Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week Five: Dirt-Bag Diaries.

In the outdoor industry and through outdoor culture no class is as coveted or as despised as the "dirtbags". They are an essential part of they system but also a complete tax on it. They hold deep wisdom of the area you find them but never seem to contribute to the actual economy that keeps it all running. Dirt-bag, an overly affectionate term, is a way to describe an outdoor vagabond."I heard the call, and within two weeks I had sold everything I didn't need, grabbed my (insert gear for climbing, mountains, paddling...) put it in my (insert subaru, turck, jeep, antique camper that is kept running only by hope, SUV...) , grabbed (insert animal companion) and headed for (Colorado, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Washington...)." It is a formula, a refined equation, that when all the variables are correct can create a situation of absolute bliss. It won't be pure bliss for others around you though until you figure out the variable of "paid showers". It is a homeless life perusing "the dream". Beautiful in its own right, freeing and highly rewarding. The skills of the dirt bag are in exploiting resources, and hence why they are not always loved. That $1.50 cup of coffee gives me three hrs of WiFi access? right? and I can sit in this really sweet leather wing chair? Maybe they will even light my cigar.

Day 27 - 07/01/13: Buena Vista

Poncha pass, going from the San Luis Valley into the Arkansas River Valley, was the only real obstacle I had to cross today. I was thankful that was the case. The past few weeks are starting to take their toll on me. I feel exhausted at times, mentally and physically. Sometimes its not just a psyche up before the hike, its actually on the hike. I am increasingly becoming concerned about my Jeep's ability to preform at altitude while hauling so much gear and it getting safely through this trip. In short I need a break; a vacation. In Buena Vista I have a good friend whom I used to work with at Masseys and seeing a familiar face for the first time in a month would be nice. Meeting up with Lilly after she got off work was great time to catch up and just relax. For a southerner I have a hard time accepting hospitality and, although, offered a bed to sleep in, I knew there were free camp sites just a few miles out of town. Free camp sites on the Arkansas River at that. 

It was all about the view all along though.

Day 28 - 07/02/13: Go Exploring

The Arkansas provided a great drone for a good night of sleep but I awoke in the morning to screams and shouts. After a while I got the idea of what was going on. "ON BELAY!" Just above the cliff on the other side of the road was a small trail head and a really nice rock face. A group of two instructors were teaching a summer camp group top-roping. It was about a 50 ft pitch. Nothing serious. Great holds and a very clear route. It looked like fun. After a quick breakfast and packing camp I drove up there and spoke with the instructors for a moment, not distracting them of course. They were with the local Noahs Ark, a Christian youth camp organization. Overall the kids seemed to be having a great time and everyone seemed to give great encouragement in the most harrowing moments of beginner climber apprehension. As I started my little hike down the small wash I could hear the echoes for quite some time.

If there was a trail out here I lost it immediately. I cant imagine ever getting lost out here honestly. The Collegiate Peaks are the most prominent land mark, being in excess of 14,000" and over 50 miles long, make for a great indicator of direction.

There were two major hills that dominated the topography of where I was and neither of them seemed to be more than 500ft in elevation from the floor. I decided to go for the highest of them. 

...and up!

At the top I was rewarded with views of the valley. I could see all of Buena Vista and the entire Collegiate Peaks range. From the small summit I could see what had been obscured by the ridge but on the other side was something to be excited about. Jeep Roads. 

Miles and miles of them. I could see group after group of jeep tours running through the area and I knew there must be something good back there. If I was really trying to relax and recover for a while due to exhaustion, going off trail and climbing hills was not the way to do it. Riding around in 1st gear at 5mph for a few hours on a back country road... now that sounds like relaxing.  Hell, while im at it lets go into town and get a killer lunch.  Coming back into town, I find the holy grail: A laundromat/paw shower with free WiFi and this was the point my enlightenment into the dirt-bag began.

Driving out there on the Four-mile Jeep Roads it hit me. I had already been dirt bagging it. I have been freeloading internet, living out of my car, lost all ambition for anything but outdoor pursuit, and was constantly looking for hot shower access. Contrary to common belief it is not very "rewarding" to regularly fetch snow melt river water in a container and sponge bathe with it in the morning. I would say... it builds character though. I wondered, what has happened to that clean young boy I used to know. 

Pitching camp for the night deep on the Four mile roads I found the trailhead to Buffalo Peaks, the highest points in the southern mosquito range. 

Day 29 - 07/03/13 

The Buffalo peaks are below 14,000 at about 13,500 and I figured it might be a good place to just hike and stay in shape for next weeks climbs of the the Collegiate peaks. I got out and on the trail early. 

I used to work in a nursery, as I mentioned in an earlier post, and the one type of plant I was eccentric about was roses. I loved roses. They demand special care and attention and produce a huge variety of styles. The on thing that I will never forget is the smell of all the wild roses out here. The fragrance carried, believe me.

After my off trail adventure the other day I felt pretty confident that I could navigate off trail in relatively easy areas. Being that I was in a mountain valley I figured I could not get lost again and decided to follow a stream running off the face of West Buffalo Peak to the summit rather than the trail to the summit. This proved to be a really adventurous idea and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge even though I encountered aspen so thick I still have scrapes and scratches I'm still healing from. I made it to the alpine just fine, only to realize I was about 1/4 mile from my intended point. 

Once in the alpine though, I had no desire to actually climb. I could see the summit just about 1000' off and just had no ambition. It was rounded and easy to ascend but I was looking for a "challenge" or at least some bouldering. I was content with the views and decided to descend for my Jeep and to slowly drive back to Buena Vista for lunch and the evening. I found out that at ta local bar, the State Highway, that they were going to be holding an open mic. night. Later I would show up, watch everyone play and by 11:30pm they were done. In New Orleans Open Mic may go till sunrise and you are lucky to even get on the docket. I decided to volunteer my services and play a few tunes on the piana'. It went over very very well.

Day 30 - 07/04/13: The 4th of July

The previous evening I camped at the actual Turtle Rock in the Four-Mile complex and kept camp made for the day. It was so close to town I figured I could just head in for breakfast and the small parade that the town was putting on. More exciting was the 4th of July quilt show. The parade ended up being a bunch of farm equipment, kids, a group of republicans, and tons of Jeeps.

I do have to say, however, that people in Colorado do not understand parades. I won't go into detail but there were some inherent problems. After the cleanest parade I've ever sadly witnessed I met back up with Lilly and Brandon for a paddling adventure on Cottonwood Lake just a few miles out of town. For the first time on the trip I actually saw other canoes.

My companions to the lake decided to bring their companions and it made for quite a few laughs.

This was the first time they had put the dogs on the paddle boards and while they all got situated I got busy doing what I couldn't do at that excuse of a "parade".

I think I could live here. I really do. The dogs ran into a bit of trouble on the boards and we called it short for them. It was still a great afternoon on the water. Once back in town we parted our ways and I went out for dinner.Taking advantage of the pay showers, I called it a day. When I had found my way back to camp I was graced with some of the most sublime lighting and cloud play I had encountered yet. The fire ban in Colorado kept any fire works as a non-existent option for anyone and this show was nothing short of a "fire works" display in its own right.

Day 31 - 07/05/13:  Leadville

Thinking about what the best way to try to climb these peaks in the valley I thought it would be best to go as far North as I could and just work my way down. I decided to head up to Leadville considering I was feeling refreshed and ready to hike again. Leadville is the highest municipality in the United States at 10,052ft. At one time the richest city due to its mining operations and considered for the capital city of the state upon admittance to the Union. I found out that one of the major mines had recently re-opened mining molly (not that kind of molly you dam clubbers and ravers, moly like in cro-moly steel)

After spending the greater part of the day in the town I drove up to Turquoise Lake for the evening so that I might get in some paddling tomorrow.

Day 32 - 07/06/13: Leadville Challenge

Last night I had completed my enlightenment into the dirt-bag by sleeping in my jeep. I never thought I could do it with all the gear in my Jeep but I had to out of necessity. The campground I found myself at on Turquoise Lake had RV sites only. I could have pitched the tent on the cement but I was a bit lazy and apprehensive of that one. I ended up having an incredibly amount of discomfort and started watching crappy westerns on my laptop while drinking the rest of my beer. This was a good idea until I forgot I was above 10,000' and was getting seriously intoxicated.

By 8:30 I was on the lake paddling around. Turquoise has sublime views of Mount Massive, the second highest point in Colorado, and where I was going to start my climbing tomorrow.

The wind had picked up by noon and I knew it was time to pull out the water. I figured that I could break my dirt-bag habits and move to a hotel room in Leadville so I could try my hand at the "Leadville Challenge". The challenge consists of going to the bars on main street and drinking as much as you can. Most break fairly quickly due to the altitude. That is the real challenge, that most of us never drink at ten thousand feet. A hard fought afternoon and night; I had a hell of an adventure. I met a few of the bar owners and one of them from the Scarlet bar told me that my background in New Orleans meant I would be a "train wreck" very soon. I ran into an exciting individual that went by Roger Dogger. A fairly illustrious gentleman that had "run this town". He possessed a number of gang tattoos that he was not in short supply of breath to explain their origins or meaning. Quickly, it became apparent that this was someone I did not want to be in the company of with longer than necessary. After being asked if I wanted to go to Denver with him for the night so we could visit a "gentleman club", I casually and cautiously made my way back to the hotel to rest before heading for mount massive in the morning.

* * *

I spent the majority of this week doing "nothing". I relaxed when I could and achieved no real notable outdoor accomplishments. I learned something important though. Sometimes it is best to just look at mountains and that you don't have to be on top one to enjoy them. Sadly, and completely unknown to me at the time, tomorrow night would be my final night of the trip. By the end of next week I would be home, and partying in my home town, at some of my old haunts.


Buffalo Peak from mumblefords on Vimeo.

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