13 August 2013
Yet another installment of my old Geocity trip reports moving over here, one by one, as work, time and space permit. My done list is located here.
4 September 2006
Our original plan was to go up Huron on Saturday, then do some yet undetermined hike Monday, two trips west and probably two to four tanks of gas. Gas prices and recent car repairs caused us to be a bit squeamish of all leisure expenses, so The Lizard’s last-minute Friday night change of plans seemed a much better deal – leave for Huron on Sunday afternoon after church and camp in the neighborhood of Winfield before making a Monday ascent.
I am the slowest hill walker on the planet, and I haven't been at altitude in quite a while. I’ve always had deep respect and admiration for people who come to Colorado once a year and squeeze as many summits as they can into a one- or two-week period. I try to bike and walk every day of the week, but it’s just not the same thing as forcing your body uphill at altitude for miles at a time. Every little gain I make feels lost when I have huge gaps between efforts, such as this year. I honestly don’t know how distant out-of-staters do it.
My routine 186,000-mile clutch replacement had come with a clunking recommendation for the drive shaft to be replaced, too. The parts for the drive shaft didn’t arrive until today, apres hike, so four-wheeling over the weekend probably would not have been an intelligent choice. The sponginess of my new clutch often makes me wonder if I picked up the wrong 4Runner, though! Man, is it hard to get used to not punching the pedal all the way through the floorboard anymore!
We arrived at a very crowded Winfield at about 3 p.m. Sunday, so we had enough time for a warm-up hike up the La Plata trail. We stashed the vehicle in a safe place and hiked about three miles up the four-wheel drive road and trail, marveling at the changing leaves, beaver ponds, ptarmigan, snowshoe hares and rebellious gentians that refuse to acknowledge chilly nights.
Trivia: Did you know the Harvest Moon traditionally is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox? That’s why sometimes it’s in September, and sometimes it’s in October. This year, fall begins smack dab in the middle of the September and October full moons.
By the time we returned to the car, the egg-shaped moon was lighting up the surrounding peaks and the now twilight valley, and many vehicles in the campground had departed. We found an acceptable and reasonably isolated campsite and were serenaded by young children signing traditional camp songs in very high pitch to the strum of a distant guitar.
Bright and early Monday morning, seven vehicles had taken on the four-wheel-drive Winfield road by the time we began hiking up it. We assumed that meant at least seven parties would be ahead of us. As it turned out, though, some of the early risers were bow hunters who didn’t appear very pleased at our trespassing into their quiet domain as we hiked upward toward the trailhead.
The register at the trailhead was full; in fact, people had begun recording their entry on the brown folder. Once the true uphill portion of the climb began, it didn’t take long before my snail’s pace had parties and pooches passing us every few minutes. From our glorious viewpoints high on the La Plata trail, Huron’s summit seemed rather tiny. Would it accommodate today’s audience?
As we broke free of the trees, the marvelous Apostles came into view. The Lizard drooled over the Icebox Couloir as I fantasized about a lengthy photo session at Lake Ann. Still silhouetted by the morning sun, the jagged Apostles inspired me to inquire if I might be able to undertake a Tour de Huron, taking the alternate route down the southwest slopes so I could shoot afternoon light on the Apostles. The Lizard, meanwhile, was eyeing the highpoints along Huron's north ridge. This trip would be our first test of our two-way radios, and The Lizard wanted to give them a healthy workout, but he was not comfortable with me descending an unknown route alone while he headed in the opposite direction, particularly because the route I wanted to take probably wouldn’t have many other hikers, just in case something went wrong.
The Lizard continually admired the workmanship of standard trail as we headed up. The frequent embedded stairsteps make the steepest portions easier for the heavy traffic this trail endures while minimizing the effects of erosion caused by such intense use. I didn’t care for the marble-size dirt chunks leading to the summit of the huge rockpile called Huron and often detoured among the boulders for better traction, but the trail is well-marked and well-built the entire route.
The summit was indeed petite; perhaps it felt smaller while playing host to so many people and dogs. One group of 14 people barely fit into a summit photo, and several teenagers plugged into iPods had sprawled out to relax beneath the crisp blue sky on what little level surface was available. On the bright side, there was a summit register, and it contained many blank pages. (That alone is a miracle upon the 14ers these days with the blatant vandalism by supposed tree huggers who consider trail registers trash. I personally see historic value to the registers, and I'd rather people write on the registers than the rocks.)
The Lizard got me down the tough (for me) upper section before heading north along the ridge. I continued downhill, and The Lizard checked in via radio each time he hit a high point. About halfway down the mountain, the signal became very scratchy and sometimes difficult to make out, but only twice were we not able to reach each other. Also at this point, a number of teenage boys came galloping down the trail in an apparent race. I thought maybe the parents had bribed them: "First one to the car gets to drive us home." But at the stream crossing near the end of the trail proper, there was this same group of boys, this time unplugged and completely drenched. They all had their feet in the water, and they were engaged in a vigorous splashing game.
At the trailhead, I tried to radio The Lizard to find out if I had enough time to go up the Gunnison Spur for my Apostles shots but could not reach him. I felt somewhat strong and knew it wasn’t much of a climb, so I decided to chance going up around the bend for a few shots, hoping I would still make it back to the car before The Lizard.
The Lizard finally was able to reach me again from the summit of Middle Mountain. He said Cross Mountain was calling out to him, "Me, me! Come tag me!" So he wanted to run over and grab it before heading back to Middle and then down Pt. 12,622 to an unnamed switchbacking trail to the North Ridge Trail proper down Lulu gulch. Cool! Maybe I could still beat him back to the car! (Insert laugh track here.)
We lost contact again as I headed toward Hamilton but re-established when I got back to the trailhead. Instead of continuing down to the car when he hit the four-wheel-drive road, The Lizard backtracked up the road to meet me because he said he could tell by my voice on the radio I’d bit off a little more than I could chew. When we joined up again, he asked if I wanted him to carry my pack the remaining mile or so. My mouth said no and my head shook a visual refusal, but my shoulders, more closely connected to my lower back than my brain, slumped and allowed the pack to fall to the ground.
As we walked back to the car, I kept wondering if I could ask The Lizard to drive me across the campground to the outhouse. Everything hurt. My feet, my knee, my back; even my hands and elbows from wrestling with some aggressive willows in the beaver ponds along my photographic detour. Surprisingly enough, I was able to walk to the little brown building on my own, after which The Lizard confessed he wanted to drive me over because he could see how sore I was.
I sipped a berry smoothie I’d kept on ice for after the hike and offered The Lizard a swig. He drank a couple swallows, made a sour face and handed it back to me. "You can have the rest." His loss!
The moonlight would have provided a tranquil ride home, but I slept. Oh, that’s something I like to do on return trips. But only if The Lizard drives.