|I'll spend the first part of the trip waking up later than everyone. By the end, I'll be up well before-hand. Today, the chill has burnt off by the time I wake up.|
While I'm searching for Jusko's camera case, which turns out to be in my coat pocket, Torsten and Anna walk by. They're spending the summer traveling the US together: lots of hiking and climbing and camping. Torsten says he's seen me before at the climbing wall, but never said hi because he hasn't known me. That's no excuse, I tell him, though my tendency to work at the climbing wall might be. I'll sit there and climb until I'm frustrated or tired and then work on problems till they frustrate me and alternate back and foreth. Torsten says that I seem much less anti-social out here. And he's right… as long as I'm not working at the library. Then they walk out of my life.
After Jusko's difficulties the previous day, we decide it might be better to take a rest day, so I suggest that we drive up Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in America (whatever that means).
|The route winds along through Rocky Mountain National Park's floor, following valleys, and then begins to twist and wind upwards following the ridges. On the way up, we pass bikers skirting the edge of the road. One man on a recumbiant, particularly, seems very relaxed as he pedals his bike within inches of the edge in gusty winds as RVs lumber by.|
And then we encounter snow. The Park Service cleared "drifts" 23 feet deep in order to open the road on June 6th and, in so doing, exposed some lovely stratification. These are protoglaciers/ice fields and remind me that it's been too long since I've done a glacial traverse. A particularly prominent peak comes into view and calls to me. I point, "Can we climb that?" "Sure", B.K. replies.
|Peter begins to ask at increasingly frequent intervals when we're going to reach a restroom. B.K. keeps saying just a little farther. Finally, the car descends, rounds a bend, and we ease into the visitor center's parking lot. The wind whips around us as we wait for twenty people ahead of us to make their way through the bathrooms, half of which are dysfunctional. In the meantime, B.K. pulls out a couple of ice axes and climbs his way up the wall of snow surrounding the parking lot. "Could the puny beast lurking in the corner really have drilled this all out?", we wonder.|
I use the time in the parking lot to switch from my Patagonia trail shoes (I know, right?) into a set of suede Vibram Five Fingers. I've become increasingly convinced that these minimalist shoes are the way to go, especially on softer surfaces. But that's a whole discussion in itself, and I'll save it for later. B.K. returning with the grin of someone who's just been dangling from his ice axes suggests diplomatically that I switch back, it'll be hard kicking foot notches in the ice with these. There's a hard silence wherein the wind whistles between us.
Back at the base of the mountain, Jusko suggests the same. I look up at it and my mind traces a hundred routes, none of which necessitate snow. I want the dark blue one, and I want to do it at as close to a run as I can manage; I want to speed climb. B.K. wants the green route, and ice axes. We both have our agendas, but, luckily, they're not exclusive. We agree to meet on the top and, because I think the snow does sound fun, Peter agrees to carry my shoes up in his backpack so I can come back down the snowy route. I hand him my gloves as well: he'll need them on the snow. My socks, I put in my pockets… they're kinda like gloves.
I take off at a fast trot and, about three hundred feet later, slow to a fast walk, and then a slow walk. I just can't catch my breath at this altitude! I push forward and the ground drops slightly in a roll before rising up to the peak. At the bottom of the drop, there's a spread of low pine growth holding an expanse of deep snow. Around the end, where the snow gives way to grass again, two elk are grazing. Not really wanting to disturb them, I plunge into the snow, getting the Vibrams and my feet good and wet in the process as it gives way up to my thighs.
I power through and come out the far side, where dry grasses conceal soggy turf beneath. Tussock hoping ensues, along with the occasional stream that needs jumping. And then, finally, I'm at the base of the actual ascent. But now I need to sit and catch my breath a bit!
Rising, I begin snaking my way upslope at low angles in order to gain altitude slowly, reducing exertion and allowing further recovery on the move. Even so, I'm pushing it and need to take a couple of pauses now and then. Sweat beads on my legs, so I unzip my jacket and wind pants' legs. I reach the spine of rock that I'd been planning on skirting to the left of and find its angle to be shallow enough to climb and I love boulder fields. Climbing aboard, I'm able to bring my hands in to play and scramble upwards getting good return in height for my energy investment, though this wouldn't be a good marathon strategy.
The second time my foot gets tangled in my wind pants, I decide the cooling having them open affords me isn't worth the liability and zip them closed, though this will mean a reduction in pace if I want to maintain the same thermal equilibrium.
I've glanced back a few times and noted B.K. & Co.'s arrival and gradually traversal of the snow field. But now they've dropped out of sight, hidden by the mountain's slopes. Reaching the top of the spine, I make a lateral cut towards the summit, though from this angle it could also be a false summit. No way I know of to tell for sure. I'm afraid at first I'll have to do something truly vertical, but it turns out that the boulders are quite climbable.
Referring to my rule against summitting alone, I find the most likely approach to the summit and a comfortable patch of sod not far from it, lie down, doff my jacket, and cover myself up so no patch of skin is exposed to the sun. The wind whistles by me and I lie there feeling the Earth move for an indeterminate amount of time until I hear the crunch of boots. That'll be B.K. going by. More crunching, that'll be Jusko. A moment later his voice confirms: "Where's Richard?" "Right there. Did you walk by him!?", B.K. replies. Sometimes all you need in order to hide seven square feet of completely black fabric is to be still.
I follow them up to the summit where the wind knocks at us and the sun tries to burn us and the whole world spreads around us.
(Sorry, Peter, I don't have a summit photo of you!)
I switch into the trail shoes and we begin the descent. B.K. leads us down to a steeply, sloping snow field ending in some large rocks. If this were a glacial slope, we'd need crampons or we'd definitely be hurting. As it is, we just plunge step in and slipe our way down. I'm not carrying an ice axe, and things are fine. They point out the rocks they climbed on while coming up - pretty exposed. B.K. explains self-arrest again and we practice it on the slopes.
|You pull the ice axe up to the shoulder of the hand that's holding it, grab the end of the handle with the other hand, and twist so your belly's flat against the slope and the long, sharp end of the axe is digging in, leaving a pencil-line trail behind you as you head down. Throwing one's self repeatedly into a 60+° snowbank and then sliding down it is a good way to have fun and get wet.|
B.K. and Jusko continue across the snow back towards the car, while Peter and I hedge off of it into a boulder field. You can always trust a boulder field to be untrustworthy; snow slopes, in my mind, have the scintillating false-smile of a used-car salesman. They promise good things, but danger could be lurking beneath them. I'll need to look into this.
Captured by Jusko
|On the way down, we catch up to a trio of girls biking down the slope. We clock one of them in at forty miles per hour. She's pumping along leaving her friends to eat her (and our) dust, a couple of buckets strapped to the rear tire holding her stuff, and a helmet, thankfully, holding her head. This is one thing I don't plan on doing when I start biking again.|
Driving out of the park, they drop me off at the library so I can work while they rock climb.