February 8, 2017

Old Man Mountain – Estes Park

By Sjboatwright In On the Trail

I really hate the cold. I’ve picked a really peculiar hobby considering how much I truly hate the cold. That contradiction means that I only climb for about half the year, with the rest being reduced to time in the gym or on trips to warmer climates. Colorado is different though. A 70 degree day in January and February is not uncommon, even in the mountains. When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When February hands you a 50 degree day, you go climbing.

I woke up with the intention of taking a few flicks from the warmth of my car. The second I opened the front door though I realized the warmth would be in more places than just my car. I took a few pictures of Long’s Peak and decided that looking from the ground wasn’t enough; it was time for my first ascent of the year.

Long’s (R) and Meeker (L) in all their glory

I picked Old Man Mountain for the climb, a peak that stares me in face from the backdoor of my job. It’s a small mountain, a rocky hill more than anything. However, Old Man has a near mythical status. The mountain served as a major religious symbol for Native Americans, who spent extended periods of time in deep meditation on the summit, returning to the ground with stories of the most spectacular visions. A little less spectacularly, the mountain is home to a very real mountain lion, who has growled at quite a few hikers.

Old Man Mtn (L) a few weeks ago

All that aside, I set my sights for the summit. I thought the hike was going to take me 15-20 minutes to reach the top, instead I was in for one of the most challenging “easy” hikes I’ve ever been on. I couldn’t find the trail given the snow, so I bushwhacked up the side of the rock faces. I chose…poorly. I suddenly found myself negotiating very risky sections, with far too much exposure. The route I choose was full of large blank sections of rock that left nothing to grab hold of. ¬†Sometimes I was confronted with sections that looked stupidly easy from a distance, but impossible by the time I got close up.

Was I rusty? Hungover from the night before? Not sure, but it took me an hour and a couple dozen scrapes on my bare legs to get to the top. Even with the sunshine, the Rocky Mountain wind does not quit. After a few snaps and a brief victory jig, it was time to go.

I was nervous for the descent, and for good reason as I soon found out. At several points on my return route I reached the brink of large drops with no way down. When I finally thought I was in the clear, I came across a freshly eaten small elk, evidence that the fabled lion was quite real and active. I panicked a bit and lost my footing, sliding about 10 feet into a small rock pile. No mind. I needed to move! The mountain kept me fighting until the very end when my car came into sight.

I. Was. Worked. My baby climb left me feeling exhausted, but not defeated. It was just a reminder of the unpredictable nature of the passion so many of us have. My advice, find and take one of the trails, and look out for big cats and the supernatural.

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