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A Ramble for Randy Udall

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

We walked over hill and dale to the memorial for Randy Udall in Marble two weeks ago. Our 36-hour pilgrimage took us from the Capitol Creek trailhead to the Outward Bound base camp through the backyard wilderness Randy loved.

The adventure began when a pair of cinnamon-colored bears greeted us on the ditch trail. After sniffing our scents, these furry emissaries from the wilderness crashed down the hillside and disappeared into the lush greenery.

Graeme had suggested a week earlier that we needed to do a “Ramble for Randy,” a walking meditation on our old comrade. We plotted a route of which Randy would have heartily approved.

We knew he had done this crossing before, so we walked thoughtfully in the big guy’s footsteps. It was comforting to know that he had been there, had placed his feet on these trails, had crossed these creeks and passes.

Walking toward a potent gathering added gravity to the experience, but the trail has a way of easing anxieties. Lost in peaceful reflections, we reached Capitol Lake in what seemed no time at all.

After crossing the pass to Avalanche Lake, we picked our way down a huge boulder field where piano-size rocks tipped under our weight, the geology fresh and dynamic. From the lake, our pace slowed to a crawl as we ascended into a high basin surrounded by towering rock walls. Storm clouds gathered around the pass at 13,000 feet as light rain drifted by in diaphanous curtains.

Randy would have admonished us to “climb like cats” as we clawed our way up loose talus, careful not to dislodge the bigger rocks above. From the pass, we looked down on the string of Siberia, Little Gem and Geneva lakes. As we approached Geneva Lake, Dave, our friend from Crested Butte, called from the woods with his characteristic “Hoo-hoo!”

Dave had hiked in from Scofield and was all smiles and laughter as we set up camp together beneath huge spruce trees a stone’s throw from the lake. The rain cleared, and the mosquitoes were swept away by a cool breeze. The stove hissed under a pot of ramen as we watched trout surface on the turquoise water. We ate tortillas with cheese and beans — Randy style — and were in our tents by dark.

In the sunny morning, with tents and clothes drying on granite slabs, we shared insights on Randy. Graeme recited a beautiful poem he had written: “The Randy I know can be spotted loping along the knife edge of a lonely ridge/a giant silhouette against the moon.”

I read an email message Randy had shared with me. He had written it not long before his death to one of his old college instructors reminiscing on a particularly formative moment 40 years ago during Randy’s Prescott College orientation trip:

“We came to a slimy pour over and were struggling to get over it. This was one of those deals where you are in water up to your waist, your sneakers are mud-covered, there’s a boulder above you and no obvious purchase for hands or feet.

“Mike Goff stemmed up into the slot somehow, and then we shoved him over the top. By now I think he was down to his skivvies, whatever passed for underwear back then. Someone handed him a belt and, leaning over, with water cascading down his back and that impish grin on his face, he hauled the rest of us up. He was laughing, we were laughing, the canyon was pealing with laughter.

“I recall the feeling of this moment as something new for me, new and important, new and life-changing. I think it might have been the first time in my life that I had felt joy. Joy! You guys collectively gave me a sense of possibility, of beauty, of rapture, of joy. I’m forever in your debt — Randy.”

Gazing at the lake before heading off toward Marble, we talked about how important a single, clarifying moment can be. Even more, we recognized how important one person may be in fomenting a life-changing difference that may only be realized 40 years later.

Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net


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