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Desert Dreams (Colorado)
- [third draft: May 15, 2004 11:03pm]
Finally a real adventure -- a
moonless nightime hiking through rollings hills in new territory without
a trail. The fear and sweating provided for a memorable experience. It
reminded me of the desert when the refreshing dry wind hit me when i crossed
the open land.
A late start does not guarantee
an adventure. Hunger for exploring, energy and attitude are required too.
And of course food and water limit the excuses of the lazy. I started
at 4pm, with plans of hiking for hours, and a lot longer moving time than
resting time -- unlike the day before. The 7 minute hike with 200ft elevation
gain took some breath out of me. I was now at 7800ft EAT TOP -- my usual
eating place, with a view of ... everything. The late afternoon sun peaking
from behind the clouds revealed photogenic scenery, and for a few minutes
my backpack was off and i was searching, pointing and clicking.
From here I followed a real trail
leading through gentle terrain. Only 5 minutes later I was stepping on
dry branches breaking under my feet, over fallen logs and picking a path
of least resistance -- the trail was gone. Or was it just my choice of
destination that required bushwacking? 3 big rock formations peaked in
the woods ahead, all about a mile away. There was at least one downhill
stretch followed by an uphill stretch. I have been in the area about 10
times, but never with same intentions. The longest trip was bushwacking
with Phil in March, when the gray skies brought light snow after we started.
This time I was hoping for a gentler jacket-scratching path. My GPS later
showed that today's path was parallel but never crossing our trail with
After the crooked footed wild-terrain
downhill, i followed what looked like another trail. Maybe strictly an
animal trail. I saw motion in the tree ahead -- a squirrel. I stopped,
motionless and watched the messy squirrel biting on an acorn. She was
only 20feet away and 10feet up, turned sideways to me. I probably wasn't
a threat, not yet. She was totally occupied with her acorn. When she was
done, her behavior changed. Now she behaved in the typical hyper squirrel
fashion, moving sporratically, pausing, shooting off to a new location,
stopping... moving. I heard more motion on the ground, some brown, some
white... a rabbit. Short ears, slow moving -- a few hops and stopping.
That was one lazy rabbit. Second later another rabbit ran around. His
body was much leaner and he moved at the typical fast rabbit speed.
Before reaching the stream i
saw a group of deer, the usual 50 yards away -- seems like their comfort
zone. They were hurrying off away from me, running temporarily, then starting
their usual hopping. The stream water i measured at 46F. I knew i was
close to the rocks now, and the dense forest was behind me. From BIG RK2
the view was nice, but another rock formation was near and above. From
BIG RK3 i saw where i came from -- lots of uphill to get back. I could
only see the first uphill -- the hardest part. The rest of "my trail"
was not visible. The sun was now behind the horizon of the big hill. But
then i saw something to my right -- it was read and purple and enhanced
by the clouds, and the trees close to me painted a picture. I only had
2 minutes to act and capture it. Maybe i succeeded, maybe not -- the colors
were there, but the trees didn't co-operate and the steep slope and vegetation
made it hard to photograph the sunset.
It was 8:30pm when I headed back.
There was still a little daylight left, but i knew that the woods were
going to be a lot darker. I was counting on my GPS. I don't know if I
would be in this situation (at this time) without it -- things would be
a a lot "more interesting" and scarier without my GPS. It was dark enough
that i couldn't find my original stream crossing, with its tiny 1ft waterfall.
Once on the other side, the terrain was unfriendly, and I pulled out my
GPS. It showed that i crossed downstream, but i found my original path
within 100ft. My best option was to backtrack, because the bushes, fallen
logs and branches along with uneven terrain provided plenty of accident
opportunities in the dark. Everything now looked the same and unfamiliar.
I was thankful for backtracking the "some kind of trail" stretches which
i found during the day. ON DIRTBIKE TRAIL was the was the last spot where
i crossed it during the day. I decided to follow it for a while and make
a shortcut, since i believed i crossed this same trail twice before. The
path was branch free, but not flat and the changing slope and grooves
made me trip now and then. My GPS confirmed my belief as i was back on
my path at OFF DIRTBIKE TRAIL.
I could still see enough, I thought
-- until I walked into an overhead branch in gently rising terrain. I
sure was thankful for having glasses. Waiiiiiiiiiiiit a minute. Headlamp!
Standard gear, just like poncho and camera, my headlamp lives in the side
pocket of my backpack (daypack technically... backpacks are generally
huge, and for overnight adventures). My appreciated struggle continued
past LIGHT mark with headlamp in my left hand and GPS in the right. I
wiped the sweat off my forehead now and then -- it definately was not
a good spot for my headlamp. My shirt and T-shirt were loose under my
open jacket, and helped with cooling. My cotton attire was no match for
extreme elements, but once again did just fine. No wonder they check for
technical wear in Washington state, and don't people up Mount Raineer
with cotton socks and cotton shirts (I only heard that). I wasn't uncomfortable,
but rather i remembered my desert days. Several times at night in Sycamore
Canyon i was returning on a 3hour uphill stretch, wearing just my cotton
t-shirt and shirt, with a wet back but with minimal wind. And once i reached
the gate, and car was only 20mnutes away and downhill, it was ok to stop,
change t-shirt and drink the last water. Headlamp was optional and I thought
it wimpy and non-challenging... except that one time when I was expecting
to see the glowing eyes of a puma, because i met one during the day.
Now I had no trail to follow,
and GPS and headlamp were a must. My uphill was nearing the top and woods
opened up. The refreshingly cool wind reminded me more of Arizona and
the pleasant hiking nights. At KISS, I had to thank my GPS because i was
in familiar territory. I knew i could almost :) find my way to the car
without a GPS -- maybe in double time. A little more uphill was followed
by a little downhill and then I was at WOODS END. There was no moon in
the sky, but i could see the Polar Star. EAT, same mark as SEA TOP EAT
was my stop. I love those "almost by the car" stops. There you can catch
your breath, maybe change a t-shirt, and enjoy the night sky as your heartrate
drops to normal. It's ok to drink that one last mouthful I have been saving
for worst. The last mark was 0 VISIBILITY, when i turned off my headlamp
in the last, easy stretch of downhill woods. For the first 30seconds i
saw nothing at all. Then the silhouttes started to appear slowly but still
after 2minutes it was scary dark looking -- i would have almost had to
walk on fours -- something i don't recall ever doing. But it could be
fun :) ... but risky for tree hugging and twisted ankles.
.......pictures..........in September .........
The day's statistics were:
|Distance: 3.23 miles
||Moving Time: 1h 56min
||Stopped Time: 2h 42min
||Moving Average: 1.7mph
I should mention that 2004-03-27_Trust
was a walk in the park compared to today. A month ago
I followed a gently rolling terrain with sure footing, with same starting
point as today. Today was a "that spot over there" route and
would be rated as 8-hard as opposed to 3-easy.
My GPS picture is a scanned GPS itself, not a photo. "Max Speed" can be wrong because of loss of signal ...
like in this case.