Badger at twelve thousand feet
I had placed camp at about eleven and a half thousand feet in elevation. A fine place to catch the morning’s first gleaming. After my arduous day of hiking the previous day I was in no hurry to rise out of bed and luxuriantly lay about sleeping, sporadically peering out at the increasing light and enjoying the snug comfort of my sleeping bad, until the sun rose and lit up my tent and I finally mustered enough energy to rise and partake the day. The atmosphere was heavy with moisture from the melting snow and occasional rains as I breathed in the thin air of the high mountains, air that invigorated and awakened me upon each draft.
Since I wasn’t going to make my plans, the four passes loop, happen this time around, I went with my backup plan which was to explore the nearby area and see the vantages from some of the high points around me. First off, I hiked back through the scrubby willow to the trail. The willow seem like they out to let passage by easily, being only about two to four feet in height and any hiker can see over them to where he or she would like to go. Yet, they entangle and snarl any attempt to make transit from one point to another.
At the trail, I hiked back up to West Maroon Pass and found to my surprise a group of four backpackers making their way up the east side of the pass. They were better prepared than I and more familiar with this area, so I deduced after chatting with them. This group ended up climbing up the ridge south of the pass, no easy feat even for the unencumbered yet they were carrying full packs. This is a solid class three climb and judging from the rocks tumbling down not to be trifled with. An amazing feat to behold. I found some marmots out and about and sat watching their activity while watching the progress of the intrepid foursome. All around at this high pass was the red rock from the eroded ancestral Rocky Mountains that had been uplifted into place after these tens of millions of years. Despite my own reluctance to pursue the course of the foursome now heading upwards, I did learn from them and now have ideas and ideals to pursue in the future.
There were many people out and about; most of them made the same decision that I did and chose not to descend the snowy slope on the east side of the pass. One couple had camped just beneath the pass near the trail and up against a large snow pack that gave a good idea of the magnitude of snowfall here. They reported that the marmots were an ever present nuiscence, constantly raiding thier tent. Well, marmots need to eat and woe to them that choose to place thier tent were marmots are busy. I was then glad that I had made camp off some distance, away from the trail and away from large, foraging rodents.
After surveying the scene at West Maroon Pass, I took the trail over to Frigid Air Pass and found that pass to be clogged with snow, also. Yet, some other intrepid soul had made passage; next time, I shall have to bring an ice ax and crampons. The views were amazing; all green and red and white and blue. The Elk Mountains may have inspired John Denver to write “Rocky Mountain High”, and I can see why. These mountains are impressive by any scale of the imagination and my limited imagination can barely put words together to describe my feelings of elation while among them.
From Frigid Air Pass, I walked over to Hasley Pass and gazed into the hanging valley that drains the north side of that pass. There were cheerful yellow Old-Man-of-the-Mountains blooming their yellow radiance as the sun strove to keep them refulgent. Hagerman and Snowmass Peaks rose up from the creek bottoms, a solid wall of rock streaked with patches of white snow at the high elevations and green vegetation at the low. The sound of water was everywhere: gurgling, trickling, pouring, frothing – all of those adjetives can only hint at the sound of the liquid motion.
From Halsey Pass, I descended to the West Maroon Trail and then slowly made my way back to camp. The clouds made their way by, and some moisture was precipitated upon the land but I was happy, exposed as I was, to not encounter the electrical accompaniment of the heavens. As dusk descended, I climbed up a “small” knoll; I say “small” because before I had realized it, I had climbed some seven hundred and fifty feet above my camp site. I encountered a badger, busy excavating a den. I couldn’t say if this was predatory behavior on an extant den of some smaller rodent, say; or, perhaps this was a den for personal use. Not wanting to interrupt further the activity of this engaged mustelid, I moved off a quarter of a mile and watched the final rays of the setting sun from the west strike and light the same wall of rock it had the previous night.
Finally, after slowly making my way back to camp as the light faded into final darkness of the early summer, I found my sleeping bag and slept the sleep of the weary and satiated.
Alpine Sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora), part of the Asteraceae Family, in the drainage of the East Fork of Crystal River
The view greeting me from the tent upon arising
Marmot engaged in early season marmot activity
Marmot in a broader context
Alpine Sunflower, also known as Old-Man-of-the-Mountain” on the trail between West Maroon and Frigid Air Passes in the Elk Mountains
Looking to the west from below Frigid Air Pass, Elk Mountains
Early season flowers in the Elk Mountains below the west side of Frigid Air Pass
In a meadow recently devoid of snow, between Frigid Air and Hasley Passes, Maroon Peak towers above all
Hagerman and Snowmass Peaks above Hasley Basin
The West Maroon Pass Trail in the East Fork of Crystal River
Obscure directional signage
From the “small” knoll, my tent can barely be seen just above the snow patch to the left of the snow patch above the small pond to the right
Shadowy self-image looking at West Maroon Pass
Badger at twelve thousand feet