My family and I recently returned from a week in Estes Park, Colorado, home to Rocky Mountain National Park and one of our favorite places to visit. My husband and I love to hike, and we did five good hikes, or a total of about 30 miles of trail. The number of miles walked is a way to quantify it, but I like to think of the things experienced along the way as a bigger part of the adventure.
Of course you choose your hikes based on what the destination is, whether a waterfall, a hidden lake, or a mountain top. You have to consider the mileage and whether you’re up for that kind of trek, and you always want to get as early a start as possible due to the early-afternoon thundershowers that typically roll through. (At that elevation, the lightning is especially dangerous). You pack the necessary gear, including water and a little food, and travel to the trailhead. Then you’re off! I love the feeling of just starting out, not knowing what might lie ahead, but looking forward to experiencing it.
This year on our first hike to some falls we got caught in a surprise morning thunderstorm, complete with steady, heavy rain and some hail. Luckily we were already about a third of the way down; it was a popular trail and there were quite a few people above us who no doubt had a much soggier trek back. We also learned a valuable lesson as far as gear is concerned (and one we knew but hadn’t followed): always pack rain gear, even if you don’t expect to need it! We took rain jackets with us for every hike after that, but didn’t have cause to use them. Of course.
The mountains received so much snow this past winter that the streams and rivers were higher and faster due to the amount of snowmelt coursing down the mountainsides. My favorite hike was to Black Lake, a place we’d never been before. The trail climbed to Mills Lake (a popular destination) but then continued on through wetlands and a beautiful forested area where you might fully expect to find fairies among the ferns and moss. The trail grew wetter and wetter until we were finally met with snow, and had to find our footing in the slush as we kept ascending in the direction of the lake. (It was a little surreal to be hiking in a T-shirt, in a snowbank, without being cold). Luckily there were a few people ahead of us, so were able to follow their tracks. At last we came up over a rise and there was the lake, dwarfed by massive piles of rock and glaciers coming right down to the water’s edge. A cold wind was blowing across the water, and then it was time to put on a fleece.
This year for the first time we saw sage grouse with their chicks (three times) and encountered a few mule deer along the trail. We met someone later in the week who had seen a bear at Ouzel Falls, where we’d hiked before getting caught in the thunderstorm. We’ve never seen a bear or mountain lion at RMNP, but are just as content (maybe more so!) with all the small wildlife and the flowers we find along the way. For a nature artist and her science-loving husband, it’s the best place to be.
Of course, hiking a trail is a metaphor for our journey through life. We may have a destination in mind, and be impatient to reach it. We arm ourselves with the knowledge and the gear that we think will help us attain it, and sometimes the route there takes longer or is harder than we imagined. We might try and follow in someone else’s footsteps. We may or may not make it, but if we do, there’s often some kind of return trip, or something else on the other side that we might not have expected. When I begin something new, I usually don’t feel the sense of joyful expectancy that I do when starting out from a marked trailhead; I’m usually concerned about what lies ahead: that bear of the unknown that may or may not cross my path. Beginning with a light heart and sense of possibility might be a better way to proceed. And I should definitely enjoy the small sweet and blooming things that I find along the way.