Sunday, October 26, 2008


I grew up not camping.

Our family would occasionally go to a mountain or lake-side cabin - genuine "cabin" cabins, not mansions on the mountain-side "cabins." But we didn't go to a place, set up a tent and camp overnight. We did hike numerous trails in the Colorado mountains: Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Grand Mesa, and many other random places in between. But they were day hikes, frequently bringing a fishing pole along, and ultimately driving home to sleep in your own bed at night.

As my brother and I grew into our high school and college years we started backpacking. In particular we would trudge ourselves (and as many people as we could convince) each year over Pawnee Pass usually around the first part of July. We would pack all the necessities required for a couple days and nights in the mountains of Colorado on our backs and head for Pawnee Lake - on the other side of the pass.

Now the Pawnee Pass/Lake hike is not particularly long (only about 6ish miles.) And the first two and a half miles are spent walking up a level, beautiful valley by Long Lake and ending at picturesque Lake Isabelle. But after that point the trail proceeds to gain and then loose over two thousand feet in altitude in just over three and a half miles. The trail head begins at just under 10,500 feet, Pawnee Pass tops out at over 12,500 feet and Pawnee Lake is right under 10,900 feet. So after Lake Isabelle, almost a half a mile in altitude is gained in the two miles it takes to reach the high point of the pass, and then over the next mile down to the lake almost all of that altitude is given back again.

The pass itself is a broad half mile long saddle above timberline. Boulders are sporadically strewn about a tundra grass meadow and rocky mountain peaks are pushing toward the heavens as far as the eye can see. It is gorgeous. The first time on the hike is the most interesting. When approaching the Pawnee Lake side of the pass you keep looking for the trail down, and all that is seen is the 'horizon' of the edge of the saddle. Only in the final few feet does it become apparent that the path down to the lake is a dwindling array of switchbacks carved into a tumbled down rock slide/boulder field/cliff face - 1500 feet almost straight down. And way down at the bottom is Pawnee Lake.

Some noteable items from our trips:

Friend Joining Us: "What's that thing you are putting on the bottom of your back packs?"

My Brother: "That would be a sleeping bag"

Friend: "Oh..."

  • I talk non-stop when terrified. My brother doesn't speak when terrified. In my younger days I didn't talk, and my brother couldn't stop. So this was a very interesting phenomena. It became especially apparent during midnight alpine thunderstorms. With lightning flashing so close and loud that the light was blinding in spite of pillows, sleeping bags and hands over our eyes.
  • I can to do the portion of the hike from Lake Isabelle to Pawnee Lake with severe stomach flu (I cannot, however, talk at the same time.)
  • Mountain peaks at dawn, mirrored in a lake still as glass, are breathtaking.
  • Cutthroat trout in a mountain lake are either hungry or they're not.
  • Get over the pass going home before noon. Do not get caught in a thunderstorm at 12,500 feet with a metal frame pack on your back, being the tallest thing within miles.
  • A campfire, however small, is a wonderful source of contentment.
  • It can snow, significantly in the mountains in July.
  • Remember that nylon is very slippery, to wit: If a nylon tent is pitched on a slope. Gravity will inexorably drag a person in a nylon sleeping bag down into a bunched mass at the bottom of the tent. And, after inchworming back up into proper sleeping position, gravity will cause a repeat performance - again and again, over and over, over the course of a night. As a further note: if inchworm's brother is in an identical nylon sleeping bag and hasn't moved the entire night, inchworm will suspiciously/angerly reach under the gravity defying sleeping bag to reveal the sticky foam sleeping pad that is keeping the brother in a blissful stationary sleeping position. Inchworm will then demand, "Turn that thing sideways!" Afterwhich both sleepers stay glued into prime sleeping position to finish out the night.
Anyway, backpacking was all I really ever knew about "camping." So when my wife (when we had three children ages 5, 3 and 2) said "let's go camping." I looked at her in bewilderment. She looked at me and said, "wait, we need to re-define 'camping'."

But that's for another post.


Anna Naomi said...

Your posts are so much fun to read! You have a way of describing things that allows us to see them in our minds eye - and they look hilarious! =) Thanks for brightening the day through your posts!

Rob said...

Anna, I am truly glad you enjoy reading them. I hope school is going well, and I am very blessed that your day was brightened by my random stories. Your comment helped brighten my evening as well.
Have a good week and enjoy the fall weather!

Mrs. Hart said...

Can't wait to read your continuation posts. I agree with Anna - you have a wonderful gift of visual description. It's almost like being there and experiencing what you are describing.


Rob said...

Lavonne, thank you. I hope things are going well in final preparations for this weekend.