I don't think I had ever seen them so clear, every edge, every bump along the ridge, patches of snow all along their proud surface, three monster peaks stood in front of us and another one behind. Above us trails made of stars guided complaints out of our minds, back at the bottom we were dealing with cracked lips, tired legs and exhausted lungs forcing dry, thin air through our bloody noses.
The cold was seeping through the many layers of clothing--Why didn't we bring any more gear?--I'm sitting here shaking, trying to cover myself from the wind with a thin piece of nylon, below me four guys sitting next to each other trying to keep warm and to the right our leader sitting in the snow watching the valley below us. He doesn't even seem to be cold.
I guess a broken ankle at 13,200 feet can be kind of serious.
Tuesday after the fourth of July was a nice hot day, but all I remember was rushing through aisles and shops trying to get everything I needed--how did I end up with two one-gallon Ziploc bags of trail mix?
After gathering everything we jumped in the car and headed off to CO. Once again I was on the road, funny how I didn't even plan it, the chance came along and I just dropped everything. We drove through Kansas, through the seas of green I like talking about so much.
We made it to CO, couple beers for lunch a little bit of shopping for flies--I heard it was prime trout season--A couple more beers for dinner and off to bed.
Woke up early and headed for the train--this was a different kind of trip-- but regardless of the pre-amble once we hit the trail it was all back to basics--a mile, mile and a half to go right?
Well, this is how it goes; as the elevation increases the air cools down, which would be nice if it wasn't for the increasing burning sensation in your legs and chest. The higher you get the less human intervention you find around you, and that can be weird, or extremely pleasant depending on who you are, it can even be addictive. After a good effort, we made it to base camp, and my mind just went berserk looking at the 14,000 feet peaks around us.
I couldn't complain, regardless of how cold I was, "for god sake I've read about way worst things, but dammit I'm cold."
While jamming myself between two rocks trying to escape the wind I heard him say, "Yeah I climbed back in the day, alongside Royal Robbins in the early Yosemite day."
"Wait, what!? Who's this guy?" Proudly standing in the boulder field with just a jacket and hiking pants talking nonchalantly while I was shaking uncontrollably, "I mean I've been on the move for like 18 hours non-stop...still! The guy has like 50 years on me."
Keith Roush was his name, quite the legend to say the least.
An amazing stream of glacier melt accompanied the trail to Twin Lakes, switchbacks and some surprisingly well built steps, not to mentioned all the mountain goats that would follow you even up to the summit, "this is clearly not a superhuman feat, but I'm pretty happy just putting a foot in front of the other and enjoying the amazing view." Four 14,000 feet peaks proudly stand around The Chicago Basin near Durango, CO. Honestly, I'd never heard of that place before I went, but after that night I'll never forget it.
"Yeah, the wind is freezing...but I guess it could be raining...that'd be bad."
I keep trying to jam myself between rocks to get away from the wind, this time, I end up making a wind tunnel that sent a breeze up my back directly into my spine and woke me up to the hard cold truth, rocks aren't soft.
"My feet are wet... but I guess they could be soaking and can still kinda feel them."
As I was still looking for ways to get away from the wind, my eyes caught him just sitting there in the open with only two layers on when I had five, damn.
"My lips are so cracked that they feel like sandpaper, but still... it could be worse. right?"
"Is he really just sitting there? Right in the open air?" I couldn't believe we still had 6 hours until sunrise.
How do you stay warm one of us asked him "The old heat generating Yogi Bear trick" He said while laughing "I learned it some time ago while hiking with sherpas in Nepal."
I guess I never thought about it, I was just happy walking, but the terrain does get tricky if you get tired. I was across the snow field leading to Twin Lakes when I heard the call from back at the boulder field that was the base of Windom Peak--crap, those rocks were awful--a mess of boulders ranging in sizes from small pebbles to truck-size monsters.
I didn't make much of it until "it's broken!" was shouted. 40 minutes later I find myself rushing down the mountain to look for help, once I made it to base camp they tell me the call was received and the choppers were on the way--You sure could hear them.
I kicked my shoes off and laid on the ground, looked at my watch "six o'clock?" I started hiking at six am that day and all I had eaten was trail-mix--luckily I had like 8 freaking pounds of it--I couldn't stand the taste of it at the moment.
Are they going back up? "Yeah, like I'm not gonna be part of the rescue team." But we were no rescue team, just friends going up to help friends, they called us the "Good Samaritans" and I think that fits pretty well.
--Are we going up without tents or sleeping bags?--I guess we are coming down after the choppers leave."They haven't stopped flying and now they are leaving," I said, "They are going to get more gas, " someone else said as we started walking.
Funny how a simple act of kindness turned into a headache, a single GPS signaling device borrowed for a minute and then demanded back, an emergency signal sent from the injured 's location followed by an OK signal send from the owner's hands 3 miles and 3,000 feet below the previous one.
"Why would you send an OK signal!?" Wel, it's pointless to be mad now.
The sad thing was we were already back up at 13,000 feet with no camping gear when we got the message that the search was called off. The first two choppers couldn't find them and then the OK signal was received. Bad timing.
"Alright, I can't take this anymore I'm so fucking cold", but damn, I felt like a child hearing the stories about forced bivouacs that Keith kept on telling--This is nothing? So what's something?
3 am rolls around and I hear someone snoring--Nothings is too bad if you can still laugh--I had no idea it was humanly possible to sleep in that position--Hell I'd be lying if said I wasn't happy being there.
A hiker comes along around 5 am "yeah, I'm planning on doing all four peaks today, which one is Sunlight?"
I answered his question while laughing, on the inside--I never had any right to complain after all.
Morning rolls around--finally, some warmth--a third chopper comes along and sees us, the rescue team comes dow and begin the extraction--pretty smoothly I must say.
The chopper leaves and I think to myself "We still have to hike 11 miles down and catch the last train."
It was around 5:30 pm when we all jumped on the last train and finally headed home, it was a hard walk back but we made it, and even more surprisingly the rescue team was joining us on the train, after leaving dead last and carrying all their gear down the mountain--once again not a single complaint could possibly leave my lips.
For the record; 36 hours on the go, eating nothing but seeds, make beer and meat taste even better.