Warm and dry in my tent. 12,000 feet in elevation. A good tent, sleeping bag, thermorest, backpack, water filter, stove, down jacket, raingear, and boots. Relatively inexpensive items. I spend more on my mortgage payment every month. Recession? No problem. All the major corporations can go belly up tomorrow. We worry so much about the economy when all we really need costs about $1500. And at that number, you will have good, lightweight gear. Now you can walk where you wish in comfort. What about the winter weather, you say? Well then do what the rest of nature does. Go where it’s warm! If you start walking in October, you can be in Florida by December. But let’s not be silly, take the bus! The nomadic lifestyle. What about food, you say? Gear will wear out and need to be replaced. Well then, you had better learn a trade, my friend. Learn to fix something. Or cook, farm, construct, play music, sing, dance, weave, heal, bake! The world needs your services. Be useful. Your assistant public relations manager position won’t last. What does that even mean? What exactly is it. . . ya do here?
Basic necessities. That’s what we’re talking about here. Loose the gadgets, loose the bills, go buy some decent backpacking gear, and explore the world! The gear is good NOW. Not like the heavy, leaky, bulky, cotton/canvas gear of the 80’s. Today’s gear is remarkable. The best thing to come out of technology so far. Camp gear. I can lose my house, lose my job, lose my car, wallet, cell phone, but I’ll always be able to go backpacking and hit the road to amazing, unfathomable, stupendously beautiful places like the Uncompaghre Wilderness. And that, my friend, is true freedom.
This is the most beautiful alpine wilderness I’ve ever seen. Pristine. Remote. Ridiculous scenery. The rocks shoot straight up out of the earth here. Huge slabs shooting 13,000 to 14,000 feet. It looks like Switzerland, just like the guidebook said. Only better. I’ve been to Switzerland, but this is Colorado. Much greener here at the higher elevations. The faces of the rocks are covered with living green velvet almost all the way to the top. Waterfalls cascade down their slopes. How can so much water come out of the top of a mountain? This always baffles me. Thousands of gallons go rushing by every minute. It hardly seems feasible.
A giant shark fin, shooting thousands of feet out of the earth, is behind my tent. On the other side a rock castle, 14,000 feet tall. The sound of rushing water fills the basin. And the trees. I’ve not seen trees like this in Colorado. The pines must be a hundred feet tall and some are 3 feet thick. Perfectly spaced apart. If a world renowned landscape artist planted trees in a city park, I doubt they could pull off the aesthetic placement of these pines. You can’t have a forest fire here. The trees are too far apart and the ground cover is lush green grass and wildflowers glistening with dew. And then there is Cow Creek Canyon. So remote and inaccessible, they can only build trail on the very outskirts, with views into the abyss. No trails actually lead into the canyon.
It’s Saturday night, and for all the Jeeps, SUVs, ATVs, OHVs, SOBs on the road to Engineer Pass, there’s no one up here. Probably back in their RVs watching satellite TV. It really is a shame you can’t go to a campground anymore and camp among people in tents. When it becomes dark, there’s no one in sight. Just me. Sitting in my camp chair, listening to Calexico, and sipping on a whiskey and coke. A generator kicks on and kills the silence. Better turn up the tunes. Luckily, the generator goes off at 10pm. But all the more reason to go backpacking! No, you can’t have your cooler of beer, your stereo, your portable toilet, portable shower, satellite TV, grilled burgers. But you can have all of that at home. This is supposed to be an adventure.
I lie in my tent. A distant animal makes a strange and eerie sound like a loud whisper. I heard this same sound earlier today and thought people were behind me. My eyes get heavy. I start to drift off to sleep. The many voices in the gurgling stream should make for some interesting dreams.
Lots of rain last night. Thunder and lightning. And then another shower around 8 am this morning. But now, the sky is blue, the sun is up, and the coffee is ready. Everything sparkles and glistens with water and sunshine. A clear brisk morning, but with the heat of the sun on my back. An elk in the distance bugles. Birds sing. I smile. I’m grateful to be alive. To be here. Now. Very excited about the terrain I get to cover today. With 12 more hours of daylight, I will have plenty of time to do it. First, a glimpse into inaccessible Cow Creek Canyon. Then a 13,000 foot pass. And eventually, a river crossing. From the looks of this wilderness so far, it should be nothing short of spectacular.
When I’m in the wilderness, the feeling of being in the NOW is so overwhelming that I almost feel like I should force myself to think about other areas in my life. Reflect on things. It’s as if I say to myself, let’s think about my job and how I can improve it. My self replies, “What job? Are you at work right now?” Well no, I say. “Look around you, what more do you want? Is the view not perfect? Are you not warm, dry, well fed, and happy?” Well yes, I say. And then silence. A cry of a raven. And then more silence. I smile and just fall back into nowness.
Less than an hour into my hike I stop to get out my journal. There is so much beauty around me right now, I must stop to report. Cow Creek Canyon consists of sheer rock walls dropping some 4,000 feet straight to the bottom. You can never develop this terrain. You can’t even build trail. This is truly wild wilderness. Unreachable. Sacred. Tear-jerking. You must leave all developed areas to realize that the earth is absolutely perfect. There is no possible improvement to be made here.
I tiptoe through manicured gardens of pink, blue, purple, and red flowers. Flowers mastering the art of being a flower. Marmots cry out from everywhere, peeking their heads up in curious mischief. They seem to be having a great day. Calling and answering to each other from across the valleys. A lot can be learned from the Marmot. They use what mother nature has provided from them. A boulder field provides rock houses, or rather rock castles for them, with all of their various tunnels and chambers to hide and play in. Note to self, add Marmot to the list of animals I would like to be. Of course, the high soaring bird is first on the list. And for good reason. Gravity becomes their toy as they soar on a thermal for hours and suddenly dive 5,000 feet, only to ascend again. They have mastered being alive on earth. Climbing a 14er with a few flaps of their wings, stopping for a peek, then descending for a drink of water and a snack.
Me, I’m happy to look at the peaks from below. I see no need to climb them. They look majestic enough from below. Besides, why exert all that energy? I am lazy by nature. It makes no difference how many miles I do, how fast I do them, or how much elevation I’ve climbed/descended in a day. Sure, they are interesting statistics to look at afterwards, but what matters to me is how much ecstasy did I feel? How close to God did I get? How closely did I really inspect the tiny flowers, ferns, clovers, and tiny jungles of plant life under my feet? How much love did I pour into the rocks and trees? How much love did I feel coming back?
Everything is in its perfect place here, yet perfectly out of order. I think people are growing tired of straight lines and boxes. Who needs them? Correct grammar? A complete sentence? I don’t want a complete sentence! I want to feel! I want words to pierce my soul taking me exactly to the thought the writer had when they wrote what he or she wrote. Give me that one perfectly placed word, real or made up, that makes me stop reading and just BUZZ. An out of body experience, that’s what I want when I read. Is that too much to ask? You can have your complete sentences. And the same goes for music. Who really wants to hear a song played note for note in perfect key and tonal quality? I want to hear the key of life! The perfect note, played at the perfect moment, that is so fresh, so unexpected, that you grin from ear to ear and scream! You can learn a lot from the undisturbed, unorganized, uncomparable, Uncompaghre Wilderness.To Be Continued. . .