Mon, Mar 22, 2021

Struggling To Stay Young As I Rapidly Grow Old

         Memory lapse in we elder folk, I'm convinced, rarely happens. It's just that spending so much time embellishing the past causes the present to get a little fuzzy. The older I get the more likely it is that a bend in the road will pop the lid on my memory jar allowing fragments of the past to bubble up. Grabbing a hold of this or that flash from the past and reworking the details to a satisfactory outcome is hard to resist. A recent drive from the old silver mining town of Leadville to the old gold mining town of Central City took me smack dab through the middle of Summit County, the heart and hub of Colorado ski country. When it comes to a boom or bust attitude, Summit County tops most lists. Looking to my left or right, I'm horrified by the spread of malls and condominiums. Traffic is stop and go and parking is difficult to come by. Well I said to myself, didn't you let out a loud cheer when you heard about bigger and better ski resorts being built west of the high mountains. I surely did and as an avid skier, I gave a resounding yes to the go ahead. I just never envisioned the possibility of a sprawling metropolis encompassing an entire pristine mountain valley. Nor did it cross my mind that savvy entrepreneurs spending a fistful of greenbacks might not be good stewards of the land. The landscape has been transformed. It is what it is and there's no going back.

         It's 1959, give or take a year, and I am nudging my all time favorite possession, a 1951 Pontiac Chieftain Coupe over the 12,000 ft. crest of Loveland Pass. On the downhill side, I come to an abrupt stop startled by a very slow rolling boulder, a ton or more, making its way across the highway in front of me. Loveland Pass, the direct route to Summit County from Denver, could be challenging especially in winter. Picking up a few extra bucks for university expenses, I remember some white knuckle times driving ski bus charters from Denver's Stapleton Airport to Aspen. Often, towards the top of the pass, above the treeline, there would be an unbroken field of white and finding the road was a guessing game. By the 1950's in Summit County, the gold rush days had faded away and the hordes of Denver fun seekers had not yet arrived. Going west from the bottom of Loveland Pass, the narrow two lane highway 6, headed west through open range country, and cut through the county's largest town, Dillon with a population of maybe 600. The now world class ski town of Breckenridge could only count 250 live bodies and was on the verge of becoming a ghost town. On any given day, there might be one or two cars parked at the trailheads given access to the pristine Gore Mountains where other hikers were seldom seen. Travelling South from Brekenridge on the Hoosier Pass road, looking to bag fourteeners, one could easily find camping spots next to the Blue River. Back then, Summit County was an empty mountain playground for the lucky few. We didn't give it much thought, it was the way things were, it was normal.

         It's the middle of May 1960, and time for the yearly pilgrimage with friends to climb and ski Quandary Peak. The summit of this high fourteener is 14,265 ft., more than likely the highest point in Summit county. As far as fourteeners go, It's an easy climb and the Hoosier Pass road lets you start high up. From Monte Cristo Creek scramble up a half mile to Quandary's East Ridge and then it's a two and half mile climb to the Peak's top. It's time for lunch and a thermo of hot tea hits the spot. Skiing down, there are a lot of possibilities on this wide sloping east face, about a three thousand foot drop and the spring "corn-snow" is the best. Here's a fun way to climb another fourteener, Grays peak. West of Denver. Grays sits on the Continental Divide with its west slope in Summit County and its east side in Clear Creek County. It's not quite the witching hour and we are inching our way up Stevens Gulch, a steep bumpy dirt road. With flashlight in hand, we will be making a nighttime ascent of Gray's peek on a well developed horse trail that zig zags to the mountains high point. Starry skies at thirteen thousand feet on a cloudless night is a stunning sight. Our aim is to be on the summit in the dark hours of the morning. Looking east at fourteen thousand feet, we watch a morning sun rise slowly above the horizon and light up the day.

         A rest stop seemed like a good idea before Interstate 70 makes the climb to the long tunnel that zips beneath the Divide. Ruminating on Summit County's hideous unplanned growth has left me in a sour mood. Driving around forever in a Dillon Mall looking for a parking space was a further aggravation. Being pandemic times, I'm sitting in my car munching on a spicy Italian subway sandwich. A young fellow carrying a snowboard skips by and seems happy go lucky. With a little pondering, it dawns on me that the snowboarder is not burdened with memories of a valley landscape that no longer exists. He's not caught up with comparing the past to the present. Looking around, he sees blue skies and towering snow covered peaks surrounding a favored valley. He isn't giving much thought to crowded shopping malls and back to back condos, it's the way things are, it's normal. In all likelihood, he will soon be careening down snowy slopes creating memories for the future.


Wed, Apr 14, 2021

Hold On: The Party's Not Over

A June morning in 1959 and Denver Union Station is bustling with activity. In front of the station, a fleet of Greyline buses are parked at a slight angle awaiting the arrival of a few hundred midwestern tourists. A three day excursion through Colorado's mountains, a trip of a lifetime.


Mon, Apr 6, 2021

Memorable Mountain Outings

Here's a puzzle. Looking down from the top floor of a tall building, I can expect a rapid heartbeat and quivering knees. Yet, going along a narrow mountain ledge with precipitous cliffs, it's a walk in the park. Why not golf or tennis instead of mountain climbing? I have no idea but the urge to be in mountain country has always been there. Climbing was never an obsession, it was secondary, a recreational pursuit.


Fri, 30 Apr, 2021

Are You Trying To Kill The Kids!?

The car is parked in the driveway, the rear slightly sagging under the weight of heavy packs. Paul's in the front seat and Niki is popping in and out of the back seat mumbling again and again: my dad and my brother are crazy. Our destination is Wyoming's Wind River Mountains where a multi-day crossing will take us on an ambitious alpine route.