This is very tongue-in-cheek and cynical. So if you have a problem with calling a hiking partner out, this isn't for you; or...maybe it is!
I stood there in the comfort of my warm Asolo hiking boots and watched my hiking partner plod up the trail at a glacial pace. I was truly in awe. I mean, I've seen some real winners over the years in the torpid and comatose category, but this was quite possibly the first ever instance where my partner was either a sleep, moving backwards or dead. She forced me to take a step every few hours to keep pace. This let my mind wander to all sorts of queries, worries and questions: Am I going to die out here? Will I make the summit? Did I remember to feed the cat? Will the beer I brought actually make to the summit 'fore being drank? Will I makeit back down before Christmas...of 2019? Then I remembered, I don't have a cat; I sighed with relief. As things go, I reasoned that there were worse places to spend Purgatory; Florida comes to mind, as does Mt. Bross and Mt. Princeton. And I'm sure being forced to watch Nicholas Cage movies would qualify. But hey! I'm in the San Juan's!
Colorado has so many gems and treasures in between its' borders that it would take a lifetime to list them all without ever detailing why. The Sangre de Cristo's have remarkable, solid rock and some wicked-cool old growth forests. The Sawatch are 'Hills like White Elephants.' The Front Range is like a Yahtzee cup of pretty much everything. Throw a dart at the wall and you'll find something ya like. The Elks are like a scrappy, well-seasoned Hockey player who is both to be respected and not trusted (paging Claude Lemieux!)
. The San Juan's are overflowing with ghosts, tales, riches & ore, cold water and some seriously-ass craggy peaks (Pilot Knob
The reason for all those mining towns and failed, hardscrabble dreams is a mineral-rich supply in the local dirt. You see, once upon a time before some giant lizards were running around kicking ass and taking names, these two massive tectonic plates started courting each other. They didn't care for one another, so they reared up in defiance and intransigency of one another. Pinnacles and apogees like: Uncompaghre, Mt. Sneffels, Ulysses S. Grant, Peak Nine and the like are showcases of this geologic maelstorm. But where there's calamity, volcanism is sure to follow. This is how the San Juan's got all those great little gems and minerals interlacing the veinous-red rock. Than came the glaciers. These bad-boys carved out the valleys and ravines before stopping at the Ouray Hot Springs for a long soak and a beer.
Then fast-forward a few years. Some seriously stalwart miners came along and threw themselves upon the land like confetti. They vivisected the land and practiced their "Dig-Dug" gaming skills almost to a fault. They left us questions, ciphers and chemical time-bombs. Now, we have a colourful playground full of mysteries and unknowns. It's abundant with promise, pleasures, pictures and some crazy-ass Texans driving their rented Jeeps around like coked-up ants.
Half Peak was NOT on my objective list for the weekend. The Pole Creek Group, Bent & Carson Peaks, a few unnamed 13ers and getting drunk were. The beneficial problem of chasing lists, is one gets to explore the lesser known and arcane parts of the back country that the horde must disdain for introductory sojourns. Basically, that means plan on being solo or in limited company.
What I do like about Cataract Gulch is that it's heavily wooded, Aspen trees abound lower in the gulch replaced by Evergreen's and Douglas Fir's higher up. Earlier in the morning, there were so many 'golden coins' on the ground, I thought we might run into Charon, adding more river passage fare to his increasing treasure. I was thankful this one time my hiking partner was channeling her inner sloth. Cataract Lake, a mere four miles distant, releases a cornucopia of arteries and veins. The mercurial threads bend and twist as they cascade down the valley leaving no shortage of river/log crossings. Higher up, they almost seem to seek out boulders and boilerplate slab resulting in lots of mini-waterfalls reminiscent of New England.
As we struggled up the trail and I do mean struggled, fact, I felt like I was dragging her up the trail
, we ran in Mike! I haven't seen Mike in years, not since when I used to live in Vail. We talked for a little while and caught up as best one can in ten minutes then wished each other well. He was after what I was going to go do, the Pole Mountain Group. I was envious. But I committed to this train wreck I was part of.
We kept our syrupy progress upwards and what? What's that? Is that what I think it is, treeline? Oh joy! Praise be to Allah, Vishnu & God! Praise be to Joe Pesci, Sam Kinison and George Carlin! For the first time all day, I could feel my heart rate actually rise above 85bpm. Was it due to excitement or something else? But than I quickly reprimanded myself for getting worried about a cat I didn't feed that I didn't even own. That lowered my heart rate back to dead.
We came to another stream crossing. I hopped up on the logs and trotted over. Once I reached the other side, I watched my partner take the low road and walk across the iced rocks and then.....down she went in the drink. She struggled up and hobbled over to a giant log and sat down on the ground. She looked shaken & scared. She was shivering. I was shivering too but only because of standing around doing nothing, watching this Mickey Mouse circus unfold in front of me.
"I am cold. Will you get me my warm jacket?"
Scratching my head, looking very confused, "Ah, sure. No problem." I pulled out about 2-3 days' worth of food (I'm looking seriously confused now) and found her puffy. I handed it over to her. She continued to sit, holding her jacket. I watched her with some super serious WTF fascination & confusion. Her cuffs were wet to be sure. One boot was wet, the other looked OK. Nothing on her torso or even upper legs. She put on her jacket while sitting down.
"Oh, I think I am going to faint!
Kiefer, I do not feel so good, I feel woozy." I looked around me hoping there were hidden camera's and Alan Funt.
"But..., you slipped in a couple inches of water. What's the problem?" I stared at her completely befuddled. "I've friends who done much worse than that and they just keep going." I continued to stare at her hopelessly confused. I thought, 'What is going on around here?' But lo, what is this I hear? Voices are coming to save me! Another opportunity for freedom! As my hiking partner gently rocked herself and attempted to get up, here comes Al, Scott and Otina.
They took pity on me and stayed and talked with us. When my hiking partner had finished picking up all the pieces of her wet pride, we all hiked together up the trail. I thought good and hard how to get out of this mess I was in and join Scott, Al and Otina up Quarter Peak. But I just couldn't find anything. I watched my life preserver float away and felt my enthusiasm dry up for even being there. At Cataract Lake, I went through the usual routine of food, drink and taking pictures. Though I threw in a couple new things I don't usually do; I took a
short video and found a nice rock to repeatedly bash my head against.
I absolutely love the tundra. The alpine never fails to lifts my spirits. Down in the forests and valley's, even despite man's attempts to carve out roads, trails and campgrounds, things can feel clustered and hemmed-in. It takes on an almost claustrophobic feel sometimes. Despite this, it's quite pretty and even sometimes, sublime. The Evergreen's, Aspen's and Cottonwood's feel like a patchwork quilt offering security and safety from the night. However, simultaneously, they also threaten 'Grimm-esque' mysteries and possible dangers. In the alpine world, there is no time for claustrophobic feelings. It feels like the whole world is within reach. There is no hiding. It's this comfort and insignificance that gets me out of bed at zero-dark-thirty. I don't know if anyone else will agree, but when I'm sitting lakeside at 12,800', standing on a summit or traversing a plateau, I get this feeling that, 'This is all mine!' I don't get that down in the forests.
I led the way across the tundra following a social trail and occasional pikes. We hit the CDT/CT and started our traverse west across the lower slopes of a minor peak. This is where I decided I had enough and started to hike at my own speed. I reached the base of the slope we wanted, sat down and enjoyed the silence around me. During my Zen moment, something dawned on me; this woman is full of bullshit! All morning, I've been hearing of her hiking and climbing exploits in places like: Iceland, Germany, Argentina, Atlantis, Canada and Alaska. She has logged an inscruitable amount of hours on the glacier in Greenland, Alaska and Svalbard (Norway). She's taken her kiddos rock climbing while they were only a few years old. So I'm assuming I'm hiking with Betty Badass. That opinion of mine was put under suspicion within the first 15 minutes but I spent all morning mulling it over. Someone with that kind of pedigree, shouldn't be acting like this. The clincher for me was her performance when she fell in the creek. I mean, look at guys like: Ken Nolan, Gerry Roach, Mike Garret etc. Those guys have every reason in the world to be slow and gimp from 40+ years of abuse and yet, they still kick everyone's ass.
So even if I were to assume after umpteen years of traveling, climbing, navigating, glacial travel etc.. and considering everyone's bodies don't rebound or age the same, this would certainly explain her lackadasial, almost disinterest in what she/we were doing. And then there's the hidden dilemma of her zero navigational skills. And this is something that should actually improve with age and hone itself. She asked for someone to accompany her up Half Peak. Is it not reasonable to expect that she's done her homework and research on the area? Maybe perhaps, studied some topo maps or read prior reports? Instead, I'm wondering literally all morning and afternoon, if she even knows what trail we're on. Instead, I'm also wondering how this woman even finds the kitchen in the morning. So I concluded...BULLSHIT
. There were probably some accuracies to be sure but otherwise, she was spinning one hell of a long yarn at my expense.
"Whew. That traverse was really hard on me." She said as she shook, sputtered and stalled to a stop before me.
"What did you think of all that scree?"
"I think I did not like it so much." looking up the slope. "Is this where we..."
"Huh, that's wonderful!" I said enthusiastically interrupting her. "Let's go." I stood up and started hiking not really caring if she was following. In fact, I noticed my attitude and demeanor were darkening, taking on a more curt tone. I personally have no problem with confrontation or speaking my mind if the situation calls for it. But I didn't feel like now was the time. Roughly half-way up the slope, she asked again, "Are you sure this is the correct way?" I came within a dime's-edge of snapping. 'No.' I thought. 'I'm just doing this for my fucking health.' I ignored her question and continued to hike upwards. Under my breath, I muttered,
'The Chinaman is not the issue here,
Dude...also Asian American please.'
"What? I did not hear you."
"It's nothing. Just making some mental observations" while shaking my head with a fake smile.
When we reached the volcanic, craggy neck separating the upper plateau from the tilted summit, I was asked to help her across. For those of us who've been across this, I'd say at most, this section would warrant at best, a cranky class-2.
Watching her...I don't know what the right word is here: attempt, crawl, learning to walk on ice...I was having another one of those
WTF moments, like watching a pika rape a marmot. I finally snapped a bit and exasperatingly said, "...For the love of God. Just. Walk. Across! Follow the social trail. I don't understand what the problem is." Watching her, I honestly thought, 'did she have a hip replacement, ankle replacements or worse?' It took us 20 minutes to get across. Remember earlier when I said 'Something didn't feel right with this woman's stories?' Well, yeah. But I digress.
Once I reached the summit, I located the true cairn and methodically sat down. Methodically because, I took far too long finding a place to sit, opening my pack, looking for my camera etc. I felt like a schmuck. I felt like I was duped, like I was played. I was disappointed in myself for letting my whole day be sabotaged by this slow-moving brushfire. It's terribly hard these days to get time off work let alone days off together. I hadn't done anything 'at altitude' in some time because of work commitments and relationship obligations. So I was really looking forward to this weekend. I sent out a few texts and enjoyed my summit beer (Grimm Brothers
). Looking around I thought, 'Half Peak is basically a half-brother to Mt. Bross.' But it does get brownie points for being in the San Juan's.
We started back down. This time at the neck, I stayed within two steps of her, holding her hand in 'especially dangerous & hazardeous' spots. I ran down the slope seeking out the scree and loose stuff. I have this weird, half-jump ski thing I do where I make gravity work for me. It's stupid fast but it does take a toll on ones boots. I descended the 1,000' slope in just under 13 minutes. I kept quiet for the trek back to the lake. I didn't talk or volunteer anything unless she asked. But even then, she sensed my anger and even she stopped talking. Once we picked up the trail just below the lake, I put on the afterburners. I felt it prudent to just leave vs. make a scene. I made the trailhead at 6:30pm. I descended in 90 minutes and that includes stopping at a beaver pond for a few watching a beaver retrieve sticks. Damn those things are ugly.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfnbxQiCKU8Cataract Lake video
Back at the campsite which, was large enough to accommodate four-five vehicles, I checked in with Jerry and John. I hadn't seen Jerry since we were atop the Needle together spreading Terry Mathews' ashes to the winds (among others). We three chatted about the days events. I was entirely too frustrated and 'worked up' to stay the night. I wanted to stay and drink with my friends but that would have entailed seeing her again at camp and at the fire. I would have come unglued. So I left.
And to throw one last stick on my semantical pyre to this woman, since John and his friends didn't pay for the site (It was $7.00, among friends, who cares?), ...., wouldn't let them stay. Seriously? Jesus. Now I knew why this woman has had such a hard time finding partners and an awful time at last years gathering...she's a walking smoking gun.