Hike of the Week: A story from the trail
Walking Mountains Science Center starts #WMSTrailChallenge on Instagram
Special to the Daily
As always, follow all guidelines for outdoor recreation under our current stay at home order as outlined at covid19.colorado.gov, and the recommendations of Vail Mountain Rescue.
Last week, in this column, I concluded a piece on responsible recreation during this global pandemic by suggesting that we take this time to “embrace the opportunity to walk five minutes up the trail and slow down, rather than 5 miles down the trail and speed up.” I’d say it’s good advice. It certainly has a nice ring to it. But late on a recent afternoon, with the sun illuminating even the darkest corners of my “home office,” I had no intention of following it.
Moving quickly on my skis, and several miles down a trail which no self-respecting backcountry skier would ever find worth their while, my mind was in a familiar cycle: “Heart rate? Breathing? Remaining daylight? Turn around time?”
Somewhere between the hundredth and thousandth repetition of this analysis, and amid growing concern that my objective wasn’t remotely reasonable as an after-work jaunt, I came upon a small clearing. The snow heaped and undulated, perhaps covering boulders leftover from an ancient landslide, or a side channel from the nearby creek. The valley walls rose steeply on one side. On the other, the sun rested just above the horizon, illuminating more gentle topography. Looking back along my skin track, I could barely make out the jagged peaks of the Gore Range.
There was nothing spectacular about this clearing. There are likely hundreds like it in this drainage alone. But, with the summer trail somewhere on the opposite side of the creek, I couldn’t help but wonder how few hikers, skiers or snowshoers, if any, had set foot here. Standing alone in that clearing, influenced by the warm sun and an unexpected feeling of contentedness, I made an uncharacteristic decision, and sat down.
Wow, my butt is cold.
Shifting to minimize contact, I lean against my pack and listen. When we’re moving, we assume silence around us, but how silent is silence? Sitting there in the snow, immersed in the quiet, I hear the wind. Timidly at first, a steady whisper gradually grows in a powerful crescendo. Reverberating through the treetops, it breaks out of the forest and envelops my clearing. Then suddenly, as if I’d heard too much, it retreats into silence.
Amidst this grand pause, I hear the chatter of nearby songbirds, a reminder to myself (and my lower limbs) that it is, in fact, spring. From the opposite side of the clearing, a rapid ‘kra-kra-kra-kra’ echoes. A woodpecker? The sound returns, this time blending into a drawn out creak. Looking around I locate its source, the tall fir at the edge of the clearing, less protected from wind than its neighbors. How long till it’s inevitable fall?
Scattered along the edges of the clearing, many less healthy trees have certainly stood the test of time. The grandfather of them all grows on its southern edge. At its crown, brittle branches weave together, a skeleton of its former self. However, as you follow the trunk downwards, scraggly branches give way to healthy bows — remnants of vitality. After a few moments of pondering any deeper meaning, my attention turns upward.
A loose congregation of wispy clouds rushes to join a convoy of cumulus clouds. I drift into memories of childhood games — wondering if I’m observing a rubber duck or a pig traversing the sky.
Finally, giving in to the demands of my numb lower half, which has had more than enough of this experiment, I awkwardly stand up, and point my skis back the way I came, and wander home.
As you head out on the trail this week, I encourage you to discover someplace new and sit for a minute. Maybe explore a new trail, or stop partway up your backyard favorite and take a few minutes to wander.
Take a photo, and share what you discover on Instagram with the hashtag #wmsctrailchallenge (or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org). Each week in this column, Walking Mountains will introduce a new weekly trail challenge and share a staff favorite photo from your submissions the previous week.
While we explore individually and do our part to social distance, we can enjoy discovering more of our extended backyard together.
Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the community outreach coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. He hopes to see you out on the trail as soon as he can.