“It’s going to warm up as soon as the sun hits us.”
For now, I’ll just watch the opposing mountainsides of the Slate River Valley with envy. I’m in a down jacket, donning fingerless gloves and wool socks, all while tucked in my sleeping bag (rated @ -20 degrees). I spent the night listening to the snow freeze around my tent. The sound resembled little footsteps not far from my head, and woke me up several times throughout the night. Those were the only sounds we heard all night, my lab and I, besides his spontaneous shouts at random scents that would blow past our private knoll on Anthracite ridge in the Gunnison Nat’l Forest.
I didn’t know exactly where we’d camp when we set out to find a campsite yesterday, but I knew a good view was a must. Hopefully some good sunset photos would come out of it. I knew when I chose our site that we may get cold overnight, due to it’s complete exposure to the elements, but it was well worth it to not be tucked in the trees and instead be able to enjoy amazing stargazing and panoramic views directly from the tent.
The best of anything never comes easy.
I parked the car on the dirt road’s shoulder (a very tight spot – more like a child’s collarbone) after reaching the end of the road. For my Outback, at least. I could have continued in a high-clearance 4×4. Still, I felt good about just being out n’ about, so and had no problem turning around when I finally couldn’t cross anymore snow. Near where I left the rig I my neighbors happened to be camping with their kids and dogs. They noticed I couldn’t drive any further and offered that I share their campsite. Very warm-hearted people. But I had different plans. I had an incredible view in mind. A sight for sore eyes. And I knew how to reach it. I’d have to go up. Straight up a steep mountainside through thick bush and over slippery mud, shale and snow. I also knew, from experience, that the best views are found by climbing. So that’s what we did. We climbed higher and higher, determined that our efforts would pay off. When I stepped over fresh bear scat I hollered out loud and initiated amplified small-talk with my dog; when I saw a pretty waterfall I took a photo; and when I felt like resting, I kept walking. The sun would go down within the hour and rowdy and I had a lot of ground to cover if I wanted the sunset pictures I hoped for.
Towards the beginning of our hike the slope was about as steep as one can balance without having to scramble. As we climbed higher, all four limbs were occasionally required. Eventually the pitch mellowed out as it neared the ridge line, however more mellow pitches hold more snow, so I saw it as a roughly even trade. About a quarter-mile from the top of the ridge we came across a knoll – a dry, elevated dirt and rock outcrop surrounded on all sides by snow leftover from a heavy winter. This site provided 180 degree views of Whetstone Mtn, the backside of Mt. Emmons, Mineral Point (my personal favorite in the upper valley), Purple and Baldy. I took note of this site as “Option 1” and kept walking uphill. The top of the ridge, although a wonderful point of fruition, was covered in thick Spruce and offered less of a panoramic than “Option 1”. We turned around and started back downhill.
I set up the tent just in time to take some shots before sunset, which was less impressive than imagined, considering the weather that afternoon. Still the star-gazing was incredible, and I feel privileged to be where I am.