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An Alpine Awakening
Trip Report

An Alpine Awakening

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An Alpine Awakening

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 39.63630°N / 105.794°W

Object Title: An Alpine Awakening

Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 3, 2007

Activities: Hiking

Season: Summer

 

Page By: Bob Sihler

Created/Edited: Nov 29, 2007 / Nov 14, 2012

Object ID: 361168

Hits: 3757 

Page Score: 92.59%  - 39 Votes 

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Baptism by Mountains

Different Things to Different People


Something that has always helped the bond between my wife and me, something that has strengthened our relationship and for which I am deeply grateful, is our mutual love of nature, especially its wild places. Although our specific tastes vary, we do at least both feel the draw of the mountains, particularly the Rockies. It has never proved difficult to agree on taking a trip to anyplace from Alberta to New Mexico, and together we have seen much of the best of what I feel in my mind, heart, and soul is this continent's greatest mountain range.

What we have rarely seen together, though, are the alpine heights. As I increasingly turned to scrambling and climbing to earn the rewards of solitude in mountain wilderness, my wife continued to prefer the safety and reliability of the trail; she enjoyed an occasional clamber or scramble but tended not to like the exposure that sometimes went with the routes I wanted to take, and as I continued to shun the summit trails as much as possible, my mountaineering became largely a solitary endeavor.
Colorado Comes to Life
 

Thus it was that it became more and more difficult to communicate the inspirational and palliative powers the mountains exerted upon me. My wife (Katie) understood that I had a need rather than a desire for the mountains, but she did not really understand why. When we did still hike together, our ways often parted at the passes, where she would turn back and I would continue up. Katie was happy with a leisurely walk back and being able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells at her own pace, and I was happy forging on alone to find my own temporary Eden somewhere windswept and untrodden. It was a nice mix; we got to spend time together in places we loved but still had the chance to experience them on our own terms as well, and when we met up later, we related to each other over a cold beer or a glass of wine the best parts of our solo travels that day.

But I still wanted Katie to understand somehow what the mountains really meant to me, what was so important about those cathedrals of rock, ice, and snow that haunt my thoughts daily. And she kept not seeing it, not out of fear or stubbornness or indifference but rather because she was satisfied with her understanding of and connection to the mountains as they already were. I respected that and accepted that it was unreasonable, even selfish, of me to expect someone else to see something exactly as I did as if I had some monopoly on how to interpret it, but I was nevertheless frustrated because there was an important part of me I wanted to share with her but didn't know how to without her seeing through my own eyes and doing what I do.
Rocky Mountain High
 

And so it was we went out to Colorado for Labor Day Weekend in 2007. Much of the Colorado high country, especially that which is accessible by day hiking on a three-day weekend after flying into Denver, is too crowded for my tastes, but we needed to get away for a bit by ourselves, and there is no place like Colorado if one wants to get into the alpine world quickly and conveniently. It is perfect in a way no other state is for a three-day weekend of alpine hiking and climbing. Besides, I planned the trip around mountains that weren't likely to see much traffic even though they were within about an hour's drive of Denver.

I'd spent two weeks out in some of the wildest parts of Wyoming earlier in the summer, but Katie had been home with the kids, the younger of whom was still too young to travel at the time. We hadn't even been parents for three years yet, but we had already realized that time together without the kids doesn't come easily or often. My parents generously offered to watch the kids, and we made our plans. When the day to fly to Denver finally came, we got on board the plane, Katie a little sadly and I with mountains in my eyes.

Hey, I love my kids and all that, but we're talking about the mountains here!

Into the Mountains


We made base camp at a motel in Georgetown, an I-70 town in the Colorado Rockies that is in the shadow of great mountain country but amazingly free of the traffic jams, tacky tourist shops, and stores for the well-heeled that plague so many of Colorado's resort communities. Sleeping in the car and bathing in streams is often the norm for me when I go to the mountains on my own, but the idea doesn't go over too well with my wife. I made a show protest over spending the extra money, but secretly I was glad to be sleeping with a mattress under my back.
Geneva Peak
Geneva Peak from Sullivan

On the first day, we drove our rented Wrangler up Santa Fe Peak and hiked to the nearby summit of Sullivan Mountain. I continued on to Geneva and Landslide Peaks, but my wife passed on them. It was her first hike in several months, and though the going wasn't hard, she didn't like the looks of Geneva's northwest ridge (the upper part looks like a knife-edge but is really a walk-up if you want it to be) and had a headache from either the altitude or my vigorous treatment of the 4WD road up Santa Fe peak, which I'd done and enjoyed two years before and was eager to do again. Or maybe the headache was from both.

Later, we drove up to Webster Pass, an easy 4WD route from Montezuma, and we watched Jeepsters negotiating challenging Red Cone. The "idea light" must have gone on in my eyes and my wife must have noticed it, because she told me that trip looked dangerous and scary. I took the hint. So instead, I hiked up Handcart Peak, just about a mile away. My wife stayed in the car despite my assurances that it would be an easy hike (it was).
Red Cone
Red Cone
Handcart Peak
Handcart Peak

The next day, Sunday, I tackled Ruby Mountain from Horseshoe Basin as my wife wandered the tundra slopes below and took pictures. In the Class 4 rock bands and steep, loose scree slopes on the peak, she failed to see the adventure and saw just sweat and pain. Okay, there was sweat and pain, but there was adventure and splendor, too, and my time on Ruby just might rank as my favorite mountain experience in Colorado to date. That afternoon, we had lunch in Breckenridge (cringe) so we could take Boreas Pass Road over the Divide (never again-- talk about too many clueless drivers on a backcountry road too friendly to regular vehicles) and Guanella Pass Road back to Georgetown.
True Hard-Core Climbers
Mountain Goats with Ruby Mountain in the Background

Monday dawned gray and chilly, but the cloud ceiling was high enough that the mountains were still visible and worth visiting. We checked out of the motel, headed up the narrow, rocky road to Waldorf, and then drove the remaining distance to spectacular Argentine Pass, which at 13,200' and on the Continental Divide is one of the highest road destinations in Colorado and, for that matter, the entire country. And it was from Argentine Pass that we decided to follow the short route to Mount Edwards, among Colorado's hundred highest peaks. What appealed to me about Edwards were not only its ease of access and great views but also its relative obscurity (relative is the operative word here; Edwards is no wilderness secret) due to its famous fourteener neighbors Grays and Torreys. Atop Edwards, it's quite possible, even in summer, to sit in solitude and count the 10-30 people on or near the summit of Grays at any given moment.
Mount Edwards Route from Argentine Pass
Edwards (center) from Argentine Pass

The previous days had provided plenty of warmth and sunshine, but this day felt more like something from spring or fall. For the first time on the trip, we donned long pants for a mountain outing and bundled up with gloves and waterproof windbreakers, as the breeze was constant and cold and the signs of imminent rain rather abundant and in close proximity. It turned out that we only faced a few minutes of sprinkles and snowflakes and that the sun played peekaboo enough that day to give spells of warmth and brightness, but it was good to be prepared, anyway, as I'd learned long before that Colorado is one of the worst mountainous regions of the U.S. in which to gamble with the weather.
Summit of Mount Edwards-- Argentine Pass Approach
Last "push" up Edwards

It was an uneventful but pretty hike. I like the mountains on moody days when storms threaten, so the clouds didn't bother me too much beyond occasionally ruining a scene I thought might make a nice photograph. But there were enough times with decently lit subjects in front of dark backgrounds to keep me interested and happy. And the lack of calendar-quality skies allowed me to notice things I normally don't-- the beautiful quartzite pieces and other fascinating rocks littering the tundra in places, for example. In fact, my wife found one rock streaked with silver, and I found one containing amethyst. It wasn't enough to retire on, but it was nice nevertheless.

Another highlight was the huge procession of ptarmigans that barred our progress for a few minutes as they scurried across the path in front of us and made their distinctive calls. It was Katie's first time seeing ptarmigans and only my second despite all the time I've spent high in Colorado, though I imagine many Colorado natives see them often enough that the little birds don't register much anymore, somewhat like deer in the suburbs.
Grays Peak
Grays peeking out from the final push up Edwards

"I get it now."


So we got to the summit, enjoyed the views all by ourselves, and headed back after several minutes of just sitting there taking it all in. But while we were there, Katie turned to me and told me that this had been a great experience. My sarcastic reply was to ask what it was that had made the experience great-- the fabulous weather or the immense difficulties in attaining this summit. Her response was that something about the mountains had struck her in a way it never had before, that for the first time she had seen what I see up there. "I think I get it now," she said. She couldn't quite articulate it, just as I never can, just as many others never can, but she said it had something to do with the sweeping views, the endless mountains, and the sense of raw nature all around. It was a good moment, really a great moment, both for her and for me. I was happy not because she had finally seen my point but because she had been so obviously moved by her surroundings.

At first, I was surprised by her reaction. After all, we'd been to the mountains so many times before. But as I thought about it, I realized we'd only been to four Western summits together: Pikes Peak and Mount Evans in Colorado, Lassen Peak in California, and Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone. The first two have roads almost all the way up and very short walks for the remaining distance, making those mountains mob scenes much of the time. The third is a real hike but very popular, and anyone who has stood atop Lassen on a summer afternoon can probably agree that it is hardly a moving or wilderness experience doing so. Avalanche has more of a wilderness feel to it, sitting as it does on the edge of the vast and rugged North Absaroka Wilderness, and we started early enough to have the summit alone for a bit, but the steady traffic we encountered on the way back down diminished the overrall experience. So her reaction suddenly made a lot of sense to me and reminded me of my own feelings the first time I left the trail and scrambled to an alpine summit.

I announced plans for a detour to McClellan Mountain on the way back, but Katie passed. I asked her if she'd soon be ready to take on some exposed Class 4; she said she wouldn't. But when I brought up the idea of easy Class 3 without much exposure, she said she'd think about it.

It's a start.
McClellan Mountain
Edwards Summit View-- McClellan Mountain
Mount Edwards-- Summit View
Edwards Summit View-- Ganley Mountain

Images

True Hard-Core ClimbersGeneva PeakRed ConeColorado Comes to LifeRocky Mountain HighMount Edwards-- Summit ViewMcClellan Mountain
Mount Edwards Route from Argentine PassHandcart PeakGrays PeakSummit of Mount Edwards-- Argentine Pass Approach

Comments


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Augie MedinaOutstanding

Augie Medina

Voted 10/10

Beautifully written TR Bob. It could also be an article given the topic you explore; an "issue" that all adventuresome persons with spouses or significant others face. Your final 3 sentence paragraph is great. Progress indeed.

Augie
Posted Nov 29, 2007 3:31 pm

Bob SihlerRe: Outstanding

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, Augie; I actually had considered making it an article, but with the focus really being just on one outing, I figured a TR suited it better. And I enjoyed your recent TR as well; you especially had some nice photos showing the route conditions.
Posted Nov 29, 2007 4:11 pm

captainronExcellent!

captainron

Voted 10/10

Great TR and very well written. Your very lucky that your wife loves the mountains along with you! Keep up the great work!
Posted Nov 30, 2007 1:04 am

Bob SihlerRe: Excellent!

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

I really appreciate the feedback. Yes, I am lucky to have found someone so compatible with me even if some of the specifics differ.
Posted Nov 30, 2007 3:58 pm

NanulsA very nice story

Nanuls

Voted 10/10

I very much enjoyed reading your trip report; it's quite rare to find such an insightful piece here on SP. I particularly enjoyed it as I found that it resonated how Charlotte (my partner) and I enjoy the mountains. Although she likes hiking and climbs at an indoor wall, she does not like the scrambling and rock routes I tend to favour. Of course I don't want to push her into doing anything she doesn't want to do, but some day I hope she will come to see the mountains as I do. I hope both you and Katie enjoy many more mountaineering trips together!

All the best
Dan
Posted Nov 30, 2007 8:27 am

Bob SihlerRe: A very nice story

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, Dan. I am glad you can relate to the ideas here. I am starting to get my wife interested in trying some roped climbing, and that would be great for both of us to do some climbing together (if we can lose the kids, that is). I solo a lot of Class 5 stuff and take care to stay within my limits, but I'm still aware that a fall could still kill me. So if she takes up the climbing, I can be safer and do harder things while having some great experiences outdoors with my wife. But even as it is, it's great that we both love going to the mountains; it beats the hell out of marrying someone whose idea of a vacation is an amusement park or a crowded tourist town!
Posted Nov 30, 2007 4:02 pm

johnlogukLoved it!

johnloguk

Voted 10/10

I can relate to so much of what you've written, great stuff. On a personal level it is great to find someone to share mountains with, especially when your motivations are slightly different but you still come to an accommodation between them. Nice to see Katie showing signs of becoming more adventurous.

The more general stuff you talk about, the bad drivers on mountain roads and the crowds that blindly flock to certain summits, are things I can also relate to from Britain. Some mountains are rightly popular because they are spectacular in some way, but others attract people just because of their height, a tick in a box, madness.
Posted Dec 2, 2007 5:17 am

Bob SihlerRe: Loved it!

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, and we'll keep working on that sense of adventure. It's in there somewhere-- two years ago, we were hiking with our son (on my back) when a steep snowbank blocked the narrow trail, with a wall on the right and not much on the left. So my wife led the way through some rocks so that we could bypass the snowbank and continue. She never thought twice about it; we'll try for more of that.
Posted Dec 2, 2007 2:14 pm

Bob SihlerRe: Yup...

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thanks, Chief. We look forward to much more of this together, and with our kids.
Posted Dec 2, 2007 2:11 pm

Bob BoltonNicely done!

Bob Bolton

Voted 10/10

It's a start indeed. My wife has only climbed two "real" mountains, Hood and St. Helens, 15 years ago when she was vigorously walking on hills every day trying to combat a chronic auto-immune disease. Unfortunately she has never come close to "Now I get it", but at least she accepts that I need the mountains even if it's not her thing. I've long since given up on being able to share the mountains with her - sadly. Thanks for sharing! -Bob
Posted Dec 2, 2007 4:56 pm

Bob SihlerRe: Nicely done!

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, Bob. That is too bad you can't share the mountains together, but on the other hand, it's a totally different experience by yourself or with friends, which you certainly don't need me to tell you. My wife and I probably still won't do much mountaineering together, but the chance does exist, and at least she understands now.
Posted Dec 3, 2007 12:48 pm

SFMountaineerGreat read

SFMountaineer

Voted 10/10

You are an excellent writer. Do you write for a living?

Anyway, really well done on this one.
Posted Dec 3, 2007 1:42 am

Bob SihlerRe: Great read

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you very much, but no, I don't write for a living. I do sometimes teach it, though, or at least I try to! Thank you for reading and replying, and I'm glad you thought the TR was a good one.
Posted Dec 3, 2007 2:31 pm

kamillucky man!

kamil

Voted 10/10

Bob, you're a lucky guy to have a wife that shares your passion. My partner has been rock climbing a few times with me and we did some serious hiking and scrambling together (Mt Olympus in Greece, Carrantuohill in Ireland, Triglav in Slovenia) but it's just not her thing and there's no point pushing her into things she doesn't enjoy :(
Happy trails with your wife and in future with the kids! :)
It was nice reading your report.
cheers,
kamil
Posted Dec 3, 2007 10:06 am

Bob SihlerRe: lucky man!

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, Kamil, and I enjoyed your TR, too-- some very nice, inspiring photos, and just as useful as a good route page in many respects. And it is nice that my wife likes the mountains, too. She may never like them the exact same way I do, but I could have done worse. We have had many great trips together already.

Posted Dec 3, 2007 3:50 pm

reinhard2A nice-to-follow TR

reinhard2

Voted 10/10

but when I looked at the pics I wondered what you mean by "alpine" in the title. These rotund hills give more an impression of Lake District or so. But I understand - it's a matter of climate, and when global warming continues, much of the Alps will look alike in some future!
Posted Dec 3, 2007 3:49 pm

Bob SihlerRe: A nice-to-follow TR

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Interesting comment. Here in the U.S., we often use "alpine" essentially to refer to the high mountains, those above treeline, to be a little more specific. But only in winter do these particular mountains resemble the true Alps at all, though we do have ranges here that are more like what you have in Germany, Switzerland, and the like. I think the term is becoming vague, as in "alpine climbing," which has developed a pretty broad definition (like "mountaineering"). Whether that's good or not, or right or not, I can't say.

Thanks for commenting.
Posted Dec 3, 2007 3:59 pm

jvarholakI know what you mean

jvarholak

Voted 10/10

excellent TR bob....i can relate totally (albeit from a slightly different perspective)...My wife and I shared similar passions and "goals" in our mountain experiences ever since we met....she always "got it" and "had it" herself. Unfortunately she suffered a massive brain aneurism, underwent emergency brain surgery and although she survived (thank God), it changed her forever....Now she doesn't "get it" anymore and although she supports my mountain needs we can no longer share the experience (which is, of course, OK with me given the circumstances). You are a lucky man (not to mention a talented writer) and please charish the times that you and Katie share in high, wild places.
john
Posted Dec 5, 2007 5:43 pm

Bob SihlerRe: I know what you mean

Bob Sihler

Hasn't voted

Thank you, John. What you two went through must have been quite harrowing, and it reminds us all that much as we hate to admit it, there are some things more important than the mountains. I appreciate that you think I am a lucky man, and I guess I am in many ways, but you and your wife seem quite lucky yourselves in that you still have each other, which at the bottom line is what really matters. I think of the enormously positive influence my wife has been on my life (except for the dirty dishes left in the sink, but we'll just save that for another TR-- Bushwhacking through the Kitchen Wilderness), and losing her would be devastating. I poignantly remember the fear and loss I felt when we once got separated above treeline during a thunderstorm (all my fault) and I couldn't find her afterwards despite searching all over the area multiple times. It turned out that she had gone back to camp. That was probably the most frightening afternoon of my life, and that, for the way it turned out, can't compare to what you two must have gone through. I am glad that, despite the misfortune you two had, you were actually fortunate enough to avoid the tragedy of total loss.
Posted Dec 6, 2007 10:27 am

jvarholakRe: I know what you mean

jvarholak

Voted 10/10

sent you a PM....my words certainly don't belong on this public forum
Posted Dec 6, 2007 12:10 pm

Viewing: 1-20 of 20