Monday, September 15, 2014

Straddling the Continental Divide

Our last day at Estes Park we decided to take the long way back to Denver, via Rocky Mountain National Park, with its breathtaking views. We stopped to hike the Old Ute Trail, on the aptly named boulder-studded trail along Tombstone Ridge, a glacial moraine, or glacial toe, on the Continental Divide, in Colorado. As we stood on an overlook we could hear elk bugling in the valleys.

At Timberline Pass we turned around to go back to the trailhead. I thought of the thousands of years the Ute trail had been used since the Ice Age. Myriad travelers.

Knee braces on both knees kept me safe. I was slowly recovering from knee surgery. But I wasn't about to let that deter me. The landscape was sublime. I didn't want to turn back, and was feeling euphoric at that height.

We gazed down into the deep valley, Estes Park in the distance. The Arapaho who lived around Mary's Lake, during the summer called the valley "the Circle," and built eagle traps atop the 14,259 foot Long's Peak. The Utes came to hunt bighorn sheep. There were the inevitable clashes. The Arapaho ousted the Utes. In the fall the bull elk still run the town. There's even a bull run, as in running with the bulls. A risky business as they're unpredictable creatures.

Missourian John Estes settled in the valley in 1859, and raised cattle, but saw potential for a dude ranch. However, Anglo-Irish peer, The 4th Earl of Dunraven, tried to take over the valley in a huge land grab, as his exclusive hunting preserve, most of which, is now the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Earl of Dunraven, a journalist by trade, opened the first resort, the Estes Park Hotel, which later burned down. But the stage was set. Tourists arrived in Stanley Steamers, and the iconic Stanley Hotel, featured in The Shining, still holds a commanding presence. All work and no play.... We stayed at the incredible YMCA of the Rockies. I was sad to leave the beautiful valley.

Trail Ridge Road and Longs Peak —Wiki

Clouds were rolling in. Storm brewing. Time to head back to the car. Then, on the way back down the trail, I tripped over a rock, and fell flat on my face. I fell correctly, I fell soft, and protected my face with bent right arm, but a smooth glacial cobble embedded in the trail sucker-punched me between nose and lip.

Good news. I didn't break a tooth, but my upper teeth were numb. Bad news. My nose didn't fare so well.

Now I get why people use walking sticks. Not for sissies at all.

I made Neil run back to the car to grab some ice from the ice chest while I pinched my nose, tilted my head back, and tried to eye the trail for boulders as I walked back toward the car. I was amazingly calm, considering that I was being gagged by a bucketload of blood.

All that horse training and vet stuff paid off. Body check. Breathe. Can you walk? No broken bones? Then, get outta Dodge. Or Tombstone, in this case. Fastest way to get rescued is to rescue yourself.

Neil was the one in need of focus. No EMT potential there. I had to scream at him to go get the fucking ice. We were about a half a mile out from the trailhead, on Highway 34,aka Trail Ridge Road; at 12,183 feet, we were well above timberline. Incredibly beautiful alpine tundra dressed in fall colors.

Good news: no concussion. Bad news: I donated copious amounts of blood to the trail. And I looked like hell.

But Justine the park ranger at the First Aid Station at the Alpine Visitors' Center, was awesome. The Visitors' Center, on the other side of Trail Ridge, and Sundance Mountain, was a long ten miles down the road. She ushered me right in, and examined me like a pro, flashlight in eyes, usual trick questions, etc. and concluded that I didn't have a concussion. Miracle of miracles.

I was intimately reminded that the word Colorado means red, or blush. It was a long way to the first Advil. I iced my face the entire way over the Continental Divide. I looked out over Wyoming in an altered state of reality.

I felt like I had a bad hangover. Sound was cottony, light was twinkley, and and I couldn't look down for fear of bleeding. But we were on top of the world and it looked like the Swiss Alps.

I was pretty angry with myself for tripping over a submerged trail rock, as this place was clearly a ten out of ten bucketlist destination. Considered one of the Top 10 Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I had to go and smash my face in.

This was the secret natal grounds, the homeland of the Colorado River. And water draining to both sides of the Continental Divide. To the Sea of Cortez, or to the Gulf via Old Muddy. Something most holy about that. In my case, my blood was straddling both sides of the Divide. I donated heavily at the sublime office.

No Advil until we got to Grand Lake, a long ways off.

I boarded the plane home that evening looking like a street brawler, with two shiners. Neil was afraid that people thought he beat me up. No, the mountain did. It exacted a trespass fee. The blood pooled under one eye and left a red track, like an after image of the Colorado River down my cheek. Vampire blood trails under the skin that no amount of washing could remove.

first draft 9/15/14
revised and considerably expanded 7/7/2016

Understandably I could not write much after the event, as I had a colossal case of space cadet syndrome after being punched out by the mountain.

from a Facebook post

Ute Trail, the aptly named Tombstone Ridge, Rockies, Continental Divide, Colorado. Then I fell flat on my face... Now I get why people use walking sticks.

California State Parks Awesome! The places you visited, not the fall

 Icing da nose as we speak! Good news: no concussion. Bad news: I donated copious amounts of blood to the trail. Park ranger Justine at First Aid Station was AWESOME. I was intimately reminded that Colorado means red. LOL.

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