The next morning I woke up on my own around 5:30. It’s daytime much earlier than I’m used to in Mountain Time Zone! Undeterred, I rolled over and went back to sleep for a little while. The air mattress and sleeping bag combo is actually quite comfortable. Around 7am I woke up again (for real this time) and made myself some coffee in a French press, cooked a little oatmeal with raisins and packed a picnic lunch for myself: a sandwich, some chips, some pretzels and an apple.
I’d done some research back home in advance of the type of hike I wanted to do. Not too long. But not too short. Not too hard. But not too easy. I wanted a hike that would take me all day but not overnight. In the end, after searching on All Trails website, I settled on the Willow Lake Trail. 10 miles of difficult hiking that would lead me to an alpine lake of snow melt. Perfect!
By 9am I was at the trailhead and parked. The lot was packed and I literally got the very last parking spot in the whole lot. I grabbed my backpack (with my lunch and a gallon of water inside), my water bottle and my jean jacket. With that, I headed up the trail and began an epic day-long hike.
A snowmelt creek greeted me around the very first corner. Wild flowers. Small waterfalls. Switchback after switchback. I hummed hymns. Scott had gifted me some bear mace but I’d also heard that humans singing as are much a bear deterrent as anything. So I kept on singing.
By 10:30 I was starving so I paused to sit and eat my completely mushed up peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I realized fairly early that I probably didn’t have enough water for the day but I managed to keep on. The elevation climbed and climbed and I could feel my lungs starting to ache. Crestone itself is at 8,000 feet and I knew the pinnacle of my hike would be 11,700+ feet. I kept breathing, singing and just kept going.
I’m not a fast hiker. There’s no race here. I lived in Yosemite National Park in the glorious summer of 1996 and worked in the Camp Curry Coffee shop. I know hiking. I know the lifestyle. I know the hikers that seem like they’re in some sort of race. (With themselves?) I’m not that. I sit when I want. I drink when I want. I eat when I want. But I don’t stop, that’s for darn sure.
I encountered a number of really nice people along the way. Distanced but friendly. About a third of the way up I encountered a breathtaking view of a ginormous green meadow below. More waterfalls. Little bridges made of fallen logs and stones that would require my full attention. Slipping and falling into freezing cold water was not on my agenda!
Somewhere along the way I ate my chips. And then the pretzels. In addition to not quite enough water, I also didn’t bring enough calories! I kept going. The sun bore down even as the temperature seemed to drop slightly the higher I went. I was grateful for my dorky sun hat.
Finally, around 2pm, I reached the hike's summit and the ice cold lake. And wow was it worth it! Big horn sheep grazed calmly nearby. A few people here and there sunning on the rocks. I found a place and took a mosquito-free nap. They don’t seem to be able to make it at this altitude. I was glad for my jean jacket at this altitude.
I ate my apple in silence, meditated a while and then decided I should probably get back down the mountain. I looked and looked for the trail. I couldn’t find it! Oh no…. I could barely remember what the boulder-strewn trail looked like there at the top and after taking the wrong path about four times and turning around, I finally found it. I saw how I worked with the panic and moved through it.
The trip down only took about three hours but somehow I’m still not certain if it’s easier to go up or down. Heading down works different muscles even though it’s much faster.
I was at the base by about 5:30 or 6:00 and gratefully sank into my car for a water refill. I’d drunk over a gallon during my hike!
Sore from head to toe, I slowly drove back to my Hipcamp at Dreamweavers. Somehow I cooked dinner. Somehow I made hot tea and did my dishes. Somehow I brushed my teeth. I was in that tent and completely passed out asleep by 7:30pm. But not before a ridiculously contented selfie in my bed. I'm so tired but so happy to have spent the whole entire day hiking. (Also - that blazing forehead birthmark is why I return again and again to the bangs.)
I had a big day ahead of me the next day after all - a visit to all the religious centers in the Crestone area. Or as many as I could possibly visit in one day.
May it be so.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.