Hidden away from the endless golden plains and pine-dotted hills lies the Snowy Range. I stopped to stare, agape, at the snow-covered ridges last October on a trip to Salt Lake City for an audition. This time I determined to pack accordingly and scale the peak after a lovely gig in Laramie. I had never hiked higher than anything a bit more than 8400 feet, Wednesday’s Vedauwoo trip taking me somewhat above that. It was supposed to storm, but that couldn’t stop me. I had a new knit hat from the Atmosphere Mountainworks and a new sling pack made of a Prepper’s dream, purchased at a gun show. The plan was to take the easy Lake Mary trail up 3 miles to the junction and make the short final jaunt up the summit. In true fashion, however, I parked at a relatively unmarked trailhead just west of said trail. Come to find out I had chosen a more difficult path. As I started up I noticed a ranger posting that bears had recently been active in the area. A short way up the path, among an alpine alcove I came across some fresh scat, so I lifted the butt of my Smith&Wesson out from under all but one of my layers ready to grasp with my free hand. In that moment I realized that I forgot what to do when one comes across a bear (a coyote, I was ready), so I figured in a pinch one round of 9x19s would save me.
I reached the saddle, where I can only assume I had summited Sugarloaf. Trail markers were sparse here, and when they did exist, were nothing but a wooden stake shoved into a cairn. I saw two tiny dots of hikers making their way up the largest peak up to my left. I was not far! However, as I began my hot pursuit I was greeted with a scree field unlike anything else I’d ever encountered. The top of this mountain, above the timberline, was nothing but a pile of rocks. As I stepped onto them they released a high-pitched squeaking that sounded curiously hollow. Here I was, almost 12,000 feet above the sea and I felt simultaneously safe and terrified that any moment the whole pile would collapse beneath me. The two hikers had disappeared around the final switchback up top and I was alone with the wind. I stopped for a moment, overwhelmed with the height and the beauty and the immensity, watching a blanket of clouds slowly make its way towards me. A storm was coming but maybe I could cheat time. With this thought in mind I started up again and hit a switchback that was nothing but a sheer drop into Mirror Lake about 3,000 feet below. For the first time ever during a hike, I felt my heart jump into my throat. I sat on the cairn there to think. Do I risk the final 3/4 mile or so to reach the summit, or do I call it a day? Almost in response, the temperature dropped precipitously and the wind picked up. The fog was coming. Or the clouds? I was so high up that the clouds would just collide with the stone.
I’m not proud, but I turned around. For those who don’t know me well, it might surprise or confuse them, but hiking reminds me that I want to live. It’s the one time in life that I’m not filled with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy or uselessness that can creep up on me during the day. I skedaddled down the trail, slipping a bit on the scree. As I landed at the shore of the lake, I looked up to see the whole summit engulfed in cloud and hail rained down around me.