Normally, I plan each summer weekend in advance, even if it’s two days of dedicated rest. So this past summer, when my best friend and I found ourselves with no plans for Labor Day, we put together an itinerary to outdo all the others. Fast forward to Friday evening and we were camping in an absolute downpour, wondering if the black bears would be visiting to taste the berries I’d accidentally pitched our tent on top of. Our plan was to wake up the next morning and backpack 17 miles round-trip to Snowmass Lake, then mountain bike the 35-mile Monarch Crest Trail over the course of three next days.
Needless to say, we weren’t heading into things with much rest.
I’m not big on hiking, but I knew a backpacking trip would provide us ample time to chat, take photos, and enjoy getting unplugged for longer than an afternoon mountain bike ride. As any good adventure starts, I had found a pretty lake on the Internet and pitched it to my friend. The guy who had reviewed it had voted the eight-mile hike in as “intermediate,” and I had glazed over the elevation gain, thinking we would be fit enough to handle whatever it was.
It wasn’t until it started raining at about mile five that I doubted my method of research. There’s now way this was an intermediate hike. Or at least, there’s no way it’s an intermediate hike for someone carrying two cans of chili, a bear canister, and a DSLR with extra lenses.
…And my utter confusion set in. Man, had I misunderstood that elevation chart. We were easily over 11,000 feet, 2,000 feet higher than I had anticipated. The wind howled, clouds roared by over head, and the chill made me glad I’d lugged that chili along. We explored for about an hour, then gave in to the elements and crashed in the tent. But not before the camp robbers had broken into our cornbread.
We hurt. I could hardly bend my leg at the knee (due to an unsolvable IT band issue), my shoulders were bruised from my over-stuffed pack, and the soles of my feet simply ached. But we had an alpine lake nearly to ourselves, and the sun was out…sort of. That feeling you get when you’ve accomplished something worthwhile, something that pushes you into the uncomfortable, had set in. All that was left to do was enjoy the sunset.
We hiked down the next day with a little bit of trepidation in our steps, not sure exactly what shape we’d be in the following day for the biggest bike ride we’d ever set out to accomplish. I was in the most discomfort I’d been in all summer, what with the inflamed knee, but I could see the end in sight. And I knew that with the end would come another week at the computer, so I soaked up every step.