Pueblo Active Community Environments (P.A.C.E.)
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Walk in Quiet Solitude

When I was in elementary school, my family moved back to my hometown of Huntington, WV, and we were staying in a hotel before we could move into our house.  I had heard that John Denver was staying in the same place, so I got permission to stay up late to try to run into him.  For me, that meant I hung out on a bench in front of the elevators in the lobby for what felt like hours.  It was past my bedtime, so I must have fallen asleep.  I was startled awake by the dinging sound of the elevator and when I looked up this short little dude with stringy blond hair in a jeans jacket threw his arms out as if to give me a hug and announced, “Well, it’s me”!  Yep, there he was – the famous writer of “Country Roads” – the only song I knew him for as a West Virginia girl.  Many years later, I heard about his song “Rocky Mountain High” and even moved to Colorado.

Remember the lyrics to this song?  The chorus went like this:    

“Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky.
The shadow from the starlight
is softer than a lullaby.
Rocky mountain high…(in Colorado).
Rocky mountain high…(in Colorado).”

It has been rumored that John Denver was somewhat private about revealing his personal reasons for writing the songs that became so famous during his short life which is why he often wrote in 3rd person.  However, after hiking up my first 14er a couple of weeks ago, I can see how his lyrics for “Rocky Mountain High” may have come to him while hiking up a mountain here himself:  “He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below, he saw everything as far as you can see”. 

As you may have guessed, I love to bicycle, but I also love to walk and hike.  So, let me take you on my adventure of hiking up my first 14er

It was still dark when the alarm went off at 4 a.m.  The 3 of us stood around the kitchen counter hastily eating a quick breakfast sandwich made with fried eggs, ripe-vine tomatoes, and spicy pepper jack cheese on fresh, honey wheat bread and gulped down a cold glass of orange juice.  This was followed by a quick inventory of necessary items to bring along on my first hike up a 14er in Colorado.  We were going to climb Grays Peak which had a 3000 foot elevation gain in 8 miles from 11,280 feet to 14,270 feet.  If we had enough time and energy (and the weather held out) we would also cross on over to Torreys Peak before heading back down.    

One thing I have become fairly good at in my adult life is preparing for any weather.  I may have to carry more (windbreaker, gloves, waterproof hat, sunscreen, bug spray, allergy medicine, snacks, water, etc.), but I am usually able to accommodate my environment – which changes every 15 minutes in Colorado.  

The Denver, CO, traffic was eerily quiet as we headed an hour in a half towards Bakerville to reach the dirt road leading to the Stevens Gulch trailhead leading to Grays Peak.  My head lulled back and forth in the back of the Subaru as I tried to hang on and not fall off of my seat as we bounced down the rocky road leading to our destination.  The condition of this 3-1/2 mile access road met my realistic expectations based off of all of the information I read.  Our friend’s 4 wheel drive cranked and grunted along the road making me almost feel relief that we didn’t attempt to drive our low riding Honda Civic Hybrid down this mess.  I say almost, because the road disappeared into a huge crater about a mile up the road.  Later on, I would stand in the ditch to find out it was so deep that when I stood in it, the road was as high as my thighs.  So much for getting there before the crowd.  It took about an hour in a half to finally back down the road with all the cars behind us having to move out of the way first.  We weren’t the only ones.  An hour in a half later, we were finally parked and ready to hike!  We just had to trek about 2-1/2 miles up the rest of the road to the trailhead. 

The Trailhead scene itself was absolutely beautiful at 11,280 feet!  There was a burnt red sided wooden bridge that connected lush, green brush and pine trees above a crystal clear stream of snow melt which flowed over and around smooth rocks in Stevens Gulch.  The sun was peeking out on the top of a ridge of mountains in the distance and shined off of patches of the white, cold remains of snow which still clung to its rocky sides.  It was inspiring to see a group of Cross Country runners from Aurora High School in front of us training for their fall season by running up and down the peak – twice in one day for some of them.  

  

Immediately beyond the bridge, the dark, green grass and rocky, brown trail contrasted with the bright colors of alpine wildflowers that sprinkled the fields in front of the grand mountains.  These speckles quickly took over until there were lush fields of flowers that blanketed both sides of the trail.  It was an amazing site to see and smell the palette of flowers around us.  There were lavender and white Columbines; reddish brown and white spotted Coralroots with a hint of magenta in them; pink, lavender and dark purple shades of Geranium’s; and Western Scarlet Gilia shaped like trumpets.  There were also patches of rosy and yellow Paintbrush; bright pink and lavender Shooting Stars; deep red King’s Crown and rosy Queen’s Crown; yellow and white Dwarf Clover; and pastel pink Moss Campion.  It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever experienced in person and I had to stop for my “Calendar” picture.  A couple of verses of “The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music” may have crossed my lips too, but we will blame it on the altitude.    

About a mile in a half from the trailhead, there was another information sign warning that the “real” uphill part of the climb was straight ahead.  As we emerged from the trail lined by bushes, and stepped on rocks to cross a couple of stream crossings, the view opened up at around 12,600 feet.  We had a wide, deep basin of water on one side, and a cool, stream of snowmelt on the other and straight ahead we had a magnificent view of the rocky, and in some areas snow covered, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak.  As we progressed up the trail into higher altitudes and thinner air, our breathing became a little more labored.  Some of the tourists (who didn’t acclimate properly to the higher elevations in Colorado before taking on this feat) were sitting down on the large boulders taking a break.  The green and colorful landscape had changed to match the rocky top of the peak – hence the name “Grays” Peak.  Soon, it was entirely rocky and I was glad to have my hiking pole to tap on the rocks before stepping on them to ensure I found secure ones to put my weight on. 

 

Our friend, John, was having some trouble with his legs shaking and cramping, so I stayed back at a slower pace with him and encouraged my husband, Sam, to go on up to the top – and even take on Torreys if he had time. Sam made it to Grays Peak – 14,270 feet above sea level!

  

Here Sam was waving his flags from all of the states where he had lived - his tradition for 14ers.  (Yes, he moved a lot).

By this time, the clouds had darkened and started to move in over the peak.  It had cooled down quite a bit and started to get windy and mist.  But, John and I made it too!

John was feeling better now that he could see the view!  (We borrowed a sign from someone for pictures).

Shortly after we made it to the summit, it started to hail.  It was a sign to grab a quick snack and get ready to go back down.  In the far distance, there was a storm brewing and we had a long way to the tree line.

The hike down was just as interesting, but for different reasons.  The hail, and at times rain, caused the rocks to be a little slippery, not to mention the snow crossing.  Again – I was glad I had a hiking pole with me.  (Yes, I only use one).   We went down the other trail between Grays Peak and Torreys so we could experience hiking through the snow at the end of August.

Sam couldn’t resist.  He pulled a garbage bag out of his backpack and went “sledding”.

I could hear the water running underneath and behind the snow as I crunched along trying to keep my footing.  It was a little bit scary thinking the snow could fall further down the mountain while we were on it.

We experienced a little more rain on the way down, and the way back seemed longer than I remembered it.  But, I really enjoyed it.  It’s not every day you get to experience all 4 seasons in one day with friends and family. 

You may not want to climb a mountain, but I hope you can at least take advantage of the beautiful outdoors and follow John Denver’s suggestions and “walk in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step you take.  His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understand, the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake”.   

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