Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wind Rivers 2012

Taken standing in front of my tent - sub-alpine paradise
(Written in a vast mountain meadow called Miller Park) When I was in my teens I would look at maps and see an area called the Bridger Wilderness and I would wonder what that was like. Now I know. This place, the Wind River Mountains in the Bridger Wilderness, must surely be one of the most beautiful places in North America, if not the world. I’m grateful I’ve been here.
In one of the basins between two of the passes in the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop (Colorado) I came across some alpine tarns and granite domes and I thought, “This is it. This is what I’m looking for. I’ll be back.” Then I found the Winds – a mountain range full of tarns and granite domes, and jagged peaks, glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls, tundra – really an amazing place.
On my last night out, a prayer of deep gratitude that I’ve known some small part of this incomparable place.
I didn’t get as far or as high as I planned. I got to about 10800, partway up Indian Basin on my third day and was having to stop every 50 yards or so and taking a long time to recover. A man on the trail had said to me, “It’s a wise man who’s willing to change his mind.” As soon as I got down to ~10000 I started feeling better. I camped at Island Lake, on the way out the next day I camped at Seneca Lake, and the last night in the meadow.
Next to my last campsite
I’m camped next to a grove of about 8 large pines. In the morning as night fades the wilderness awakens – the nocturnal animals settling in and the sky purple over the mountains, rising to pink, fading into blue and the clouds white and some tinged with pink and a jay screeching, answered from around the meadow by other jays, some cheeping, some rapid warbles, cawing, and what sounds like a squirrel chuk-chuk-chuking and a woodpecker going to work. I’m having oatmeal and coffee on this last morning on the trail.
I’ve pushed it pretty hard backpacking, with the pinnacle being the 2009 loop along the Highline Trail, over Knapsack Col, and the long glissade down Twin Glacier, and on out through Titcomb Basin. The vision now is smaller. I think easier treks, no glaciers, no epic. I found myself thinking about Big Bend. The following is from the Thanksgiving 2007 Sierra Club Big Bend trip.
Island Lake
When I got up the next morning I walked into the woods to urinate and as I unzipped I heard a sound off to my right. I looked and about 30 feet away (I later paced it off – 10 paces) was a mountain lion standing sideways to me, looking at me. Big, beautiful tawny, big eyes. I flashed on Juana, a Mexican woman I know who has power over animals and I did what I thought Juana would: I said “Hello, how are you” and went ahead and peed. Meanwhile the cougar watched me, sneezed a few times, sat down and licked her chest. I finished, zipped up and said something like “I hope I see you later” and walked away. When I looked back she was still sitting there, watching me. A little while later at breakfast I told the people in my group what had happened and several of the men went to see if they could see it (they assumed it was a male, I thought it was a female – we later found out which it was)…
That night I slept warm with the wind rushing high above (but it was not windy where we were) and I heard the patter of rain or sleet on my tent. In the morning several people said they had heard something that sounded like cats, but not lion-sized….
I left Amarillo before sunrise and here it comes
In the morning the tents were covered in (granular) ice >1 inch thick in some places. The plan was to break camp and hike to the lodge for breakfast (mmm, bacon) and then hike out of the mountains. Taking the tent down was soooo slow, with so much ice (inside the tent, too) and my fingers icy cold and then numb and kind of hot feeling – how many times long ago climbing had they felt that way – knocking the ice off and untying lines and then the lion returned and began to scream. I saw it again, about 40 feet away, watching us. It stalked our camp, screaming and hissing 5-10 times as we broke camp. Our theory, zoologists that we are not, was that she had cubs nearby and had basically just had it with us being so close. Who knows.
As I was falling asleep one night I sat up laughing out loud, realizing that the commitment to live fully beginning when I survived a war has resulted in me living at least 1.5 lifetimes, so far.

I think of what I want to do in my life now… a little travel and being home with Leslie, being around David, a little backpacking, journeys with Jeff, but mainly what I look forward to is being with/taking care of Leslie.

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