing along our trail and over its bridges. The river's turned into a regular highway!
Einstein's son, Hans, was a hydraulic engineer, yet it was Einstein who, in 01926, wrote a paper explaining why rivers meander. One possible explanation: Hans was having problems with it and mentioned it over Thanksgiving dinner. Einstein thought about it and wrote down an answer before the pie was served. Now that's living in a shadow.
The river we're following has not read that paper.
|At this point, we're not really stopping to look at much, because we are hungry. Luckily, the car and its trunk full of peanut butter, cheese, tortillas, and (you guessed it!) sriracha sauce is not far away. By the time we get to town, B.K. and Mifin have already torn down camp. Steve 'The Bones' joins us for a pizza dinner and some delicious ice cream, and then we drive out of town into the night.|
Never to return?
|Oh! One final note here, I need to give a big thanks to Cece. I met her while working in the Estes Park Public Library one afternoon and, though I wouldn't immediately have thought "adventurous hiker", I was proved wrong when she began telling me about a guide-blog she writes about her hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Looking over her entries, I could tell she was making the most of her time out there.|
Later, when B.K. and Jusko showed up, we cornered her and asked what she thought the best hike for us was, explaining our situation. Without seeming to give it much thought, she told us Ouzel Falls was a good choice for what we were looking for: expertise. And, let me tell you Cece, it was great! Thanks so much.
You can find Cece's blog at http://rockyguide.wordpress.com.