Who needs a camera?
So close to home. In fact, one hour and ten minutes from my garage in Highlands Ranch to the trailhead at exit 218. How many times have I used this exit? Well, four to be exact. Such a pristine day. Blue sky and the stench and roar of crackling diesel. Spot GPS tracker strapped to my pack but no camera. A little bug spray and sunscreen and I'm off. Small backpack and large knife today, my favorite outback hat atop my head. A couple pairs of hikers leave moments before me, which bothers me. I'll have to play catch and pass. I don't like that. Five minutes later, I pass the first pair. Sweat is already beading on my scalp. I have both of my trekking poles, to help with the impact. My left knee is feeling tight but this is a necessary hike to get back in shape. Still worried about my right knee as well. Both meniscus...menisci...how the hell do you spell that? Both are sore. I wish I was still in my 20's. Hell, no I don't.
The trail up Herman Gulch is a death march. I prefer nearby Watrous Gulch. I've never enjoyed Herman Gulch and likely never will. It's monotonous, ugly, littered with beetle-kill and severely eroded from the thousands of annual hikers. Speaking of which, I'm about to catch the 2nd pair of hikers...a couple. They are stopped and removing layers. They have only one rucksack, and it's a small one. Probably some version of a mini-camelback. I note that they are not very prepared. I'm 10 feet from them, and they start moving again. Seriously? For 30 minutes, I'm literally less than 20 feet behind them. I'm impressed that they haven't stopped again, and they're setting a pretty swift pace. I give up on trying to pass. It's fairly obvious they want to prove something. I don't even know who they are and frankly don't give a damn. I'm not here for them or anyone else. Say, there aren’t any bugs that I can notice. My bug spray and sweat combine for a funky odor. After about 50 minutes, I stop and pee on some wet pine needles. Feels mighty fine to have junior swinging in the breeze without any skeeters coming in for a blood-thirsty landing.
I pass some old ladies. Old ladies are almost always friendly and sometimes smell like cookies. I find their smiles comforting. I wonder if I will be hiking over exposed roots when I'm 70? Sounds like a broken hip waiting to happen! The sun is blazing. I love that my leather hat has a wide brim, but I'm sweating from the core. My face tastes like a salt shaker. My knife flaps against my hip, and I think about killing a wilderness kidnapper. That would be a highlight, I think.
After an hour from my car, I reach the intersection with the Divide Trail. I was just here a few days ago. The views of Citadel are always inspiring, but I really don't have an itch to go back up there. Pettingell awaits just ahead. I scan the slopes for passage. There is a definite ramp that traverses to the ridge, mostly tundra and scree. Some steep cliffs below the exposed ridge. I get to Herman Lake and walk around the near side without stopping, my right hand side, staying near the water's edge. A guy is walking hand-in-hand with a two year old kid. A woman is sitting close to the water. I don't even look at her. Wierd.
I'm in a world of my own. I left the car at 10:15 am, so I'm hurrying. Trying to justify my lateness, perhaps. "Bluebird day" rings in my ears. My knee injury worries me, but I press forward. I'm constantly thinking of my fiance, Lucia. Not in a stalker, co-dependent kind of creepiness but in a silent, my head is filled with comfort kind of meditation. Very strange. I realize how important she is to me...not that I didn't already know. But I still feel depressed, almost lonely.
Around the back side of the lake, water cascades over talus and tundra. I climb this gulley on and off very faint trail remnants. This is not really a trail, per se. More of just wear and tear from other bored hikers. It drags on...and on...and on. The path of least resistance up through some rocks, some scree, near some cackling birds. Once in while, I notice one of them circling overhead. An omen? God, I hope not. Not sure how to proceed. Looking up at the south slope of Pettingell, there are a few options, none of them too appealing. There is a ton of scree, a farther and possibly gentler tundra slope that leads to the west of the summit, and a very steep cliffy section to the right. Uuggh. Not having fun, but oh well. I'm not bored.
I take the scree, which takes me up and up just to the right (east) of the summit. It seems to take a long time...zigzagging back and forth, ten feet left, twenty feet right, and so on. Step forward, slide backward. Where is the firm ground? Larger rocks are better. Trekking poles are quite useful. Black birds overhead, beneath a dodger blue sky. The vistas are as long as a fond memory. Am I the child I was 30 years ago?
Once I get to the summit, I realize that it is 1:00 pm. Fortunately, bluebird day. I have the remains of a sausage calzone in my pack. Has the consistency of a soggy corpse, I would presume...tastes just dandy though. I eat it and 10 minutes later head down the east ridge. It's my only food for the day. A lone climber has already traversed the long ridge and is now a distant silhouette. The ridge quickly turns into class 3, and I consider my descent options. Rather than crawl along the beautiful ridge with a gimp knee and then have to find my way back to the Herman Gulch trail, I decide to head straight down. It's very steep but the rocks are more stable than the loose scree that I ascended. Not to say they are stable...trust me, they are not. But, even with a very sore knee I make it down into the gulley relatively effortlessly and slowly downclimb back to Herman Lake.
It feels good to take off my shirt and boots. I'm alone. The lake is silent. My timing is pure bliss. I lay on a large boulder and soak some sun. After a few moments, the sweat is gone from shirt, my boots are tied tight, and I'm back on the grinding Herman Gulch Trail. This trail is 3.75 miles from the trailhead to the lake. Fore some reason, I thought it was 2.5. Oh well. At least I'm not bored. Twisted roots, finally finish the water in my camelback. I have another bottle, but I don't really need it. I try to hold it in my bladder, but I have to stop and pee again. Ahhhh...pass a few more hikers and back to the car by 4:00 pm. With any luck, I will never again succomb to a level of boredom significant enough to cause me to hike the Herman Lake trail...for the 5th time.
I seriously doubt this was of any use to the reader, but I find it refreshing to unburden my mind once in a while.