A Guest Post by G K Stewart:
Hey my name is gksden, and I am helping out while Michiganrafter’s wing is being healed. So, I will be attempting to write this post for him. I am a Colorado native, and I have a dirty little secret. Sssh, I don’t know how to ski. Ssssh, and I don’t know how to rock climb. Please don’t tell anyone. I am your person who rarely goes camping, but that may be due to my experience as a youth, when I had an opportunity to attend a mountaineering school. I did enough of that for a lifetime. Oh, I loved it. Truly, I did, it was even spiritual. However, it is not my first recreational activity, I am a biker first, a hiker second, and a camper third—actually may be 5th or 6th. Nonetheless, there was a time, when I wanted to scale Mount Everest. Ah, the folly of youth. Observe as I recollect….
A Journey of Nostalgia*
Sangre De Cristos Mountain Range
I have wanted to write about an experience when I was younger; much younger for the last month. Recently, as I walked through my campus at school—Auraria—which is home to three colleges: Community College of Denver, University of Colorado at Denver, and Metropolitan State College of Denver, the spring weather had brought campus vendors on to the common area grounds selling their wares, opportunities, and adventures.
One such company sent me “Reelin’ in the Years” (Steely Dan) for nostalgia. The vendor name was Outward Bound Wilderness—but in my day—it was Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS), a slightly distinction admittedly, but I had not seen, or heard of the school in nearly a generation of my lifetime after high school.
Nevertheless, my head was suddenly a washed with memories; the aroma of pine filled my nostrils, and flashes of green field pastures danced hauntingly behind eyes, and reverent smile grew on my face as I talked with youthful proprietors that attended the stand.
It was the summer of my seventeenth birthday, and four months earlier I had been enticed (or bewitched depending on one’s perspective) to go on a quest. I was encourage and inspired to by science teacher, whose name escapes me at this very moment (temporary brain damage, at least I think so). Anyhow, it was to bee three weeks (or 21 days) of trekking through Sangre De Cristos Mountains in southern Colorado and I was remembering as I chatted somewhat enthusiastically Jason Stout of my past youthful glory days.
I had been a young struggling urban youth, lost in my world of science fiction, and awkward teenager trying to find the balance of my intelligence and arrogance. I remember that I was running late to class, the school bell of my high Alma matter, George Washington, had just rung. As usual, I was running behind. I entered the biology classroom with all the stealth of a water buffalo. I had tripped over my own two feet, and went sprawling with my books and supplies across the floor. Classroom snickers could be heard throughout room.
My teacher look at me, he was not upset, with amusement. I hurriedly picked up after myself, when I noticed the guest inside the classroom. A stranger sat patiently in one of the corners—a young woman. She was in her late twenties, red wavy hair, slender body, and forest green eyes that seem to look through me. She was wearing a red plaid flannel shirt underneath it a white t-shirt, and 501 blue jeans. My encouraged me with his eyes to take my seat – so I did. She was a guest speaker for a company called Outward Bound where they provided wilderness training for students, tourists, and companies that had teamwork issues by leading groups of people on rafting, hiking, and mountaineering trips. This woman glowed like a prophet her fervor nature was intoxicating.
She was hypnotic. I was mesmerized. Her voice was soothed like honey going down one’s throat with a hot cup of tea when sick. Her dark green penetrating eyes glistened like deep pools of water twinkling with excitement as she showed slides of wonderful mountain vistas, of rivers, and of her scaling steep mountainsides with effortless abandon. I thought to myself, “I could do this!” My heart pounded and began to ascertain the possibilities of adventure, and I was not just thinking of the mountainous terrain.
After all, of course, fantasies of a young man’s fancy ensued. I imagined the conquering the massive 14,000-foot peaks, traveling down the most difficult rapids, and scaling the most difficult cliffs. I would conquer nature, and I would be nature’s king. I would be king of the mountains! It is peculiar how life’s aspirations turn out.
(Green Mountains, Wet Mountains are part of Sangre De Cristos)
My biology teacher informed the class that if one went on such a trip they could get extra course credit and then I heard how much. My heart sank. I might as well have bought a new-used car for the amount of money they were charging, but I was determined. I was going to conquer nature not only for me, but I was going accomplish my life’s destiny. So, I gathered up the brochure materials and my books and took it home to my mother.
I spent the better part of a week trying to convince her, a single parent of three, to let me go; certainly a difficult task. I bribed my sisters, and I had to promise to procure a job to pay my mom back. However, when everything was said and done, I was still $350 dollars short. The Monday morning, before the deadline for payment and a week before the deadline, I informed my teacher of my predicament. He suggested that I apply for a scholarship for the rest of it.
(Lake Isabel, Wet Mountains part of the Sangre De Cristos)
One of the universal truths’ is that what effort you put out is exactly what you get back. So I applied for the scholarship and got lucky and received exactly the $350 (I have suspicion that my teacher may have sponsored me indirectly, but really will never know. If he did—thank you).
Now, all I needed was to buy clothes, backpack, and boots. It took all summer to acquire the items I needed, and I took this as sign of my first conquest. My journey of discovery began in the early part of August, the rainy season, when thunderstorms rolled in and out of the Colorado Mountains. The buses came and picked us up, we, the grand adventurers, from the designated spot. The pilgrimage to the southern red mountains was long and arduous. At one point, I saw the Sand Dunes of Colorado far in the distance; the camel white dunes were smooth, crystalline, and seemingly smooth as silky. The Dunes rose like waves gently caressing the sides of the hills. It was late when we arrived at the base camp.
Cleveland and Tijeras Peaks, Music and Marble Mountains rising beyond the dunes
That's Challenger Point, Kit Carson Peak and Columbia Point rising on the left.
(Source National Park Service).
It was dark, the night enveloped the mountains and the trees, and it was disturbing. The city lights of Denver were a distant memory. However, my confidence did not waiver as the buses pulled into the staging area, but the journey was just beginning. A hike of ten mile to the first campsite was the start of the expedition. We would break up into groups, and begin our sojourn for the night. We walked in silence as the ground grinded underneath our steps. After about an hour it began to rain, and my first lesson came upon me, my boots began soaking the rain that fell upon them.
My waterproofing had failed. My boots were soaked, my socks, my feet, and looked like prunes when I had removed them for the night. The next thirteen of the twenty-one days it would rain. I scaled various mountain-sides some successfully, and some not with my group. The one’s we failed to conquer would rot at my gut; nevertheless, I saw nature in its wonderment. I saw hawks using it wings to ride thermals of air for what seemed like forever, and then suddenly dive to catch its meal for the day. I was envious. It was one more reminder of the enormity of nature and how the beauty of flight seemed graceful.
One day our journey came to a screeching halt. We sat in our tents as we waited for the storm to subside before hiking the next mountain range. It never did, and our patience was wearing thin. We were losing time. We each had a mission to accomplish that of fasting and solo meditation. For me this was the test I would best myself against nature. The instructors would check on us daily to make sure we drank enough water, however before any that happen, the rain and fog kept us socked in at our campsite. So, we waited.
(A winter moment from Europe, image by RobT)
Finally, unable to wait any longer, we gathered our saturated belongings and proceeded up the side of the mountain. Each step was a squish, a deliberate plod, and a squirt. The red mud clay of the mountain slipped from underneath my boots. The mud had stacked on like layers on the bottom of my shoes, as the group reached the vista that lay ahead of us changed from a doom and gloom London rain to the rolling hills of green Ireland. I stood there; we all stood there, in amazement of the sudden change of fortune and weather…
California Peak in San Luis Valley (Sangre De Cristos Mountains)
It had been three days and my group leader had returned for me to tell me my solo was done. The time of my meditation and reflection had changed me. Nature had let me feel the loneliness and the solitude. I learned they were completely different animals. A person could alone in crowd of people while solitude was the individual ability to find peace within oneself and be okay alone. I felt alone, I had all my life, even though I had two sisters and a mother and my father a Rolling Stone (Sly & family Stone) and no where to be found. Nature had shown me my loneliness……
“Zapata Falls is located 4 miles east of Colorado Highway 150, just south of the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The gravel road going in is excellent for a BLM site. From the parking area it is about a 1/2 mile walk uphill to the falls. As you are well above the San Luis Valley floor and looking over the sand dunes, the views are excellent.
Two million years ago glacial activities were sculpting the Sangre de Cristos. The waterfall flows through a rock dike left by a retreating glacier. As the glacier melted away, a large lake of melt water built up behind the dike. Eventually, the water found a weak spot in the dike and began working and eroding its' way through.
The photo on the left above was taken at the entrance to the rock gorge carved by the water. The photo on the right was taken inside the gorge. To get there I walked across the frozen and flowing streambed into the gorge. The gorge is open up above but you can't always see the sky. And it was probably 30 degrees colder in the gorge with a stiff breeze blowing downstream (there was almost no wind outside the gorge).”
It had been a tough three weeks and the excursion was about over when I decided to walk off by myself when I found a large saucer shaped boulder large enough to house a house a small family. Okay, maybe a small midgets’ family, but a rather large boulder, which I climbed, and laid down upon it in the evening air.
The night sky was filled with stars as the sounds of the woods reached a crescendo when I felt the change within my lungs. I lay there perfectly still not wanting to be disturbed by the atmosphere of the night. My body started to tingle like a thousands of ants had just crawled over my skin. First, I felt the loss of my arms, neck, legs, and then my feet. I could not move them. I tried desperately.
I was suddenly frightened. I did not know what to do, but the more I struggled, the more the sensation grew. Finally, I wrestled myself to my knees, then to my feet. I stood up and began to walk away when I pivoted on my heels to look at the boulder—I saw myself on the great rock with my eyes wide open.
The moon rose, and it was big as life. I stretched out my arm see if I could touch it, and suddenly I was there. The moon was barren, lifeless and I saw far above the horizon the Earth. I pinched myself. I seemed real enough, and suddenly the Earth grew fainter, and fainter, and I was floating towards a light.
It was calming, benevolent, and soothing to my soul. Faster and faster the light grew more intense and just when I felt my eyes might burn away, I stood in a luscious forest green field. A melodic orchestration washed over me. It was of nature. The sounds of it poured of me, reminding me that this was mine, ours, and life was meant to be lived.
As quickly as it formed, the journey home reversed. The green field faded, darkness returned, and the Moon and the Earth grew exponentially. I now stood over my body, seeing it really for the first time. I reached out touch my arm and with that the words breathlessly, “What the hell?” spewed out. Nature had taught her final lesson to me and that, she was the timekeeper—and certainty of death was not to be feared. When my trip had ended, I had returned home to understand that life’s isolation was up to me, and that I could be comfortable within my own skin—no matter what the color…
Jason Stout and I exchanged pleasantries as I grabbed his business card as I vowed to him and myself that I would help in anyway that I could bring back my passage from childhood. Ah, memory lane, that day was good, I walked to my next class, and my sentimental refrain reminded that after all, it is just another day in paradise. And so…. life goes on, while nature remains wondrous, mysterious, in all its beauty.
Thanks for reading.