Everything happens for a reason… or so they say- whoever they are. However; somethings in life happen due to a series of unfortunate event, confusing backwoods directions, and massive errors in communication. This story begins with an innocent facebook text that would turn into a grueling nine or ten hour Alpine hike with a seriously heavy bag.
As a job right now I work as a substitute teacher… which allows me plenty of time to focus in on my goals and plans when it comes to climbing (also facebook)! What can I say… I’m a glorified baby-sitter that gets to help out every now and again. So when my friend and partner in crime suggested that I come up and check out Treasure Mountain… I thought, “Well that is a no brainer”. I took the day off from substitute teaching and training and headed up towards Carbondale, Colorado. What I didn’t realize that Treasure Mountain is situated in an incredibly confusing Alpine setting with lots of false peaks… and a ton of hiking. My first mistake was not doing my homework with where the climb was located and how to get there. Fortunately my guide had been there before (6 years ago) and remembered the way (or so we thought).
After meeting with some old friends, DC and I needed to hit the trails and get going. The plan (which was crazy) was to be on the climb by 6:40 that evening to shoot the setting light. Then hike out till’ 2:00 in the morning to get back home for work the next day at 6:00 in the morning to teach… I was all in.
The Plan: We were going to hike from Bear Creek up and then down mountain drainage and up to Treasure Mountain… 6 hours there… shoot… then hike 6 hours back. Not a terrible plan. I figured I had been training… so my fitness should be able to handle it.
Reality: While visiting the crew at Rock and Ice; DC received some new beta that would potentially make it so that our hikes to and way from Treasure Mountain would be cut in half. Win… however, the directions involved the following phrase, “follow the trail up, down, up” – I was tempted to pitch in “A,B,A,B Up, Down, Up, select, start” and gain unlimited lives but I wasn’t in the mood to be that big of a smart-ass (old Nintendo reference).
The journey: After driving through Marble, CO (which seriously felt like an abandoned ghost mining town…) DC and I parked my new 4Runner off the side of the road and prepared our packs for the upcoming journey. Theoretically it was going to be a decent hike up a ridge and down a ridge, followed by one more ascent to the Treasure Mountain spires. This is not what occurred… we basically started lost. Instead of turning up a trail head, we continued up a dirt road past a limestone quarry (which was phenomenal looking)… and when the road ended we detoured into the woods. Leaving the road was the beginning of the end for us- hiking through mountain trails that resembled animal trail became a little painful after about an hour. That was when something seemed incredibly wrong… we were supposed to be on a trail that trail runners could just crank through- DC and I found ourselves on a scree field. After rock hopping a sliding for about 200 meters, we decided to push to the top of a steep embankment to see if there was a trail on top. Thankfully there was… the pathway in front of us was a super-highway compared to our previous route. The pathway would soon be the downfall for the both of us…
Hindsight is 20/20; when I was in college I studied history so I really enjoy taking all the evidence and putting it together to create some sort of understanding… this allows me to learn a situation and not repeat mistakes… learning occurs and all is well with the world. In this case… not so much.
As DC and I followed our newly discovered and well appreciated super-highway it never occurred to either one of us that the trail could have branched out… one leading to the ridges of the mountains… and the other leading to the valley below. We of course had the latter… and found ourselves surrounded by mountains in a valley wondering which peak held the fabled Treasure Spires. Everything looked the same from below… I had no idea which peak was the correct peak; and DC couldn’t remember either. My positive attitude was beginning to diminish and waver a little; but I figured this was a great learning experience… so I strapped my 5.10’s on tighter, buttoned my Adidas Jacket and trekked forward to what we thought was the peak. We hiked for three more hours and found ourselves standing at the base of an intimidating drainage scree field with snow drifts dotting the hill side. We hit a crucial point of whether we should continue up or turn around and head back… my first instinct was to call it a day and head home; but then a nagging curiosity overwhelmed me and I figure it was worth the last few hundred meters to see. Up I went… snow… rocks… and steepness—as I pushed past the pain and agony of soreness and nagging doubts about my entire day and whether I had just wasted another 24 hours I found myself becoming upset and angry thinking that, “When I hit the top of this incline and if this isn’t it I am going to be incredibly pissed off!” As I pushed past the last staggering of rock and hillside a sudden realization hit me as I summited, “This is not Treasure Mountain, there are no spires and this was all for nothing.”
I thought I would have been angry… but instead a huge calm hit me… a peaceful tranquility that made me realize that regardless of whether this was what we were looking for I was still outside… exercising and hiking with a really good friend—all of our laughter and conversations made the trip worthwhile… and the regardless of whether we got the shots or not the day was not wasted. I gave it my all and instead of getting what I wanted, I received what I needed—if only we all would be so lucky.
Hungry, tired, and completely wasted standing at what we thought was the peak with the climbs both DC and I decided to call it a day and hike the six hours back to the car with our tails firmly tucked between our legs. In the fading light I felt awful… not only was I tired… but I heard behind me the terrifying sounds of altitude sickness. DC would start to dry-heave if he began to move too quickly… fortunately we had not eaten anything all day (except for some ProBars and Cliff shots) so not a whole lot was coming out of his stomach. Each turn on an unfamiliar trail felt like it was going to deeper into the dark abyss of Treasure Mountain… sucking out my entire positive attitude. The thought crossed my mind in that inky black… “I wonder if we are going to become one of those stories that you read about in magazines…?” Eventually we found the super-highway and after having a few more getting lost in the dark shenanigans we managed to make it back to the main road that we had started out on.
From car to car we hiked with at most with a 30 minute break from 11:30 in the morning till’ about 9:30 at night. It was brutal. Dare I say epic… but this is what I learned.
Alpine Tip #1- always do your own research… regardless of who you are with… always know the plan and execute it without deviation (if possible… stuff happens).
Alpine Tip #2- do not listen to a short-cut unless you are 100% sure it is a short-cut and you know where you are going.
Alpine Tip#3- Always try to maintain a positive attitude… a negative attitude only make escape routes impossible.
Alpine Tip #4- bring a flippin’ map. Enough said.