Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 3
Day 4 of our JWRC Wilderness Trek found us waking up to a beautiful, crisp morning in our Shangri-La meadow. It had been a cold night, with temps probably dipping into the 40s. No worries though. Jordan had loaned me his super-warm, mummy-shaped sleeping bag, so I stayed plenty warm throughout the night. Not so for Jordan. He had brought along a super-tiny, light-weight sleeping bag, and he froze for the better part of the night. Good thing for Jordan though… Bill, our Trek leader had brought along extra sleeping bags, so we could just grab one for him when we went back to the trailhead to grab the rest of the food.
Oh yeah, that part.
I put on all the warmest things I owned and headed out to see what was shaking. After Bill filled my Tervis cup with some hot steaming coffee from the French press, I sat down and realized I was the only person there with a cup that said, “Life is better at the beach.” That concerned me a bit. I looked around at my fellow Trekkers and thought, who ARE these people? Are they INSANE? I am used to vacations where I sit on the beach and do nothing. Maybe read a book. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe take a swim. That’s about it. No heavy lifting involved.
But THESE people… they are FIT, and they do things. They know how to pack a backpack, pitch a tent, and make a cook stove out of some metal pieces that come in a tiny drawstring bag. I was starting to feel a little out of my element, and one thing I knew… there was no way on God’s green earth that I had the stamina to hike all the way back to the trailhead, get the food, hike back up to the Shangri-La meadow, and THEN put on my 40+ pound backpack, and hike another three miles up to the top of this mountain. I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered how I was going to break it to them.
After a delicious breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal and dried fruit, we did our dishes and sat down to discuss a game plan. I finally admitted there was no way I could make all those trips… first down, then up, then further up. Instead, we decided that Bill would take Lucy, Joan, Patrice and Michelle back down to the cars for the food (and a warmer sleeping bag for Jordan), while Jerry, Jordan, Tim, Amy, and I would hike to the top, then come back to help. Such a good plan. We started off around 9am or so.
Holy hell. What I thought had been a hard hike the day before now seemed like a pleasure cruise. This part of the trail was even steeper and more difficult. We made it to the first water crossing which involved hiking across two fallen logs positioned about 8 feet above a fast-moving creek. I had no idea if I could do that. I watched Jordan and Tim scurry across and thought, well, how hard can it be? Actually, it wasn’t that hard… a little nerve-wracking maybe, but a nice little break from the constant goes-uppedness of the rest of the trail.
After this, we never saw Jerry, Jordan, or Tim again. They took off at hare-speed, while Amy and I chose to tortoise our way to the top. While I continued to put one foot in front of the other, I seriously started to question what I had gotten myself into. I did, however, marvel at the fact that I was actually doing it. I was climbing a mountain with a 40 pound pack on my back. I may not have felt like it, but in that moment, I was one of those people.
As I trudged along, I suddenly became aware of heavy panting behind me. I turned to see two dogs running up the trail and hoped they were friendly (er, domesticated). I asked Amy if we should be concerned, but just then we heard a whistle and the dogs retreated. It turns out they belonged to a hiker named Troy who was just out for a day hike. (Yes, apparently there are people who do this sort of thing for fun.) We chatted for a while, then he and his friendly dogs took off and were soon out of sight.
By the time Amy and I reached the second water crossing, I was pretty much spent. I was hot, thirsty, and out of water. I debated whether to fill my water bottle with the water from the stream, but we didn’t have any iodine tablets, so we decided to just keep moving and fill our water bottles once we reached the lake at the top.
We were above the tree line by now and had started to encounter a new set of obstacles… willow bushes. They had grown over the trail in places, so we had to do a fair amount of bush-whacking to get past them.
It was about this time we ran into Troy again. We asked if he had run into three guys at the top, and he said yes, he’d had a nice long conversation with them. They had set up camp in a nice meadow by the lake. It was “just up ahead.”
We continued our ascent, bush-whacking and mosquito-beating, wondering when we would ever run into Jerry, Jordan, and Tim. We had been hiking for almost six hours by this time, and we were both exhausted. We came up over another rise, and suddenly, there he was, standing atop a large rock formation. I wasn’t sure if it was Jordan or Jesus, but in that moment, I was just so happy to know the end was in sight… one way or another.
Jordan, Tim, and Jerry were on their way back down to the Shangri-La meadow to get the rest of the food. They told us that camp was about 200 yards ahead and they had lunch sitting out for us. Just two more football fields. I could make it. We bush-whacked our way through the last 200 yards and finally saw Jordan’s and my little red tent shining in the distance. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
It was about 3pm when we finally arrived at the camp site. We threw off our packs and headed straight for the food. We each made ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then moved on to the trail mix. We were both thirsty and out of water, so after resting for just a bit, Amy left to go check out the lake. I threw my backpack into our tent and started to unpack a few things. After a bit, I grabbed my water bottle and decided to go find Amy.
And this, my friends, is when I experienced my first wild animal encounter… all by myself, in the middle of the Colorado wilderness.