Cold. Much colder than the night before. The clear skies that put us to bed let the warmth flow upwards, and we woke to frost covered bushes. Much more tea and porridge were needed to get the boots laced. But the packs felt lighter when we pulled them on, and that ache was now familiar and reassuring. Even after two days, the routine was simpler and more straight forward. Christa set off at an astounding pace – marching quickly onto the lower slopes of Buckskin Pass.
We’d seen glimpses of it the day before, but as we were climbing it, we couldn’t see anything but the next 100 feet of trail. We broke through the trees surprisingly quickly and found we’d gained 1,400 feet of height really quickly. Only another thousand to the summit.
We slowed and sucked in the scenery, looking back to where we’d been before; trail riders pass, the peaks of Hagerman and Snowmass now clear in orientation. It’s amazing what a change of perspective can do for you. The going was smooth, and we found our way into the tundra quickly, the final switchback giving us the view we’d been dying for: the north face of Maroon Peak. It didn’t disapoint. Its huge face once again plastered with another layer of snow.
We sat for as long as we could, but the wind whipped us back onto the trail, and the thought of finishing pushed us downwards. As we descended the temperature soared and we took layers off much faster than we put them on at the top. Lunch – the freedom to eat as much as we could manage. With only a couple miles left we sifted through the remains of our food, encouraging each other to eat just one last bite of something rather than stuff it back into our packs. Christa’s knees were aching, so we unloaded her pack as much as we could then set off downwards again, marvelling at how far up we really were.
Finally the trail popped us onto where we’d been two days earlier, at Crater Lake. People were everywhere – now within that radius where people walk from their cars. The final section of trail back to the car was much steeper than we’d thought. Looking back at the first mile of our trip, we were all motivated and fresh, and didn’t realise that what we climbed was as difficult as it was.
We stopped on the shores of Maroon Lake and marvelled at the mountains and our accomplishments, but also the number of people around us. I sat and felt smug that I could get out into the real mountains, away from the car and the crutches of convenience. But moreover I felt gratitude that my parents could come along and do it with me. They are adventurous beyond most people’s comprehension, but they also have the ability to follow through on that ambition. It was a tough hike for anyone, but the satisfaction made it really worthwhile.