This past Forth of July weekend, eleven of us embarked on a journey into the mountains on what can only be described as an unforgettable bachelor party for a dear friend. This would also serve as my first multi day/night camping trip. I've been camping a handful of times before, but knowing this one would be different, and at altitude, I researched and trained. After having a heated internal debate over what gear was necessary to document such an adventure, I shied away from film and opted to take only my 5D mk iii with a 40mm pancake lens. This proved to be a fortuitous plan of action, as it allowed me to snap away and not stress about carrying rolls of film into the unknown weather conditions.
We started with a morning horseback ride up and down a mountain. Having spent, let's just say the majority of my life not on a horse, this two hour excursion made me aware of muscles I didn't even know I had. Watching our horses go over the rocky terrain, around bends revealing great vistas, made it impossible not to imagine what this might have been like back in frontier times. While this was a perfect way to set the mood of the hike, our legs might have been a little sore after hopping down off our steeds. Having inhaled the fresh mountain air, it was time to start climbing by foot.
A small front was moving in, bringing off and on rain with it. On went our rain gear for us and our packs and out came the hiking poles for added traction up the slippery rocks. With a little over six and a half miles and twenty two hundred feet in elevation gain, our only real deadline was sundown. This gave us plenty of time to stop and enjoy our surroundings, something Colorado is unbelievably gracious at providing.
Finally reaching our campgrounds was a sight for sore eyes, but it wouldn't have been as rewarding if it was an easy trek. Taking the fifty pound packs off our backs was extremely welcomed. A couple short breaths later, it was amazing to see everyone start working together to form the perfect settlement. Tents were going up, positioned in correct directions and slopes to avoid taking on water run off, spots were claimed for relaxing chair placements, and designated stumps were turned into stove tops. A group went off in search of the correct distance to place our bear canisters, while me and the groom-to-be searched for a viable stream to dredge water for the filtration system.
The first night we were still high from the hike. While bodies were exhausted, our minds were wrapping around the idea of being in the middle of the woods, disconnected from things we had come to rely on an everyday basis. Flasks of whiskey came out to wash down our first of many dehydrated food pouches, which, were actually pretty tasty. We sat by lantern light, since at this time of year there were no fires permitted in the back country. The non organic light didn't detract from the wonderment of the night as we were able to dim the lights and laugh under the stars.
The next morning, we formulated a plan over some instant coffee and powdered eggs. The majority would head down to Thunder Lake and have a nice relaxing, stress free day. Myself and two others decided to venture up the mountain another two thousand feet in search of a higher lake. We planned our ascent to Snowbank Lake the best we could and headed off on an adventure.
This second day hike was much more exploratory than the initial hike to the campsite. We only took one pack out with us and made our own routes. As we passed Lion Lake 1, we started to wonder if heading up further past the treeline with an impending storm coming in was a good idea. We kept a watchful eye and determined we were going to reach our destination.
Once we reached the snow, it was like a whole different world. Breathing in crisp, fresh air as the temperature dropped and our feet began to slip, we knew there was no turning back.
After an appropriate amount of time soaking in our accomplishments, it was time to head back down the mountain to the safety of the trees. Downhill in the snow was a fast and fun march with a sliding cadence.
It was hard to come to terms that this was our last night on the mountain. It hardly seemed fair that in the morning, we would all begin heading to civilization and our everyday responsibilities. So with that in mind, we soaked up the rest of the lingering sun filtering through the trees, sipped from the last of our libations, and had an impromptu light show courtesy of two glow sticks and a piece of rope.
Once the sun was up, it was with heavy hearts we packed up everything, leaving no sign we had ever existed. The downhill march was considerably easier than it's inverse, with new views we had skipped in the rainy hike up.
In the end, eleven men joined forces to tackle a feat many of us rarely get the time to do. New friendships formed, lasting memories emblazoned in our minds, and some talk of possibly making this a recurring event were all keepsakes from an amazing weekend spent in the wilderness.
Before and after.