Sunday, January 26th, 2003
It was a whirlwind trip of only 3 days and 2 nights. With my only
full day there I asked Sarah if we could do a challenging snowshoe
hike. Last time I was in Steamboat we snow shoed up several small
hills and peaks over 2 or 3 days. It was a wonderful time and I thoroughly
enjoyed the peaceful beauty of laboring up the silent and desolate
slopes in the woods. After those couple of days of hiking I remember
driving back into town and seeing this massive peak to our left.
I looked at it with envy wishing I could climb it. Sarah said it
was Hahn’s Peak, and I thought it would be great fun to hike
to the top.
For this trip’s challenging hike Sarah made plans for us to
climb Hahn’s Peak. I cold not have been happier. My
sister is the coolest.
Hahn’s Peak is one of, if not the highest peak in the area
at just under 11,000 ft. But the way its slopes ascend radically
to a peak it makes it look higher and more imposing. It juts up
with nothing around to challenge its presence.
Sarah got a friend named Pam to join us along with Sarah’s
new boyfriend Tommy. Tommy had just returned back into town after
several months working on a Navy boat as a recreation coordinator
in San Diego. At last I was going to met the guy Sarah had said
so much about.
We got up early Sunday morning to be picked up by Pam at 8:15
to eat a leisurely breakfast at a hip in-town breakfast joint on
outskirts of town. It was the type of place only veterans of the
area frequented. In a way I thought I should be privileged to be
with a seasoned veteran of the area as my sister was. The way Sarah
walks around town saying hello to just about every other person
think she was the mayor of this small but growing ski town. As
in every ski village, the atmosphere in Steamboat
was thick with skiing. In January, the town has this singular focus. You can feel
urgency in the effort’s of people devoted to getting skiers
out onto the slopes to take advantage of the limited winter daylight.
I was glad to feel out of the ordinary with our focus on the lonely
Hahn’s Peak. Hahn’s Peak rises in the distance in full
view from the ski slopes but well out of the thoughts of the town
and its transient skiers. I am sure many an observant skier has
wondered its name, but since it does not have a ski lift, the name
disappear from thought. It is all part of the arrogance of skiing.
After breakfast, Pam had to drive us up the road several miles
to the closest we could legally get to Hahn’s Peak in a car. It
had been quite warm in Steamboat for the last week and the snow was
melting and slushy. In a winter wonderland it is easy to hear the
cold weather thaw. It comes in the sounds of dripping water down
aluminum rain gutters… drip drip drip. Instead of the crunch
of brittle snow under car tires, one can hear slush being pushed
aside as the tires ply the roads. These sounds were eventually replaced
by the colder sounds at higher elevations as we ascended the hill
towards Hahn’s Peak and our parking spot. The temperature was
dropping rapidly as we drove. The black road was traded for a slick
white one. The 4 wheel drive on Pam’s Subaru was helpful
I am sure.
We parked by the side of the road in the quite wilderness with
snow piled high on the sides of the road. If the car were left
parking spot until spring, I am sure it would have been out in
the middle of the road. Disappointingly, the silence was smashed
collection of snowmobilers revving their engines to warm them on
this cold morning. The engines protested the cold as they clanked
and sputtered spewing blue smoke, ruining the unmistakable smell
of fresh snow. It appears others were getting ready for a silence
shattering adventure. It seems their adventure in the peaceful
wilderness is like going to a classical symphony to listen to Led
Walkman. Led Zeppelin is great but only in the right context. We
each made snide comments to one another about our wilderness-seeking
friends as we prepared our clothes, packs and equipment.
Being less used to the preparations involved for a cold weather
trek, I was last to be ready. The four of us with two dogs started
snowshoeing up a firm snow-packed road covered by dense pine trees
draped in thick blankets of snow. Sarah and Pam went ahead giving
Tommy and I time to get acquainted. I had just met him last night
for the first time.
Tommy is Sarah’s boyfriend and is really
a terrific guy. It was easy to see that quickly. He has a great
dry sense of humor
strikes a good balance between seriousness and humor. My impressions
that day were that he is well read, intelligent and curious about
the world around him. Tommy is very down to earth and his attitude
towards life fits in well with the atmosphere in the Colorado Mountains.
As we walked and talked I felt like I had known him for years and
this was another conversation with him and not just the first.
I hope I made him feel as comfortable.
We started out bundled up as
the temperatures were down below 20 degrees. The still air of
the tree-covered road coupled with walking in the snowshoes up the gradually inclining
road warmed us. My frequent stops to take pictures were not that
annoying to the others as it was an opportunity to take off and
pack another article of clothing. At the start, our backpacks
seemed a bit oversized for our trek, but after a
few stops to strip
stow clothes they seemed too small for the job.
The road was beautifully
peaceful. The silence of the deep snow
covering the thick green
pine trees all around made it feel like
we were in a cave. Every sound was immediately absorbed by the
insulating snow and forest. The road led to a sign indicating the
path to Hahn’s Peak. The gradual slope of the road gave way
to a narrow trail on a steeper hill. We followed day old telemark
ski tracks up the hill only briefly before the dense trees began
to thin out making the snowy
hills more visible.
My ski poles alternated between a help and a hindrance as I hiked
and took pictures. The climbing
we did was slow and steady because of the images I felt I had
to capture. Despite the pace, there was still enough sweat to make
us cold as it evaporated in the cooler drier air we started to
meet. With the protection of the trees gone we had to remove the
lumps in our backpacks and put the clothing back on. The wind picked
up in the open spaces. The occasional clumps
of trees had a collective strategy of protection against this
harsh winter environment. For a brief moment in evolutionary time,
we were lucky enough to benefit from their strategy of the eons
as we passed them by in barely a blink. You could see the wind
had been perennially coming from one direction this winter as one
side of these trees were painted a dense white by the snow. Early layers
of snow and ice acted as protection to the trees to the incessant
pelting of the wind with its frozen ammunition.