Hiking in the Maroon BellsRunning the gammut of emotions, I left my world of worries behind. I traded my daily worries and stress for a new place, with no aggrevation and different responsibilities. I had arrived. At long last I landed in Denver. After a complete debacle with the rental car company, I settle for a convertible because all the rides with ground clearance were scooped up presumeably by less than hearty adventurers who think it's a must for traveling on even a dirt road. Undoubtedly traveling to some scenic place of which the drive would be their only approach. For these types of adventuters the confines of a metal cabin will assuredly be the only world they will ever know on their vacation. As I pondered such thoughts I remind myself that it's a rental car and a little off-roading might be fun, if not alot more interesting in a car. Additionally, something about the top down on a cool starrey night, with the moonlight casting ominous shadows on and around the summits of the Rockies was appealing.
Our preparations for this adventure included a couple of moderate hikes in the enchanted north country and my backyard-The White Mountains. This was in addition to nightly run/walks in my neighborhood in Massachusetts once the oppressive humidity of The Commonwealth's days had been exchanged for cooler, breezy nights.
I always have a feeling of apprehension come over me while preparing for a backpack with the magnitude of 9000 feet of elevation gain and a distance approaching 30 miles. Sure I can always punish myself and push the envelope a little, but for me the essence of a great backpacking trip is proper conditioning. I find the experience to be exponentially more rewarding when I'm not fighting the calf burning and quad thumping with a relentless v-tach (rapid heart beat). It's far more gratifying to take in the panorama of rugged peaks and jaw dropping scenery when it's not caused by an arrythmia!
Tuesday morning, August 6th, we make our way out of Dillon to the upper crusty world of Aspen, Colorado. Arriving here, it's easy to see why the place was chosen for development and has become a popular destination of the who's who and well-to-do. By this time we had traded the convertible now for a Range Rover and as such we were able to blend in with the Aspen locals, we were incognito. Arriving at The Maroon Bell we were greeted by a depressing infestation, not of bugs, but of the equally annoying tourists. Seeing the reflection of The Bells in the still waters of Maroon Lake it wasn't difficult to comprehend the "why" of the infestation.
We now retired to the confines of our nylon world as crickets lull us to sleep. Well, actually I'll give an assist to the crickets but actually it was the Benadryl that knocked us out! Hours later, the sounds of Tyler and Megan attempting to be polite, stir us from our alpine slumber. They seemed distressed about the presence of the buck we had seen earlier. Apparently the deer of The Maroon Bells are carefree about human presence. In fact, they were actually sniffing around their tent and tearing vegetation from its roots right at the base of their tent. It made a very loud noise I 've come to learn. At first Tyler and Megan didn't know what the source of the strange noise was. They laid in their tents (momentarily) wondering if it may be a bear in search of a midnight snack- "a camper burrito" as I like to call it. I can imagine their relief when they recognized the fuzzy antlers through the moonroof of their enclosure. The buck would scamper away with Tylers loud voice, only to return to grazing, inches from the tent-undoubtedly right as they started to fall back asleep! We settled back to sleep-kind of, and they let us be for the rest of the night (both the deer and Tyler and Megan). At 5am we woke to the cell alarm letting me know it was time to break camp and head to the Maroon's west pass.
Although this wasn't our intended final destination, for Liz and I, it was to be our first and last pass. See, during the story so far I mentionioned stopping to catch my breath but never did I mention hydration. I grossly underestimated my water consumption and although my sense of thirst was satisfied my body had become dehydrated. I noticed it first when I woke up and the usual aches and pains didn't subside after moving around a little. I drank a liter of water with breakfast and replaced my electrolytes with a supplement but the damage was already done and I started feeling my head pound and the headache, that followed would last until nightfall. However a funny thing happens to me in the mountains. Something about the clean, crisp, thin air overcomes the pain and with it sadly, logic and reason. I should have decided to drink alot more and painfully, regretably, head down. However I flew all the way to Colorado and I wasn't going to be deprived of the view from West Pass, I wasn't going to spend years wondering what I missed or carry the shame and guilt of bailing before at least one of the four passes. So back to the good stuff.
The alpinglow eecked down from tiny little shimmers on the higher surrounding western summits. Seemingly fighting to get over the valley walls. Much as I was to be in short order. We welcomed the warmth that very slowly started to dissolve the chill from the crisp morning air and in turn from our aching muscles and bones. A short while later Tyler was out and about, followed by Megan. We had oatmeal for breakfast and a little trail mix. Next we shouldered our packs and were on our way. We started slowly stopping to filter and replenish our water supplies. Then we crossed into the direct sunlight which illuminated the paintbrush wildflower meadows all around us. It was amazing how the colors up close were individual, vivid and bright and as they faded toward the valley walls became an abstract pastel of beauty.
This was where I did alot of reflecting. I often wondered if I was just being lazy or if I had made the right decision. My rationale was the mountain will always be here and if it pains me so much that I couldn't finish it, I can always return. Which brings me full circle. The experience is alot more enjoyable when I'm not hindered on many levels by my physical limitations. If I had continued, I would have spent it in agonizing pain. I know this because the next 8 miles, hiking out, downhill, was horrific. I just wanted to curl up and die but everytime I stopped my head pounded relentlessly. This is when something took over me. Beyond just my will to be done with the hike. The last two miles I didn't stop once. It was almost like someone was lifting my legs for me and I was more like a disgruntled confused viewer than the actual participant hiker. I vaguely remembered people saying "hi" only to receive a jarbeled "ugg" for a response. Looking back on it all I was happy to have shared the quality time with my best friends up in such an amazing place and the quality memories made will forever reduce the negativity of my dehydration to a mere lesson learned.