I have had several months to let a recent trip to Estes Park, Colorado sink in and the message resonating is still astonishing. When Katie and I returned from a five day trip with several friends to the Rocky Mountains I was still amazed by the grandeur. I wondered for a few days if I was simply living in the honeymoon phase of a vacation or if the experience really had weight. Since those days in the mountains much has changed in my Columbus life; career changes, running injuries, emotional highs and lows. It still feels comfortable to displace myself to the single track trails of Hallett’s Peak, Tabletop Mountain, Lumpy Ridge Loop, and endless other miles of hard packed adventure and that I think is the evidence I was in search of.
Flying into Denver Katie and I found it hard to contain our excitement at even the slightest glimpse of the mountains. As we drove up and into their grasp our collective jaws dropped and we were wondering what was around each corner. The drive consisted of mountain views, elk, a black bear, river flood damage, and multi-million dollar homes. We were ready for the exploration to begin. Our days in Estes Park comprised almost solely of outdoor adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park. The typical routine was to rise before the sun, shovel in fuel (breakfast) and arrive at the trailheads shortly after daybreak. The park was rarely busy at this time of day and allowed us as a group to take trails nearly to ourselves. Taking in a full six or eight mile trail before nine a.m. allowed for reflection of the morning, refueling (lunch) and the opportunity to explore more of the park in the afternoons. Thus leaving us mutually exhausted before sundown, yet excited for the next day’s coarse of action.
The two treks that the group made I am most fond of are our ascent of Hallett’s Peak and the hike to Chasm Lake. Both were levels of awe I am not sure if I had ever experienced before. Hallett’s Peak was a ten mile adventure spanning almost as many hours and taking us to and from a peak of 12,713 ft. The walk well above the tree-line took us to the edge of permanent glaciers, along the Continental Divide, to shear faces, and finally the summit. The camaraderie on a summit of almost any significant height is astonishing. Each individual is eager to spill the tale of their morning adventure, where they have traveled from, what peaks they have reached, and their outdoor aspirations. It is aspiring and even though one still has a five mile hike and 5,ooo’ of descent left in the hike, I never wanted to leave the summit. Views went on for miles and that is the most pathetic way I can state that. The Great Plains of the United States can be seen to the east and mountains as far and as high as you can see loom to the west. Similarly, Chasm Lake employs a remoteness and sense of scale that is hard to depict with text or photographs. Long’s Peak stands so tall above the lake that is only incrementally warmer than freezing. Granite, scree and snow rise up in all directions surrounding the lake and leave you with a sore neck. Knowing that as you stare at the summit of Long’s Peak there are people cresting the last boulder reaching the peak and they are high enough above us to be invisible from the naked eye is remarkable.
Getting the chance to run along the same trails as ultra running legends may have been the most humbling experience of the trip. I was able to sneak away for the twelve or so miles known as Lumpy Ridge Loop. As physically demanding as the trail and verticality was, it rewarded at an equal rate in beauty, views, and an awesome challenge. I have never had to power hike as many steep slopes during a run as I did through the thin air that day. After several consecutive miles of an uphill grind where I thought I may not ever make see the trailhead, bombing an extensive downhill section brought on a new energy level and turnover rate in my legs I was certain thirty minutes ago was no longer attainable. When the run was over it was difficult to know that in a couple more days I would be back on the banks of the Olentangy River running my flat trails again.
Rocky Mountain National Park has left a mark on our United States visited map and also on my mind. The trip will not soon be forgotten in the Ashworth household and I still hold on to those few memorable trails as my favorite distances traveled by foot. In the middle of a long Saturday morning run I find it easy to escape to the technical trails leading up to Gem Lake that morning. Even though I was only there once I can almost recant each step. Those dirt trails have not seen the last of our soles.