My climb to the summit of Antero left me tired and ready for a mental and physical break. I spent a few days recovering in San Isabel reading, writing, and exploring my atlas. I knew Mt. Princeton was right near by and after some brief research, I decided to pay its summit a visit. I hoped it would restore my confidence.
I started hiking yesterday evening, and though it was late in the day, I had enough light to get me from the 2wd trailhead to near the crest of the peak. There, I found a vehicle that had passed me by on my way up. I set up camp in treeline and the weather seemed clear enough for me to be safe for the night. But as a precaution I thought I’d ask the nearby campers if they could give me a ride down if the weather turned.
First off, I suck at talking to… generally…everyone…and I especially suck at talking to strangers. But I swallowed a lump of fear and approached the white, off road ready, dirt speckled truck. “Hello?” I said. Nobody answered. I took a closer look and nobody was there. Then I heard voices off in the distance, both male and female voices. I thought, “Ok, there’s a girl with them, so they’re probably alright.”
I followed my ears down a trail in the trees and suddenly found myself at a building….a building? At 12,000 ft? I didn’t know it was there or what it was for. Was it a crazy mountain man’s house? I called out faintly, “hello?” Then a scruffy, welcoming reply followed, “Hello!”
I walked down to the porch and found three men, two young and one older…along with a friendly young woman. I asked if they were going to climb Princeton the next day. They all said, “No…are YOU climbing Princeton tomorrow?” And I told them I was. They said they would be happy to give me a ride down if necessary. Then they invited me to stay in the Chalet with them. They told me the building was there for hikers and visitors to sleep in and for enjoying the views. I didn’t want to impose…but I was also slightly afraid the weather would turn. I accepted and moved my gear inside.
A warm flickering fire was going and fragrant food was cooking next to it: chicken, peppers, and sliced potatoes. They offered me bites of their meals and gave me cookies, mmmmmm. They told stories about climbs they had done, places they had lived, and funny things that happened along the way. The oldest man was the wisest and he gave me various tidbits of advice, “find a good partner in life, find a job that makes you happy, give back to the people who are important in your life, and enjoy living.” Or something to that effect. He was full of fire, like he ate it for every meal. He was witty and sharp.
The other two young men were polite and we had genuine conversations. The woman, was visiting from the east coast to spend time with one of the young men. They had a cute romantic story about how they met…but it isn’t my story to tell. She was very nice, well spoken, and low maintenance. Something about her seemed fair to me, in the sense that she wasn’t judgemental and she was slightly self-depricating about her bigtime job as an outdoor magazine editor. She had a nice camera and a vast knowledge of its power and capabilities. I only deduced this through observation and not because she bragged about her smarts or skills. She wasn’t that kind of person.
It felt like I was supposed to meet them, like it was no accident. I talked with one of the young men until midnight, he was attentive and inquisitive. Most importantly, he was encouraging of my summer adventure. I felt reassured.
I tried to sleep, but my body was cold and my mind was racing. Thoughts of my future and past zoomed in patternless circles. And…again I felt sick, in the same way I felt sick on (and after) my previous climbs.
After a short stint in a state of near comatose I awoke, it was sunrise. I packed my things, and though I was invited to stay for breakfast, I left. I knew the weather was not going to hold. I felt bad for not saying goodbye, but I didn’t want to wake them.
I headed downhill to the trail off of the jeep road and got to climbing. The elevation gain was slow and kind. The trail was nothing but slick rock after a while, but it was quite manageable with some focus and body control.
Before I knew it I was past the false summit and the clouds were resting along the crest of the peak.
Then I just continued my slow and steady pace to the top, despite feeling ill and obviously fatigued. The views all along the way were spectacular and the crisp thin air was invigorating.
The way down was in no shortage of splendor and provided an overlook of the nearby towns and attractions. But from where I was, the business of the people below was nearly invisible. It all appeared to be in a quiet order, patient, almost still. I liked that view and the thought that maybe things below were actually still and kind in that moment.
I felt good about the hike, but bad that I didn’t stay and thank the Three Wise Men and the East Coast Editor, who had all been so kind to me. Then, as fate would have it…the youngest Wise Man found me sitting here in Buena Vista, typing up this clustered recollection of the past two days, at a coffee shop.
What is it they say about timing?