Maroon Bells Wilderness.
One of my all-time favorite backpacking areas!
I spent oh-so-many days and nights out in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with my good friend, Dave Sumner.
The night air is brisk and morning sunshine sparkling!
Dave was the Rocky Mountain editor of Backpacker magazine in those early days when I first began publishing it.
Un-Packing Decades of My Backpacking Adventures
My hiking stick medallions carry memories of decades of adventures -- of hikes in deserts, canyons and forests, and mountains I’ve climbed. I'll be posting about them on my blog. Subscribe free for notification each time I post.
My medallion for this area rides high on my hiking stick, giving honor to a place I knew well before it was "discovered" and over-run with folks running the trail across West Maroon Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte and back.
Dave and I didn't need any excuse to backpack out through Schofield Basin to the high country from Dave's home in Crested Butte. But we usually worked our heads into some contorted good "reason" to do so. And we developed a comfortable rhythm for our daily routine once out among the peaks.
We always found an honest-to-goodness great rationale to spend four to five backpacking jaunts a year into the Maroon Bells. And there was always vast areas we needed to explore.
Except, to confess, we most often backpacked across Frigid Air pass into Fraser Basin, bushwhacked around the head of the basin up to a grassy meadow near a saddle on the back side of Maroon Peak. And we'd make camp there for the entire four to five days.
In the morning, after dawdling over breakfast, we’d each pack our lunch and hike off in our separate directions. After wandering aimlessly about, we’d meet up back in camp, have dinner and chat until bedtime.
Dave was a photographer, so he’d go off to shoot photos.
Since the area is particularly noted for its wildflowers, I too often found myself on my belly taking close-ups of pale blue columbine, rosy paintbrush, alpine sunflowers and others I could not identify.
But this was summertime backpacking. We had other treks later in the season on into winter, as well. I'll be writing about that in another post.
I have a sentimental reason for wanting to stick to this area for now.
Dave's Critical Call
After a few years of our backpacking the Rockies, Dave called me at my New York office one day.
He had driven down to the hospital in Gunnison because he felt something was wrong.
He’d slept for thirty-six hours straight and was still uncommonly groggy when he got up.
Later that same day he called to say they couldn’t diagnose him in Gunnison so had him flown to Denver where they had more sophisticated equipment.
He said at this time that he was just about to have a blood transfusion.
He had an advanced stage of leukemia and they were going to literally replace all of the blood in his body.
Then they would put him into an oxygen tent to prevent infection.
I was shocked.
But I got an even greater shock the next day.
Dave’s partner, Denise, called to tell me Dave died that morning.
She and Dave’s brother were having Dave cremated.
This all hit me with saddening shock.
But there was a trace of bittersweet before we ended our phone conversation that morning.
Denise said that they were chartering a plane to fly over Oh-Be-Joyful Valley where they would scatter Dave's ashes.
While business did not permit me to get to Dave’s funeral, I was soon out there hiking along Oh-Be-Joyful Trail to say my belated good-bye to my favorite hiking friend.
While of course it was sad and I missed Dave terribly, it was also an oh-so-tearful-yet-perfect farewell.
I could literally feel Dave's presence. And if I strained hard enough, I could catch his chuckle midst the Rocky Mountain breezes.
Carrying that Maroon Bells medallion high on my hiking stick keeps him close to me on every hike I take all these years since.
Gone, but Grateful for All Our Times Out There in the Colorado Rockies
I’ve spent many more backpacking trips into our sacred ground in the Maroon Bells with other groups of backpackers.
A couple of them with my wife and one with another favorite hiking pal, Lou Perez. It will always be a favorite hiking area.
I’ve backpacked in here a few times alone.
On one of these hikes I spent an afternoon with a fellow I met just below West Maroon Pass.
He had been there eighteen days studying the rocks and flora at twelve-thousand feet elevation for a wildlife painting of mountain goats he was painting.
I was surprised at how many hours of on-the-mountain study he had to do for each of his paintings.
But he told me he got $30,000 and up for the paintings to compensate for his attention to such detail.
Once I took a group of business associates on a horseback trek from one side of the divide, Crested Butte, to Aspen and back.
It's always Oh-So-Joyful to observe how much joy they too had in this sacred wilderness.
Blessings to you, dear Dave, for still sharing it with me. You are still my loving friend.
I pray you will still be there when I come back to see you in spirit after I too pass on.
Don’t want to miss these Backpacking Footnotes posts? It’s Free to subscribe.