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Thursday, September 2, 2010

A high altitude journey

Yesterday, I woke up knowing that I had the good fortune of freedom to do whatever I wanted with my day. So, I thought to myself, "I get only one September 1, 2010, and what can do that will make it memorable?". After seeing the superb weather and no clouds on the Divide, I decided to climb a mountain that I'd never visited before.

The Duo and I set out with high spirits, first wending through a spruce forest and then emerging into the krummholz, the dwarfed forest that precedes treeline. The trail was almost completely deserted - we saw only two other people all day long.Very soon after starting the hike, we emerged onto the alpine tundra, a place not unlike the moon, except that lots of green plants grow on it. They were morphing to autumn gold and auburn, painting a glorious picture for me and the Duo.
The tundra is a vast treeless sea of rocks, grass, snowfields, and a few remaining, very hardy, wildflowers. These are Arctic Gentians, always the last wildflowers to bloom.
Marmots and pikas whistled and chirped from everywhere at once. These animals thrive in the short summers of the high mountains and hibernate for the majority of the year. While K has become bored with these taunting animals as she's become mature, R is still at the age where they obsess him. Here, I was trying to calm him down by having the Duo do a down-stay. With R, I've had to develop very specific criteria for what constitutes being "down" - my main criterion is that his elbows are on the ground. You can see here that they are. However, he's in danger of stretching his neck to giraffe-like proportions!
R drank in the scents of the high altitude wildlife.
At this point, the west wind buffeted us like an indomitable force. As it relentlessly pushed me backward, I began to realize that climbing this mountain presented a bigger challenge than I'd expected. It was so hard to walk into it, and it was COLD. I donned all my winter gear, probably not imaginable to many people in the Northern Hemisphere right now.

The dogs began to realize that their wind-driven ears would be akimbo in all my photos!
Below the final steep pitch the summit, we emerged onto a plateau with endless views to the west.
On the plateau, the wind nearly knocked me over. We didn't linger long. The summit beckoned us and K seemed to contemplate it.
R led the way up the field of scree and boulders toward our summit. It was only 500' above us but the climbing was on precarious terrain.
We finally emerged onto a broad summit. I thought that I was about to be blown to Kansas by the wind so I took few photos.
People had built numerous wind shelters out of the scree. We ducked down into a shelter and had a snack. I peeked over the top of the stone wall to take this photo.
After emerging from hiding, I spotted a glacier-fed aqua lake, with wind-whipped whitecaps, in the valley below, only visible from the tippy top of the summit.
We began to descend but K, in her cute style, hopped onto boulder seeming to beg me to take her photo. How could I resist?
On the way down, I began to realize exactly how tired I was. When I get truly exhausted, the neurological damage wreaked by my spine becomes more pronounced. Yesterday, I kept tripping on the rocky path because the muscles that pull my toes upward, helping them clear obstacles, weren't getting sufficiently strong nerve signals due to my spine problems. I had to descend very carefully and slowly to avoid falling. That aspect of the hike sobered me. I can push and push, trying to pretend that everything is normal, but it's not. I'm not as strong as I used to be. However, I refuse to give into it.

I pushed those thoughts from my mind as we had our last view before reentering the forest.
It was long hike - actually a journey of sorts - and I won't forget September 1, 2010!


  1. And neither will 'we'

    Thanks for sharing yours and helping to make it part of 'ours'

  2. What a day! I love all the pictures of the duo. You seemed to capture a lot of their personalities and quirks in a few pictures.

    I just love alpine landscapes! That last climb to the top looks like quite the scramble...and after a major surgery just months ago...


  3. What spectacular photos! You are so lucky to be able to reach summits like that. I love that windblown photo, don't tell the duo that it makes them look less distinguished!

    I'm hoping we get to go hiking this weekend, but it won't be as scenic as yours!

  4. What a wonderful way to spend September 1, 2010. I feel like an absolute slug now. Great photographs. Lucy also pushes the limits of "down" as far as she can. But since I am the only judge, I give her a bit of leniency...not too much, but just enough.

  5. As always, fab photos of the pups and... the absolutely gorgeous views. Love R's "down"!!! Amazing what a great job you're doing getting her to do THAT much in the face of so much excitement with marmots and such around! You are such a trouper - keep it up, KB - you will get the rewards as I'm sure you know well!
    Big Hugs xoxoxo
    Sammie, Mom and the gang here

  6. Your photography does justice to the awesome landscape, KB. Arctic Gentians, Pikas, a lake, weren't peeking over my shoulder, were you? Hope your back withstood the long hike.

  7. You are one amazing woman! With two fine pups, of course!

    Stella and Jo

  8. How I wish I could have come along! The idea of freezing mountain air sounds so good to a girl who's been roasting in 90+ temps all week.

    Love the picture of R's head sticking up like a giraffe. Ever the comedian, isn't he?

  9. what an incredible adventure!
    you are the strongest women i know! push yourself through, what for most people would be impossible limitations, is truly "rock" girl...and so do K and R!!!

  10. Thanks for making our September 3rd interesting too! I like to giraffe and yoda ears shots! And of course fantastical scenic shots.

    I have a "floppy ears in the wind" shot very similar to R, and Team Husky's mom called it Koda Yoda. I am not a fan of Star Wars tho..but it looked like you had fun on the moon!

    Happy weekend

  11. I won't forget September 1, 2010, either ... what beautiful pictures and what an outstanding place to be! I have never seen anything like your pictures of the summit .. so unusual. I really got a kick out of R drinking in the scents!

  12. Geesh KB, what a ride!

    You must have been exhausted, but exhiliarated at the same time! I had to smile....I wouldn't put it past you to one day find a blogpost about your bicycle tracks on the lunar landscape. (Obviously no beautiful flower pics that day!...and maybe no wind either!)
    I just love those 'flapping' dogs' ears! :)
    Sending lotsaluv (Don't overdo it now!)


  13. This post certainly highlights your strength, determination and sense of adventure, KB! You are: Hiker Extraordinaire!

  14. You fought the wind just like I did, but you made it! And you have more tugging you toward giving in than I do. Once again, you've inspired me greatly!

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your description of R's stay contortion!!!

  15. Oh, my! Stunning views! Really beautiful!


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