Backpacking Checklist

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Uncompaghre Wilderness Part 2

“The Flirtiness Of Flowers”

Hiking through cascading waterfalls of flowers of every conceivable color and shape, I can’t help but reflect upon how feminine and sensual flowers really are.  It’s no wonder girls love flowers so much.  And it’s no wonder wild flowers remind me of girls.

They are the ultimate symbol of beauty.  It’s amazing how no two flowers are truly alike.  Focusing on the Columbine for instance.  They are all beautiful in their own way but they have so many different personalities.  The ones that stand out first of course are the ones that appear to be absolutely perfect.  Picture perfect.  Not a flaw to be found.  They are easy to pick out of a bunch.  Sensual and voluptuous, they stop you dead in your tracks.  You can’t stare too long for fear of being ashamed of gawking at these angels of perfection.

Then there are the flirty flowers.  The ones you can’t help but go to.  They beacon you from afar, drawing you in.  You hate to leave.  So you say, “until next time. . .”  making sure the flower doesn’t forget you.

Then there are the intriguingly different flowers.  Imperfectly perfect.  You don’t quite understand them, but you want to.  The beauty seems to be emanating from within.  From some mysterious place that you want a part of.  You walk away glancing over your shoulder for just one more look.

They are all beautiful and I am forever hopelessly attracted to them.  The wild ones.  Not the prissy, all-too-perfect flowers in a vase at the local florist, but the ones who are free flowing.  Free growing.  Dripping with morning dew.  Wild girls.  Wild flowers.  Wild beauty.


Uncompaghre Wilderness

Day 1


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.
Day 2
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. . .

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, AZ




Rainstorm in the desert.  Life to the desert.  The holes in the rock around my camp are filled to capacity.  Violent thunder crashing all around me.  Like freight trains coming from every direction.  Hail.  After days of crackling dry heat, the desert is filled with water.  If only for a few days.  A sense of celebration is in the air.  I sit in my tent, wide-eyed, waiting for the next explosion each time the lightning flashes.  I’m camped next to a sandstone wash.  I wonder if it will flood.  The wash looks like an art masterpiece.  Sensual shapes and curves.  Fine arcs and tunnels sculpted from sandstone by thousands of years of rain just like this one.  When the rain lets up I step from my tent and watch the water, still running down the various channels and grooves in the rock.  Filling each small tinaja.  Gallons of water surround me where there was none only an hour ago.  I stare in amazement at the water which was so scarce for the majority of my trip.  Abundance fills the air.  There is a rainbow.  Thank you.  I’ve felt very guided, taken care of, and watched over on this trip.
When you open up and surrender to the present moment, accept it for all its beauty and amazement, the universe becomes helpful.  Guiding you to all the right places.  Decisions are just decisions.  Either answer is correct.  Just choose.  You will be guided.  Taken care of.  As long as you are grateful.  Aware.
It’s when you fight the present moment that the universe seems to be against you.  Nothing turns out your way.  Every decision is the wrong one.  You get caught up in your mind.  Your ego.  “If only I had done this, or that.”  Life becomes a struggle.
It’s a beautiful day, and the sun is starting to come out from behind the clouds.  I’ve got some hiking to do yet.


A frog, who makes his home under a large rock in the largest water hole comes out to inspect his pond, which has grown to nearly twice its size.  He sees me and freezes.  Not moving a muscle, or even an eyelid.  I freeze too and we both sit completely still for almost five minutes.  Easy for a frog, difficult for a human, but I occupy my time watching cloud formations in the reflection of the water.  After a while, he forgets I’m there.  Short-term memory.  He swims across the small waterhole and under his rock once more.



Indian Creek Wilderness, UT

Complete stillness.  Absolute silence.  Deafening silence.  This is why I came.  The Greater Canyonlands area is special.  It has a very purifying quality.  Calms the mind.  That is, once you are away from the Jeeps, ATVs, motorbikes, etc.  You can get away from them.  Quite easily if you try.  But you have to be willing to walk.  And it’s worth it.
It’s in these places that once you finally get to the point where you’re sitting still, doing nothing but contemplating the red cliffs, the dark canyons, and the blue sky, that you realize you’ve been here all along.  Your whole life.  Right here in this spot.  Just witnessing.
Yes, I have been here before.  On a similar rock, in a similar canyon.  In a mountain meadow above treeline.  On a beach on some distant shore, thousands of miles away.  Yes, I’ve been here before.  I mean HERE.  I’m always trying to get back HERE.  To that place where the mindless chatter finally stops.  Where the details of my life melt away, and all that is left is right here.  Right Now.
My God, I think.  How long has it been this time?  How long has it been since I stopped the mindless chatter in my head?  I can’t remember.  Weeks?  Months?  I stare into the maze of red rock formations over the horizon.  Emotion sets in.  Feelings of love.  Gratitude.  I have found GOD.  Eden.  If just for now.
Morning.  Why am I out here in this desert?  All alone.  Why did I choose to put myself here?  My mind searches for an answer. . .finds none.  It’s cloudy.  The wind has picked up.  I fix myself a cup of coffee while still inside my tent, wrapped up in my bag.  I stare out of the open tent door into the vast sea of sandstone ripples, and to the distant mountain range beyond.
The best spiritual teacher is the desert.  And the mountains.  And the sea.  Mother Nature herself.  Yes, I have been here before.  To this place where my mind stops making so much noise.  True vacation.  A vacation from the self, and a celebration of me.  HERE I AM.  Not the Scott Stillman me, but the eternal me.  The one that doesn’t come and go.  The me that is you, and the rocks, and the sky.  The animals and the plants.  The distant stars, and the sand in my notebook.
Have I ever left this place?  Have I been here all along?  I ask the rocks.  They seem indifferent.  Yes?  No?  What difference does it make, they seem to say.  A raven cries out.  I understand.  The incessant ramblings in between visits, are they real?  Job.  House.  Bills.  Computers.  Internet.  Thoughts.  Cravings.  Worries.  Thoughts.  Thoughts.  Thoughts.  They seem so far away now.
The clouds seem darker on the horizon.  A blanket of peace settles in.  I need nothing.  I so need nothing.
The seed of enlightenment has been sown.  It must be watered to grow.
Morning.  Three inches of snow blankets the red rock and my camp.  Stillness.  Cold.  Thermometer on my pack reads 15°.  My camp is in the shade.  Perfect spot for last night’s snowstorm, but now I want to be in the sun.  I pack up early.  7:45 and on the trail.  The sun is now lighting up everything around me.  Brilliant.  Skipped the coffee this morning, but I’m wildly alert.  And warm.
Now sitting on a perfect sandstone ledge, baking in the sun, it’s time to finally make coffee.  Have breakfast.  Sit in wonder.  It’s a Monday.  Life is perfect.  The snow on the sandstone is magnificent.  Glowing in the sunshine.  Should have brought the camera.  But I forgot it on purpose.  Just another distraction.  Another gadget for my mind to latch on to.  Figure out.  I want to give all my attention to the desert.  Submit to her completely.  I don’t want to photograph her.  I want to become her.
Gratitude.  Love.  Peace.  The only thoughts that come to mind, in between the long gaps of no-thought, are thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  For this moment.  For this life.  For this body.  For this earth.  For my wife.  My family.  A life fit for a king.  Surrounded by beauty, and love.