Like a train now speeding out of the terminal, the lampposts of time seem to be passing by at an ever increasing speed… And, I suppose, one could whine about that or, draft-up a Bucket List and stay busy! Life’s been great, despite my best efforts at tripping myself up. A team of skilled guardian angels still have more time on the clock, إن شاء الله, (God Willing).
2019 was another incredible year in early retirement, having climbed another 10 of the 53 fourteen thousand foot peaks here in Colorado without injury or death. And while it may seem more prudent to give it all up, I feel strangely as if the years have (mercifully) been pealed back to when I was 30 or so. I feel as good as I have ever felt, having shed about 25+ pounds since retirement.
It is a bit unsettling, with all of our “smart” devices, to be targeted now for a myriad of pills, AARP, and Medicare plans. If only they knew; neither my wife nor I take any medications at all! Rather, we medicate ourselves by living a healthier lifestyle of hiking in the mountains in Colorado and walking endlessly on the beaches when in Florida.
Last 4th of July, I found myself in town for the annual parade in the frontier town of Westcliffe (population; 600), pulled up my camping chair and basked in the high alpine sun to a wonderful celebration of the town’s many people on display. Time… it’s having the time to calm down enough to enjoy these precious moments in life. How many years had I spent glued to my iPhone wondering if my next client was going to give me some more business? Always distracted, always stressed… I wondered if that little cowboy realized just how luck he was.
No doubt, getting older kinda sucks in a way. I’m starting to feel some joint pain in my right shoulder and my hands hurt a little after a hard day’s work. But, all else is good shape and I have no intention of slowing down! Ok, well maybe a little. I’ve decided to give up competitive racketball and tennis and even downhill skiing, so that I may continue to hike, climb, kayak, and workout. It seems like a fair trade. No complaints.
Yes, the clock is surely ticking and it’s not likely to stop. So what are our options? Bemoan the slipping away of youth or snap to and shore up our mindset? I’ve learned to choose the latter. There’s so much left to do.
Why not see what is possible in our short lives…? I’ve found that some of the great pleasures of discovery await only when we quietly slip away from the noise and make our way into wilderness.
I’d been climbing up into the Sangre de Cristo mountain range for a couple of years now, ever since retiring early to Colorado from the Washington, DC area. Thankin’ me lucky stars that I’d thought to spend the time to craft a simple plan to break free before we were too old to enjoy our freedom!
And so here now was a chance to return the good Karma that I’d felt when I had gone down to climb in Ecuador shortly after my mother’s death. Reminded me how fleeting life was… Ten years had passed since I had seen Roger. He had led our small group of eager mountaineers for a glorious tour of some of Ecuador’s high volcanos, some of which we managed to summit. Now, it was my turn to repay that favor!
Joe and Emilie and their fun dog, Uschi came rolling up in their customized van, having recently ditched their jobs in Ohio in favor of living on the road! That evening at the house was wonderful, as the wine flowed and the tasty fish sat sizzling on the grill. Great times that, at this age, we knew were precious and certainly worth savoring.
And as the sun set and the Milky Way rose, as it were, anticipation grew as we plotted our upcoming adventures in the mountains across the valley, 18 miles away. Rocking on the chairs on the front porch, I pointed out certain peaks and described the characteristics of each of the valleys, lakes, and cirques. I knew that there was simply no way of making a bad decision!
Loading up my adventure-rigged F-150 the following morning, the four of us piled in for a gnarly ride up a remote forest road to a trailhead up at 9,850′. We’d disembark, grab our heavy packs, and hike up about five miles up to about 12,000′ at the upper South Colony Lakes, spend the night, and then press on for a sweet climb up to the summit of Humboldt Peak, one of Colorado’s 14ers (one of 53 peaks that rise above 14,000′). The promise of blue-bird skies had us on a natural high as we made our way up into the mountains.
It had been ten years since we’d climbed together and back then, I was certainly the weak link, but no more. I’d logged in almost 162,000′ of vertical gain since January and I felt worthy to hang with my bros and sistas. Felt great, both physically and mentally!
Having been up here a few times before, I knew this trail would be a guaranteed hit and, judging from the widening grins of my climbing partners, I could see I had made the right call. With the sun now set well behind the imposing headwalls, it was getting cooler and we quickly deployed our tents, grabbed our fishing poles and made our way to the lake to fish.
While I must admit that my fishing skills lacked in a big way, thankfully Roger (pictured at right of photo, above, snagged a sweet trout within the first couple of tries! Bonus! We’d grill her up and split the prize among us, making a rather Spartan meal of mashed potatoes topped with fish!
Despite the great weather and it being Labor Day Weekend, we found ourselves all alone at the upper lake! Incredible, but we’d happy for that. And so the evening’s conversation flowed effortlessly as we enjoyed great company, our day’s accomplishment, and the glorious scenery around us. Perched high on a rock outcropping, we each silently thanked our good health and good fortunes.
It’s funny how the simple things in life give us the most pleasure. For me, some of the best moments come after struggle and discomfort, being far from “civilization” for a spell, so that we may regenerate our tired souls…
Once the sun set, we found ourselves eager to retire for the evening in anticipation of tomorrow’s climb to the summit of Humboldt Peak. The setting was indescribably awesome in the purest sense of that overused word.
Rising the following morning at 0400, I caught sight of the headlamps following the trail up across the way to the more technical Crestone Peak and Needles. Spaced apart, the climbers made their way slowly up the talus sloped terrain, gaining the upper couloir then over to the ridge.
Firing up the camp-stove for a quick breakfast prior to our climb, each of us sat in awe of the alpenglow that was lighting up our high alpine world… Nourished, inspired, and ready, Joe, Roger and I set off for the summit, leaving Emilie and Uschi behind. After some debate, we had decided that the large boulder field up higher as well as the 40-50 degree pitch would be a bit much for our four-legged partner. With some sadness, we all turned back to wave back at Emilie and Uschi, promising a safe return!
And up we went…
What fun to be climbing again with my old friends! This time, it was my turn to guide, though Joe quickly like a mountain goat, blasted up way ahead, Roger and I took our time, savoring the unfolding scenes all around us.
As is typical of the upper trails near the summits, we found ourselves in boulderfields marked (thankfully!) by rock cairns. And up we went, slowly, determined.
With the summit in view, we found a swarm of dark clouds making their way up from the south and knew that we’d have a limited amount of time to linger. Views from up here are absolutely phenomenal! Otherworldly, almost, with the dramatic headwall of the Crestone Peaks on the opposite side of the cirque, we savored our hard-won prize, sipped some Spanish wine from our bota, and traded tasty treats to regenerate our tired bodies.
All in all, it was a grand adventure worthy of inclusion in my blog! Not unlike Napoleon’s retreating army from Russia, we eventually dragged our way back to the truck, drove the insanely-rutted forest road back down to green valley below, returned to basecamp back home, dropped into comfy chairs around the fire pit, and poured more than a few glasses of wine as the sun set on the mountains across the way.
And, once again, life is great and spirits renewed!
37°45’12.03″ N 105°32’06.39″ W – Elevation: 8,576′
The naturalist, John Muir, told of the wonders of nature and the magic that happens when we simply take a long, deep walk into it. Ever watch the expression of a child on a trail…?
Somewhere along the way, we’ve become distracted, anxious, and worried when the simple way is right in front of us in plain sight. Somehow, the grip of the screen turns us away from a much larger and far more inspiring one: nature.
Whether it’s a kayak ride along the Intracoastal waters in Florida, a gentle hike up to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia Park in Maine, or an extended mountaineering expedition to South America, the world is waiting for you.
And a wonderful thing happens when you wander into nature, your soul begins to smile and as corny as it sounds, you begin to hear the birds and the gentle winds through the trees and you realize that you are free, at least for today.
Along the trails are others. Others who have found the way. Others who are re-learning the joy of simple discovery once again.
No screens. “No service” And that’s just fine.
Walking up the sand dunes that day, I found myself all alone in this grand space, save for just one other hiker. Each step up required a calmness, lest you sink back down; itself a call to surrender to the moment.
Up over the surrounding valley, about 750 feet of sand below me, I unpacked my lunch and took in the glorious views… all alone but certainly not lonely.
Was that John coming over to visit for a spell?
The old Scotsman smiled as he looked down at me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered…”Is it not a most beautiful morning?”