Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The mountains are a year-round playground for those who get their kicks in the outdoors.  Each season brings new opportunities for fun.  While, weather-wise (in the Rockies), one can experience all the seasons within a few hours time, for eight to ten months out of the year the highest parts of the mountains are covered in snow (usually).  There is plenty to do on the snow, but for a short window each summer the high country dries up, revealing spectacular rocky peaks, high alpine meadows, and crystal clear lakes to be explored.  Although a lover of snow, I have to recognize this short window of snow-freeness in the high country as the most wonderful time of year.

The mildness of this past winter opened up the high country earlier than usual (at least where I’ve been (mountains around Leadville, CO)) and I have been taking full advantage.  Usually things are still pretty soggy right now, but I’ve been on dry trails leading my to 14,000’ peaks for over a month now.  It is becoming a serious addiction. 

Every morning my first thought is “Where should I go?” as I jump out of bed and pound down a cup of coffee.  I’m so excited to get out, I skip my habitual second and third cup.  When staying in town, it is less than four miles to get to treeline.  Here, I usually pause to take it in and lay in the thick, spongy alpine tundra, noticing what new wildflowers are showing themselves today.  Every few days a new color joins the party.  Then I continue on, usually exploring somewhere new for me, climbing over ridges, through valleys, up another saddle, down the other side.  At the tops, I usually just look around and decide what to do next time.  Most of these excursions have ranged from 3-6 hours so far.

The last two summers, I have done my best to be uncommitted to anything else during this time.  It is so short and sweet that I cannot dream of being anywhere else.  I’m not even training for anything specific, just roaming around for the pure enjoyment of moving in the most beautiful scenery I know of.  And I am loving it. 

Last week, I left my happy place, on short notice, to return to the swamplands (Midwest) for a funeral.  While I faced slight withdrawal symptoms (especially because I didn't run for a few days because it was too hot), it just makes me more excited to get back up there.  On my last outing, the wildflowers seemed on the verge of peaking.  I expect them to be mind-blowing when I get back tomorrow or the next day. 

“I came for the winters, but stayed for the summers,” is a common explanation for mountain transplants.  Spend a week up here in the summer and it is easy to see why…especially if coming from the swamplands of the Midwest, East Coast or Southeast.  The lack of humidity was reason enough to never return to the air-conditioned confines from which I came.  While there can be a whole other set of discomforts-dust, fires, tourists-I’ll take these any day over feeling the need to shower after a walking out to the mailbox.  And I don’t find any of these inconveniences above treeline.  So, if I go missing, you can at least narrow your search to anywhere above 12,000’.