Paul Andersen: Celebrating the Sopris Sisterhood
Cheryl was on all fours struggling across the steep boulder field. The rocks were loose underfoot, tipping and wobbling. Drop-offs on both sides were precipitous. The ragged escarpments overhead were foreboding.
This wasn’t even a technical climb. It was the summit ridge of Mount Sopris where I caught up with two women last week on my traditional jaunt to the top.
“We’re sisters!” announced Joy, who was perched on a huge boulder from which she was coaxing her sister, Cheryl, up the mountain. “And we only met a year ago!”
The weather was perfect on a late summer day — blue sky, light breeze, cool air, puffy clouds, no storms on the horizon. “You’re sisters … and you just met a year ago?” I asked.
Joy nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, and we decided to climb Mount Sopris together. She posted it on her Facebook, and I said, ‘Let’s go!’ This is the first time we’ve ever been alone together.”
Cheryl looked up beseechingly. “And I got scared!” Her sincerity was reflected in her crab walking toward the false summit.
“Fear is a natural instinct,” I assured this frightened young woman. “It should make you careful — but maybe not that careful.”
These sisters, I learned later, had been given up for adoption as infants and only now, in their early 30s, have come together to reestablish their sisterhood.
I passed by them, appreciating their story. “What you’re doing is amazing!” I said, feeling their enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Cheryl was close on my heels following my route through the boulders.
“Please let me follow you so I have the confidence to go on,” she pleaded. “I really appreciate you being here.”
I kept a mellow pace, but by the time I looked back from the false summit, the sisters were nowhere to be seen. I plodded across the saddle and up the final pitch to the summit of this porphyritic granodiorite pluton, named for early explorer Richard Sopris. Distant peaks stood out in every direction.
At the summit, I snuggled into a foxhole rimmed with scree, leaned back on a smooth slab and gazed out toward Basalt Mountain and the high ridge of Red Table. Beyond that, the Flattops were mostly lost in a gauze of smoke.
A man approached who I had passed below. He and “Huck,” his yellow lab, joined me in the foxhole. Scott is a NOLS instructor from Wyoming, visiting his brother in Carbondale.
“I felt like I was getting sick just sitting around my brother’s house, so I decided to come up here. I’ve never been up Sopris before, and now I feel great!”
Huck came over for a head pat and a studious sniff of my PB&J. He cast his big brown eyes longingly, but kept a respectful distance standing watch on his massive paws, his tongue lolling out. When I complimented his behavior, Scott said he was born that way. “I never had to train him. He’s the perfect dog.”
On the long descent, I caught up to another pair of young women who had climbed both peaks of Sopris and were lazing down the trail chatting amiably. One is an ER nurse at Valley View Hospital, the other a river guide on the Colorado River. Both were glowing with the beauty of vigor from the mountain air and blazing sun, and both wore sandals.
Passing them at the lake, I caught up with the sisters and asked for an interview. Joy said she had been told by her adopted parents that she had a sister, so she contacted Cheryl, who was never told she had a sibling. They met last year in Denver where they both grew up. Now Cheryl lives in Carbondale and Joy lives in California.
They said they still feel abandonment from their adoptions, but since reconnecting, they are making up for the hurt and for the time apart. They have just begun a new chapter in their lives — on Mount Sopris.
While saying goodbye at the trailhead, I posed one last question: “So, are you two getting along?” They glanced up at Mount Sopris, then at each other. Their beaming smiles said the rest.
“We love being sisters!”
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.