HIGH ALTITUDE ADVENTURE: SKIING AT 13,000 FEET
PART 1 of 2
March 26, 2012
“We pushed forward about 30 yards at a clip. Then caught our breath! Hammered another 30 yards! Stopped to breathe! Always, we looked up to the prize at 13,000 feet. Don’t let me kid you; it takes guts, gumption and hard core determination to slog up a mountain peak—especially in winter. Could we die? Sure, we could meet our maker. But heck, living full-out until we die is more fun. Is it cold? Sure, but we layer up.” Journal entry, FW
Under a rising sun and blue sky, we turned into the Crane parking lot at the head of the 10th Mountain Hut trailhead just down from 10,400 foot Tennessee Pass in the Colorado Rockies. Around us, lodge pole pines grew thick to the west of us. Eastward, aspirin white snows covered the valley, which featured a frozen river meandering southward. Beyond it, enormous mountains pierced the sky. A brisk wind greeted us upon opening the car doors.
“Yow! It’s a tad chilly,” said Al.
“No kidding,” I said. “It may be worth it to add some layers.”
“Looks like Steve and Eric started out on another trailhead,” Al said, talking about our friends that would meet us for this hut trip. “We’ll bump into them at the cabin.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said as I hauled my 45 pound pack out of the car. “Let me get these skins slapped onto my skis and I’m ready to go.”
“I’ve got my snow shoes laced up,” Al said. “This pack seems to get heavier every year we take this hut trip.”
“You gotta stop bringing two pounds of cookies and five pounds of chips and salsa,” I said.
“Yeah, right!” Al said, smiling. “Let’s get moving.”
We hiked up the road about a half mile to where an arrow pointed toward a mountain meadow filled with seven feet of snow. Pines surrounded us and grew thicker as the mountain sloped upward.
“Let’s do it,” Al said. “Hey, look up above you.”
“I’ll be darned,” I said. “A stellar jay looking for a handout.”
We stepped into our gear and headed up the mountain. Not far into the woods, a squirrel jumped from branch to branch while he chattered at us like a repeating record. He didn’t like us invading his territory.
My friend John Muir said, “How many hearts with warm red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining? A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.”
We pushed past the chattering squirrel with our eyes searching for the blue markers that denoted the trail. While we carry compasses and topographical maps, it’s nice to see the blue diamonds showing us that we are on the right path. Within a half mile, we reached a frozen lake. We crossed it as the sun blazed overhead.
As Al pushed ahead, I noted the deep forest around us. I reveled in the silence, the quiet of the snow and the slight breeze rustling through the evergreens. Something about that “sound” that calms my soul and uplifts my spirit. I love leaving the car behind, the pavement and the cacophony of civilization. It’s been said that the Great Spirit, as the Indians referred to Him, created snow to fall softly on the ground to give a blanket for all creatures to find solace from winter winds. Above it, nature’s motions illustrate the circulation of life, of spirit and of energy pulsing throughout the wilderness.
As the slope pitched steeper, I noticed my breath quicken and my heart beat faster. I felt the clean mountain air coursing through my lungs. A mountaineering trip lets a man’s body know it’s alive. I think Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of humanity to elevate itself by conscious endeavor.”
As we drew deeper into the wilderness, we undoubtedly elevated ourselves as we climbed from 8,500 to 9,000 feet and upward still. The trail led us through hard packed snow. Soon, we reached a bridge over a frozen stream. On the bridge, the snow rose over four feet deep. Other backcountry skiers had packed it down.
“Let’s take a picture,” Al said.
After the shot from the “Shutter bug of the Rockies”, we began climbing hard up a steep grade. My breath drew deep drafts of life-giving oxygen into my heaving lungs. It’s moments like this that I am grateful for my existence, for my body and for my ability to ambulate through this world. I am thankful for the slowness and exertion.
We slogged upward until we hit a ridge that snaked through the trees. Unexpectedly, it dropped down into a depression, but quickly regained itself. We worked our way through an aspen grove with more squirrels chattering at us. Above, a hawk soared across the treetops on his morning breakfast patrol.
We stopped for a rest in a quiet glen. Unshouldering the packs gave a sudden relief from the weight on our bodies. A long swig of water quenched our thirst and slicing up an apple gave us renewed energy.
Thoreau said, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air; drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each. Let them be your only diet, drink and botanical medicines. Be blown on by all the winds. Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Al.
“Let me hoist this torture chamber back onto my shoulders,” I said, “and let’s get going. I figure we can reach the cabin before nightfall.”
Once again, the trail climbed steadily upward. We followed it through a tunnel of pine trees. My skis swished over the ice crystals and Al’s snowshoes crunched down on the white carpet with every step.
As we climbed, high mountain peaks jumped up in front of us. The pines thinned with the altitude as we crossed over 10,000 feet and on to 11, 000 feet. Big open glades featured burned-out trunks from long ago. Ahead, 13,209 foot Homestake Peak made its presence known. It cut like a giant shark’s tooth into a cobalt sky.
Two more hours later brought us into wide open fields of glistening snow.
“Another mile should get us to the cabin,” Al said.
“We’re standing inside a huge mountain basin,” I said. “That big old 13er can’t wait to see us standing at the top tomorrow.”
“I’m ready for some hot chocolate and a nice fire,” said Al.
“Let’s do it, dude,” I said.
Late in the afternoon, the heavy packs took their toll on our bodies. We felt the fatigue of pushing into the high country. After rounding a stand of lodge pole pines, we saw the cabin set up against the mountains at 11,200 feet. We punched over the snowy land until we reached the cabin. Amazingly, it stood empty. We pulled our gear off and unloaded the packs from our shoulders. We unlocked the door and entered.
The cabin featured a full kitchen with dishes, glassware and silverware on plentiful shelves. A 100 year old cook stove stood in the middle of the kitchen. Two picnic tables made up the dining area. At the far end, a black stove with plenty of wood awaited. Upstairs, sleeping area for 18 people in wooden bunks. One could watch the stars while falling asleep as windows surrounded the entire upstairs. On the walls downstairs, pictures of 10th Mountain soldiers in full ski gear. Around the entire cabin downstairs, huge 4’X 4’ windows. A huge deck out front featured log benches for watching sunsets and stars. Out back, two outhouses.
“Home for the next two days,” Al said.
“I’m cooking up some water for hot chocolate,” I said. “It looks like Steve and Eric are still on their way.”
We lounged around the cabin. Several gray jays perched on the railings around the deck expecting possible handouts. West of us, out the big bay window, we saw Homestake Peak rising into the blue sky.
“It’s going to be a great climb tomorrow,” Al said. “I hope the weather and temps are as good as today’s.”
Within an hour, we watched Steve and Eric emerge from the woods on the high side of the mountain.
“Dudes,” I said. “Glad to see you.”
“Great trip up,” Eric said. “Nice to finally get to this cabin. I’m tired of pulling this sled all day.”
“I like your idea of pulling a plastic sled rather than humping a heavy backpack,” Al said.
They unpacked and made themselves comfortable. We fired up the main stove and warmed the place. Eric, ever the baker, brought his own cheesecake protected in a plastic container. Steve, a college instructor, fire fighter and engineer who had traveled to Antarctica, also enjoyed culinary talents of a top flight chef.
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“I have never turned down a good dinner,” he said. “Food is the foundation of happiness.”
“Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said that God made beer so men could be happy?” I said. “Maybe you are the 21st century answer to Ben’s wisdom.”
“Why not?” said Steve.
That night, the fire burned brightly as we sat in a horseshoe circle around the fire place. Outside, without any moon, the stars twinkled against an ink black sky. A quick stepping out onto the deck allowed us to see major constellations such as Orion, the Big Dipper, Andromeda and Aries. Saturn twinkled and we think we saw Jupiter taking its spot in the night sky. Without any light pollution from cities, the night sky became very personal. For Part two click below.
Click here for part -----> 2,
Listen to Frosty Wooldridge on Wednesdays as he interviews top national leaders on his radio show "Connecting the Dots" at www.themicroeffect.com at 6:00 PM Mountain Time. Adjust tuning in to your time zone.
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Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His published books include: "HANDBOOK FOR TOURING BICYCLISTS"; “STRIKE THREE! TAKE YOUR BASE”; “IMMIGRATION’S UNARMED INVASION: DEADLY CONSEQUENCES”; “MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURE TO ALASKA: INTO THE WIND—A TEEN NOVEL”; “BICYCLING AROUND THE WORLD: TIRE TRACKS FOR YOUR IMAGINATION”; “AN EXTREME ENCOUNTER: ANTARCTICA.” His next book: “TILTING THE STATUE OF LIBERTY INTO A SWAMP.” He lives in Denver, Colorado.
His latest book. ‘IMMIGRATION’S UNARMED INVASION—DEADLY CONSEQUENCES.’