The Ides of November greeted the Gunnison Country with a fine cloudless day, the sky overhead the cerulean shade that I associate with the dry air of Autumn. I thought that this may be the last time for the year that I am able to climb up above treeline before the snows make that objective much more difficult. Thus, I gathered up my two faithful German shepherd hiking companions and we drove up to one of my favorite places in this area, namely Gold Creek, from where many hiking options avail themselves to the public. As far as I could tell, we were the only souls about. Summer having long since passed, nobody resided at the nearby campground, nor did any hunters remain after the closing of the season.
I have visited this area numerous times over the years and am always enthralled with the geology of the area. Some of the limestone bluffs that reach twelve thousand feet in elevation above sea level contain fossils relevant to the ocean and thus demonstrate the mighty powers of the Earth in its ability to heave up, or subsume, the crust. What was once on the bottom of the sea now rises well above it, a story tens of millions of years in the making. The orogeny that produced the Rocky Mountains has created this landscape, indelible for the next tens of millions of years until erosion finally wears it back down to the same ocean that it rose from.
The trail to the lake is somewhat steep, climbing about fifteen hundred feet in just over two miles. A number of switchbacks elevate users as they travel upwards. The dense forest doesn’t allow for much of a view, except for occasional opening in the canopy. At the base, near the trailhead, however, exists a large meadow from where a fine view of Fairview Peak may be had. This same meadow houses an abundance of ground squirrels whose antics typically attract the attention of the canines. The small rodents weren’t very active this morning but nonetheless the shepherds scampered about sticking their noses into the burrow entrances. I walked up the trail, leaving the grassy meadow, now yellowed and prepared for Winter, and entered the evergreen forest. The deciduous trees had lost their leaves but the conifers retain their needles and the forest scent, damp and decay, fills my nostrils with its pleasing odors.
Reaching the lake after an hour’s hike, the chill has dissipated with the Sun’s increasing height as it arcs across the sky, yet a skim of ice floats on the surface of the lake, a harbinger of Winter. The exertion to reach this place is fairly minimal for a seasoned hiker, and I add to the program by climbing up the steep slope to the ridge above that divides this drainage from Lamphier Creek. Snow covers much of the northern face with just enough to make things slippery, so I decline the thought to climb up to Fossil Mountain itself. But the ridge offers ample views and the shepherds and I sit and stare out onto the world. I keep a sharp eye on them so when they get close to various cliffs I recall them to my side. Curious as they are, I do worry that they might follow a chipmunk over the edge and plummet to their doom. Fall being a dry time of year with minimal humidity, the views that I enjoy are expansive and clear. The ridgeline that lies some thirty miles away is so sharply defined that I feel like I could reach out and grab it.
We rest for an hour or so before descending towards the lake via the route used to ascend. It is steep, and I watch my footing so that my awkward two-footed self doesn’t tumble head over heels to the base of the slope below. Meanwhile, the sure-footed four-paw canines scamper about with impunity, and a certain envy at their mobility rises in my craw. Well, I suppose I wouldn’t suspend my humanity and its self-awareness for that extra mobility and besides I find that I can get around better than the dogs in some circumstances, especially on talus. Also, I can open doors and gates! Returning to the lake below my first thought is to finish the hike and head home. But then I look at the blue sky and warm Sun, and the invitation to lie in repose must be heeded. I wander over to the south shore and find a meadow, now dry but usually boggy during Spring and Summer, where I can recline on my pack and kick my heels up a bit. A nap is in order, and the canines soon mimic my lack of action excepting for an occasional foray into the woods where rodent activity has been confirmed.
Two hours of solitude and quietude follow. The Sun follows its preordained arc slowly and the shadows creep along inexorably no longer pointing west but now east. The idleness has restored my vitality and I slowly rise simultaneously regaining my wits. The shepherds follow and both pose in the self-explanatory “downward dog” position. Soon, we return to the trail at the outlet of the lake and begin to hike down. Reaching the trailhead, I remain captured by the fineness of the day. The high pressure has created this blue clear day that stirs not a whiff with even the slightest breeze. I look up towards Fairview Peak and the old fire lookout, abandoned after a year’s use in the early Twentieth Century due to excessive lightening, and my mind zooms to the view found from it’s lofty summit. Our hike ends on this high note, and I am reluctant to leave, but domestic obligations call and I tear myself away from the woods for the road, feeling blessed for having this day.