Monday, July 21, 2008

Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop

(After the Rawah trek) With a glad heart I was on the road from Loveland to Boulder, watching the clock for when to call Leslie in case she was taking a nap. Happy times to talk with my wife. The best place I could find to stay was a Best Western for $130/night with a senior discount – aargh! I was tired and smelly, so took a room, unloaded my gear and went looking for a place to eat. Almost like a sign, I found a Nepalese place – from beautiful mountains to a place from beautiful mountains. I gorged on a pretty good buffet, which was actually more Indian food than Nepalese – no problemo. The photo in the entry below (July 6) of Leslie waiting for a bus was taken somewhere outside Kathmandu on a RTW trip in 1978. Ahhh, Kathmandu, how sweet and high those times! Photo: sunrise near Clayton New Mexico

Back to the room to shower and shower and shower and wash my clothes and shower. Oh man, did that feel good!

I slept very poorly and even got up a few times to work on organizing my gear. In the morning went (several times) to the hotel breakfast buffet and organized my gear. It took a long time repack everything, but finally, after another long shower and a few minutes before checkout time, I was ready.

I got a sandwich from a store and hit the road on out of Boulder. From the highway I could see the Flatirons and other rocks along the ridge outside the town. I remembered hanging out on the 3rd Flatiron with friends, Renn and Rick, playing like monkeys on the rock, racing to the top, drinking wine at the top, bouldering down below, sleeping in my hidey-hole. Further down the ridge I caught a glimpse of Rabbit Ears, which Kor, Bradley and I did a new route on (south face?) in 1963 or 64. Photo: 1st camp, just below treeline below West Maroon Pass

Cruised through the edge of Denver, talking on my cell to Leslie, telling her that my place is with her. I mean, I’m glad to be here, but she is my heart and home.

The highway took me through Georgetown, where Bradley and I worked at the Holy Cat restaurant for a few months one winter. We were paid a few dollars a day, tips (I was the waiter, he the bartender), food, lift tickets and a place to sleep that was so cold we usually slept on the floor of the bar. Good times. I got out and walked around a few minutes – nothing happening in the summer but tourists. I guess now that would be me, too.

The highway to Aspen gets pretty amazing steep and narrow at times. Along the way, I pulled off the road and walked into the forest to eat half the sandwich I’d gotten earlier. Getting deeper into the trip.

I got into Aspen around 4:30 and got directions to the Maroon Bells, got lost, found, and now I’m in the trailhead parking lot writing, waiting for the sun to set so I can sleep. I think I’ll walk toward TH a ways. The mountains look kind of intimidating in the darkening evening clouds. Photo: from West Maroon Pass

I was asleep by 8:30, in my comfortable Camry kind of camper. I dreamed of a woman who lived next door to my grandmother and I was in my grandmother’s house. We were wondering how the woman was doing as we hadn’t seen her in a very long time. We went over there and found her living in the most grotesque conditions – trash, feces, urine and she could barely walk and there was some kind of insect crawling in and out of her rotten left eye, but she seemed mentally or spiritually okay. Taking a note from Leslie, I began pulling some resources together …

I started hiking early in the morning, heading past Crater Lake. I’m stopped in the middle of a scree slope, feeling complete, thinking of my Mom and my Leslie, after my Mom had radiation for brain mets and her hair was starting to fall out in clumps and they were on the porch of Mom’s house behind ours and Leslie was cutting her hair, both of them crying and me looking out the bathroom window at them, crying.

I love my wife,
Heart of my heart,
Companion of my life,
Soul of my soul.

Thinking of David,
How I wish,
How I wish you were here.
Good hiking here, DK.
No mozzies so far today.

People in my prayers today: Leslie, David, Jeff, Mary, Nora, Shirin, Chris, Ron, Bible study guys, so many others … including Forest Service and Park Service peeps and volunteers. Photo: at West Maroon Pass

I lost the trail via a faint trail in the underbrush and snow alongside Maroon Creek. I finally bushwhacked my way back to the creek and got across without a problem. The crossing was made easier by my having gotten into mud soup earlier – gloop – over the tops of my boots, so I was happy to let the river wash my boots and trousers. I hiked up a run-off stream toward where I thought the trail would be and along the way there were 100s of white butterflies fluttering all around me and then, Hello Trail!

About 1:30 I stopped for awhile and talked with a young couple on a day hike to West Maroon Pass. I told them it gives me joy to see them so young and strong and they said something sweet in return. As I write this more than an hour later, I realize in that hour I haven’t thought about a bummer of an earlier experience. So they gave me a healing – give you joy, give me joy.

Clouds were rolling in and I was at the last place to camp before the snow and scree on the way up to the pass, so I stopped and set up camp. My feet were wet and cold and as soon as the tent was set up and water replenished, I took my wet stuff off and dried them babies – oh happy feet in dry socks & Crocs. This has been a good day’s hike, taking my time, stopping to write. I’ve taken my time and gotten to wherever I’ve gotten to and here I am, wherever I am, as happy as a clam. Photos (above & below: from West Maroon Pass

It’s about 4pm and I’m back on the pattern that Jeff and I worked out: hike for 6-8 hours, set up camp, fix the main meal of the day, relax. Today I had beef stroganoff, salsa, cheese, tortillas, water and a small piece of dark chocolate for dessert. I’m sitting in dappled shade, among wildflowers, leaning against a gnarled pine, occasional white butterflies flitting around. No mosquitoes, a very few flies, cool breeze, the only sounds the water rushing down the mountains in many streams and rivulets from the melt-off and the wind. Now a bird, but mostly just water and wind.

As the sun goes down it seems a few more birds, but not many. Sun setting behind the mountains and it’s cooler now. The tent vestibule is tied open, so I can look at Belleview Mountain as I go to sleep. I realized a little while ago that I‘ve camped on an extension of the mountain like a small plateau in a huge basin – mountains all around, except for the long narrow valley I walked up, up, up. Photo: my favorite place, a small basin near Trail Rider Pass

At daybreak I lay in my tent watching the light hit the top of Mount Bellview and Belleview Mountain and the light slowly moving down the rock and snow …

I broke camp at 7:20 and started, where else, up. From camp to the pass it was mostly snow, but none steep enough to warrant crampons, which is good, as I don’t have any. Along the way I lost the trail, but a young man named John called me to the trail. We sat and talked awhile and then he took off up the trail and across snow. I followed at a much slower pace. There was more and steeper snow close to the top of the pass, so I headed straight up what turned out to be unstable mud and rock. Toward the top it was steep enough to be don’t-look-down steep (for me, anyway) until I made it to all rock. Whew, I didn’t like that much. And then to the top of West Maroon Pass at about 12,500 feet – breathtaking.

I’m sitting at the pass, resting and writing in the sun and no snow. This is why I’m here. This thin air. This basin on my right. This basin on my left and lakes far below. This time to be still – especially the still in the astonishing.

From the pass I went down steep switchbacks and across more snow and then a nice walk through fields of flowers. I’m guessing I’m about a week ahead of the greatest display, but there are many blooming now, too, so no complaints from me. Photo: looking down on basin

Then the trail started up toward Frigid Air Pass, not too steep, but ever upward and I needed to rest every 100 meters or so. When I got to the top, there was another stunning view of Fravert Basin and peaks stretching far away.

Down steep switchbacks, more snowfields, more trails of muddy water and finally a good campsite in Fravert Basin. Still no mosquitoes. I set up camp fast as there were threatening clouds. Fixed dinner (chili, hamburger gravel, tortillas, cheese, water, bite of dark chocolate) with a few raindrops falling, then no rain, but heavy clouds. 10 minutes after dinner some thunder. Sitting here in a grove of trees among flowers writing.

Two women literally run into the first (next) campsite with two muddy goldens. It’s the mother-daughter team the young man named John told me about. They’re rushing to set up their tent and make it with about 15 seconds to spare before the rain starts, so that’s good. Hoowee, I’ll bet it’s a scene with those two muddy dogs and all their gear piled in. I remember when our golden, Goldy, would shake off – what a huge spray of water!

It’s cooled down, raining for about 30 minutes so far.

I’m a little surprised at how little I’ve thought of my work (teaching community health) these past weeks. I feel a kind of background sense of pride in a job well-done for quite a while. I’ve never doubted for a moment that I left at the right time. It was getting so hard keeping all those windows open and operating at the same time – multiple undergraduate and graduate students, multiple patients, multiple systems (uni, clinic, grants). I was thinking today about how well the last two groups of students took care of me – literally. I’ll never forget it. Photo: from Trail Rider Pass

I guess it’s common when you’re a short-timer, to slack off – but we never did – I worked hard and so did the students – no compromises – full-speed and serious until the end. Something my employer and (non-student) colleagues (with several notable exceptions) never understood was the extent to which my students and I worked in partnership. They never understand that we worked together to heal the sick, physically and spiritually. They never understood the importance of that to the students and their growth as healers and humans.

So here’s to you, all the beautiful students.

I think it was raining when I went to sleep. There was a lot of lightening and thunder and then that passed, leaving a gentle rain.

The only problem with my neighbors being close was that their tent overlooked what I had planned to be my toilet area. So I broke camp and hiked up the trail a ways to a more private area. Then I filled my water bladder and bottle and had a devotional and started up the trail through a forest primeval, past a spectacular waterfall (Photo above) and any number of smaller falls.

When I got to the North Fork River, it was running deep and fast. Being alone and not trusting my strength/balance in crocs, I decided to wade across in my boots. It was a good decision as the water was very strong. Though I stopped on the other side and wrung my socks out and poured the water out of my boots, my feet were wet and cold the rest of the day. Photo: a stream

Shortly past the river was a big field of columbine. The trail was going up at that point and I failed to take a photo – alas, this was the only large field of columbine I saw. I walked through fields of flowers – yellow, white, blue, a few maroon – ever upward, through groves of aspen, scattered pines, upward. At some point I felt unsure of where I was and felt uneasy about it. To my left was a huge grey mass of rock and I felt a little uneasy about that, too. Forty years ago I would have been trying to work out a route up the face to the top, but, times change.

Finally I came around a corner and there was a beautiful little basin with a plateau and two little lakes with rounded granite formations on several sides. It was a perfect place to camp, but for some reason I wanted to push on to Trail Rider Pass. I’ll come back to this place, though. Onward, up, up, up and finally over the pass. The mother/daughter/2 dogs team was behind me for awhile, and on the approach to the pass they pulled ahead. At one point, as I stopped to gasp – I mean rest, I saw the dogs sitting on a rock outcrop gazing over the valleys while the humans labored slowly up the trail.

Finally to the top and another stunning view across the mountains and down into Snowmass Lake. I descended across more snowfields, the steepest so far. Near the edge of one I spaced out for a moment, losing my concentration a moment too soon and slipped and slid with shocking speed about 15 feet into some rocks. Yikes! Down, down, down, with some of the snowfields less steep so I could kind of slide/skate along for fun. Photo: from either Trail Rider or Buckskin Pass

Got to the trail junction near the lake. One way went maybe ¼ mile (down) to the lake and the other way went up toward the next pass. I took the path toward the pass, so missed camping close to the very beautiful lake. A great infantry truth: he who humps down, must hump up. My campsite that night was a textbook on where not to camp (many mosquitoes, among huge trees, several were dead – “widow-makers,” as the Baylor chaplain says). Beautiful bird songs in the evening, one of which I hadn’t heard before. And, as always in the mountain forests, woodpeckers.

In the morning I fixed a cup of coffee, ate an energy bar (Wild Child’s recipe) and took off up the trail. The 4th pass, Buckskin Pass was the easiest and I went up without much difficulty (found a tiny bird’s nest with dark brown eggs in a hole by the trail) to find yet another amazing view, then down, down, down toward the trailhead. It started to rain, but I doddered along, carefully, tired, happy, and grateful for my trekking poles – an old man’s friends for sure. Photo: cornice at Buckskin Pass

Flowers I saw that I can identify: purple fringe, lacy paintbrush, alpine primrose, marsh marigold, alpine clover, tansy aster, columbine, mountain bluebell, king’s crown, and (my favorite) alpine forget-me-not.

Animals: pronghorn antelope (in New Mexico), pica, chipmunk, marmot, mule deer, bighorn ram, llama, ground squirrel, rat (as in ratus ratus).

Meals - Dinner: marinara, beef, pasta, tortilla, cheese; chili with beef, tortilla, cheese; pasta alfredo with chicken, tortilla, cheese; pasta parmesan with chicken, bagel, cheese; I always added olive oil and salsa or peppers to the entree.
Breakfast: oatmeal with dry fruit, pecans, and milk.
Lunch: energy bars (Wild Child's) or trail mix.
I think I need to increase my intake some.

After the trek eats: hamburger, fries, Pepsi; Sicilian pizza, coke; sausage biscuit, hash browns, coffee; Vietnamese beef with cheese on top (Cheese? Um, good.), chao gio, potato chips, Cheerios with strawberries. Mr. Pigo. Photo: pica.

Photos from Maroon Bells and Rawah Wilderness

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On the road in 12 hours

The car is ready. With some help from Chris up the street, I took out the back bench seat of the Camry and folded the back seat down so there is an opening into the trunk. I got some big pillows at a thrift store and made a nice bed with my legs into the trunk – at 6’ I can stretch all the way out. Years ago I came into a roll of mosquito net – enough that back then I could drape the VW van in it. Now I have 4 sections of net ready, one for each door so the windows are covered and I can raise or lower them as needed. Got an ice chest full of coffee, water, and snacks. So my little RV is ready for some napping along the road.

Now is like several other times these past few months – surreal. I’m going calmly (sometimes calmly) about getting my gear squared away, food prepared and dehydrated, my other stuff packed, and so on and I’m feeling immense excitement and some apprehension – the latter mainly about leaving Leslie for so long. It was a challenging spring, with all the changes of retirement and stopping clinic involvement (except for seeing patients and a very little writing). We’ve worked it out and though in most ways my leaving is not the ideal thing for Leslie, she has been very supportive and helpful.

You know how sometimes people will go along with something, but send little negative or sacrificing hints or messages? There’s been none of that. Wow! She has again given me this gift of – I don’t even know what to call it … same as sending David, Jeff, and me off to Southeast Asia for 2 months in 2005. It’s a gift of self in the gift and the way it’s given. I know that. Sweet little Leslie, thank you. I love you.

Updated plan: I’ll drive close to straight through and on the interstates most of the time. The goal is to get to altitude as quickly as possible for maximum adjustment time before starting to trek.
35E north to Denton
380 west to Decatur
287 northwest to Wichita Falls, Vernon, Childress, Amarillo, then 287 north to Dumas
87/385 to Dalhart and into NM (now Highway 64/87) on to Raton
25 north to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver
36 to Boulder and through to Estes Park

Probably I’ll go through Boulder and into Rocky Mountain National Park by the morning of the 8th. I’ll do a day hike and the next day head to Loveland to meet John (from backpacker forum) and his friend and then to the Rawah Wilderness. We’ll camp close to the trailhead and be on the trail the 10th. The first couple of days will be a challenge for me, no doubt! We’ll spend 6 days on the trail, then I’ll head to Boulder to rest for a couple of days, then to the Maroon Bells to hike the 4 pass loop. Rest for a day and drive back to Dallas about the time David gets back. We’ll hang out for a few days and he’ll be off to Berkeley. I’ll work at la clinica for 3 weeks, then back to Colorado and into Wyoming from mid-August until mid-September.

This from email from John: (be at trailhead) about 0800 on the 10th. First night stay at Carey Lake and hike up to Island Lake if not too tired. On the 11th stay and Twin Crater Lakes and hike up the Continental Divide if not too tired. On the 12th stay at Rawah Lake #3 and hike up to Rawah Lake #4 if not too tired. On the 13th stay at Upper Twin or Iceberg Lake and climb to the Divide again if not too tired. On the 14th, I am open. We can either hike out and stay at Lost lake then hike out the next day to Rawah TH or, hike down and stay at Upper Camp Lake and hike out the next day to WB TH.

The menu for the first 6 days on the trail (all freezer bag, cat food can stove):
Oatmeal with fruit & pecans, coffee; energy bar (homemade); spaghetti, cheese, olive oil, hamburger gravel, tortilla
Oatmeal with fruit & pecans, coffee; Ebar; mash potato, ham, cheese, tortilla
Oatmeal with fruit & pecans, coffee; Ebar; pasta parmesan, salmon, tortilla
Eggs with ham & peppers, coffee; Ebar; chili mac, hb gravel, cheese
Oatmeal with fruit & pecans, coffee; Ebar; pasta alfredo, chicken, peanuts
Oatmeal with fruit & pecans, coffee; Ebar; mash potato, salmon, cheese

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Romeo & Juliet

Sometimes it's like I'm looking in on a Shakespeare tragedy, in reality, seeing people's lives pass through mine, today, children - still sweet - of a woman who wears her resume on her arms and neck and elsewhere in a series of tattoos done in an East Dallas barrio apartment and you know, women don't do these kind of tattoos around here because they are a little, uh, alienated. When they were ready to leave, her son says to me, "Is there any question you want to ask her?" I say, "Yeah, how are you, Mom?" "I'm doing good." (Meaning, she's clean.) And I'm saying to her son, "Hey ______ , next summer you'll be 13 - old enough to volunteer at the clinic, what do you say, want to come here a day or two a week?" And he lights up, quietly, and says, "Yes. Can my big sister come too?" "Sure, no problem."

A man I know comes in, a retired police officer. He's bringing his grandson in for a scout physical. He tells me his wife died in November 2006 and his daughter died in November 2007 and he's taking care of his grandchildren, new responsibilities, back in law enforcement. The South Texas retirement home he and his wife built and she never saw is empty.

The verb, hostage: one of our patients tells me that she had been an accountant in El Salvador until 4 months ago. She came to the U.S. after her brother was “hostaged” and killed in December. Another brother had been “hostaged” and killed 11 years ago. These were political kidnappings that also involved ransoms that once paid, resulted in death.

Each one of our patients comes to us with a background. Sometimes the stories are ordinary, sometimes good, and sometimes terrible. But each one is the story of a life, a family, strengths, weaknesses. It's a good thing to find a place where you can tell your story.

Romeo & Juliet (they used to have a scene)