The most exciting (and exacting) of our “training hikes” began as we climbed Medicine Bow Peak at an altitude of 12,800 feet (3900 m) in the Snowy Range.
There are two ways to climb this peak: one way is from Lewis Lake, straight up. This is the steepest and most difficult and the one Michael chose for us to do, his memory serving him a bit hazily regarding the amount of scrambling this climb would require us to do. Michael had often mentioned this hike to me and really wanted to do it once more, with me. It was a compliment to me that he thought I would be able to do it. And so, full of excitement and with just a hint of trepidation on my part, we set off.
It wasn’t long though until the trail started to climb, gradually getting steeper and steeper until we started encountering switchbacks, boulders to scramble over, and steep side hills. All good at this point. We passed an 81 year old woman who wanted to climb this peak one last time. She was supported by her whole family…kids, grandkids and spouses! I was to remember her later on in the climb for she became my role model….my mantra became, “If she can do it, so can I!”
Every time we turned the corner of another switchback, I thought we’d reached the top. No such luck. I didn’t really know what to expect. Finally though, we made the last turn to find….not a trail but…..a boulder field. Some of these boulders were as big as small houses…some the size of the rooms in a house….with crevices….big black holes….between them. No problem. Don’t call me a whimp! I started off. Pretty soon the poles were folded up and given to Michael to carry as I needed both hands to make my way from boulder to outcrop back to boulder again. A few times I just sat on a boulder contemplating how on earth I would find my way through. (Later on Michael labeled that behavior as “freezing up” and as a “panic attack” to which I took great offense!) In this moment though, the last 100 yards, he was a warrior, my warrior, and gallantly offered his hand and guided me safely through the boulder field to the top, promising that once we got to the summit, there would be a good trail down. Just a side note here: I wasn’t the only one experiencing difficulties. There was a young father waiting patiently on a boulder with his golden retriever beside him. Apparently the dog had found it difficult to keep track of where all four of his legs were and had already fallen several times into crevices and … there were other “grey hairs” content to sit at the foot of the boulder field. I should have paid more attention. What was I thinking???
While I rested at the top, averting my eyes from the drop-offs all around me, Michael went searching for “the easier trail” down the other side. We were making a grand loop, intending to end up where we started at Lewis lake. He found the trail just beyond another boulder field. The boulders here though weren’t as large or as extensive as the previous ones. We found the trail and started making our way down….again Michael had to help me around the more precipitous ones.
It was a long way down…not as steep as the way up….just a constant downhill spread over a longer distance. We met lots of hikers coming the opposite way, asking always how much farther. One woman told us that she was afraid to go up the way we had – that she’d heard how difficult it was. That made me feel pretty good about what I’d accomplished.
By this time, I was getting tired. I had exerted a great deal of energy on the climb up and hadn’t really rested other than a few short stops. There was as yet no end in sight. We came to a section where the trail all but disappeared, turning into large, loose rocks on a steep, steep slope. The so-called trail did a major hairpin, turning back on itself. At that turning point, Michael was standing right on the edge….nothing behind him but blue space….waiting for me. I had no sure footing, a poor sense of balance, nothing to hold onto, and….did I mention how tired I was? My poles were no help in all that waste of rock!!! What to do?? I became spider-woman without the super-powers. I sat on my butt and scrabbled my way across the hairpin. No way was I going out on that point and falling to almost certain death! What else did I do? I got supremely, silently angry. That anger built up as I made my way down the remainder of that descent from hell. My mantra of “If she can do it so can I,” changed into, “How could Michael not know, not remember this part of the climb? How could he have forgotten that huge boulder field? Why would he bring me here knowing how frightened I am of downhill scrambling (ever since breaking my leg in three places trekking in Nepal?”
At that point, as I finished my “spider walk”, Michael made the inopportune comments that I referred to earlier in this blog. Words like “freezing up” and “panic attack” were uttered with a total lack of awareness, on his part, of the volcano I’d become. At that point, nothing was said. We each remained silent until we were once again on firmer ground.
THE SALVOS BEGAN…..we started firing shots until finally, Michael turned, looked at me and said, “Look into my eyes. Do you really believe I would ever knowingly put you into danger?” If you have met Michael, you know his eyes are the most beautiful blue eyes. At this moment, they were tunnels reaching directly into his soul….I got the message of his love loud and clear….I could see and feel it with so much intensity. The anger dissolved into tears which accompanied me the rest of the way down.
By the time we reached the bottom and filled up our camelbacks at the pump at Mirror Lake, we’d hiked 11-12 km. I was totally bagged – couldn’t walk another step. Michael left me sitting at the water’s edge, contemplating our hike, while he hoofed it back the 4-5 km left to Lewis Lake where we’d started and where the truck was parked.