Medicine Bow Peak attempt #3- Aug 31 2018
The age-old phrase that "A picture is worth a thousand words" is well suited for this trip report, which indeed has zero pictures due to my journey up the mountain that started at 8:00 p.m. with a camera that did not take night-time pictures.
Upon inspecting the forecast for Medicine Bow Peak throughout the days prior to this outing, I saw that, besides some chances of rain, the weather looked good. The low temperatures were supposed to only reach perhaps 30-degrees Fahrenheit at the lowest, which paled in comparison to the last two frigid attempts at reaching the summit in the prior year of 2017. It was unfortunate but understandable that my friend was unable to accompany me on this night's trek--only days prior he and his fiance had reached the top of Longs Peak in Colorado.
So upon getting off work early on Friday, the last day of August 2018, my gear and I were heading down I-80 toward the Snowy Range.
Rain seemed possible, but that's why we have rain gear.
With a 7:50 p.m. arrival to Marie Lake trailhead, time was of the essence. The air had a dampness to it despite the fact that it wasn't raining. Climbing upwards quickly accelerated the heartrate, just as it had the last two times while beginning up the mountain from this trailhead. As I turned on the first switchback, the sky began pouring down big, cold drops of rain. I held off on digging out the raincoat from my pack, and luckily the drops only lasted for a couple minutes. Dusk was upon this nature, and a glowing beam of the distant, setting sun shone through a break in the rainclouds that quilted the horizon. All the worries of life were still at the trailhead as I couldn't have cared less about anything. The solitude was peaceful, the temperature was pure serenity at an amicable 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so. The sent of this rain and wild was only available here in the Snowy Range of Wyoming.
Cairn after Cairn came and went, and the air became seemingly more and more still. It was time to "get it while tha gettin's good!" I thought. Since I'd planned to make the hike fast, the pack only held the essentials--tent, food, water, thermals, sleeping bag, emergency beacon.
It wasn't long before I made it past where my buddy and I had post-holed to our wastes in November. That had been our turnaround then. But now there wasn't even a breeze to stifle the momentum. Another half-mile or so and I was surpassing the gully where I'd camped on the first attempt, in which suffering through that night had led to a miserable but grateful retreat back to the trailhead before dawn.
The final stretch was obviously upon me. Mother Earth had seemingly set the highest point on top of a massive pile of rocks. The dark enveloped my headlight and the immediate surroundings, which made it that much easier to notice a myriad of small creatures intermitently swooping down to seemingly see what I was. Bats!
The thoughts of turning from the summit due to bats brought out the raincoat, and the hood went overhead. The trail led to the southwest edge of a giant mound of long, flat boulders on which the peak clearly resided. Nothing but a deep darkness was to the right, for the short stretch of perhaps 20 yards became squeezed by a boulder wall and a 1500-foot slope that was much too steep to ever survive falling down. I made sure to focus on the rocks to my left while staying prepared to get a bat to the face. In this critical area, losing my balance to violently swat at something could be disastrous. Finally the narrow walkway veered to the left to become protected by rocks on each side. In every pause between steps, complete silence was sometimes accompanied by swooping sounds. These swoops coincided with hooked blurrs in my peripheries, which became less noticeable as did the trail, but the obvious method was to keep going higher and higher. Sometimes one of the giant rocks would sway underfoot. Sometimes the next step would be solidly supportive. But crossing these stones were much easier than crossing any other boulder fields I'd encountered priorly. And then, suddenly, a round piece of wood pointing vertically in the sky was above every other point on the slope. There it was. Finally--Medicine Bow Peak.
I quickly noticed the reflection of my headlamp in a round golden seal that was placed into a rock at this summit many years ago. Its words were illegible, but perhaps if they weren't speaking of the summit, they were to serve as a small memorial for the plane that crashed into this mountain in 1955.
Truly, it was hard to believe how still and dark the night had become at 12015 feet. The semi-humid air must have been in the mid-60's, and the tinitus in my ears brought on familiar sounds because there was nothing else to hear. The bats seemed to have gone elsewhere as had my urge to conquer this now familiar mountain. Halfway down as I trekked while lost in thought, a pikka's nearby call startled me greatly. I turned in time to see the gray rabbit-like animal scurry across several rocks before vanishing. It was always a privilege to spend time in the dwellings of such seemingly fragile high-altitude creatures that could live through oftentimes violent, merciless winters.
The perfect conditions held for the rest of the hike, and instead of camping somewhere near the trailhead, I embarked on the three-hour drive west. This had been no huge conquest, I thought, but I couldn't have been more pleased than to have been going home with the summit experience to speak of to friends and family.
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