My hike Sunday and this post are dedicated to my Grandma Branch that passed away on Friday. When I was little, I used to write one or two page stories for her to read, and almost every time I talked to her growing up, she would bring them up and how much she enjoyed them. I started writing about my hikes again in large part because I wanted her to be able to read these stories and stay up to date with what I was doing. I’m sure every time I write from now on, I’ll be thinking of her.
I was either really excited for this hike or I’m starting to get the hang of this early morning hiking thing, because I woke up at 4am, left around 5am, and arrived at the trailhead by 6:30 Sunday morning. There were 3 or 4 others cars in the parking lot already, but one of them looked like he was packing up to leave from camping there the night before. With the archway of trees that was the trailhead leading me into a magically lush forest, I was looking forward to the upcoming hike in solitude.
If the two cups of coffee this morning weren’t enough to wake me up, the first mile of this hike certainly was. The first quarter mile or so was peaceful, with the stream on my left babbling a morning melody as I made my way along the damp trail.
It rained the night before, which actually turned out to be quite the benefit once it started to turn steep. What would typically be loose gravel and dirt on a steep path was packed down and offered much more grip. From the quarter mile mark to three quarters of a mile was a fight. The humidity in the air combined with the elevation made it hard to breathe, and I was sweating despite the 40 degree temperatures.
Once I reached Broome Hut, I took the opportunity to admire the beauty of the morning sun rising over the valley surrounding me, sparkles of light touching the pine needles holding onto the rain droplets from the night before. Let’s be honest… I also took the opportunity to let my heart rate come back to a normal level and catch my breath, but the views were incredible.
Maybe I was warmed up or maybe it was just a tiny bit flatter, but after Broome Hut, it definitely seemed like it was easier. I was greeted by another mountain stream on my right, cascading it’s way down the canyon to lower elevations. The freshly melted snow gave life to the wildflowers growing on the banks of the stream. They would be my companions as I pushed my way higher and higher, never leaving my side.
That is, they never left my side until I reached their source. The snow fields were still intact and I joked to myself that the water pooled at the bottom of them was my alpine lake for the day. I was approaching 12,000 feet elevation by this point, and it was time for another push to the top. The challenge in this steep section was the thin air. There was one section where I stopped two or three times, just to try to catch my breath.
Once I made it to the top, I was presented with a magnificent plateau-like feature, where the land stretched out around me was flat – at least as flat as it gets at the top of a mountain. Because it was so flat, I could see for the mountains surrounding me for miles and miles on every single side. There’s no way that the pictures will ever do it justice, but I’m certainly going to let them try.
I continued on this flat part of the trail, content with the exercise I had already received to enjoy this peaceful stroll. The wind was oddly quiet today for being above the tree line. I could hear birds chirping and the streams below rumbling. In the distance, I spotted a hot air balloon below me, floating along uninterrupted in the neighboring valley until it disappeared into the clouds. Remind me to never get on a hot air balloon.
The trail continues onward, gradually becoming more and more faint, until it disappears altogether. I saw one other person on my way up, but he took a different route when he reached the mesa, so I was by myself at the end of the road so to speak. I was almost eye-to-eye with a ski lift on the neighboring peak. After some research, that is the Parsenn Bowl at Winter Park – I’ll have to try to remember that if I ever find myself at the top of Winter Park snowboarding.
I found a nearby rock to sit on, taking this opportunity at solitude afforded to me to reflect on the past couple of days. As I sat there and the clouds swirled all around me, I was hit by an overwhelming feeling that I was about as close to heaven as I could get. It was surreal and powerful at the same time. I decided I should take this opportunity to send up a prayer to my grandma, and tell her all the things that I wish I could and all the ways that I’ll remember her. It will never be the same, the way the clouds were this morning as I sat there all by myself, but I think this will be a hike that I’ll come back and do when I’m missing her in the future. For me, the place where I was sitting will always be tied to the memory of this moment, where I felt like I could talk to her one last time.
I spent about 20 minutes by myself before I could see the next group of people meandering their way down the trail towards me. I took in the scene around me one more time, and it was time to head back down and let them enjoy this perfect place for themselves. As I worked my way back down, the clouds started to put on a show. It started with one column reaching upwards from the ground well below me.
As I kept going, I stopped several times, marveling as the clouds crept ever closer, gently, as if to ask permission before enveloping me. I pressed onward letting the clouds know it was okay, and for a brief moment, I was completely surrounded. The closest comparison is flying through a cloud when you’re in an airplane, and it was like that, the way the sun was blocked out, but you could also feel the difference. I could suddenly see my breath as it turned to water vapor. It’s hard to describe, but it was an incredible experience. Almost as if heaven recognized my efforts to get as close as I could, and had come the rest of the way down to let me and my grandma be together one more time.
As hard as I’ve tried to put it into words, it’s impossible to describe how much this hike meant to me today. It’s a memory that I’ll always remember and hold onto. One more memory in a long list of many when I reflect on how much my grandma meant to me. I love you and I miss you!