eing stalked is an eerie sensation. Who is the predator? What does the predator seek?
I’ve felt this “being stalked” sensation in my bones numerous times during the past few years, especially when hiking in the high country and futilely have tried losing my pursuer.
Yet, my adversary possesses perseverance and skill, refusing to be denied.
My foe uses guile and timeless experience to remain on my trail, ignoring my deceptions and not falling for my tricks.
Such dogged determination; refusing to let me escape; haunting me in broad daylight, in shadows, and even at night.
After my double knee replacement and seven-hour back surgery, both in 2007, within five-months of each other, my antagonist gleefully taunted, “Nothing personal, but you are mine!”
“Never!” I defiantly retorted and so his pursuit of me began on the mountaintops and in canyons.
Relentless and unyielding best describes my foe; Father Time, who carries the distasteful baggage of advancing age; reduced mobility, agility, endurance, and muscle, greater susceptibility to injury, especially falls, memory deficits, deteriorating joints, and more.
I told him that the only commodity of his I was interested in was wisdom, but he responded, “It doesn’t work that way, this is a package deal.”
And so, the years passed, and he remained on my trail, more and more difficult to elude, coming closer and closer.
Classic Indian Summer days in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains; enchantingly lovely with stable weather in the vicinity of historic Silverton. Kathy’s and my first day was devoted to climbing 13,165-foot Stony Pass Peak, which overlooks the Continental Divide Trail. The second day found us ascending the fiery colored slops of Red Mountain No. 1 which towers above Corkscrew Pass. Such perfect, wonder-filled days are rare; even in Colorado. From atop those two summits, other destinations beckoned; 13,478 foot Canby Mountain opposite Stony Pass Peak and 13,339 foot Mt. Brown (Duco Benchmark) across from Red Mountain No. 1.
Those two mountains were near the top of my “to do” bucket list; personal priorities before Father Time caught up with me and yes, Kathy, also. Weather and vehicle problems were prime obstacles preventing the accomplishment of those goals the following two years.
I’m 65 and realize that I’m running out of time to continue climbing above 13,000 feet. It is undeniable that high elevation summits have become harder to reach than in younger years. Father Time, wearing a malicious grin, chuckled, “Soon you will be mine.”
With four plus decades of hiking history, I’ve summited over 3,000 peaks of varying shapes and sizes all over the country, including nearly 300 above 13,000 feet; so I’m counting on experience to be my card in the hole to once again frustrate Father Time for another season.
Realistically, I grudgingly understand that I can’t indefinitely continue climbing high peaks. I’m running out of time and its 2013 or never.
Near the outskirts of Silverton, Highway 110 meets a Y-shaped fork where the road on the right heads due east, becoming the famous Alpine Loop Road. Passing several mines, this well maintained road junctions with BLM Road 589 (most of this mountainous terrain is under BLM not Forest Service jurisdiction).
After 1.8 miles on Road 589, we turned left onto four-wheel drive Road 789 which winds southward, twisting four signed (in reality five plus) miles to 12,588 foot Stony Pass way above timberline.
There being no way that our pick-up truck, carrying a thousand pound pop-up camper on the truck bed, could negotiate the pass, we ascended the narrow, rocky track at an excruciating slow speed to a below timberline sharp bend where we parked.
Walking steadily uphill on the wide track was easy, almost relaxing (except for the thin air) as the alpine world surrounding us dramatically opened up. Mountain bikers struggled the most in the high elevation and every biker we met was good naturedly walking his bike uphill. Yet, those enthusiastic fellows always smiled.
Wednesday morning, Aug. 15, with its made to order conditions of calm, sunny, and warm weather was proving to be perfect for our Canby Mountain trek. Lucy Chocolate Lab, happy as always when in the mountains, had doubled our mileage, with her breakneck back and forth sprints, by the time we paused for snacks beside two crystal clear tarns.
Snack time over; time to work. For the foolhardy, there is the impossible challenge of climbing Canby’s towering west facing cliffs. Wisely, we opted to follow a more reasonable, unsigned route, climbing steeply, then more gradually over tundra and circumventing the menacing wall toward a grassy saddle separating Canby from an unnamed 13,214 foot peak. Might as well do that one too while we were there.
Our high country passage didn’t go unnoticed for after sighting us, tiny pikas squeaked, bold marmots chirped, and mottled ptarmigans clucked a panicked song. While not polished, this out of key chorus was lively and entertaining.
Waving farewell to Peak 13,214, we methodically plodded (except for Lucy who ran) up an obstacle free ridge to Canby’s airy summit. Nearly vertical east facing cliffs lined both our easy ascent ridge and Canby’s summit. One false step close to the edge and a hiker would emulate the ugly thuds of two boulders we witnessed falling before they exploded into smithereens.
Across the pass and appearing diminutive from above, Stony Pass Peak’s lower elevation belied our memory of the difficulty climbing its steepled summit three years earlier. However, Canby’s true majesty revealed itself in the terrifying pinnacled ridge emanating from its southeastern side.
Quietly, we sat; mesmerized by the surreal splendor of sheer rock faces belonging to the distant, sky piercing Grenadiers. Our pleasure in the moment was tempered with melancholy for in our hearts, we knew that future days, for us, at comparable high elevations were numbered.
As for Father Time, his unsmiling face was nowhere to be seen and I didn’t miss him.
Two days later, we took the left fork out of Silverton on Highway 110; heading north towards Gladstone, before driving up another narrow track, and parking near the below timberline junction with Corkscrew Pass Road 886. The morning’s beauty was a carbon copy of our recent Canby Mountain ascent day. We were ready to go and Lucy was again off to the races.
Minutes into our walk, we turned onto Copper Gulch Road 889, soon stopping at the saddle between Red Mountain No. 1 and Mount Brown. Simply put, no locale in all of Colorado comes closer to being paradise on earth than this little known site where sparkling fens (rare ponds fed by groundwater more than by runoff) in a lush meadow, checkered with stately evergreens, reflect with crystalline clarity, the radiant splendor of Red Mountain No. 1 under the bluest of heavens. Even these written words cannot do the beauty justice.
Moving upward along a broad tundra ridge which gradually narrowed, we clambered over minor ridge points, continually looking down upon the paradise below us.
While Brown Mountain is a walk up peak like Canby, it required more of us due to greater elevation gain, steeper terrain, and mischievous weather gods. Clouds played tag with the sun and cooling breezes stiffened, requiring us to wear gloves and don additional layered clothing.
Literally, Kathy and I were encircled by a sea of both treacherous and gentle mountains whose ridges formed a dividing line between lost alpine valleys. We enjoyed identifying earlier climbed peaks and studying lonely summits seldom touched by human footsteps. Feeling very much alive atop our lofty 13,339 foot perch, we savored the freedom of the mountains and felt very good.
Far below, I spotted Father Time unsteadily seated upon a lonely outcrop. Looking up at us, he frowned while with a wave of my hand, I yelled, “See you next year!”
1. Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Lake City Colorado published by Trails Illustrated Topo Maps, now National Geographic Trails Illustrated.
2. San Juan National Forest Map
3. Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer, 8th edition, copyright 2007 DeLorme, pages 76-77.