Friday, December 4, 2015

High Country Tripping

The season of snow and ice will soon be upon us, so I was looking forward to one last hike upon the flanks of our Blue Mountain. It was Sunday afternoon, Steve was managing the cafe and the trading post was closed for the day. Laurie was enjoying the company of her mother in Monticello and I figured there were four hours of good daylight left to get into the forest and back, five if I pushed my luck. My goal was to hike the old power line road leading up to Abajo Peak. I have studied it digitally, using Google maps, several times and decided I could traverse the path and not get lost. Actually, I could easily keep track of where I was because I would have intermittent views of the eastern slopes of the "Blues", the valley below and the LaPlata mountains far to the east. I would begin my journey on the lower extremities of Pole Canyon, then catch the power line road at the southwest corner of the Jones property and head uphill from there. I was excited about undertaking the trek.

My wife has often offered to loosen the purse strings and let me purchase a gently used four-wheeler to carry my aging bones to places I can't easily walk. Since I love the quite and solitude of a hike and, to steal a phrase, "take the path less traveled,” I have declined her offer until I can no longer carry myself. "When that time comes", I tell her, "I will require the latest, greatest model available, nothing used." She waves me off and says, "Then you may walk for now." So I do, and I have a great deal of fun exploring thick timber and crossing ravines where a four-wheeler should not or cannot go. This time though I would be traversing an old road, one that was quite steep, rocky and becoming chocked down by encroaching trees and brush. Shouldering my bug-out bag, I set my hiking boots to the task. An occasional mule deer bounded by, grey squirrels barked at me and I could hear but not see heavy beasts moving through the thickets. My imagination told me there were bear, but common sense said cows were about.

Thick strands of twisted and gnarled oak brush, the stuff that grabs at your clothing and pokes you in the eye if you are not careful, border the first course of the trail. There are also statuesque and fragrant yellow pine and stumpy juniper with smatterings of sap that can be chewed like a stick of Wrigley's gum. When the Mormon pioneers first came to Bluff, the Navajo people were using the sap as a healing salve, a natural Neosporin that is proven to draw out infection and foreign objects. Because it was effective, the pioneers adopted it and adapted it for personal use. (Ask me about this later. It will be the next pyramid scheme I invest in. It works, it really does. Only this time I intend to be at the apex of said pyramid.) Anyway, I digress. It was not long before the path became exceedingly steep and rocky. I most often hike alone because on increasing inclines I begin to huff and puff like a locomotive. It is less embarrassing if I am the only one to hear the steam vent. On a hike like this I generally set my sights on a rock or tree up the hill and trek to it, then take a breather and do it again.
Going Up

As I tripped up the slope I could feel my heart beating like a drum on parade. The shale was semi-loose under my boots as I made my way up a particularly steep incline. Tall shoots of yellowed grass grew in scruffy patches in the midst of the slide rock and scattered boulders. There were blue spruce all around, and for contrast the white scarred trunks of quaking aspen mixed in with the pines. The forest around me was getting thicker; there were numerous giant deadfalls with their massive roots sticking into the air like the petrified tentacles of a monster squid. Lightning struck trees was common up here, with their shattered bodies and shocked trunks oozing with highly flammable sap. There were tall standing pines, dead for ages, stripped clean of bark and standing like oversized skeletons refusing to fall by force of wind and weather. As I climbed higher the trees started to thin and I began catching more glimpses of the far-reaching views in the distance.

I topped-out on a lower peak which opened to a magnificent vista encompassing a vast and beautiful landscape. On the slopes just below me there were clusters of trees sporting the fall colors of yellow, green and red. I could see the rooftops and reservoirs of Monticello below me and the highway to Blanding stretched out to the south with the forms of singular farmhouses and out buildings along its length. Deep and steep canyons cut the surface of the land interspersed with the fields of dry farms connected by a spider-web maze of dusty dirt roads. From where I stood I could see to the tops of the far peaks in Colorado, the faint outline of Shiprock to the south, in New Mexico, and if I looked to the right of South Peak I believe I was viewing a snippet of Arizona.

As I stood on this high and mighty place, my mind was drawn to the Navajo perspective of mountains; all mountains are sacred to The People. Deity, gifted with Holy People, created them one male, one female. Those beings communicate with the sky, beckoning clouds to gather and lay down moisture, which allow the plants and animals upon them to grow and prosper. Every mountain reacts to song, prayer and offerings, has a personality of its own, and will bless those who honor and respect it. Failure to do so can cause harm or accident to the individual. The values associated with sacred mountains are pervasive to the Navajo; they are called upon in every ceremony to aid in the healing and protective process. I thought about this and wondered if I had approached the mountain correctly and shown respect while treading upon it. I had no corn pollen to give, but placed a couple Fig Newtons in an obvious spot as an offering and said a little prayer of appreciation.

When I started this hike, I imagined making it to the top of Abajo Peak, the highest point in this range. Sadly though my time was short, my lungs and legs were nearly spent and I realized I was not going to accomplish that goal this time. I recently read a book by Jon Krakauer titled: Into Thin Air, about hiking Mount Everest. It was still on my mind, because in a very small way I felt like so many of those climbers that nearly made it to the peak of Everest but were turned away by similar circumstances. To be sure, Mount Abajo is nowhere near as difficult to climb as Everest. The term "a mountain to a mole hill" also came to mind. As I contemplated these issues, the sun went behind the peaks and the wind picked-up. I looked again at the slope before me and once again thought about attempting the summit. The wind whipped and the temperature dropped. Because of the climb my t-shirt was still wet and I had only my Twin Rocks sweatshirt with me to fend off the cold. If I did not want to spend an unprepared night up here, the wise choice would be to head down the mountain.

I thought maybe I would make the trek back to the truck in a much quicker manner, but my legs were tightening-up and I began to wonder if that would be the case. I found and fashioned a couple walking sticks to help avoid a face plant and started down the hill singing what I could recall of Bohemian Rhapsody and humming the melody of what I could not. By the time I made it down my toes were jammed into my boots so far I probably would never get them out and my legs were hammered to the point I could barely stand. I had one more fence to cross and a quarter mile to go when I hooked a toe on the top wire of a gate and flipped onto my back, on the opposite side. I lay there for a moment, slowly taking stock of my situation and wondering if I had broken anything. I wiggled my fingers and toes, my back and my front and realized nothing was damaged, other than my ego. I had landed in a prone position, flat on my back. My pack had absorbed the blow; some of the stuff in there hadn't done so well, but could be replaced. I don't know if the Newton cookies or the Rhapsody had hindered or helped that fall, but the mountain sent me home safely and for that I am eternally grateful. I look forward to my next excursion there.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team:
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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