Backpacking Eccles Pass

Backpacking Eccles Pass, Eagle's Nest Wilderness, White River National ForestBack at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

Backpacking Eccles Pass, Marmot Tent, Backpacking TentThe nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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The Mountain Fought Back

The Mountain Fought Back

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. But, in our defense, we’re stubborn. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

We were overly eager to get back in the Colorado high country after having taken a week off from hiking. We set the goal of heading to one of our all-time favorite areas, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, to pay a visit to a nemesis of ours, Mt Audubon which sits at 13,223′ above sea level.

The trail is fairly aggressive, up hill all the way and mostly above treeline. Seems every time we attempt this strenuous alpine adventure the mountain always finds a way to fight back! This outing would not be an exception to that rule.

Once again, we had a fight on our hands. Our plan was a three in the morning wake-up call. Somewhere between seven the night before and two the next morning we were able to get about two or three hours of sleep. We’re blaming that on the full moon.

For some unknown reason, we got ourselves up and out the door and were on the trail by 4:30 in the morning. Headlamps on, bear spray in hand and a less than desirable caffeine level we wandered off into the dark woods awaiting the first light of day.

Amazingly, we broke treeline just as the sun came over the horizon. Wow, what a sight. We began to awaken with the dark now giving way to light.

The night before our hike we looked up the weather for the region and summit of Mt Audubon one last time. Mild temperatures, little to no wind and clear skies were in our favor. Anyone who knows mountain weather will feel our pain on what came next. As we approached the cutoff for the trail that lead to the summit, the wind came vigorously down off the peak and hit us smack in the face! Little to no wind? It would stay this way throughout the duration of our hike, well, until we got back down anyway. We’ve grown to understand that Mt Audubon also has a sense of humor.

Still somewhat half asleep we opted to bypass the summit trail and head off into an area we had never explored. Off trail exploration is something of a comedy act with us, we’re always surprised at our findings as much what those findings lead to. We followed the Beaver Creek trail for about a mile and then headed for a ridgeline to get a view down into the valley where Upper and Lower Coney Lakes sit.

It wasn’t long and we found ourselves navigating a snow field, scree and thick alpine scrub brush. And we thought we were alone! Once again we were looking at each other with that awkward stare of, “what now?” We were surrounded by bear scat and had just about wandered into a den when we found ourselves in quick retreat!

The conversation went something like this, “What’s that? Bear scat. It’s everywhere. (twig snaps followed by grunting sounds from bush) Was that you? No. We need to go…now!”

Back on the trail and laughing at ourselves, we did an about-face and made our way back towards Mt Audubon. Little sleep, certainly not enough coffee, and now full of adrenaline, we were deliriously hiking along. “Hey, you know what, the summit really isn’t that far and we’ve dealt with the wind before.” What is far? It was an additional two miles and another 2,000′ to the summit!

Stubborn, determined or just insane, we made our way up. Loose scree and talus fields are no fun when you are half-asleep. The debate is still out on the actual amount of oxygen at 13,000′ and we are still not sure what grumbled at us earlier. Suffice it to say, we had another incredible day in the Colorado high country and can’t wait to go again.

The views (see video below) were amazing to say the least. What followed as we made or way back to the trailhead can only be described as a sad, yet graceful, fall off the mountain. We must have appeared drunk.

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

Peace,

MAD

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