Thursday, August 02, 2012

Notes from the Rockies

My qualified mountaineering guide got us lost in the Rockies looking for the Lake of the Clouds. Trouble was by the time we came out of the woods into a large basin there wasn't any path to speak of. There was a waterfall to the left, but to the Darling Chaser of N Michigan, quaified mountaineering guide, that wasn't good enough. She elected to go away from the waterfall and I dutifully followed her like I was her dog.

In retrospect, the waterfall was probably a pretty good indication that this was where the lake was and not over a boulderfield where it turns out the lake wasn't, but that's where we went. Now I am hardly someone driven by ego to climb a tall mountain to say I climbed a tall mountain, but gosh dang it, I was determined to see this lake after hiking for five hours. We scrambled over a huge boulderfield. According to Chaser, scrambling is when you occasionally use more than your feet, which is what we did getting over those boulders. If the rocks weren't hard to negotiate as is, they were also full of spiders. The lake took another hour, but it was worth it.

In the meantime, we talked. She told me all about the course she just taught nearby in some other mountains. How she endearingly sang Lee Hazlewood's Hey Cowboy the whole time. How one kid said that he believed in a nourished and well fed team, which didn't make a lick of sense when he kept eating everyone's tuna packets, leaving the other kids with nothing but crackers (apparently he was on some weird protein diet). Some other kid got trenchfoot from not changing his shoes or socks for thirty days. Another lost their backpack off a cliff. Others inadvertently created solidarity with each other by shitting themselves. 

Chaser used several actual mountaineering terms to describe the terrain I negotiated on the nine hour hike that we did. Some terms: alpine lake is a tarn. Scree is small bits of rock amid large boulders. Permanent snowfields are self explanatory. Glacial moraine is debris left over from a glacier.

I actually quite enjoyed all nine bleeding hours of the hike. We had done six and amid continuous threats of thunder that we had somehow eluded, I made her stop so I could write down what I felt would be a neat title for the piece I was going to write about our hike: “Too sly for the storm.” I had mumbled the title, mumbling being indicative of a certain type of brain damage. Yet it was a terrific title, or so I thought initially. I have since retracted my thought and decided that it is not so great.

Chaser herself did not think much of this title either and began wondering if the hike had begun to warp me. She explained that many sufferers from long hikes are called DICHEADS, an acronym that means dizzy, irritable, combative with symptoms associated with headaches. I tried to absorb what she was saying, but got distracted by some raspberries bushes that she found. Thunder crackled mightily overhead. We were now on the final stretch, but the final stretch of a long hike is seemingly neverending and the beer always outside of arm's reach.

Let me tell you what happened when we got to the lake. Chaser went off to do some reconnaissance on how the heck we were going to get off the mountain. I had laid down on some grass between rocks overlooking the lake when suddenly a marmot popped up between some rocks with a pika in its mouth. I was confused at first because the pika's tail hanging over the top lip of the marmot looked an awful lot like the moustache on a walrus.

When I told her what happened, Chaser said, “I've seen alpine lakes that are a lot more impressive, but I never seen, nor have I heard of someone seeing a fucking marmot with a pika in its mouth!” She had me eat some alpine Sorel. It was my feeling that it could be used in a lemony cocktail. She said it's a pretty good source of Vitamin C.

We stayed near where we hiked, a campground that was treeless for the most part surrounded by mountains; we would climb the ones on the west. The trees were removed due to what the bark beetle had done to them. They eat the bark and the trees turn a sickly color and die. Used to be that these beetles couldn't survive the winter frost and would all perish by Spring, but climate change changed all that and these little bastards now feast year-round and the parks haven't worked out a way to stop them. What this means for the campground is no trees and more grass and the elk come down and graze and lick everything.

Our last morning, a group of us crowded around an elk, who had Chaser's backpack in her mouth. She got increasingly spasmodic (the elk, not Chaser, who was sleeping) the closer we got, doing frightened circles and raising dust. We were next to the highway and a park ranger had pulled off. He clapped his hands loudly. The sound seemed to dislodge the backpack because it went flying. The elk skedaddled. One of the gang told me afterwards that they'd been coming to this site for five years and it keeps getting worse. "The elk out here are like dogs. Ever since they got rid of the trees, they think of this as their playground."

Chase was happy she stayed in the the van, while I filled an incident report regarding the recalcitrant elk that tried to eat her backpack. I asked the ranger how often these incident reports were filed and she said not often. The last time involved a guy who was walking on the trail by a moose and her calf and the moose charged putting the guy on a log where he received a gash on his leg. It was bad enough that they treated him at the local hospital. They don't like the wild animals getting hostile and to some degree, this ornery elk was not going to give up the backpack. "I don't like that backpack anyway," said Chase, who will always side with the elk. She thought the campground should be shutdown. It was hardly a moneyspinner, as it was thinning out more and more each night. I secretly loved everything about it and had no complaints only the elks who became less interesting and more like pests by our second night.

Chaser and I walked hand in hand over to the dumpster to dive for propane when I noticed my spirit animal.

"Oh my God, a red-winged blackbird!"

"Jesus Christ, Shane!" cried Chaser, who couldn't handle the profundity of witnessing my spirit animal, stubbing her toe on a tree stump.

We found some propane to cook with and made eggs.


boy moritz said...

Highlight of my flight over was a young girl who came up to me at my gate and said, “Excuse me, were you on the plane when the woman tripped?”

Anonymous said...

I loved this story! It felt like I was there hiking with you! "Oh no!" you say, " not my mother!!!!"

boy moritz said...

Might as well be, your presence is inescapable :)