In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Friday, August 26, 2011

We Know We Are Here!

This one looks more foreboding than it did as we

trudged up--probably because we were looking at

our next steps.

We knew where we were--after a fashion. We were above tree line--a long way above tree line for most of our hiking day. When the thunder clouds threatened, and we hiked toward tree line, it was farther than we thought--and by the time we reached a small clump of pines, the danger had passed. We started uphill again, up a flower-filled gully, was it? The melting snowbank above us was bigger than it first seemed. The sky was huge; the flowers profuse; the ripping streams that coursed down the mountains sides lovely. But where was our trail?

We had left the trail for a lunch spot--an inspiring overlook of the Gorge Lakes (top photo) near Mt. Ida. We had decided ahead of time not to climb to the peak. We had been there. We wanted a leisurely hike and had been on the trail by 8:30 am, early enough to enjoy the mostly above tree line hike and get back to the trailhead and our car by early afternoon. We could have done that. We didn't.

We set off from our gorgeous lunch spot and marched across the tundra, taking a few photos as we went. I was in the back, following along without thinking until suddenly it seemed that perhaps we had gone too far. I hadn't taken my share of responsibility for getting us back to the trail. I was being present to the flowers, to the tundra underfoot. I was not being present to the need to reach the path, although I knew we needed to hike out before the thunder clouds that had unexpectedly rolled up over the Divide earlier than usual dropped hail, rain, and worse--lightening--in our path.

We are seasoned hikers, me the junior at twelve or so years out here. My companions have trekked many more miles over more than twice as many years. We weren't lost, were we? When we reached the top of that gully and found no path, not even a familiar sight, our senior companion pulled out her cell phone and got reception. She let a friend know where we were--that we were off the trail in the vicinity of Mt. Ida. She left instructions about who to call if we were not back to Estes Park by 6:00 pm (we had about an hour's drive back from the trailhead). Of course, we would be back before that time, but just in case. We looked at a not-so-good map. We consulted a compass, then lost it. Where to go next?

Our fearless leader could get us back to the spot where we started down the steep incline toward the trees. We all agreed that was the best plan. Back through the flowers, across the streams, not taking pictures, barely noticing the luscious green moss (in photo above) we had photographed earlier. Now we needed our strength to trek back up that mountain I had said I wouldn't be able to get back up (as we headed down). I would have what I needed to trek back up that mountain, the top of which kept seeming farther away as false summits came into view. Would our 79-year-old friend be okay? We had assured her that this would be only a 6 or 7-mile hike since we weren't going to Ida's summit!

At the top of that climb, no trail was in view. What was in view was Grand and Granby Lakes in the distance--closer than they had been from the trail earlier. We turned in the other direction, more puzzled than anything else. As we rounded the next hill, I thought i saw a sliver of a trail. In front of me, our leader exclaimed, "there it is!" The trail was below us--several hundred steep feet below us. I would like to have a photo of that scene, but a bit of mountain sleet was hitting my head and reaching the trail was upper most in my thinking.

We got there! The sleet had changed to light rain, and marmot hill was in sight. (Marmot

hill is a big pile of rocks on either side of the Mt. Ida trail. Usually marmots are perched there in the sun, but not that day!) Our leader trekked on ahead. Our older companion and I stepped carefully (and sometimes reluctantly) over the rain-slicked rocks. My poncho, put on hastily, blew out over the trail in front of me, blocking my view. After fighting it for a few minutes, I decided the rain wouldn't bother me as much and took it off. In front of me, our older friend took it, folded it, and told me to turn around. After stuffing it into my backpack, she said, "There. Now I feel better." Yes, we were on our way back to the trailhead and our car. We all felt better!

An interesting aside--we were fearful only of the possibility of lightening. We were puzzled but calm as we trekked around the valleys and peaks, admiring of the beauty surrounding us. (We do look as if we are having a good time in the photo!) We did pull out reserve strength. We did overcome aches and pains. But fearful we were not. Our elder hiking friend was an inspiration, as she had been leading the Estes Park Centering Prayer group for fourteen years.

PS: My usual photo uploading sight froze so I got to these another way. Sorry most are so dark!

Finding the Path a Different Way

Off the trail by choice, off to a great spot for lunch--wonderful views, lovely flowers, inspiration from nature's glory with two close friends--the day couldn't have been better! Off by choice, getting back would be more challenging than expected. What does it feel like to be in the midst of such glory and not know where the path is?

There are many ways to share this experience, but since I was not on line or watching TV or reading newpapers Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday, it was yesterday when I learned that Tennessee women's basketball coach, icon Pat Summit, 59, had announced to her team and the world on Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.

"They decided to ask the girl over in physical education if she wanted the job," Pat Head told my professional women's club in Nashville in 1976, after finishing her second season as head coach. Many of the women listening to Pat that day were among the first in their positions or working in a world primarily peopled by men and understood her frustrations. She had driven the team's van to away games and washed their uniforms. Win as they did, the "girls'" team was but a tiny footnote on UT's athletics screen. What we all heard though was a woman committed to making a difference for women in athletics. We knew she would, but had no idea, of course, how clearly she would set the path for so many women who wanted to play sports at the college level or have coaching careers of their own.

Now the all-time winningest coach (men or women) in NCAA history has an unknown path set out for her. She has already attached it with her customary courage and determination. We know she will bring this awful disease, particularly devastating when it strikes early, to the forefront, that she will make a difference in the research funding, that her path will inspire so many. We wish her well, and will follow her women's teams wins and losses this coming season with renewed interest.

Our trek around the mountains on and off the Mt. Ida trail deserves its own blog. Suffice it to say here that charting an unknown course requires pulling out strength we didn't know we had. We were blessed to have the calm of our contemplative practice to support us in our journey.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Bull Moose

I don't usually write two posts in one morning. The first was my spiritual thoughts for the morning. This one is in awe of one of nature's beasts not usually found in this area. As we entered the Brainerd Lake recreation area, we were told that a bull moose was near that lake. We took a detour around Brainerd Lake before heading to the trailhead for Blue Lake, our destination. The first photograph is what I could see of the bull moose there.

We went to Blue Lake, admiring flowers and scenes, as well as the lake. On the way back, hikers coming up the trail alerted us to the bull moose's presence near the trail. We watched and looked--and there he was, casually munching on bushes, ignoring the gaping hikers with our cameras. The scene shows a bit of the area where Mr. Moose was making his way. Perhaps he was heading back to cross the Continental Divide where he would usually roam.

Close ups of Beauty

I'm a beloved child of God! You are too! Seeing others through God's eyes isn't possible for this human being. However, I'm looking more deeply into others, seeing bit of beauty I hadn't noticed before, realizing that something I had taken as a slight, a hurt. wasn't intended as such.

Compassion for myself and my mistakes hasn't been easy. I wasn't supposed to make mistakes, not any you would notice. I had to be right. That covered a lot of sins. I've had friends along the way who didn't let me get by with thinking I was right, the good kind who called me on my stuff. Then I began centering prayer, my silent Christian meditation practice.

Divine therapy, Fr. Thomas Keating calls centering prayer. At first consolation and peace may come in those twenty-minute periods. As time goes on, with consent (God lets us do the consenting), we are shown our barnacles and blemishes--some that have stood in our way of peace and harmony in this life. I get to see mine often--in living color and movie trailers showing a lifetime of effects.

As I look at the beauty of nature in unexpected places, I am reminded that we humans have unexpected beauty too. So I'm looking for it today, catching myself when critical thoughts show up and letting them pass like clouds moving quickly across the sky, replacing those thoughts with notice of beauty--in unexpected humans too. Maybe I'll notice some in myself as well.

PS: The photos are all from the Front Range area--my flower box, the Mesa Trail here in Boulder, Caribou Ranch where the columbines down the hill were unexpected, and on the 4th of July trail where I was waiting to cross the stream.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Walk Along a Flowering Trail

I was up reasonably early for a Saturday morning--especially after a day that included cleaning out an old man's apartment and taking some things, including his flat screen TV (which I carried in!) to his new abode in a nursing home. It was to be a clear day with little or no prospects of an afternoon thunderstorm.

I wanted to see the flowers on the trailhead above Eldora, which is a few minutes beyond Nederland, for those of you who know the area. The road from Eldora, about six miles in all, is rocky, narrow, filled with holes and boulders--just the road for my Subaru sedan! I had driven it before so I could do it again. The flowers are late this year, but it is August, and they will wither and wilt. I didn't want to miss them. What if I was already too late?

I don't know what time the first visitors' arrived at the trailheads--first Hessie, then 4th of July--but it must have been in the darkness. I led a parade of cars up the rocky road from Hessie and parked farther down the road from the trailhead than I realized until I walked back to my car after the hike.

I started out with camera in hand. I would take pictures and saturate myself in the beauty up to the spot where the lower flowers stopped. Then I would turn around and go back to the junction and walk to Diamond Lake, an easier trail with the promise of flowers all around the lake.

First I saw the yellow heartleaf arnica (#1) Was I too late? I could see them other places. Then I found a couple of tall monkshood (in the 2nd photo). That was better. Monkshood I would enjoy. Farther up the trail the hillside opened into a field of flowers. Paintbrush was added to the mix. I was in luck! The fields opened as I hiked up hill and stopped to take one photo after another. Then I was photographing the parry primrose by the stream and realised I would be making a decision. This was where I would turn around. But I didn't.

I had forgotten one thing. I am enthralled, yes that's the word, with being above tree line, about 11,000 ft. here. The trailhead where I began is at 10,000 ft. so it was only about two miles to that vantage point, and at the end of the lower trail's flower gardens, I was too close to turn back. I'd just go as far as I felt like it.

Wherever the masses of people from all those cars were, it wasn't on the higher trail. A man and his 7-year-old son and I caught up and passed each other as we strode up the rocky trail that hugs the mountain. They were on their way to Lake Dorothy, which sits just above 12,000 ft. He kept saying to his son, and to me without realizing it, "we're almost there." I knew that not to be so when he began his mantra, but it still helped.

I got behind when I found clumps of moss campion blooming next to the trail. This was an early summer flower, but here it was in August--blooming in full glory. I bypassed the bouquet of alpine columbine going up, but couldn't resist on the way down. I had to keep going or I would lose track of my young friend, now bounding up the trail. Nearer the crest and junction of the trail, my energy renewed. This year I would make it. I was going to Lake Dorothy!

The trail from the junction is a nice walk over the tundra. Yes, there had been many flowers there earlier in the season. Their remains dotted the landscape. That was okay. I can't imagine making the trek with all that could be blooming blossoming at once. The flowers in the last photo, similar to one I took near Trail Ridge Road in late June, simply jumped out at me from overhead, hanging onto the rocks near the opening to Lake Dorothy. Then the lake opened up

in front of me. I exchanged photos with the man and his son, me taking a couple of them and each of them taking one of me with the lake in the backgound. Should I hike there again, I would like to take a camera that would give you a real view of the area. However, if I'm never to make that full hike again, this was a blessed day.

Other hikes with friends along this trail have found us running from afternoon thunderstorms and pill-sized sleet. Yesterday I was blessed with blue skies and the opportunity to hike on to the uphill ridgecrest and hang out. I experienced the trail slick, not from rain and sleet, but with rocks, pebbles and sandy dirt. I was able to slow down as fatigue took hold. My birthday-gift hiking poles were firm. I had time to enjoy the flowers from a different vantage point though I did have to move on. I was grateful every step of the way for the opportunity to enjoy God's creation in such an amazing place!

PS: Yes, I have close ups of flowers and a few photos that might qualify as art photos. I've saved them for another post. This time I wanted to give you an idea of the variety and vastness of the beauty, such as is possible from my photographs.