Evening Hike

A small segment of the panoramic view from the top.

I burst through the door after a good day’s work, dropped one pack and grabbed another. The dog starts leaping in excitement whenever I pick up my keys or strap up a pair of boots. This time he was right…we were going to go have fun, and he was invited. I looked him in the eyes and said with a pseudo-sarcastic tone “I’m gonna wear you out, bud.”

We drove up the backside of the mountain as far as we’re allowed, and parked at the roadblock. From there it’s a 15-minute trek up a muddy service road, which actually works well as preparation for the rest of the slog. Soft and forgiving underneath, but deceptively crunchy and sun-baked on top. With each step you keep faith that you’ll remain on the surface, but usually sink at least four inches. It can be rather frustrating when your destination seems so far away. However, the small percentage of steps that require less effort are well worth the faith exerted anticipating them. Shoot, chances are better with this than with most inanimate things we believe in.

Our destination – Rabbit Ears on top left

I only brought one liter of water so I was forced to enjoy my last sips at the base of the High Lift (roughly 2/3 into the hike). I really should have pounded a liter before I left the house. By now I was also sweating through the cotton tee that I subbed as my base layer (I also second-guessed that at the house) . Sound like an amateur? Hahaha. I guess we’re always learning. Getting to the top of the High Lift went a bit faster than expected, which felt amazing, because from the bottom I was wishing I could just clap my hands twice and teleport to the top. This section was more shaded than the first part of the hike, and the surface-pack was tougher, so I was gracious to not struggle with every step. It took an hour and a half to reach the summit, and would only take 15 minutes to descend and walk back to the car. That’s almost as depressing as staring at the kitchen post-Thanksgiving feast. Psych!

First half of the last pitch.

One of the best feelings I know is that glory you feel after accomplishing a strenuous and demanding volunteer task. With a thin layer of sweat cooling in the wind and a gradually slowing heartbeat, I took in the 300 degree view of paradise surrounding me. Peaks breaching 13,000′ and a valley floor 3,000′ below. Cloudless blue skies, white peaks, and a brown, melted and mud-covered valley floor symbolizing new chapters. I reminisced on the incredible winter we’d just had, with over 350″ of annual snowfall. That’s great for Crested Butte (see “Small Town Livin'”).  After snapping a few pics from the top it was time to drop in.

Rowdy, like the local he’s become, waits in angst at the base of the High Lift.

There were a few lines heading down from where I stood, but that wasn’t my ideal line. It was probably a great ski, but it was protected and had already been skied. I wanted my own. I wanted the freshies, and I felt like I’d earned them.

I had originally scoped out Rabbit Ears from the bottom and it looked awesome. It was more exposed, a bit steeper, and had been facing the sun for awhile so I imagined the snow would be delightful. I was not disappointed. However, the ridge-line traverse getting there was a bit sketchy because the wind had blown it dry and boney, making it difficult to initiate a turn without excessive force. Bonus: When I’m moving slowly enough for him to keep up, my dog jumps in my way and barks at me (He likes to try and herd me like he’s on a cattle drive.)  This doesn’t help much when you’re reluctantly easing your way over a narrow ridge in a no-fall zone. Still, as always, there was more room for stoke.

Once I dropped in under Rabbit Ears I was rewarded with the kind of spring snow we dream of. It was soft and squishy and almost felt like a wave as I worked it under my board. Smooth and forgiving, yet stable and safely reassuring. I was loving every second of it! I made a few turns, checked my speed, and jumped off a rock that was foreign to me. Friends had done it many times when the mountain was open, but for some reason I never found my way off of it. This time, although solo, something just felt right and I went for it. It was cake! I took flight a few feet before the ledge dropped off in order to avoid any rocks that may have been feeling friendly, and I cleared my gap by a long-shot. It wasn’t very large, but the snow was soft and I wasn’t prepared for it. I came in hot and heavy with legs bent in the perfect athletic position. Perfect for a hard-packed landing, at least. I should have been further in the backseat on snow as heavy as this. Just one more thing I overlooked, I guess. I stomped my landing and rode a few feet before the snow gave under my nose, and I went head over heels, tomahawking two or three times (It’s usually hard to tell how many times you flip when you’re moving that fast.) before I popped back to my feet. I was flipping fast and felt like I had tremendous force, so I was surprised to regain control as quickly as I did.

You can see that I bounced a few times after landing. Dual note: A Rowdy dog’s tracks to looker’s left.

I laughed it off and enjoyed the rest of my turns down the hill, found my muddy path to the road, and was home ten minutes after starting the Subaru. The dog was asleep before the driveway. I was hungry. And thirsty. And stoked to wrap up another awesome day.

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