Monday, August 2, 2010

Good Tidings of Mountains

First, I would like to recognize the visionary John Muir for the inspiration for the title of this post.  He once said "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings."  These good tidings come not without sweat, grit and effort, but are worth every ounce of energy poured into their seeking.

Rob and I snuck away last week for a fast and furious backpacking trip to bag Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristo range.  For a while now we've been longing for some time in the backcountry away from typical social constraints.  We needed to feel small and lost, to truly get away.  Our adventure started northeast of Alamosa, CO on a dusty, rocky road that slowly meandered through scrubby grassland, coniferous forest, alpine tundra, and above the tree line to 14,345 feet.

At 8,000 feet we threw on our packs and set off for Lake Como via Lake Como Road, one of the worst rated four wheel drive roads in the country.  The hike up to our high camp was beautiful but arduous as our feet were constantly looking for stable ground among baby head sized rocks.  We were a bit dismayed when someone coming down the trail told us we still had 3.2 miles until the lake, but step by step we worked our way up the unbearably rocky "road".             

The relief we felt upon our arrival at Lake Como was immense.  Lake Como sits at almost 12,000 feet and as flatlanders, we were certainly feeling the thinner air.  The view from our campsite was extraordinary.  We weren't alone at the lake and met some very nice and interesting people. 

After setting up camp and resting for a bit, I filtered some of the pristine lake water for cooking and drinking and Rob got a fire going.  It was cooler at the lake and the mosquitoes were quite aggressive.  During dinner, this Big Horn Sheep entertained us near our camp for almost half an hour. 

Soon after we dinner we called it a night.  We were both a little wobbly from our hike up and knew that the next day would be tougher.  I think that is the earliest I've ever seen Rob voluntarily go to bed.  It was still light outside!  The next morning we rose at 5 a.m. feeling rested and excited.  We were ready to summit! 

The hike to the top revealed treasure after treasure in the form of crisp lakes, Big Horn Sheep, Marmots, wildflowers, waterfalls, succulents, and the most refreshing, albeit thin, air.  Each step brought us closer to the pending summit and Blanca Peak was looming large in our sights.  Looking up, I began to experience some nervous flutters.  I took more pictures on the way down than on the way up because we wanted to make sure we were off the top before afternoon storms rolled in.   

Once we passed the last lake it was all up and all rocks to the top.  The trail was marked by deliberate rock cairns on top of naturally strewn rocks.  For the most part, we easily found our way, but delineated a few times.  You can see the tip of Blanca Peak in the picture below.

As we approached the ridge where we would complete the last bit of the ascent, I started to doubt my ability to make it to the top.  We drew closer with every step, but mentally it still felt so far.  At one point, I handed the camera to Rob and told him to hit the summit without me.  I just wanted to sit on the ridge and have a snack.  He gently urged me on and assured me that I could do it, and am I glad he did.  The view from the very top was magnificent as was the feeling of accomplishment.  
We were so happy to be at the top together; we helped each other each step of the way.  We spent a little time looking around and refueled our bodies for the descent, which would prove to be just as difficult as the ascent.  We weren't alone up there though, we shared the views with this little guy. 
There were no traces of modernity at the top.  The 360 panorama was free from power lines, roads and buildings.  Instead there were lakes, snow, trees, rocks, clouds...pure, natural beauty.  A true feeling of detachment from human invention.  Our time at the top was too short before we felt we needed to come down.  Some gauzy puffs of clouds began to taunt us over the ridges and we didn't want to chance an afternoon thunderstorm above the tree line.

We started the trek back down to camp; our feet crossed familiar ground yet things looked different traveling this direction.
The sky darkened as we descended Blanca.  When we were about thirty minutes away from Lake Como, we were startled by a huge thunderclap.  Grateful to be near camp, we pepped up our step a bit.  It was starting to rain and we were eager to slip into our sleeping bags.  We drifted in and out of sleep for about two hours while the storm worked its way through the Sangre's.  Strangely, we were able to relax in the deafening thunder.  A certain someone was VERY relaxed!

After the storm passed through we had to decide if we would head back to the car or spend another night at Lake Como.  This was our first time away from Cora and we found ourselves pining to breathe in her sweetness.  We decided to pack it all up and hit the trail towards the car. 
We walked down, down, down, down and down some more.  All the while, navigating the rocks and the off camber slope of the road.  It had already been a long day and we still had a LONG way to go.  Together, we trudged down the road.  Side by side at times and taking turns setting the pace at others.  In the distance, we could see that we were getting closer to the dusty road we came in on, but again, it felt SO FAR.
Sometimes it seems like we are constantly in a state of "almost there".  Not just in hiking, but in life.  We are always trying to get somewhere.  Always trying to reach a new goal.  Let me tell you, we were ELATED when we reached the goal of our car.
We had a tremendous time and are so happy that we climbed our first fourteener.  The reward was definitely worth the hard work.


  1. Grammy and Popo loved keeping Cora.

  2. Awesome pictures Courtney! Are you sleeping on your feet in that last photo? :-) It sounds like a wonderful, inspiring adventure!