Well, the best laid plans and all that stuff. Before I started out on the trip I wasn’t feeling at my best. I hoped it was just the heat and I’d be better in the mountains. I wasn’t. The first two days acclimating at Dinner Station proved I was still a good ways off from fine. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the night all alone above treeline at 12,000 feet! There was no reason this hike couldn’t be done as a day hike, so I repacked for an out and back in one day. I got up early and drove up to the “trail”head clutching my beribboned braid. This hike is really a four wheel drive trail, and it shows. It’s basically a ditch full of loose boulders. While I did remember that fact, I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude. These boulders don’t get cemented down into loose soil because of the constant motorized activity. Jeeps and ATVs and dirt bikes pound everything loose with every visit. But I’m not complaining. This isn’t a hiking trail, it’s a 4WD trail. I’m the interloper in their territory and I’m not going to complain about that.
As with all trails heading to highland lakes, it’s uphill basically all the way. And it’s hotter than I planned. And I’m still kind of sick. And it’s about 11,000 feet. I have to talk myself into taking every forward step. Mom did this hike fifty years ago, and she was dying of lupus. I can do this. I promised to do this. I have to do this. And so it went, step after step. The scenery was beautiful and I took lots of pictures (it gave me an excuse to stop and catch my breath).
Until I hit my first river crossing. The water was running pretty fast and I was a little bit concerned. But I hitched up my big girl panties and waded across.
To my surprise, it wasn’t a problem. I got across just fine, and as I raised my head in triumph, I spotted what was hidden in shadows before.
You think those photos below are of a lovely creek beside the trail? NO! That IS the trail!
The massive snowmelt this year had turned the entire road into a fast flowing creek, complete with rapids. For another mile I could hop off the trail and crash through the weeds to get around, but eventually the runoff widened into a massive swampy bog that was (to me) impossible to negotiate.
Well, I was looking for an excuse to quit and I got one. A stronger, more bad-ass hiker might have continued. But I was all alone up here and a rolled ankle would mean punching out to call the helicopters. I talked it over with Mom, who reminded me that I was much older than she was when she hiked it. Thanks, Mom!
So I picked a nice spot on the way down, a big rock that I’m pretty sure we rested on in 1969, surrounded by Mom’s favorite aspens. I dumped my pack and had a nice lunch with Mom, then I played around for awhile getting just the right setting for the photo with braid. I said some memorial words, but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to break Leave No Trace principles to leave the braid here. I can still hear my mother’s words, “I know it’s just one flower, honey, but if everyone who walked by picked just one flower, there would be no flowers left for anyone else!”
And so a new tradition is born. I will continue to carry this envelope with me in my travels. Jewel, the little fox my granddaughter Piper gave me, goes everywhere with me, even though I don’t often have time to pull her out for pictures. Now I’ll have three generations of love with me, everywhere I go. This idea resonates. I have a plan. Mom would approve.