Saturday, November 24, 2012

Navigation 101 With Mike

Colorado Hut-to-Hut Adventure – Day 7 – 9/14/12 – Peak 12313, St. Kevin Lake & Bear Lake – 5 Miles

Tried a night of natural sleep (no Tylenol PM and no ear plugs) that resulted in some restlessness but no headache.  Ah, progress.  The everyday world at home tried to creep in, listing things I need to do as soon as I get back.  I thought about the amount of time we spent last night just watching the daylight fade.  At home I would have spent that time goofing off on the computer.  What have I learned?

Uncle Bud’s Hut was very cold when we got up this morning.  Jeff prepared for another peak- bagging day (Galena Mountain) while the rest of us brought our sleeping bags downstairs to the window seats to relax and read while waiting for the day to warm up.  My book was Wisdom For The Ages by Wayne Dyer, a collection of 60 short essays by Dyer based on writings by poets, philosophers, authors and spiritual leaders.  Each essay is about four pages long on topics such as forgiveness, beauty, humor, grief, etc.  An excellent book for an adventurer contemplating the universe and his/her place in it.

We left the hut at about 10:15 a.m. for a day of roaming with Mike in charge, starting out at 40 degrees with a strong sun.  Mike’s vague itinerary included backtracking part of yesterday’s route to climb up a peak that we skirted around.  The peak has no name, just an elevation of 12,313 feet on the map.  

Backtracking up the old jeep road, snowy peaks in the distance.  We took a left turn into the woods to shortcut over to the CDT.  This should have been my first clue that today was going to be a clueless day.

There is no trail going up 12313, so we meandered until we were above the tree line and then Mike made his own switchbacks.  Just because a pile of rocks goes straight up doesn’t mean you have to walk straight up it.  I brought up the rear, moving in my slow and deliberate style, keeping my breathing in check, enjoying that familiar-but-always-new expansive feeling of being in the wide open outdoors. 

The summit of 12313 is a big old pile of rocks – like the AT in New Hampshire but with less oxygen.  For new reasons, I was glad that I had the opportunity to hike in the White Mountains with Judy in August:  good training for Colorado.

On top of Peak 12313.  Looking due west, we could see Galena Mountain up close where Jeff was hiking today.  Looking in the far distance due northeast we could see Pearl Peak and the small mountain that Jackal Hut sits upon.  And here, looking due south, are snow-covered Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.  Wow.

Where to next?  Let’s go look at the lake, which I thought meant Bear Lake, not far below Uncle Bud’s Hut.  But…rather than retracing our steps, we began a descent down the back side of 12313, a great deal steeper, carefully choosing our steps around boulders, loose rocks and fir trees.  

Looking back up at the rock pile summit

Looking back one more time

Although Bear Lake was down in the valley and to the left, Mike kept trending to the right.  I finally asked what his plan was and he said he wanted to show us St. Kevin Lake, a high elevation snow melt lake.  I felt frustration rising up in me because…did I want to go to St. Kevin Lake?  I had no choice.  At this point there was no trail, no option for me to go a different way solo.  I was short-tempered with Mike, and he allowed that maybe it was too much of a surprise but that I really would like St. Kevin Lake. 

And of course Mike was right.  He definitely pushes me beyond my comfort level but the result is always worth the push, if for no other reason than a good story of overcoming adversity.  To reach St. Kevin Lake required more climbing, my main reason for not wanting to make the effort in the first place.  Another quarter-mile of cross-country and we intersected with a faint trail ascending to the lake.  And it was spectacular.

St.  Kevin Lake – Cathy and I are tiny dots on the rock in the bottom center of the photo

The most perfect lunch stop of all time

St. Kevin Lake is stocked with trout and therefore a popular fishing spot.  Today there were three fishermen departing as we arrived, and one came along while we were hanging out.  As we ate lunch at the water’s edge three speckled trout swam nearby.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen fish in a pond like this before.  

Naturally Mike wanted to hike out a different way and he was determined to teach us some navigation skills.  After some time studying the NatGeo map (#126) we identified some landmarks and chose a creek flowing down into the valley. 

Keeping the creek on our right side (called the “handrail”) and the semi-circle of mountains at our back (the “backstop”) we followed the drainage all the way until it intersected with the CDT.  Turning right onto the CDT, we followed it to the side trail to Bear Lake.

Bear Lake

Grasses in the lake

Somewhere over that ridge is Uncle Bud’s Hut

Ah, but the lesson is not over, Grasshopper.  From here Mike challenged me to find our way back to the hut using map and compass skills.  It was getting late, I was tired, and I reluctantly took his instruction.  I knew it was uphill (again) to the hut and not the way I wanted to end my day.  After a bad start, Mike showed me how to get a bearing using my shadow and then how to take the path of least resistance up a sparsely wooded steep slope, meaning to zig-zag back and forth a lot, correcting with the shadow trick.  I was so intent on my shadow that Cathy spotted the hut and we were home free.  My mantra was true again:  the only thing better than the beginning of a hike is the end of a hike. 

During our trip we had been discussing what to do on our last day in Colorado.  The original plan was to drive a really long way and climb Pike’s Peak because, well, it’s Pike’s Peak.  But all week long we had been looking at the awesome mountain range that included Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado and coincidentally the second highest peak in the lower 48 states.  (Remember how I summited MountWhitney a year ago, the first highest peak?)  And although Jeff had already climbed Mount Elbert, well, good old Mount Massive, the third highest peak, was right beside it.  Looks like we’ll be staying in the neighborhood.

Outhouse view of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive

Jeff checking out the log books at Uncle Bud’s

Aren’t you curious about what we had for dinner on our last night in the huts?  Creamy wild rice soup to which we added fresh mushrooms and leftover tortellini, leftover shredded parm cheese and pepperoni, plus crackers that Cathy had carried around for 4 days without crushing.  Tomorrow we hike out to civilization, retrieve cars and enjoy our first showers in 8 days!

Bonus photo:  Jeff’s view of St. Kevin Lake from atop Galena Mountain.  Peak 12313 is in the center foreground.

“His sight is turned inside himself
To try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake.”
~ John Denver

1 comment:

Linda W. said...

Wow what an incredible trip! I am so enjoying your recaps.