Flower filled fields filled my sight with beauty, and my nose with the fresh sense of mountains.
The two weeks in early July of 2011 were some of the best days of my life. It was, however, the last time that my family would actually be together climbing mountains. We were together for so long, all of my moments on top of the summits were with my loving and adventurous family. I do regret that it is all falling apart now, but I am helpless. There is nothing I can do, and I guess I just have to accept the fact. Even though the situation is dismal now, I still remember how frivolous and adventurous all of our experiences were back then, when my family was together and whole. I wish it could be like it was back then, but all of that is shattered now, it is too late to turn back the clock to try to make things better. All I can do now is hope for the future, and remember. Even though the things that have happened over the past few months have exacerbated the situation of my life and others, I still hope to be able to explore and have adventures in the future, even though it may not be with the family that I once had, and thought I would always have. I remember those splendid times. However, I am prodigious enough to know that I still have a long life ahead of me so that I can explore the novelties and mountains of the world, even though it may not be with whom I thought. The past few months of my life have been hard, but I hope that these experiences will shape me into the person that I want to be. I want to grow stronger from what has happened to me, and I do not want anything to let me down like this has. I will stay positive, and I am happy that I am still alive because I know that there are people who have it worse off than me anyway, and I am thankful for what I still have now.
Beginning of the Journey
The remnants of the avalanche amazed me. It must have been such power that could have marred the landscape like this.
One of the most memorable trips that I went on during this remarkable vacation was to the Conundrum Hot Springs. That morning I was exuberant. Long backpacking trips are always interesting for me. I love the feeling of sleeping out in the middle of the wilderness where the only light that pollutes the pure black night sky is from the moon and brilliant stars; and where the only sounds disturbing the ominous silence of the night is the rushing water of a nearby river or the breathing and howling of some animals running and hunting through the precarious night. The morning sky was clear and brilliant blue, I hoped that this adventure would be great, yet I was equivocal of what lay ahead. This is actually what I enjoy the most. I love it when I do not know where I am going, or what my path will lead to. Never really knowing what is around the next turn, and each turn bringing a new scene, while the proximity of the destination gets closer. I love this feeling. The feeling of seeing something new, and not knowing what lies ahead.
The trail to the actual campsite destination is about nine miles. It was a long and incessant hike upwards. It starts off in a low valley with meadows and beautiful aspens whose green leaves flutter in the wind where they grow in patches along the valley. Even though the hike up was interminable, the scenery was still spectacular. It always is in Colorado, it always is in the mountains. The mountains have such cold undeniable beauty, so magnificent yet so deadly. A multitude of vibrantly colored flowers sprouted from the recent snowmelt, and the ground was still moist. Lofty peaks bordered the trail on both sides, and the peaks became sharper, higher, and rockier as the trail continued to wind on through the valley. The trail also continues through many avalanches fields, and the flattened trees and lumps of snow with debris in them show evidence of the roaring avalanches that cascaded down into this valley during the winter. Now what was left of the avalanches was a marred landscape, but new growth was sprouting from where the forest had originally been extirpated. Maybe one day my marred life will also sprout new growth from the tremendous avalanches that have fallen on it. The landscape changed from meadows, to aspens, to spruce forests, to snowfields as we continued on. The forests became more spruce then aspen, and became darker and damper as well. The forest about a mile from the actual site was dark and filled with patches of brilliant white snow covered in sparse spruce needles. There were so many rampant rivers to cross as well. In the most precarious parts of the river crossing there were two logs which were cut so that one could cross the river. It was hard to balance with my huge pack swaying from side to side on my back, and I stumbled once but found my footing, knowing that an actual fall would lead to something close to my death if not the actual occurrence. My father had to carry my mother’s backpack over himself so that she could focus just on her own footing and not also the backpack. I wonder if she still remembers how much we all helped each other… I stared into the river while everyone crossed and thought about its strength and speed. I wish I could to be like this, and just strongly flow to my next destination, passing beautiful places. I listened closely and after a few seconds a heard a thundering sound from the river which carried downstream. My father told me that is was a boulder being swept along by the rampant currents. The strength of this frigid snowmelt really amazed me. In other sections, taking off your shoes and rolling up our pants was incontrovertible. The frigid waters were not innocuous and we made sure to take precaution while crossing. After one of the longer crosses my feet were completely numb, and I had to fit on a nearby long at the other side of the river and try to warm them up.
The Hot Spring
Steam rose in white swirls in the chilly morning air.
The warmth of the hot springs provided comfort from the freezing early morning air.
I was weary when I finally crossed the last log bridge and saw the steam of the hot springs rising up into the air where the sun was beginning to set. I was not done though. I wanted to find a good campsite for my family and me to sleep for the next couple of nights. After about an hour of searching above and below the springs, the only good spot that was left was about ¼ of a mile below the springs. This was a nice patch of ground next to a small cliff that was guarded by stunted spruce trees that shielded the cliff from erosion, and a river roared at the bottom of this small cliff. We set up our one two-person tent there and bundled all of our sleeping bags, mats, and clothes inside.
We all dressed into the swimsuits that we had brought with us and continued on to the hot springs. I wrapped myself with a towel I had brought and put on my sandals. The large spring was to the left of the trail, and there were a few logs to serve as a table to put clothes and towels on. I did so and went into the hot spring. The water was hot and murky. It was actually quite extraordinary since there was snow everywhere else. One could literally walk not more than a minute and get some snow. Little bubbles came out from the holes in the ground underneath the water in the middle of the spring. The spring is sort of dammed by human construction. The dam was built out of rocks, and towards the top more pebbles that people had arranged to beautiful forms. I also helped arrange a few of them because I did not really have much else to do.
After we got back to the tent, there was a group of Asians who asked if they could camp near us. Of course we agreed, because, why not? So they did so, and we made small talk throughout part of the evening while everyone ate dinner. I had brought pizza along. Yes, pizza. I love to bring arbitrary and miscellaneous items with me on backpacking trips. It surprises everyone and creates humor, even if it does weigh a little extra. So I had two slices of pizza with me in a Ziploc bag, and I thoroughly enjoyed and them and shared some while everyone else was pretty much eating ramen noodles and dry granola bars. After that we went for another soak in the springs. The warm day changed into a freezing night, which actually made sitting in the hot springs so much more enjoyable. However, I could not afford to get my head wet, since it would just end up freezing over. Not getting any of my hair wet was actually quite a bother because then it seemed like my head and neck were really cold the whole time. It was an awesome experience, and many people sat in the springs talking about very weird things. A few people offered my dad and me a joint, and someone else was explaining the way she cooks the organic food for her cat. Unlike my parents, I thought it was quite humorous, and listened intently to every conversation carried out in the pool.
I lied down to sleep in the middle of the tent, my parents squishing me from both sides since our tent barely fits us. When I think about everything that has happened now, I never even imagined that everything could be so perfect one minute, and the next was such anguish. Back when I was lying in my tent with both of my parents, warm and content, listening to the sound of the river, everything was fine. My life was working out just like I had always thought it would. I wish I would have appreciated it more then, because you never know what will hit you, like it hit me. It was all so sudden and all so unexpected. And in this moment in my tent, I thought that my life would be normal, I never ever even imagined something would ever happen to us. So I closed my eyes and fell asleep listening to the steady rhythm of my parents breathing and the whispering and moaning of the river rushing below.
Day Two- The Climb
We had to cross several huge snowfields in order to reach our destination.
I woke up that chilly morning to my parents rousing me with their voices coming from outside of the tent. We went for another swim, and afterwards packed our backpacks for summiting some mountain that day. I had wanted to climb Conundrum Peak, but my dad had studied it yesterday and decided that it was beyond our reach. I was extremely disappointed because I always love to bag another 14er, and I also believe in my own skill and know that I can climb hard mountains. I wish that I could just be given that opportunity, but it never exists since I am always stuck with my parents who will not become as skillful as I in climbing in the future. One day though, I hope to ascend some real tough mountains, even if it is by myself. I want to show my dad that I was capable all along, maybe he knows this…Maybe he is just afraid to put me in danger, whatever it is, I just wish I could climb something harder and more extreme. However, my father set our sights on something smaller, and there was not much I could do to argue. For now I will practice on what I have, and use the resources at hand.
My father wanted to go up something called Coffee Pot Pass. He showed me the approximate location where it was. I usually do like to hike by myself and be independent, so after about 15 minutes I veered off more to the right and decided to climb the slope diagonally instead of continuing on through Conundrum Basin. I also made sure to hike faster than them, I love the feeling of my heart pounding and my breath being fast and deep. This feeling lets me know that I am working hard and pushing myself to new limits. Walking along pleasurably does not suit me. Even if the mountain is not that hard, I like to do it fast then and take few breaks, it gives me more of a sense of accomplishment and well-being. There was so much snow left that the trail was invisible, and it basically disappeared right at the beginning. This is what let me pick my own trail and continue on by myself. To the right of where the trail was supposed to be, was a very large incline which looked flat at the top, so I decided to go up this diagonally while my parents continued on through the basin. I thought that at this flat top I would have a better vantage point of the surrounding landscape. This was a mistake, I ended up having to crawl through tangled branches of bushes and cross melting snowfields with my crampons by myself. The bushes were probably the worst brown tangled mess I have ever seen in my life. It was an impassable tangle of thin brown branches which I pretty much had to crawl through or walk on top and tangle my legs, arms, and gear in it. After about 2 hours of not seeing my parents and continuing to gain much elevation diagonally, I was getting a bit worried. So I decided to stop at a much larger snowfield where I would be more visible, and where I thought that the lower trail would intercept. Coffee Pot Pass was visible from this vantage spot that I had chosen to rest on, so I could clearly perceive the landscape and tell what is going on around me, which I always like to know. I waited for about twenty minutes, and my dad finally showed up. He was quite a bit ahead of my mother since he was looking for me as well, and decided to speed up a little. We compared our approach trails, and decided that when going back down we would go all the way down to where the Conundrum Basin started and hike down through the valley where the trail actually was.
After that my mother was pretty much taking it slow, and taking many pictures as well, so my father and I continued on through the snowfield and rocky hills sticking out from the snowfields. I truly do hope that now she is not holding this against us. She always stayed behind and took more pictures, but now I begin to wonder if this hurt her feelings. Maybe she really did want to summit with us, but then again, she should have trained with us in the gym if she wanted to keep up. We made sure that those hours on the Stairmaster were not for granted, and I do not think she understands that. Near the actual pass there was a steep ridge of snow on which we had to put our crampons on and proceed percautiously since there was a small frozen lake at the bottom of this ridge into which you could very easily slip. We made it to the pass without incident though.
Coffee Pot Pass and Point 13,550
The summit of Point 13,550. From here I could see the mountain that I had wanted to climb, Conundrum Peak and Castle Peak.
When we got up to the pass, clouds were starting to brew up ahead. I was a bit apprehensive since I did not want to get caught in another precarious snowstorm. Those are just too stressful. However, as it is with my dad and me, we just cannot seem to go mountain climbing without actually summiting a peak. This kind of thinking usually ends up with us sprinting down steep rocky ridges for cover, or trudging down in freezing rain or snow all covered up in coats and gear if it is not thundering. I’m fine with this, some adventure is good. Actually, a lot of adventure is good. What would life be without it? There were small summits to the right and left of Coffee Pot Pass without an actual trail. The one on the left looked sharper and more interesting so we decided to summit that one. It did not take much time at all, and soon we were on the top taking pictures and enjoying the magnificent view. A few class three moves were required towards the top of the summit, but other than that it was not bad at all. The clouds were getting a bit suspicious, but nothing too bad yet. Still, we decided to start descending after numerous pictures at the top. I saw my mother from the summit and waved to her while she stood on an outcrop below taking pictures. I hope she was happy.
On the way back, snowflakes began to fall gently around us but quickly cleared before I had to put on my waterproof gear. We took it pretty easy on the way down and it became very warm since it was a little past noon. We had a lot of time to burn before bedtime, but there is always so much to do in the mountains, exploring is so much fun. The snow was reflecting the sunlight and we all ended up taking off our jackets, and my dad was just in short sleeves. My dad also even laid down in the snow because at one point he got so warm. This is another one of the reasons why I adore Colorado summers. The whole place is filled with meters of snow packed on each other and yet here I am sweating, and my dad with a short-sleeved t-shirt on; it is pretty amazing to me.
Descending into Darkness
When we got back to the campsite we went swimming again two times. We still had some time to burn once we got back, so my mother and I went onto a grassy meadow and found a boulder to lie on. We laid there and dozed for about another hour, just talking and fighting off and stray ants that wanted to steal my snacks. Even now I wish I could have appreciated those fine moments with my mother some more. I miss lying on boulders in the mountains with her and just talking. I know I will continue to miss these moments for a long time, too bad those times are over and gone forever.
That evening when we all went back to the Conundrum Hot Springs, we spoke with people who actually climbed to the summit of Conundrum Peak. I must admit, I envied them. I wish my dad could have a little more courage and faith in our abilities, especially mine. I think, though, that after this conversation my dad did really regret not going to Conundrum Peak. Another thing I did not mention is that the hot springs are clothing optional. The firefighter I was talking to was, well, exercising this right. Luckily, though, the water was very murky since so many people were wading around inside which had lifted the thin layer of tiny sediments on the rocks and ground which then caused the water to become completely opaque. I thought that this was quite humorous though, it was definitely a new experience.
The hike back down was pretty somber. I never like leaving the mountains and going back down. Of course it is always a relief that we accomplished something and nothing happened, but I just wish I never had to go back down to the cities. I wish I could just stay there and enjoy the fresh air, wind, and snow some more. Back where I have to face reality, my life continues to be turbulent. Some things that happen are just irreversible, and you wonder how you ever got in the situation you are in now. If only life was as simple as it used to be. The past few months have been just indescribable, but I do not want to feel that way anymore. I want to let go of everything and live my life, I only have one. So here I am training at the gym almost every day, playing tennis, studying hard, dreaming of mountains…It seems that my life has not changed. I guess to the people in the outside world, my life seems perfect, it seems like I have everything that I want. I know I should be grateful for what I have, but the things that I do have do not matter that much to me. I want something that is intangible, and one day I hope to find it. Until then, I am still searching for meaning in this endless world, and until then I will not feel that content happiness that I want to feel on my deathbed. Sure, the mountains provide me with some of that internal happiness, some escape from reality, that intangible feeling, but there is still so much to search for.
By. Wiktoria Plawska
Any comments on how I can improve this or future reports are much appreciated!!
Staring off into the cold, dangerous, yet magnificent mountains that I have grown to love so dearly...