Seatbelt Sunburn – or A Letter to a Friend

Days that burn forever, stretching, stretching and then – CRUNCH! The recompression sets in gently but the feeling is immediate and unmistakable. Time for everything turns to everything into such limited time. And me sent familiarly whirling into the universe. It’s a friendly sort of discomfort. I climbed a mountain to get away from it, though the escape was never the physical distance nor the isolation – it was the exertion. A heartbeat that is slowly forced higher and higher, thumping in your chest,  pounding in your throat, then eventually slamming in your ears till all other sounds dies away and the world in every direction is just a sunset limned in ethereal glow. To this end I chose one of the highest in all the Rockies, Blanca, and never mind that it was easily accessed from where I happened to already be camping. The 2 hour drive to get there was too short and when I arrived I still didn’t have a plan. I set out in the afternoon, knowing full well a lengthy climb lay ahead. Almost immediately it clouded over and hailed. No coat. I hiked on. Up and up for 4 hours I climbed. The sun returned as I walked above the trees on a great trail if only all of the tumbled-down rock in it could be hoed away. Alpine marshes, then snow. Steep snow, deep snow. Hand over hand up the slide path of a slushy spring coulier. Finally, rock. Some of it loose, some of it stable. Some of it sparkled with green lichen I’m not sure I saw. But miles of colossal rock. All to summit the 14,000′ leviathan that wasn’t even my goal – it just happened to be in my path. Up and over and a cliffy descent in the hard shadows of a horizontal sun at dusk.

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Smokey skies and a fiery sunset is what I found when I climbed – quite literally, exposed, class 5 and unroped – the final granite ledges to Blanca’s 14,344 foot summit. And presently I turned right back around. Sitting somewhere in the 90s in the valley below, the temperature had plummeted into the 50s, and I only in shorts and a hoody. But the real problem was darkness. In the fading twilight I put as many boulders as I could behind me. The next 7 hours found me glissading 1200′ by headlamp, boulder hopping, sloshing and walking, always walking, to relinquish the 5,000+ feet and 7 miles I had so excitedly acquired in my lust for exertion. I whimpered silently with a new understanding of what is so great about a bed. I staved exhaustion with micronaps in the trail, not bothering to even remove pack or wet clothes. In these moments the painful ache in my knees abated, only to return in the first few steps of resumed descent. 5,000 feet is a long way down. By 2 a.m. sleeping by the road was hardly unappealing, shoot, in an outsized rollerskate would have been an option if it hadn’t been for the flees swarming in. The next day I hiked to a waterfall and took pictures but as I began my return I doubled back – a swim was much deserved – and now the minerals feel so good on my skin that I still have not showered 3 days later. Maybe the oils are helping my sunburn.
Love & (twi)light,
Kyle

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