An Elevated Weekend

July 30, 2009 at 1:00 PMJeremy

A couple of weeks ago, I got invited to join some friends on their way to Colorado.  They were going to climb up to camp at Lake Como and then try to summit Little Bear the next day.  It was a whirlwind trip, leaving Thursday evening to drive all night, and then driving back all night Saturday to arrive home Sunday morning.

I didn't have much time to pack, but I think I sufficiently covered everything.  I got a new pair of hiking shoes from Academy, since my everyday casual shoes didn't turn out to be that good for my hike through Palo Duro Canyon.  I'd have liked to get a pair of hiking pants (lightweight pants that zip off at the knee), but apparently only short people do much hiking.  I shouldn't be surprised, though, since all my pants have to be special ordered.  As much as I wanted to pack my very last MRE that's been sitting in a box in my closet for the past 10 years, I did some research online that guesses the shelf life at maybe 7 years and I didn't want to risk eating something expired.

Anyway, we got on the road making pretty good time.  Our arrangement in John's truck was a little awkward: we of course had a driver, and the front passenger was supposed to watch the road and make sure the driver didn't nod off.  The bed of the truck was covered by a camper shell, and John had built a platform under which we could stow our gear, and on top of which two people could roll out sleeping bags and sleep, so we could always have somebody rested and ready to drive.  But in the back of the cab, we had two people who really couldn't sleep very well, but also didn't really have any reason to be awake.  During the late, late hours that was a bit of a boring row to be stuck in.

We headed up to Arlington to pick up our last Texan camper (we met Mark in Colorado), and headed north.  The trip up was mostly uneventful.  I misjudged how soon we'd reached Amarillo... by three hours (I started seeing signs for the Big Texan Steak Ranch, and figured we must be close).  I co-piloted for Chris twice--once late at night, and another stretch at dawn through Raton (after I explained that my astigmatism makes me see starbursts around lights at night, they didn't want me driving... go figure).


We met up with Mark and had a good, hot breakfast in town, and then set out for the trailhead.

The "Before" Shot.

John's Rig.

Mark's Off-Roading Audi.

Lake Como Road is a unique experience.  People seem to just drive as far as they can up the steep, rocky road, and then just abandon their vehicles when they can go no further and continue on foot.  Pretty early on, we had to unload the ATV and have it pull its own trailer, because the truck and trailer together were too long to get over some of the obstacles.  We made it a pretty decent stretch.

Then we had our first problem:

The truck overheated.  Turns out, one of the clamps holding on the radiator hose broke and the hose popped off, leaking coolant everywhere.  We were forced to leave the truck and continue on with the ATV and Mark's Audi, which we left not too much higher up the trail.

ATV Pulling Our Stuff.

Cloud and Shadow.

Much farther up the trail, we had to leave even the trailer behind and carry our stuff.  This had me really wishing we'd packed lighter.  The more experienced guys took the ATV on up ahead, and Chris and I brought up the rear as each step up got harder and harder for me to handle.  When we finally caught up with the rest of the group, Sean told us about the next problem.  John tried to get the ATV up a really nasty section of rock, but it slipped back, sending both him and the ATV over the side about 50 feet.  John was scatched up but otherwise okay.  The ATV (which was surprisingly still operable) was stuck down near a stream with no obvious way of getting it back out.  

We decided the best course of action was to head back down a ways to where we'd seen a guy camping with his Jeep Cherokee.  We figured he might be able to help us get the ATV back up to the trail.  He actually had the idea that since there were so many of us, we ought to be able to just pull it up. 

We set up camp for the night, and all enjoyed some dehydrated camp food and tried to get some sleep.  

Morning at Camp.

I don't know that any of us slept particularly well, but after warming up by the fire and having a breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we were ready to go.  Oh, and it was my birthday!

We got back to the site where we'd lost the ATV.  Since I was barely making it up the mountain to begin with, I was designated as the photographer to provide witness of the recovery operation.

John went down to help guide the ATV up the hill, while the others hooked the tow straps together and pulled. 


And Chris...


Chris was cold.

Trekking On.

They pretty easily got the ATV back up to the trail.  We'd lost too much time for them to be able to reach one of the summit's that day, but we decided we'd still have time to go the rest of the way up to Lake Como.  

Now, I had stuggled just to get to the crash site.  Depending on who you asked, it was anywhere between a mile and 2 1/2 miles more to Lake Como (ultimately, I think it was around 1 1/2 miles, but felt like 12).  I'd worn a long sleeve t-shirt and blue jeans, thinking we were just going to try to get the ATV back and be done with it.  I'd brought my camera, but only my midrange zoom lens, and no extra memory cards.  Walking the 1/2 mile back down to camp was out of the question, as that would've added another mile to my step count for the day.  John took the ATV down to get our water bottles.  I had left my borrowed hiking poles back at camp, but Sean found me a tree branch that I wittled into an acceptable walking stick.

So I trudged.  And trudged.  And trudged some more.  Sean held back with Chris and me to "encourage" us, although he was more a discouragement than anything.  No less than 3 times, he went ahead to a bend and said he thought that we were on the home stretch and it was only a little farther.  One time he even "knew it" - he was wrong.  My family already knows what I do when I'm tricked onto an "easy trail" that turns out to be nothing of the sort: I threaten to beat the person to death with the pole I'm holding.  Two people now share the honor of being threatened in such a circumstance.

Finally, we made it.

Lake Como.

I have to say, it really was gorgeous up there.  A nice, pretty day, a cool breeze in the air, almost totally isolated.  Mountains, trees, grass, a calm lake, some flowing streams.  I rested a bit and then set about taking pictures:

A Marmot.

Angry Chipmunk.


A Columbine, the State Flower of Colorado.

I really wish we could've stayed up there longer.  But of course, I was also running out of memory space, so more time would've been wasted from a photography standpoint.  Still, I wish we had actually made it up there to camp the previous night.  The lake and grassy fields seemed much more inviting than the dusty expanse where we set up camp.

Going downhill was awesome!  It's like every step was undoing all the misery that had come before.  This time, I held back for Chris, whose knees weren't being very cooperative.  We loaded up the trailer, got down to Mark's car, then back to the truck, where John did a quick repair job and we refilled the radiator with some filtered mountain water.  Our climb had come to an end.

Mt. Blanca.


It was almost dinner time, so we found a little place to eat, the Silver Sage Steakhouse.  I'm sure they get people like us all the time, but we hadn't showered in 2 days and looked pretty ragged.

Checking myself out before going into the restaurant.

Still, I don't know if it was the meat, or the exhaustion, or having been away from civilization, but that might have been the best steak I'd ever eaten.  All in all, it was a pretty cool birthday, but we still had another 13 hours of driving to do.

The Road Home (by Sean Barr).

A Night Drive (by Sean Barr).

Sean borrowed my camera to take some pictures while I drove (turns out, when people are tired enough, they don't really care how well you see at night).  Even though he also has a D40, he had to ask me how to get the shutter to stay open longer.  Still, he got some rather artistic shots.  Since I've been trying to improve as a photographer, I've been trying to always get exact detail and sharp focus, but Sean's pictures where a good reminder that playing with the light and getting an "imperfect" shot can still produce an interesting result.

To cap the weekend, I get a call from Marci, who was filling in for me running the computer stuff at church.  It turns out that lightning had hit earlier in the week and almost everything was broken.  The guys dropped me off at the church, and I set about trying to get things operational.  We were able to manage, but I had to sit through the entire service as I was - not having showered or shaved for 2 days, brushed my teeth or changed clothes in a day, and not having slept more than a couple of hours the night before.  Still, it was a fun story to add to a weekend of fun stories.

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