Sermon from the Heights of ColoradoThrow No Stones- a Sermon from the Heights of Colorado-
I woke in the back of my Subaru feeling the wagon sway as though a bear or persistent wind was shoving me down the Spruce Creek Trailhead just south of Breckenridge. Neither wind nor bear’s breath had breached my cracked windows as I wriggled out of my damp, down bag.
I drearily paged through my altitude-induced night of dreams. I extrapolated meaning from a vivid scene: Confronted by a strange pinecone shaped animal that bristled and grew in size and irritation, I began slinging stones at it out of fear. The foreboding figure morphed into a husky, aged man. He asked why I let fear overtake me? He implored me to be calm and "throw no stones."
Alone in the parking lot, I shouldered my ski pack to approach high peaks south of Breckenridge. Before my last minute decision to pedal up the road, I searched my palm top for the area’s beta. 13,852' Crystal Peak is one of the 100 highest summits in Colorado and therefore my main goal. Crystal is flanked by 13,633' Peak 10, and 13,615' Father Dyer Peak, also goals of mine.
I felt synchronicity's grinding gears as I learned Father Dyer Peak's inspiration: itinerant preacher Father John L. Dyer crossed high mountain passes weekly to carry mail and spread the gospel to gruff miners, shady gamblers, and boozy brothel dwellers. In winter he attached animal furs to his ski bases to grip the slopes. These ingenious contraptions were then known as snowshoes.
The sturdy preacher was reputed to deal handily with hecklers mocking his faithful service. His legend still looms large in the area but was new to me. Had my “throw no stones” dream descended as a sermon from Dyer's mount?
Just in case I was under watchful eyes I tried not to curse under my breath or in my mind as I pushed and pedaled up the long but very drivable approach road. I had scouted the trailhead the day before and was assured by apparent flatlanders that the road was far too rough to travel without 4WD… Hmmm.
Eventually snow blocked the road. I locked my bike to a tree and switched to backcountry ski boots for the ascent.
Breaking above tree line is always a spiritual moment, though I usually get to share my glee with fellow climbers. I entered the pure realm of tundra and thin air alone. Passing a depression I assumed to be Lower Crystal Lake I felt like I was getting somewhere, even if the sky was hiding much of the evidence.
To the east dark clouds blotted the sun, threatening the predicted afternoon thunderstorm. Misty clouds gave brief revelation to mountain cathedrals above.
I was drawn into the teacup basin south of the fluted centerpiece of Crystal Basin.
Walking on frozen water in the spring can be a sidewalk like stroll. In recent years skis with climbing skins- like those used by Father Dyer- have become nearly essential due to less freezing and weakening snow layers.
This spring’s dust storms threatened to disintegrate Colorado's snow pack but cooler weather and more snow prevailed salvaging precious veils of white. I followed previously packed "skin tracks" to keep afloat on the steep headwall. I enjoy skinning but avoided stopping to change modes. I kept a lid on foul thoughts crossing under forebodingly loose rock walls above, punching through the crust to my knees.
Once at the saddle I searched the rocky ridge for Father Dyer's summit and commemorative plaque. After hand traversing multiple ice and snow-dusted gothic spires I returned to the pass to continue my pilgrimage for Crystal Peak. Perhaps Father Dyer's plaque was removed?
I wandered up the gentler ridge toward the heights. I switched to the rocky south side to avoid punching through the snow-corniced ridge.
Thin air slowed my stride near the blocky summit. Looking down through the mist for Crystal's summit register, there was a plaque for Father Dyer? No! I was duped by weather and misjudgment and had actually climbed Dyer via the Dyer Straights route. Snow pelted my perplexed visage... weather was deteriorating fast and it was time to descend. Father Dyer Peak would be my lesson learned and highpoint for the day, if not for the year. I consoled my wounded ego: I've been turned away from many summits and have learned to value continued life over short-term pride and disappointment.
A shield of steep snow guarded Dyer's eastern flanks from my rusty edges. I made tentative 50 degree turns until the grade eased and then let em’ fly. Uphill repentance pays off. Even ungraceful turns delight the soul as I descend back to societies temptations. To keep me humble, Dyer's snowmelt soaked my rear as I switched to biking down the road to my waiting wagon.
Do Unto Others...In honor of Father Dyer's rugged spirit, I will try my best to “throw no stones,” not even in my thoughts or dreams. If only more folks would heed this lofty edict.
If you feel compelled to commune with a mountain preacher's spirit with less peril and travel time, you can make the pilgrimage to the now modernized city of Breckenridge. John hand-built much of the Father Dyer United Methodist Church of Breckenridge that still delivers affirming red letters, and rapturous predictions to Breckenridge’s high mountain faithful. I prefer Father Dyer’s more tangible sermon on the mount.