How do you stay awake, after the alarm comes to life at 0300 hours? After a couple of cups of coffee, an omelette prepared by my loving wife at 0330… why it’s all about some loud (inspirational) music blaring in the truck as I motor on out to climb another of Colorado’s famous “14ers”, 54 defined peaks in the state that rise above 14,000′.
With four bars present on my iPhone, I dial up some fiery Louisiana Blues and on comes Clarence Frogman Henry wailin’ on some tune called, “I Ain’t Got No Home”: perfect.
So while a lonely pair of headlights makes it way along remote dirt roads to a trailhead some two hours away, I’m mentally preparing for a very long, long day. The plan unfolds:
0300: Wake up your sorry 58 year old butt,
0400: Drive off for a two hour’s drive through the Colorado Rockies
0600: Arrive at the Missouri Gulch Trailhead
1430: Return to the Trailhead, open up cooler, savor one tasty IPA
1500: Drive back home
1700: Arrive back home and stumble on in to regale wife with heroic tales of mountaineering…
Yeah, plans. At least it’s a nod to some serious and responsible planning, but things always slip. And so, as the sun began to rise, painting the the tips of the pretty mountains surrounding me on all sides, so my mood and anticipate rose as well. It was going to be another fully-charged, great day to be alive!
Pulling into the parking area on time, I had expected to see a good number of cars. Most serious hikers and climbers arrive well before sunrise so that they can summit and come down before the expected early afternoon thunderstorm unleash their fury (lightning, hail, rain…) . Missouri Mountain was my sixteenth attempt, having summited on the prior 14 of 15, the latter unsuccessful due to a nasty hail storm near the summit! (Mt. Lindsey).
Over the pretty bridge over the creek I went, hoping not to encounter any enterprising, toll-taking Trolls, a gateway to the upper basin on a perfect day! From the research, I knew I’d be in for a good 10 miles (16 km) of hiking (roundtrip) with a total elevation gain of 4,712′ (~ 1,420 meters). Barring any ugly weather or surprisingly challenging terrain, this could be reasonably done at my slow pace.
And up I went; over the wobbly, skinny logs over the upper creek, up the steep trail, past the remnants of an old log cabin and them up onto an amazingly beautiful basin with a clear and robust creek flowing down in the middle. Frogman Henry’s catchy, little blues tunes were still ringin’ in my old ears when I came upon another hiker, a guy originally from Louisiana stopped at a fork in the trail at around 12,600′: Dave.
“Hey! Fantastic morning to be alive, ain’t it?”, I said to him enthusiastically
“Heck yeah! But, I’m totally gassed. Not sure I want to continue. Climbed a 14er yesterday…”
“Oh man! Two in two days?”
I’ve found that there are typically two types deep in the wilderness; those who really want to be left alone… and then… people like Dave and I who enjoy the surprise of finding like-minded people with stories to share along the trail. And so, having planned to drop my pack at this point for a decent break before heading up the steep wall to the saddle above, another good 1,300′ or so on slippery scree and rock trail, I spent time to chat with Dave.
After about 10 minutes, I politely broke and told Dave that if I did not keep on truckin’, I’d be doomed… a mental thing. He laughed and waved me on, wishing me well as I did him.
After about 10 minutes of pure “Hell on Steep Scree”, something told me to look back; and there slogging up the mountain was my new buddy for the day, Dave! I did not want to get into his personal space so I kept on my pace up the mountain and planned for another decent break at the saddle. Only a couple of minutes behind, Dave crested the ridge and once, again, we picked up our effortless conversation from our point about 1,300′ below in the valley! Next stop: the Summit of Missouri Mountain!
“Hey… why don’t we hang together on this last 0.7 miles (1 km) to the summit. Looks a little sketchy.”, I suggested
And for the balance of the climb and the descent back down to the trailhead, we teamed up for an epic day on top of the world! Dave told me that he was an EMS Tech and I tried to impress him with my having recently joined my county’s mountain Search and Rescue! All good along the ridge.
On the way down was a dude in his late 50s or so, with a smile that seemed to stretch from one end of the horizon to the other. Mental note that would serve me well later that day…
The photos included pretty much speak for themselves. It was a fantastic day and we were mildly delirious to return to our respective vehicles in the parking lot after a long day, particularly for Dave who had bagged two 14ers in as many days!
After crossing the bridge, I had the pleasure to meet Dave’s wife and friendly Lab, both who had climbed with him the day before. Then, perhaps the funniest part of the day unfolded.
Sitting behind my pickup truck in the parking lot, flip-flops on instead of boots (!), one IPA going down the old gullet, a lady’s voice calls out from across the lot…
“How was your climb?”
“Uh… great! Thanks!”
“Mind if I ask what mountain your were on?”
“Did you happen to see a guy with a bushy, red beard (not her words exactly)?”
“Yeah! I saw him! He looked very happy to have summited!”
So we began to chat and realized that he should have been down before us. We had not seen him along the one trail heading down and I got a little concerned… as I realize, in retrospect, so was she.
Something dogged me as I bade her farewell and drove off; a feeling that I should not have left before her husband returned. Darn… bad call. Lesson learned.
Then, about six miles farther down the dirt, forest road I see him under a tree! Without looking in my rearview mirror, I instinctively (and rather dramatically) slam on my brakes effecting a massive dust storm behind me…
“Hey there! Your wife is waiting for you at the parking lot!”
Ha, ha, ha… life is funny, eh? “PJ” jumps into my truck for the ride back to the trailhead. Turns out, we both fled Maryland for Colorado and are both now hooked on climbing! PJ, looking very relieved, kinda looks like a more fit and outdoorsy version the bearded fella of the Grateful Dead.
I laugh all the way home, reflecting on this hilarious and satisfying day, set in a dramatic terrain filled with like-minded explorers all drawn to the beauty of this magnificent landscape.
… another day not wasted. Check.
“I’m a lover not a fighter…”, the Louisiana Blues lyrics carry me all the way home to my loving wife.