Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pearl Peak and Lodge Loafing

Colorado Hut-to-Hut Adventure – Day 3 – 9/10/12 – Pearl Peak – 5 Miles

I woke to a pink sunrise over a mountain panorama…and a headache.  I had left all of my ibuprofen in the rental car so I relied on the kindness of Mike and Cathy to keep me medicated (therefore quiet).  The best medicine, though, was being upright and active.  We enjoyed a leisurely morning with a cup of hot tea as we watched Jeff gear up for a solo peak-bagging day.  He had an agenda longer than my arm and the face of a five-year-old at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning.  Enough metaphors!  Jeff was looking forward to the day.

Along with preparing and eating food at the huts comes cleanup, heating water for dishwashing and then storing food and trash.  After all, we didn’t know who else would come along to join us and we didn’t want to be sloppy guests.  By 8:30 a.m. Cathy, Mike and I set out to explore our new world.  The temperature was a comfortable 46 degrees.  

First we back-tracked down our little old jeep road that seemed so insurmountable yesterday and continued past where we had joined it from the winter ski trail.  After a half mile through the trees we took a left turn, joined an ATV track, sloped back up above a tree line and then…let’s go straight up this hill.  Mike was not giving many directions and I was dropping mental white stones a la Hansel and Gretel so I could turn around at any point I chose.  

I walked up this hill like a glacier going backwards and waited for Mike.  Of course, at the top of it was the next hill. 

Looking back at Jackal Hut – see the “bald spot” on the tree- covered mountain in the middle ground?  See the tiny trace of a trail?  That’s our jeep road.

Cathy heading for a better view

Mike – the mountains behind him are farther away than they appear

And so it went - at the top of the next hill was another hill and then another.  Mike was new to this section, as well as Cathy and I, so we were all guesstimating distances and elevation gains from the NatGeo map.  All I knew was that I still had trouble breathing and lifting my elephant legs.  Even my arms felt heavy.  Perhaps there was one degree difference in how I felt yesterday, but I wasn’t confident of my hiking abilities today.

And how do I balance my “need to know” with rambling exploration?  This is my constant struggle.  At least here we were above tree line and I could reconcile the map with the landscape.  And what we were actually doing slogging up all those hills was climbing Pearl Peak (12,147 feet). 

Pearl Peak

At the summit we stopped for a good rest and a snack.  The wind was brisk and we put back on the layers we had removed, plus gloves.  Mike pointed out where he wanted to go next, over the summits of Elk Mountain and Sugarloaf Peaks (and back to Corbett Peak?).  I decided that my turnaround point was now.  It was a beautiful spot, I was feeling very good, I knew the way back to Jackal Hut, and it just felt right.  I am known for taking a “timeout alone” or “town” day on these week-long trips and I guess this was going to be my town day.

I hung out for a long while watching Mike and Cathy’s progress to Elk Mountain

Then I looked around and tried to match up what I was seeing with the map.  I think this is North Sheep Mountain. (Jeff, please let me know corrections.)

Looking at Corbett Peak

Elk Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain is the peak in the center background

Just hangin' out

After an hour or so I began to make my way back down Pearl Peak, zig-zagging off trail to avoid the steepest parts and the loose pebbles.  Back below the tree line I stopped to eat an apple and just enjoy the solitude.  Waves of peace and contentment washed over me just like in the woods back home. 

Always something interesting to ponder.  What split this tree apart?

That last half-mile climb on the jeep road to Jackal Hut was still exhausting.  I was really ready to put my feet up and play lodge loafer.  At first I couldn’t figure out the combination lock on the front door and was resigning myself to sitting outside for a few hours (no problem, I had food, water, sunshine), but I finally jiggled the lock the right way and it popped open.

The 10th Mountain huts are equipped not only with pots, pans and bedding, but also with games, puzzles, books and magazines.  The books tend towards skiing and hiking trails and history of the area, fascinating reading (no, really!).  I had my own books, too, and I lounged around reading until I fell asleep.  How decadent!  How luxurious! 

A few hours later, Cathy and Mike returned.  Hearing their stories was affirmation that their adventures went farther than I would have been agreeable to go, so turning around was a good decision.  I didn’t reach as many summits as they did, but I was happy with my day.  Jeff pulled in a little while later with his own narrative.  He had seen us wandering around on the peaks but we didn’t see him.  

Another awesome sunset at Jackal Hut 

Supper was delicious and the guys cleaned up as Cathy and I sat on the window seats and read (now how many women can say that?)  Dessert this time was lemon pudding cups, one square each of dark chocolate, and a glass of wine. 

Oh, yeah, and another round of Phase 10…

“Now he walks in quiet solitude
The forests and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes…”
~ John Denver

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