Monday, October 10, 2005

why i backpack

i know you have all been waiting anxiously for news of the epic weekend backpack; i apologize for the delay. it has been a busy couple days since i returned. better late than never though.

as the weekend approached, i spent more and more time double-checking the weather forecast. by the time we left town, the forecast had remained essentially unchanged for three days. Friday night was to be cold, roughly 25F, but not terrible. Saturday, clear skies with a high of about 60F and a low in the night of 32F. Sunday looked a little less fun with a high of 55F and 60% chance of rain. knowing this, raingear and associated cold weather gear figured heavily in packweight. for a variety of reasons, most of which are uninteresting, Aaron and i took my car for the weekend. the destination was Sarvis Creek Wildneress, in Routt National Forest, over by Steamboat Springs. our goal was to hike 11.5 miles from the west to east trailheads, camp overnight and then hike the entire distance back on Sunday.

Friday night was gorgeous but, as ever, it was slow-going getting out of town. [this of course was the reason for leaving Friday. we could sleep at the trailhead and get an early start on Saturday.] the night was clear and gorgeous as we wound up the Poudre. continuing a trend from previous trips, we spotted most of our wildlife on the drive in. after crossing Cameron Pass around 9pm and starting through Walden valley, we were startled by an elk buck mere feet from the right side of the road. the startling thing was not his proximity but his sheer magnificience. before we passed him, i counted at least six points. less than a quarter mile later, we sighted another buck, this one notably shorter but also with beautiful antlers on the left side of the road. rounding out the sightings, another mile into the valley we almost hit an owl as it struggled and heaved a heavy kill over the road.

on we went through the valley, eventually reaching and crossing Rabbit Ears pass. the final 40 miles of the trip were ill-lit, poorly marked winding roads; Esther braved potholes equivalent in size to her, bringing us eventually out to the trailhead. by this time it was plenty late and cold so we decided to sleep in the car and start fresh in the morning.

why i backpack
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
morning dawned early and chilly but with sparkling clear skies. the first couple miles in from the trailhead were a trial--a high winding grade on poorly managed trail and my lungs were acting up. the scenery was spectacular, as evidenced by this pic about 1 1/2 miles in. we also had a humorous encounter with a very chubby, very lazy ground bird. it looked like an enormous engorged chicken and the drab coloring suggested it was a hen. after reviewing birds in my field guide, i have to concede it must have been a grouse, probably a blue grouse, though she appeared several inches larger than reported sizes. however, as Holmes would say, 'when you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left...'

aspen turning
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
just about the time we hit mile 3, the terrain changed and opened onto sweeping vistas with wide swathes of changing aspen, barren rock outcroppings and alpine marsh. about this time, Sarvis Creek initiated a game of peekaboo, tripping in and out of view, burrowing beneath snowy remnants and popping playfully out to burble through prime moose feeding territory. fresh elk, deer and moose sign were thick around us.

we continued on several miles, lunching at mile 6 on a large rock balanced in the creek. somewhere around mile 8, the trail disappeared into the creek and under the snow. to continue on, we cozied up to the lower lorder of this large rock face and wiggled along the ledge, careful not to be thrown in the waters errant branch attacks on our packs. as we made the curve, we could again identify the path and parted ways with Sarvis Creek, beginning the trek up into the hills. terrain along this stretch was very similar to that in Rawah Wilderness except for the increased grade of the trail.

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.

by this time, we had gained over 2300 feet elevation, 1000 of which we lost and regained twice as we rambled over steep slopes. the hike was stunning but we were starting to feel the pain. mile 9, we crested the top of the world (or so it felt) and stood surround by flat to mildly sloping terrain with widely spaced firs in all directions. the stillness was deafening.

initially Aaron voted to camp here, the memory of our slanting campsite last time fresh in his mind. as he is such a good sport and i really wanted to try and reach the other trailhead, we continued up and down further endless sloping terrain. by mile 10, there was a distinct change in the air quality and i was realizing we still had one last [insane] uphill climb to reach the east trailhead (400 ft lost then 430 ft regained in ~0.4 miles). the next we stopped, i caved and suggested we scrap the stupidity and be happy with what we had accomplished. unfortunately for me, Aaron was now revitalized and felt it wouldn't be 'that bad'. after all, we had come 10.2 miles. did i really want to give up now?

so on we trudged, quickening our pace to ensure enough light would remain for finding a campsite and pitching camp. at 10.7 miles, we came around a bend in the trail to a stunning vision of thick sloping conifers rising vertically from a stream. this was the last climb.

a moment of silence.

we turned, our eyes meeting.

neither of us wanted anything to do with this trek that late.

so around we turned and began walking back the way we came, scouting around for potential level areas an appropriate distance from the trail and ideally sheltered in the trees. eventually we found a suitable spot, the groundcover already beaten into submission by a previous sleepover by meese as determined from the characteristic pattern of flattened vegetation and hoofmarks. t seemed a good day to practice strategy for pitching camp in a torrential downpour so, for kicks, we set up camp from 'below'-pitching the rainfly and tent from underneath the fly with our packs beside us.

snow in the meadow
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
after another incredibly entertaining excursion to bag the food, we tucked in early. the tent was level and my sleep spectacular. i remember waking once in the night to a light patter, noting the rain had come early, rolling over and back to sleep. in the morning, we woke slowly but curious about strange noises the tent was making, above and beyond the pitter patter on the fly. cautious opening the rainfly to investigate, we were struck by stunning beauty as the entire meadow lay in snow. this photo is at lower elevation on the hike out but demonstrates how thick the flakes were falling as the snow speckles the entire image.

we cooked a quick breakfast in the vestibule, more for practice than need, we broke camp from below, limiting the water on our gear. the hike out was still and magical, reminiscient of Shenandoah in sleep. of the 10.7 miles, six were hiked in snow and the remainder in constant drizzle and patter. the last three miles were horrendous as we descended the poorly managed trail of steep grade, now accentuated by three inches of pudding-consistency mud.

Rabbit Ears pass
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
the drive out was quite a challenge for poor Esther as we balanced the risk of getting her stuck against the low low frame of the Neon. into Steamboat for venison chili and then on the road fairly early to get home. snow in Sarvis meant snow on the passes and it was truly nerve-wracking getting over Cameron which remained unplowed and treacherous.

as we pulled into the Fort, i turned to Aaron. 'well, we have learned two important lessons this trip.'

'we are never taking your car again?'

'right. and?'

'you are never driving again.'


still, the hike was spectacular and left me hungry for more. Aaron, in case you were wondering, is still speaking to me. he apparently also is a glutton for solitude and beauty and physical despair...

1 comment:

Dave & Nancy Estes Park said...

Wow! brings back memories of the time Dave,Bosco and I almost froze to death outside Steamboat Springs around this same time of year. But that was back in the good old days when our equipment was not state of the art! Glad you guys had so much fun and you got home safely, that snow on Sunday was a mess.
Love you