The Call of the Mountains“Well here it is,” I thought, “Mid April and I am not ready to let go of the winter yet.” I had just gotten back from a trip to the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran desert, a great trip, although after backpacking around Southern Arizona for five days the urge to play in the white stuff was overwhelming at times. I had just moved to Glenwood Springs eight months ago and got into the mountaineering scene. It was a big change from my rural life. I was born in Denver Colorado, but grew up in a small town called Bailey at 8,500’. Despite my location in the beautiful mountains (Bailey is situated in parts of Pike National Forest and in close proximity to the Lost Creek Wilderness, hell I even had a beautiful view of Mt. Rosalie from my house!!) I never did much in the way of hiking or climbing. After I graduated high school I felt I had to move to the city. So a month after my graduation I moved into a three bedroom apartment in Denver. I tried school at Metro State, but found that there were other things to occupy my time, things such as working and drinking so I ended up neglecting my studies, working at a health club and partying any chance I got. After a year of this I found myself retreating to the foothills any chance I got to hike. I fell in love with it, and in a year I had enrolled in classes at Colorado Mountain College and was ready to move to Glenwood Springs. Within a month I climbed my first mountain, I not only climbed it but me and my new friends Juliann and Brian led a group of 8 students up Mt Sopris. I was in love.
The PlanSo here I am it is Mid April, schools about over, all my friends are getting ready to move home for the summer, and my first real relationship had just tragically ended. I needed to get away for the weekend. Me and Brian decided the best place to go was the Gore Range. We would park his Aztec in east Vail at Gore Creek and head out for three glorious days with no real destination, only a map and the desire to let winter go with a bang.
The Journey BeginsWe arrive at the trail head on a beautiful clear morning. The snow was hard and we had no problem following the trail. After about three miles on what we could only describe as the camel back (snow around the trail had melted and only a well defined hump protruded over the melting snow, resulting in a spine, which we dubbed the camel back) the trail became less defined, and due to the high temperatures and lack of use we donned our snowshoes and pulled out the map. We determined our destination would be Gore Lake, and if everything looked well we might even ascend to Snow Lake and set up our home for the next three days. After some route finding in a thick pine forest we found Gore Lake around noon. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the fifties and not a cloud in the sky. After we dug out a nice platform for our tents it was decided that a nap was in order. While I lied in my tent I reflected on the hike in, the majority of the hike followed Gore Creek, which was flowing strong with meltwater revealing beautiful snow and ice bridges ready to break with the slightest of pressure. As I lay in my tent bathed by the sun all my worries melted away and I slipped into an amazing sleep. At three we awoke and planned a day hike, to determine a plan of action for tomorrow. The snow was deep; we often fell up to our waste or higher. Soon we were cliffed out, standing on the edge of a fifteen foot cliff an idea came to us and one of the funnest activities in the backcountry was born; snow cliff jumping. Snow cliff jumping is the act of jumping off a cliff into deep snow. It was amazing, the snow was up to our armpits. Soon the sun was getting low so we retreated back to camp to cook dinner and settle in for the night.
Blowing Wind and Maybe a MountainThe next morning we woke up to five new inches of snow, and a brisk fifteen degrees, we were elated. With the low temps and foggy overcast weather avalanche conditions would be kept low; now we could summit something! We headed out, abandoning our snowshoes, which were being used as tent anchors at the time. We set our sights on an unnamed peak to the north and proceeded up and down the rolling hills to a rock ridge that was blown clear. This was tedious work, I would often ascend two feet, to slip down one. In hindsight snowshoes might have been useful, at the very least crampons would have helped. We finally made the rock outcropping where the wind was howling. If I had to guess I would say the wind was maybe forty to fifty miles an hour, I could let go of my axe and the wind would take it nearly parallel to the ground. Our climb was a monotonous pattern of three or four steps then when a big gust of wind threatened to blow us we would brace on our axes and hold tight. We made it up to an impassable pinnacle and decided we went as high as we could. After maybe five minutes the below zero windchill chased us down.
On the descent we were able to glissade most the way down, getting back to camp in maybe an hour and a half, allowing more time for snow cliff jumping. We ate early so we could settle into our bags before it got too dark and cold. It was here I made a crucial rookie mistake. I brought my bag into my small one tent in haste, not knocking all the snow off. I spent a sleepness night in a cold wet sleeping bag.
The Wild WildernessFinally the sun rose, giving light to a beautiful clear morning. We packed up camp than proceeded our hike out. Our tracks were covered by the previous nights snow, we pulled out the maps picked a line and headed out. Eventually we ran into fresh tracks in the snow. They weren’t human tracks, instead it appeared a big bear was following the trail out, postholing in places up to three feet deep. He followed the trail exactly! Nearly all the way to the trail. We never saw the bear, which may have been a good thing, but its presence was surreal, and made me feel a little more in tune with this wild place.
My ThanksAfter our epic journey I learned that at one time the talking heads were going to put a highway through gore creek, which runs from Vail to Silverthorne. It was only because of activist groups and an alarming community outcry that this wild place was saved. So thank you for all you’ve done you truly have saved a miraculously beautiful area. Keep up the good work, we are all in you debt.
I would also like to think Brian for his beautiful photography skills you are my hero. Achtung!!