Spring Gathering 2015 for the Socialite
Spring Gathering 2015 for the Socialite
I’m not the socialite poster boy. When I do choose to socialize, it’s somewhat forced and not too far removed from my comfort zone. For instance, this past weekend I went to The Official Spring Gathering 2015 near Mount Yale at the Avalanche Gulch trail head. It’s a meet up of hiking and climbing geeks from 14ers.com.
The event is very loosely organized online. We just show up at the appointed assembly place, each person choosing to do whatever they want to do. Some people camp for the weekend, go on short hikes, climb a 14er, rock climb, or just hang out at camp. It’s very purposely unorganized and unsponsored due to liability concerns. What we do is not the safest of hobbies, no matter how prepared or experienced the mountaineer. But none of us would change who we are or surrender what this brings to our lives. It’s necessary.
This is also a group of all kinds. They are simple laborers, and they are professionals. They are morbidly obese, and they are extreme endurance athletes. They range from 70 to 10 years old. Some young and single, some married with kids, and some with grandkids. There are executives and there are hippies. People who smoke (many things), some who bring their moonshine, and some are religious and sober. Left and right extremists share the same fire. This is what I like about this crowd; hiking and climbing does not discriminate; the mountain doesn’t care who you are.
I arrived early evening on Friday and set up camp. Two others, Brian and Craig, had arrived before me. By the time we turned in for the night at least a couple dozen more had arrived. Note to self: when sleeping near the main fire pit, where all manner of climbing geeks gather, bring ear plugs. There are some in the group who tend to stay up late and have maybe one more beer than anticipated, becoming increasingly less aware of volume intensity with every sudsy bottle and death-defying story.
No matter. I was up at 3:30am, as were most of them, getting ready for a 4:30 departure from the trail head. The trail head is part of the Colorado Trail, a 486 mile hike that is mostly above 10,000 feet beginning southwest of Denver and extending to Durango. I actually didn’t get on the trail until just after 5am. Brian had taken ill. Without a designated climbing partner I didn’t want to hit the trail until after first light.
It wasn’t long up the trail that I met up with Jon, an eastern implant who moved to Denver to be closer to mountain life. He’s a school teacher, math in urban Denver. Since my wife also works with kids of similar circumstance I was able to identify with him outside of our love for the mountains. We decided to take the day on together. It was a good thing for me. I had lost the trail sometime after the snow covered it up. His GPS helped keep us on course.
Mountain forests are magical at times. One section of the trail is old forest with a graveyard of deadfall under the pine canopy that reminded me of a scattering of pickup sticks for giants. Several miles into our climb near the crest of this section of the Colorado Trail, after about 4 hours, we broke tree line and took on the East Ridge. It’s a breathtaking view of the ridge and the north face of Mount Princeton. To the north Mount Columbia and Mount Harvard are clearly identifiable from here, as well as West and East Buffalo Peaks across the Arkansas River Valley to the east. In the spring it is especially majestic with the contrast of snow blanketing the pine forests and surrounding granite rock faces.
We met several others on the trail that day. My ice axe protective cover had come loose from my pack and Jon had dropped his hat. Our new friends, Tania, Paul, and Santiago, were kind enough to pick up after us and return our things. In exchange I let Tania borrow my goggles to protect her eyes from the intense reflection of the sun against the snow. She had inadvertently left her sun glasses behind and I was wearing my glacier classes, carrying the goggles in case the wind became too cold. A person can very seriously damage unprotected eyes at this altitude with the sun glare off the snow.
The night before, Britt, a very experienced alpiner gave us all a lesson on the use of an ice axe and methods for self-arresting should we find ourselves sliding uncontrollably down the side of a mountain – or even if we wanted to do it purposely in a glissade attempt. The snow at these altitudes in the early spring hours is a hardened crust layer which makes for a very slippery condition, easily accelerating a person to 30-40 MPH within seconds of a fall in the wrong place. Ice axe skills can save a life.
The snow became softer as the day progressed. Near 12,600 feet Jon and I decided to call it a day and head down. Soft snow makes for tough hiking conditions. We didn’t have the energy to summit, which would have taken us at least another hour. And with the warming temperatures the climb down would become increasingly difficult and time consuming.
One thing I’ve learned is to just enjoy the journey, with or without a summit. The mountain will be in the same place tomorrow. Save it for another day if today isn’t right for any reason.
All told we were on the trail for 11 hours on Saturday. I was in need of some R&R when we got back to camp. Instead we went into town (Buena Vista) for a well-deserved meal at a local restaurant. After meeting a few others around the campfire that night I crashed in my tent by 10pm. I woke at 5am to break camp and head home.
It was a safe and thrilling weekend with an awesome group of people! Can't beat that!
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