Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Friday, July 18 -- Rocky Mountain High

Got up. No towels or washcloths in the bathroom, I had a couple sets of Brian's Marine-Corps type towels. Small but servicible. Probably great exfoliants, too, ladies. ;-) So we managed. Got some coffee, cleaned up, and hit the road up Mount Evans by 8:00 am. Folks if you ever get to the front range and don't have much time -- maybe a day to see the mountains, this is an excellent place to see it all in just a few hours. You start in the trees. Before long you can see the continental divide. You get to see about every kind of mountain terrain, a couple of picturesque lakes, bristle-cone pines, glacier valleys, boulder fields, mountain goats, marmots, and alpine tundra, and you get to drive almost all the way up a 14,000+ foot mountain. When you do get to the top the continental divide stretches from the south-west horizon to the northeast horizon. On a clear day you can see Denver Metro and Pike's Peak. Even on hazy days you can see the divide pretty well.

Stopped at various places on the way up to see what I described above. Stopped at Echo Lake, then headed past the booth where the fee area is ($10 for a 3 day pass... not bad) and continued up in the high country part of the drive. Looked out over Chicago Creek glacier valley that Vicki and I had hiked up last year... even saw a part of the trail sticking out of the woods on the other side. Mark went and sat in some of the boulders. Stopped at Summit Lake and viewed Mt. Warren and the glacier valley from the end, and headed to the top. When we got to the parking lot I dipped into my food bag and pulled out a brownie. The packaging was blown up like a balloon from the lower pressure outside and the brownie rattled around inside. Guess it was pretty airtight!

Well it turns out that Mark has a touch of acrophbia. Didn't know that. The drive to the top does have several places above the tree line where there's no guard rail and pretty steep and long drop-offs just off the road. Don't get me wrong, I sense the danger, too. But it's not a phobia of mine -- somehow my rational mind has satisfied my instinctive fears by reasoning that the road is in fact the same size as any other two-lane highway and I never go off of those, even at much higher speeds. You drive about 20 MPH up these, sometimes slower, in low gear. You have to be really negligent or downright reckless to go off the edge. But -- that's what a phobia is. The inability of the rational mind to win over animal instinct no matter how rational your mind is on a particular topic... like falling, for instance. Everyone has one or two of 'em it seems.

So we got to the top. That's when I found out that it was a true phobia and it began to sink in. I stood on a pile of rocks at the top and he had no desire to get up on anything up there where there wasn't 20 feet of flat space all around him. So he made it to about 15-20 feet from the top. Well here's the math... 20/14,264 = 0.0014 -- somewhere between one and two tenths of a percent. So I said that was close enough for government work.

Spent some time there looking at quite a spectacular view of the divide, Mt. Warren, Mt. Bierdstadt, and you could see Gray's and Torry's peaks hiding Mt. Sniktau from us -- the goal for Sunday. A Russian couple was there and took some pictures of us for us. Then we headed down a couple of switchbacks and got out and hiked across an alpine tundra meadow to an outcropping of rocks over another glacier valley between Bierdstadt and Evans. Took some pictures on some large rocks, and hung out by a big pile of rocks near the rim of the canyon. Got the pipes out and smoked a nice summer tobacco and marvelled at the view. A herd of mountain goats lay about 1/4 mile away up the meadow to the east/southeast of us. You could see the valley South Park is in, and hear the stream raging through the valley 1/2 mile below. We left about 3:00 PM, and went back to camp, stopping at the Bristlecone Pines on the way down.

We went into Idaho Springs and bought some beer for Chuck and Kelly to thank them, and some bubbles for the kids. Then headed to camp. Gave it to them and thanked them again. They said a group of kids had come up the night before about 11 and drank and partied until about 3:30, shouting the "F" word every other word... nice for the kids I'm sure. Some tents were still there. We went down to camp, built a fire, cooked and ate dinner, played some songs on the backpacker & mando -- while at about 6:30 they started showing up, setting up tents. Then we heard a motor. And the music started thumping. Mark went up to talk to them, and I stayed by the fire.

Came back down, said the party was to get "over" about 10:00. So he thought it'd be a good idea to head down to the official camp ground and see if we could rustle up a ranger. But I never got that far. While pulling out onto the "main" road, I bottomed out, gunned the engine, lurched forward and my left front wheel went off the edge of the road, leaving the car pretty much stuck. Went back down to get Mark to help get it out, and ran into a guy coming up the road.

"What are you doing? I'm the caretaker of this property."
"Well, then I was going to get YOU."
"Well, we've got two families and us camping up here, and this group of kids who are preparing to make a lot of noise for a long time and I'm sure there's rules about that out here."
"Well I talked to them and they said they were going to end the party by 10:00. You all are going to have to get along. They shouldn't be here, but they are. You shouldn't be here but you are."

Oh really...

He went on to say that he was the caretaker for the Edith Lake private property past the gate. Went on about how we're too close to Denver not to expect this kind of thing. Well, I don't have to expect people to be rude and inconsiderate. At any rate, it turns out that there used to be a locked gate at the bottom of the road leading up here, but he said "the forest service had a kiniption" and said that it was National Forest property up for another 1/4 mile to the current gate and took it down. So when he said we "shouldn't" be there, what he was saying was that HE didn't think we should be there even though the forest service disagrees with him. He helped us out of the ditch, left and said he'd be back about 9:00 to check on the party situation.

It started to rain. We decided we should get some sleep while we could. The monsoon storms like I thought these were don't typically last that long. So we turned in. And it kept raining... and raining.... and raining .... and the partiers left. And we slept well to the sound of rain and then to West Chicago Creek crashing 1/4 mile below.