Between the Rockies and a Hard Place

by Fletch

The wind howls and rages as it will, sending snowdrifts flying into the air flake by individual snowflake. High drifts pile along the side of the road, cover the fences, pile on the bushes nearby. A nearby lake is frozen over and covered in snow, winter painting the world her preferred color. 

This is not hospitable weather, not by a long shot. Not for me, not for anyone. I’d turn back but I’ve come so far. I’d quit but I haven’t even started. This may not be pleasant, but it is super necessary. 

I have been here before. Conditions didn’t look good. Temperatures weren’t ideal for a hike. I could go forward or go back. The only thing that didn’t make sense then, that doesn’t make sense now, is standing in place. 

The funny thing about hiking to the Chicago Lakes is, first, no relation whatsoever to Chicago. They’re in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, in the shadow of Mount Evans, as much relation to Chicago as myself to McDonald Lake in Glacier National Park. 

Maybe less, now that I think about it. It’s a complete non-sequitur. 

The other funny thing is that it is always cold as balls, at least in the winter; but I don’t mean cold because it’s winter, I mean COLD because…why? It’s literally colder than normal because of the fierce winds, howling and forcing their way into any weakness in coverage your clothing may leave.

But you don’t really remember the wind and it is a short part of the hike, only biting at the exposed flesh of your face when you look backwards. Walking poles are broken out as I traverse a snow-covered and often iced over part of the trail, set into the steep edges of a deep, forested canyon.

Once you hike away from the trailhead at Echo Lake Park, in the shelter of canyon and tree-cover you gain a respite from the wind at the expense of being in the shadows of the same forest. Cold wind is exchanged for colder temperatures in the shade and out of the sunlight, which at Echo Lake’s ten thousand feet of altitude can be as much as twenty degrees fahrenheit.

That isn’t a problem as long as you keep moving. Varied terrain turns any walk into a hike, and this is definitely a hike. The canyon drops a thousand feet and you regain that elevation in short order. 

I’ve done more, and I’ve done less. Today is no less, no more, no different. Life, itself, has been called a struggle, a bloody fight to the finish. 

I keep moving. Soon the downhill portion drops into a gulley and crosses a stream. 

Then the uphill portion begins, following a snow-covered dirt road up to the Idaho Springs Reservoir. The packed snow covering the road is a foot deep at least, and the drift on the side of the path are several.

I pass a cabin, deserted, desolate. No place for old men, this. 

Beyond that, the Mount Evans Wilderness. At twelve thousand feet and sub-zero temperatures, I continue on. 

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