That pretty well sums up my day on Tuesday. But in case you’re interested in a little more description, I’ll give it a shot.
Molly and I went hiking up in Boulder around the Flat Irons. I haven’t been hiking since the summer time and I haven’t been running in three weeks as of today. So I won’t lie. I was nervous. Molly seems like a hiking aficionado. So when we looked at Chataqua trails I voted for the 4 miles and not much elevation gain. Well, we did that. It was a good climb up to the second flat iron. The trail had been packed down so that the snow was hard and grey and slick. It wasn’t snow. It was ice. I would have preferred to hike in the squelching mud of the open meadow. But here, in the dense cover of the trees, there was only ice on the trail as we slid around switch backs and I squealed with ecstatic terror every few steps. We both fell, me against a rock that attempted to claw my face, she on her rear when her feet slid out from beneath.
But we made it to the flat iron and climbed around on top. We leered over cliffs and looked into the wide spaces of Colorado. We could see from the red roof tops of CU Boulder, clumped together in the city like the ancient roman cities amid the overgrown Italian modernity. And we could see to the soaring sky scrapers of Denver, grasping towards heaven, power and immortality. But they’ll be torn down and the inhabitants of their cubicles soon forgotten. I scrambled up between two boulders and found a divet in which to rest. Molly clambered up beside me and we listened to the wind whistling through the pines. There was still the rush of the distant city beneath us. But here, on the ledge of this rock, over looking a deathly drop, serenaded by sun and biting breeze, we were alone. And it was glorious.
But then the real adventure began.
“I think I see a trail over there,” I said, pointing behind the first flat iron, the one farthest north, dominating our view despite the backside of the flat iron on which we perched so precariously. “Isn’t that what you said you did last time? You went around back and came out on front?”
“Let’s do it.”
We shimmied down between the boulders and once more shouldered our packs. The wind was picking up, but in the shelter of the trees we heard only the rushing sound and no longer felt the stinging breeze on our bare arms and calves white and scratched from the snow we had trekked through. We rounded the back of the red monolith, streaked green with clinging moss that runs down the sides and into the rich, thick earth. Over sandy rocks we scrambled and yet, there was a disappointment. “This isn’t how I remember it, there’s no where for us to come out, no ledge for us to sit on,” she lamented. I pointed at a path worn between boulders and scraggly trees.
“Maybe further down it cuts around.”
So we went down. We saw one footprint that clearly belonged to a shoe with crampons. Crampons! I’d’ve wanted those on the climb up the icy path. But here we navigated boulders, trees and undergrowth full of moss and pine needles that pretend to be spears. It seemed trail–ish for ten yards. And then it was a mess. But then we spotted more footprints, all heading down the forty five dgree slope. It must be a trail! But it disappeared again. By the time we decided this was no trail to the front of the flat iron we figured it would be easier to just continue on our way. After all, we saw the occasional track and they were all headed down to the base. There was nothing to hint that we would have to climb back up and start over. This seemed easier than the icy track that awaited us on the south side. We were 2700 feet up. We hadn’t eaten lunch. We were feeling adventurous. So we kept on our downward way.
There was one moment, I remember being five feet above the ground, sitting on my haunches on a wet rock looking at the ground beneath me and thinking I shouldn’t make the jump because I’d never be able to stop the fall and there was a log that I didn’t want to break my leg against. Molly had disappeared from sight, she’s faster, more limber and not nearly so cowardly as I. I sat on that rock with my feet sliding in the water and my hands hurting from being the base of my upper body strength against sharp and cutting surfaces. It was almost frightening, feeling stuck. I couldn’t back track, but I couldn’t jump. But it was peaceful too. There was stillness in the hillside. Somewhere, distantly, a bird called. I told Jesus, I didn’t want to slip and fall, that won’t do for Pakistan: arriving with broken limbs. But I told him that this was a beautiful place and I was so, so alone, and it was so beautiful.
“I see you!” Molly cried from below.
“Well, that’s something! ‘Cause I don’t see you!” But I saw my way out and so the descent went on.
The worst came later on. We found ourselves on the edge of the flat iron. Molly threw her pack down, no longer able to deal with it sliding around and throwing off her balance. We had reached a point where that would be precarious at best, faulty and painful at worst. I zipped our cellphones into my vest pockets and sucked down more water from the camelbak to calm the tired muscles that were bored with all this work and rebelling at every turn. We watched the pack bounce. Once. It ricochetted. Twice. It stuck. Ten feet below us. Well, we’d have to kick it further down. So we made it to that point and Molly tossed again, and then we repeated the process. We scrambled over the smooth rock face, until we came to apoint where the pack was thrown off the side and we watched it land in snow with a certain thud.
She hunched down near the edge, and I soon scrambled down to her as well. I had my feet up above me, shimmy-ing down with my arms holding theweight of my body back, fighting against the gravity that tugged against my legs which were shaking with exhaustion. We sat for a moment, rested and watched someone climb up the face of the rock. We were branched off, on a limb of the great monolith that soars against the foothills like a snowboard running parallel to the mountains and diving deep into the snow. We watched the man in his dark denim and white north face climb the mountain. He had no ropes, no helmet and no pad that I saw at the base in case he tumbled down the hundreds of feet he had already mastered. He was crazy. But if he could make it up, we could make it down.
Molly went first, as always.
She slid into the space between the slanting stone we squated on and a section of the rock that pushed vertically past us. It was wet, and there were few footholds that did not crumble and give way beneath our boots. We deliberated. But we had come to a dead end. I remember looking up above me, wondering if we’d have to retrace our steps? It was a drop below her, she said, straight onto rocks and bramble. We could back up a bit, try another route. But that stone looked worn smooth, and neither of us are experts in bouldering, nor did we have the pad on which to break our fall when upper arm strength gave out. I have wtached people boulder and fall and I did not want to be that person. There was a dead tree, the log lying across the snow beneath us. We’d hit that, if we back stepped and slid in the process. It was a mess.
“I think we have to jump.”
“Have I told you I don’t like heights?”
“I don’t think we have another option.”
“Frick…. well, how far is it? Six? Seven feet?”
“More like eight.”
“It’s a straight drop here,” she pointed in front of her, “but there, we can jump into the snow,” and she pointed to our right.
She went first. We counted and then she lept into thin air with nothing to catch her but the deep snow we hoped did not hide rocks. I slid into the space between our adjoining, crab walking on my back and praying that I did not want to die, not even in so beautiful a place as this. Molly coached. I managed to make it, legs shaking, into that little divet where she had sat. I hate heights. My hands were shaking. It was not eight feet. I made her wait in the knee deep snow for me. Minutes ticked by while I tried to examine my options. There had to be a way to get lower. I looked at my legs. They were quaking, and not from nerves. They were quaking because they were tired. They were exhausted. I had to go. I had to do this. Oh, but frick, it was terrifying.
and I jumped.
I hit the snow hard. My face went into it and my feet were so deep I could not move. I breathed it into my nose and my eyes began to water. But then I was laughing. I was ecstatic. It was euphoric. “Yeaaaaaaaaaah!” I screamed for the whole of Boulder to hear. Molly laughed and told me I was epic.
“It’s more than 8 feet.”
I turned around and looked.
“We are so badass.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “yeah we are badass.”