Roger Marolt: We met on a blind expedition
I remember my first expedition. We hiked to Vail. Back in the early ’80s, it was a fairly common thing to do, but I haven’t heard of anyone doing it in a long time. I don’t know why it lost it’s popularity.
The trails between here and Crested Butte are crowded these days. It is trendy outdoorsmanship at its finest. It probably has something to do with the fact that you can accomplish it in one day and a taxi will pick you up at the trails’ ends with a cooler of cold beer in the back. It has the feel of hiking from one town to another, never mind that most routes begin and end about 10 miles from the post office of each. As you huff and puff your bag of bones over a high mountain pass, details become superfluous.
So, while nobody would dare call a hike to Crested Butte an “expedition,” a trek to Vail will qualify. You could probably do it in a couple of days, but we took four at a pace Navy Seals would find leisurely. We wanted to absorb the experience as the mosquitos devoured us.
The trip was an authentic town-to-town hike. We started at the base of Smuggler Mountain, commonly known today as the Housewife Hill Trail, and we finished by clomping down the face of the Vail ski area and directly to the bus station in the parking garage to catch a Greyhound bus home. Somebody called us “hippies” in that part of the world where they have never seen one. Someone else sitting in the back of the bus remarked that we smelled like moldy feet and smoke before excusing himself to move closer to the front. Getting on a bus in that condition wasn’t the most considerate thing to do, but we were not in the mood to hike back.
You might be asking yourself what turns an outing into an expedition. I think that fact that we had no idea of exactly how to get to Vail through the wilderness has something to do with it. There isn’t one trail you follow. Once we got into Hunter Creek, we used a compass to point us in the general direction and then used about a dozen USGS topographic maps to guide us. We bushwhacked, backtracked and got lost many times.
The best part of carrying maps is that, after spreading them out on stumps and rocks and gathering around to argue about how the landmarks we could see in front of us appeared on paper, we eventually ended up where we were supposed to be. The worst thing about them is that they take up room in your pack that could have been used for extra food. Living on oatmeal, dried salami and freeze-dried chicken tetrazzini for four days annihilates the notion of a simple pleasure.
Water becomes a difficulty, too. If you are lucky, when thirst gets the better of you, you might happen to be near a stream. If not, a lake or pond are the next best thing with maybe only a skim of insect larvae or a little bit of algae. It always tastes a little more fishy, too. The last resort is a mud puddle, and yet I have drunk frenziedly from more than a few. No matter which source is at hand, you have to boil, filter, or saturate it which chemicals to ensure it won’t infect you with miserable bacteria and/or parasites.
And of course, sleep in the wild is a crap shoot. At best it is a conflict between keeping hydrated and staying well-rested for the efforts involved. You cannot roll out of bed and stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night. By the time you unzip your sleeping bag, put on your shoes, crawl out of the tent and find a place a courteous distance from the campsite, you are as wide awake as if you had downed a cup of coffee. This is assuming you’ve already beaten the odds and were asleep on the rocky ground to begin with.
All in all, getting off the bus at Maroon Lake and falling in love with the wilderness is only an infatuation. It is a nice place to visit, but an impossible place to live. In no time its pleasures become pains, its beauty a veneer peeled back to expose the immense challenges it will eventually unleash. The truth is that spending more than a few hours in the wilderness becomes more about endurance than blissful enjoyment. Contentment doesn’t come from watching clouds or gazing at stars. It fills you after a hard day wrestling the elements. Then you begin to see her depth, inner beauty, intensity and sense of humor. You understand what she can teach you about her and yourself. That’s when our relationship solidified.
Roger Marolt believes in the physical attraction of nature, but understands you have to get to know her before moving in. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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