Half of our crew has already backed out of the trip. A couple of brave souls who wait for us at our familiar campsite have already broken trail for us — quite literally, to the tune of sawed and hauled-off fallen tree trunks illuminated by our headlights and that would have otherwise halted our trusty Subaru in her tracks. The rest of us clutch the inside doors of said Subaru, nervous laughter erupting as we bump along a trail that in no way appears fit for our mid-size SUV.
After about a half an hour and a couple miles of me grimacing with every “ting” of a rock or stump hitting the undercarriage, and Anthony getting a workout just from steering around the quickly-increasing obstacles, we finally decide that it’s time to get out and do what we came for: hike.
The chill hits us hard as we exit the car, and we sink into knee-deep snow and quickly saddle ourselves up with our giant packs. Our headlamps face the pitch-black path ahead — an ascent that looks nearly vertical — but we know it’s “only a couple miles” to camp and our awaiting friends. With a shot of warming whiskey, we begin the climb.
The air isn’t as cold as we had anticipated once we get moving, with the constant step after step, climbing uphill. My headlamp slowly dims (note to self: check the batteries) and one of my generous pack-mates lights my way with a handheld lantern. Our conversations wane as we trudge along, sucking in the high-altitude air and breathing in wispy snowflakes. I do utilize some lung capacity to occasionally point out things that we would see if there was any light whatsoever. “The lake is on our right — the aspens are probably peaked right now.” “Only a little further, we’re almost there.” As one of the campers that had spent a memorable trip here before, and subsequently dragged these brave souls along with us, I felt a duty to at least paint a lovely picture of the one-of-a-kind setting.
When we arrive at camp, it’s silent. The remains of a fire crackle among ash, and our friends warn us from inside their tents of the cold that would quickly set in after the post-exercise warmth wore off. We laugh off their warnings and begin setting up our own tents, completely set on re-kindling the fire and staying up to enjoy the camaraderie of a shared payoff and backpacking trip.
As our own fingers begin to freeze, fumbling with tent poles and zippers, we quickly realize they were right, and we say our goodnights as we jump into our much-needed -30° sleeping bags. Anthony and I lay down and, before long, invite our shivering pup into our shared sleeping bag, as much for our own warmth as for hers.
There will be no sleep.
The wind whips the sides of the tent to the point that sometimes Anthony jumps out of the canvas structure to make sure it is still standing. Sure enough, our trusty tent is holding its own, if only flattening like a pancake over our vulnerable bodies from the gale-force, sub-freezing winds.
I stay put, cuddling with my small family, and giggling at the predicament. Everything had told us that this trip would not be like the year before — a sunny visit to a mountain lake was not in the cards for us, according to the weather forecast. And yet, we were determined to re-enact that memorable and beautiful trip. Here we are, missing out on one of the first truly fall gorgeous weekends back in Denver, skipping my favorite season to jump right into the dead of winter — sleeping outside, nonetheless.
All I can do is laugh. I shiver and laugh and make jokes, knowing there is no way either of us are going to sleep through the elements that night. But, all we have planned for the next day is more hikes, perhaps some blanketed naps in the hammock, and the aforementioned and much-anticipated friendly bonfire bonding. Who needs sleep? This is an adventure! It is not nearly the first time I’ve spent a night in that very tent, waiting for the sun to come up and allow me to crawl out to a new day, and I’m certain it won’t be my last. Mind you, it’s not the way I’d choose to spend a night if I knew for a fact it was going to turn out that way, but I’m a little more adventurous than I used to be, and I’m willing to take the risk for the payoff.
And the payoff did come. The next day, the high-country sun gradually warmed the area, and while it was by no means a summer day, it was plenty warm enough to more than enjoy the area that had so captivated us before. There was hiking, blanketed naps, friendly bonfire bonding, and so, so much more. As we stared at the plethora of stars the next evening — a much warmer, more still night — we were no longer anxious for the next morning’s sun.