The Paw Print
“I sometimes think of my life in civilization in comparison with the life in the open, for a man can live ten years of the ordinary existence in a large city without once experiencing the intense, overwhelming emotions that ten minutes of life in the wilderness often hold for him.”—Belmore Brown
The alarm beeped at 2:45am. The cool August air was thin around me, and I was running on only four hours of sleep; naturally I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag. But I did anyway. I clicked on my headlamp, grabbed granola and powdered milk, mixed in some water, and munched down as quickly as I could. Then I stepped out of my tent and looked at the moonlit peak of the Crestone Needle.
“I’m going to be standing on top of that today,” I told myself. However, the actual moment of summiting seemed far away, and somewhat unlikely. Not only was I going to stand on the Crestone Needle, but I was going to traverse to the Needle from the Crestone Peak, according to the plan.
As my group hiked up Broken Hand Pass, the sun rose down-valley from us. Thought I still suffered from sleepiness, it was absolutely stunning. I hadn’t the words for the sight.
“Well, should we do it? If we commit, we’re committed to the end,” I said to Ashley after summating Crestone Peak. I looked at the piece of paper that showed a picture of where some other people began the traverse. There were no bail options; to attempt a descent would entail turning back or going to the end. I looked back west, where dark clouds hung low over the San Juan Mountains and San Luis Valley.
“How strong are those clouds? Are they moving fast?” I thought uneasily. I didn’t really have an answer to those questions.
“Let’s do it,” I said. And so we began.
Using a couple of pictures printed off the internet, we began the long journey between the two mountains; I recognized some of the features, but others made me feel hopelessly lost. A fixed line up an awkward ledge confirmed we were in the right spot. Over the course of the hike, the approaching storm flashed in my head; images of being stuck at 14,000ft stole my thoughts.
When we finally stood on the top of the Crestone Needle, however, all thoughts vanished. I looked around to make sure we were the tallest object, to confirm we had summited, and then immediately began to descend. I had climbed this peak a year before and knew we had to move to the next gully over.
But then, we missed the crossover and lost the descent route. I looked back west, to see the clouds coming closer, and began to panic. At last, we spotted a cairn – the trail. Just when I knew we were safe, my will nearly gave out. I felt sore all over, especially in my knee, and I was suddenly extremely tired. I guess that’s what 11hrs of scrambling with little break will do to you. Still, it was going to be a long hike back.
The storm never broke out and only slightly drizzled. We arrived back at camp 12.5hrs after leaving. I fell into the tent, passed out, woke up sometime later, ate as much as I could, drank water for my pounding headache, and passed out again for an unknown amount of time. Though this story may seem overdramatic in hindsight, when you’re up there, on your own, those thoughts hang on you.
Though my ascent of the Crestones last summer will not make the magazine headlines and certainly won’t win public adoration, it was a personal adventure. Cutting from the dull hum of everyday life to experience these awesome places is not just for rugged outdoors man. I know this because I am hardly more trained than the average person. Being outdoors is far more than looking at pretty flowers and wonderful sunsets. It can provide a genuine mirror to reflect your inner self.
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