Great escape | AspenTimes.com

Great escape

Paul AndersenAspen, CO Colorado

For years, I’ve used this column as a vent. At times of frustration, I must either write a stinging barb or kick the dog (not really, I love our dog). At times, however, not even a malignant malediction helps purge my dour moods. Some of this comes with the job. Columnists are saddled with the burden of making judgments. Our job is to cast a critical gaze at the world and weigh in on the issues. My views don’t often find harmony with the events of the day. Last week, I hit my limit of tolerance. The Basalt council caved in on Willits – unanimously! – while the Bush climate-change conference concluded that the economy is more important than the environment. Both issues spiral into a vortex of urban growth and climate change that bow to the almighty dollar. Instead of pounding out yet another screed, I threw some gear into my backpack and joined some friends on a long walk. My coping mechanism was to spend two glorious days covering the “Four-Pass Loop,” a world-class hike that circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. Arriving at Maroon Lake on that crystal-clear, blue-sky Sunday, we weren’t alone. Scores of shutterbugs and leaf-peepers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along the shores of Maroon Lake, their spiderlike tripods arrayed before them. The Maroon Bells, freshly dusted in brilliant white snow, contrasted with the golden sheen of aspen leaves in an array of stunning beauty. That such scenes are displayed by nature, and that the human eye is capable of registering such sublimity for the pleasure of the mind, is miraculous. Soon we had hiked far from the mob, following the muddy trail toward West Maroon Pass beneath ragged escarpments jutting into the clearest air I’ve seen all year. Gradually, my pall of doom and gloom fell away; it was like removing a hairshirt. You can’t be morose for long when you’re in a natural paradise. At least that’s what Ed Abbey wrote. He said that it’s noble to fight the good fight, but not to the point of despair. Get out! said Abbey. Feel the grandeur of nature while the number-crunchers sit in their cubicles punching calculators. Take solace, Abbey said, in the fact that “you’ll outlive the bastards.”I won’t outlive them all, but I’ll enjoy life to the fullest when I can, and that’s the spirit I felt at the top of West Maroon Pass and again at the top of Frigid Air Pass. A pure joy in living came from exertion, solitude and natural beauty, and it resonated with every sense and emotion in my body, mind and spirit. At our camp that night in Fravert Basin we agreed to banish all talk of gloom. It took some discipline, but we passed several hours channeling the poetic muse and reveling in the sheer beauty around us. Such psychic refreshment came from a deep appreciation for pristine wilderness and for the health, strength and freedom to access it. The next day was long and demanding as we hiked two big passes – Trail Rider and Buckskin – both about 12,500 feet. But what is fatigue when one is elated by esthetic and spiritual richness? Pelted by a snow squall atop Buckskin Pass, while clouds swirled below like cotton candy, I took a deep breath of mountain air. It was cleansing and refreshing, and it had a snap to it that announced the coming of winter, the promise of cold and snow.The Roaring Fork Valley is fast becoming a sprawling city – that’s a done deal. The global climate is being manipulated for the supremacy of economics – another done deal. But on that mountain pass, I felt a clarifying purity and freedom from the leaden weight of sorrow and regret. And though it was only temporary, it felt wonderful.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.