Friday, August 10, 2012

Rocky Mountains Day 3: August 3, 2012

We woke up early and had breakfast near the trailhead in the alpine tundra. A chilly, but awesome place for breakfast.

We parked at the Milner Pass Trailhead at the Continental Divide.

We started our 2000 foot climb to Mount Ida. A quarter of the hike was in the treeline, and about half the hike was on the crest of the Continental Divide on exposed tundra.  

We passed a sign that said, 
“The hike from here to the summit of Mount Ida is 3.5 miles of exposed tundra without a maintained trail and few reference points. You will need to pay strict attention to weather and terrain. A map and compass along with a strong sense of direction are paramount to a safe return. Several hikers have been lost in an attempt to return from Mount Ida to their starting point. Don’t be one of them.”
It was amazingly beautiful and very windy. We were mostly on the west side of the crest (where bodies of water flow to the Pacific Ocean), although we walked over the midline of the Divide and saw the east (where bodies of water flow to the Gulf of Mexico). We passed a lazy marmot sunning on a pile of rocks as well as a little alpine pond with dried salt on one edge. We were surrounded by mountains and evergreens at what felt like an amazing height. We spotted a tiny antlered elk below grazing by itself. We saw a neat little ledged lookout that looked over 5 alpine lakes. The last quarter of the hike climbed higher and higher over several boulder fields.

We felt better than we did the day before as we ascended toward Ida, a foreboding pile of dark rock. We saw a flock of ptarmigians unconcernedly walk across our way; they looked like the rock we were stepping across.

When we got to the top, it was incredible. At 12,880 feet, we felt like we were at the top of the world.

This was the highest altitude we had ever ascended (and he pointed out, we were together when we were at the lowest we had ever been below sea level) – its views were as amazing as the views at Ubehebe Peak, except we were 4000 feet higher! As we were taking pictures, we noticed some dark clouds coming our way.

Mabel was pretty unhappy to spot a bolt of lightening in the distance. We hastily started our way back, fumbling our way through the boulder fields; Mabel was in such a hurry that she fell and twisted her ankle. We made it past the ledge that looked out over the 5 lakes, but a little past that, we were suddenly pummeled with horizontal hail. It was pretty frightening – we were in the alpine tundra portion, which meant we had zero cover. All Mabel could think about was the two of us getting hit by lightening and dying gruesome deaths. We covered our packs and crouched down towards the ground, but then decided to run for the ledge. We made it successfully, climbed down, and found it to be adequate shelter, since it was on the east and most of the wind seemed to be driving from the west.

We waited the storm out unscathed. It was still quite windy – so windy that we were getting blown off our trail.

The hike ended all right, as the wind dried our clothes out nicely; we even got a little sunshine towards the end. We were pretty tuckered out. Mabel wanted to do a celebratory jig when we got to the treeline, but was too tired. We limped home, but were bodily intact, and sans headaches or nausea. To top off the hike, Dave saw a woodpecker

Hello, I am an American 3-toed Woodpecker. Who are you?
and we both saw a mule deer peacefully eating grass and flowers.

What storm?
Mabel got a mosquito bite on her right forehead and looked like a Klingon for the evening. For dinner we had clam chowder and quesedillas. We were happy to have survived Mount Ida.

No comments: