"Remnants" - Foreword

7/15/2022


"In wildness is the preservation of the world."


– Henry David Thoreau


"Dissolve"

     After the unforgettable season I spent in the Rocky Mountains in 2020, as shown in my ebook "Spirit of the Wild," I was studying my maps to see where else I could go. I was looking forward to revisiting familiar basins that I have grown fond of over the years, but I also wanted to get to know the range a little better by seeing more sides of it that I had not been to before. Having already visited all of the basins relatively close to the main trailheads, this would mean abandoning the established trails and finding my own route to the lesser known, more remote sections of the range. 

     Looking through my topo maps, I could make out a chain of white and blue blobs at about 12,000 feet elevation, out in the middle of nowhere, far away from any trailhead. I knew this represented a series of glaciers and lakes, but was skeptical of how significant it would be or if it even still existed 20 years later after the map was first made. After spending some time looking at more recent satellite images, it was clear that these glaciers not only still existed, they were some of the largest and deepest glaciers in this part of the United States. Knowing that they would likely not look the same in just another few years with global temperatures steadily rising, I became determined to find a way to reach them in their lonely and barren corner of the range. 

"Kindling”

     Knowing that it would not be wise to make such a long journey alone across unfamiliar and rugged terrain, I shared my idea with two of my good hiking friends and fellow fans of the range, Ryan and Kordell, who were immediately interested. We each began trying to figure out the shortest, surest route from the different trailheads, trying to stay on established trails for as long as possible before deviating and heading across boulder fields and through dense pine forest in unmarked terrain. Once we decided which trailhead would be the best to start from, I went out on a solo trip to scout for a few days. I hiked along the trail for about 10 miles to where we would have to split off and start heading up one of the many drainages of the glacier. While on our maps it looked straightforward enough, in person it appeared impossible, as I scanned about 3000 feet of nearly vertical boulder fields leading up to the base of the surrounding mountain peaks. There was no clear route in sight. 

     As I was heading back to the trailhead a few days later, I noticed another drainage heading up in the same direction, just starting from much further away. While it didn't appear nearly as direct, it had an established trail that would be easy to follow at least for as long as it continued. Once I got back home, I looked at where this trail lead to on my map. It took a gradual ascent before hitting a series of a dozen or so switchbacks and ending at a fairly large alpine lake. From there, I could see a steep mountain pass that climbed up the side of a vertical peak and a shelf that skirted around behind it, which if we followed for long enough, would eventually lead us to the start of the basin that the glacier was tucked away in. 

     After reviewing the terrain with my friends, while it seemed like a longer route than we had been expecting, it looked much more realistic and doable. A few weeks later, we all met at the trailhead in the middle of September. The aspen leaves were now a vibrant orange and the golden grasses were swaying in the breeze. While it was a clear sunny day, there was a slight chill to the air that gently bit at the inside of my nose as I inhaled. 

     We followed the trail through several basins, passing enormous, glacial blue lakes, trickling streams, and a powerful river running through a deep granite gorge. The narrow dirt path carved out between the grassy meadows took us into a dense pine forest covered with lichen and mosses the color of oxidized copper where it began to climb in an endless series of sharp switchbacks. The then trail ended at a secluded, pristine lake that was straight out of a classic painting, where we decided to camp for the night.

     The next day we would have to find our own trail around the lake and up the steep saddle between the large granite peaks around us. What looked like a straightforward climb to the top, ended up being a two hour bushwhack through a dense and wild forest of lodgepole pines and spruces. When we finally made it to the top of the saddle, we were greeted with a slightly smoky view of the enormous granite valley below. But instead of going down, we kept our elevation and headed in towards the heart of the range, filled with jagged granite spires.          

     Up this high, there wasn't a single tree in sight. Instead, the entire landscape was made of silvery, granite boulders overlayed with complex patterns of 

"Echo"

lichen and tough bronze grasses, with cerulean lakes of all different sizes scattered about everywhere. We headed for the main peak we marked on our maps, doing the best we could to stay high until met with cliff faces that would force us to backtrack and find another way down and then climb back up again. After climbing along narrow catwalks around several large lakes, we finally made it to the start of the main drainage that lead up to the glacier. 

    We followed it up until we finally reached our destination at an enormous alpine lake on top of the world. After 13 hours of hiking across difficult terrain we were beat. There was only a faint glow from the crescent moon, barely illuminating the landscape now that it was twilight. The wind had now picked up and was blasting us in this exposed mountain basin with zero coverage. We searched for small, flat patches of grass that could be large enough to set up our tents within the raw and desolate terrain but there were none in site. We split up and each looked for our own spot, eventually finding a few tiny sections of stiff grass on top of the granite landscape. After struggling to get all of our stakes into the hard earth and being battered by the wind, we finally got our tents set up. 

"Mountain Glass"

     That was a long, sleepless night, as the wind only got stronger and constantly whipped at our tents, sometimes ripping the stakes out of the ground and pushing them flat, or even pulling so hard that it would unzip my vestibule, exposing me to the frigid gusts. However, by morning we were all excited to hike up closer to the glacier and explore around it. We each complained a bit about how little sleep we got while we made coffee, then quickly packed up our bags to go hiking for the day. The air was now ice cold and black clouds stretching to the horizon were approaching. I carefully examined the occasional small, intricate snow flakes in silence as they landed on my jacket and gloves, not wanting to admit what was probably coming.

     As we were navigating around the lake to reach the glacier, the snow flakes began to fall more and more until they finally coated the landscape in a thick white blanket. Once we were half way we could no longer see even just ten feet in front of us, and we were engulfed in a whiteout blizzard. The wind was still blowing just as strong, so the snow was hitting us right in the faces, blinding our eyes. We finally took shelter in a small alcove between two large boulders, huddling closely together to stay warm and not get dumped on by the snow. Being so far away from any trailhead and at such a high elevation, we began debating whether it was a good idea to try and wait out the storm with no end in sight, or turn around and head back immediately. If this continued on for several days we could be stuck up here, without enough gear or provisions to survive.                                                                                                      

Over the years I have come to appreciate the simplicity of winter, the way it wipes the canvas clean with the primer of white snow, before starting all over again. Last year I extended my backpacking season a couple of weeks longer than I normally would, visiting the mountains for as long as I could bare as the temperatures plummeted. I saw different sides of this familiar range as I was fascinated by the barren landscapes, intricate patterns in ice along the frozen streams, 

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