Colorado Mountain High
Winter Park, Colorado
We celebrated my birthday (80th) with my son and family including my wife Maura, our daughters and seven grandchildren by going to Winter Park, Colorado. We got aboard the chairlift to sail along all the way up to tree line at 11,500 feet to view still higher mountains streaked in snow in mid-July. Rich's wife Jess suggested hiking back down to the base of the mountain on a trail 2.1 miles with many a switch back all the way down. What a gloriously beautiful trail! Alpine and subalpine flowers coated the rugged landscapes looking like a painting by Claude Monet.
Because I had recently re-injured my old football knee, Rich accompanied me down the steep slopes with many loose rocks. It took us twenty minutes longer than everybody else to descend to Winter Park ski resort. Nonetheless, we had stopped to take pictures and admire the dense clusters of golden banner and dark-red Indian paintbrush as well as graceful red-tailed hawks gliding above.
Despite the fact that my knee ached, every minute was otherwise enjoyable with a good two-way conversation about our earlier climbs of Colorado's "fourteeners." But on this occasion, it felt great to get back down through dense willow shrubs and sit at a picnic table to sip gator aide. Thankfully, within minutes, I felt much better and was ready for a tasty lunch of fire-roasted and seasoned Brussel sprouts and utterly delicious club sandwiches served with rose wine at Devil's Thumb Ranch a few miles westward on the road.
Several days later we all drove to Buena Vista, Colorado past scores of fouteen-thousand foot peaks laced with blankets of snow looking like a winter scene that had invaded mid-summer. After we checked in to our motel, we headed for MOunt Princeton Hot Springs twenty miles southwest. Unfortunately, thunderheads built up and it suddenly started to downpour. Only half of us decided to soak in 107 degree hot water with cold rain dumping down on our heads. It proved to be a totally relaxing experience that helped further heal my aching knee from Winter Park.
Looking up at the chalk cliffs of Mount Princeton, I remembered my attempts to climb up to its 14,197 foot summit. The first time in August, 1996, we reached a rocky cave at 13,000 feet where we ate our lunch. But then it striated to sleet with booms of thunder. We all got up and faithfully proceeded upward some five hundred vertical feet until a fellow climber, covered with snow and ice, told us not to even try going any farther. He said hurricane-force winds blasted the ridge-line up to the summit; he simply had to give up. We reluctantly turned around on a slippery, icy trail that gradually led us into a forest and then on down to our cars.
I made a second attempt with a French friend, Herve Picherit, and a British friend, Jonny Boucher, just one year later in 1997 to suceed in reaching the summit on a beautiful, cloudless day. We could see clearly all the way eastward to Pikes Peak and southwesterly to Mount Antero and La Platta Peak. My friends had a hard time imagining the previous year's freak blizzard with hurricane-force winds. No snow this time, only gorgeous sunflowers and tiny clusters of alpine forget-me-not. But now in the hot springs, thunder rattled in the distance and memories of climbing Mount Princeton vanished as we quickly got out of the water and immediately drove back in wet swim suits to the rest of our family in Buena Vista.
Just before my daughter Michelle and our two grandkids returned to New York, we spent a day going up to Mount Evans by car to its 14,271 foot summit to enjoy watching shaggy bighorn sheep feed on tundra vegetation. We could easily spot a very distant Mount Princeton and all the Collegiate Peaks streaked with bright and shiny snowfields.
We truly felt invigorated by the summit's thin air before descending to Summit Lake a thousand or so vertical feet lower where we took a ramble with our dog Sarah (a black lab mix) on a trail to the Chicago Lakes Overlook. We admired bright yellow alpine avens that graced the landscapes. To please Sarah, we hopped down to the lake where a broad snowfield edged with snow buttercups lay. There, she rolled in the snow and grunted and groaned with satisfaction. She surprised us by cross-pawing her way down the snow to the edge of the icy waters of the lake where she splashed around as the grandkids giggled with joy. On the trail back, we all agreed that there's no place quite like high country Colorado!
© 2017 Richard Francis Fleck