Those of us prone to wander in search of far-flung, exotic adventures often encounter great discoveries in our own back yards. And while it is true that I’m prone to wander afar, I do so appreciate my own backyard, so to speak: the great Colorado wilderness.
As Home Leave 2016 drew to a close, I had two wonderful opportunities to enjoy said wilderness.
Climbing Colorado’s 14ers (the 53 peaks in Colorado over 14,000′) is one of my favorite activities, and I had hoped to squeeze one in over the summer. Adam and Val were in, and Val’s dad Dennis wanted to join as well; it would be his first. Trying to choose which one to climb was challenging; I of course wanted it to be a new one for me, but trying to find a suitable one for Dennis was nearly impossible, since I’ve already summited all the easier ones close to home. In the end, I decided it was more fun to go along than it was to conquer a new one, so we headed out–not just Adam, Val, Dennis, and I, but Val’s sister and five of her best friends. And not a new one for me, but everyone’s favorite: Bierstadt. It would be my fourth time to climb it; third to summit. But a day in Colorado’s mountains with friends and family is always a good day, so Bierstadt it was.
Here’s the gang at the start:
And just the girls!
And the conditions at the start!
And here we are at the top! We made it!!
It’s my tradition to eat an apple on the summit of every 14er.
My very last Home Leave Adventure is one I will not soon forget. My dear friends Jean and Al invited me to go backpacking in the Great Colorado Outdoors. Being no stranger to sleeping outside, I of course jumped at the chance to love me some wilderness.
Here are the three of us at the trailhead at the beginning of the two-night trip. Notice we are all smiles, fresh-looking, anticipating a wonderful escape from the stresses of life.
Here is where this essay diverges into a Column of Unsolicited Advice.
If you’re an inexperienced backpacker, and you’re considering an excursion, I offer the following:
- Just because you can do X, doesn’t necessarily mean you can do Y. Specifically, just because I have accomplished what many would consider kinda up there in terms of physical feats, like summiting Kilimanjaro and running marathons and such, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can carry an enormous load on my back for many miles. These activities are very different in nature, and in demands. For example, backpacking in Colorado usually doesn’t involve porters, which really is a shame.
- If you’re going to attempt anything, be properly outfitted. My ill-fitting, purchased-in-1998 backpack predated ultra-lightweight materials and made-for-females hip suspension systems. With apologies to Wild, it came to be known as The Monstrosity. If you’ve read A Walk in the Woods (or seen the movie, which I haven’t), you’ll know how tempted I was to throw my pack over a cliff in Katz-esque fashion.
- If you don’t have the right kit, beg, borrow, or steal it. (Kidding about that last option.) My friend’s sleeping bag, pictured here, fit nicely in the palm of her hand. Mine was bigger than a bread box and weighed approximately two tons, or so it felt. It was great for keeping me roasty-toasty near the Snows of Kilimanjaro, where a porter carried it, and everything else my little heart might desire for a week, but not so great when it wouldn’t even fit in my pack.
If your friend is very experienced and very competent, take his advice. My friend Al backpacks multiple times a year and has for most of his life. He knows what he’s doing. When I arrived at his house, he Cheryl Strayed (yes, this can be a verb) my belongings, and I’m glad I did. It would’ve been worse with all the weight of those extra shoes, changes of clothes, and random paraphernalia that I never would’ve needed anyway because mostly all I was doing was trying to survive. Who needs a change of clothes when you don’t have the energy to put them on?
Thankfully, I did have one piece of very important gear–as did my friend, Jean. No, we didn’t coordinate these purchases, but discovered several years ago we were twinning. Except that I had to special order mine to get the right size, and pay full price, while she found hers at an REI garage sale. Totally not fair.
And lastly, never pass up an opportunity for an adventure. We had a wonderful three days in the wilderness, despite the pain in my hip and leg from my ill-fitting pack, made memories I’ll not soon forget, and enjoyed the best that this world has to offer–nature up close. I wouldn’t trade it for anything…but I am investing in new gear.