Monday, July 29, 2013

Pure Awe

The most stunning place I have ever been in my life was the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. I'd been to mountains before, of course. I'd hiked the Appalachians from Katahdin in Maine to Wade Mountain in Alabama. I'd hiked in the mountains in southern California and in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Montana and Wyoming.

But for scenery that inspired nothing but awe in me I have to give the highest marks to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. It's a vast range of very high country (for the lower 48) that is packed with tortured terrain and stunning vistas. I wonder if I'll ever see anything like it again.

Today, I was looking through photos of my trip there. One major drawback for me while I was in that place was the altitude sickness and my back injury. The altitude sickness dogged me for almost the whole time I was there. It took me many days to finally acclimate to the high elevations, and by that time I had to head home. The next time I go to such country, I'll make sure to spend more time getting accustomed to the thin air.

I was generally struck speechless.

The tilted, tortured crust of Mother Earth.

Sometimes I was so ill from altitude sickness that I could barely move. And yet I'd still pause to take in the scenery.

Alpine glacial lakes.

Willow looks nice and beautiful, but it's a horror to negotiate.

What can you say? In the silence all I could do was look and appreciate.

I took this one from the worst campsite we were forced to use.

Waking to the mountains dusted in snow.

Chicago Basin on the way out.

The weather we encountered was all over the range. Snow. Sleet. Hot. Cold. Rain. Sunshine. Thunder.

This was the deepest into wilderness as I have ever been. No matter which way we could have headed from this point, we were at least two days from the nearest road.

High valleys surrounded by towering peaks.

I had never seen mountains such as these.

I think I took this one the day we were stopped by thunderstorms.

Trail heading down from a very high pass (almost 13K feet) toward Chicago Basin.


Kirk G said...

What does altitude sickeness feel like? I'm serious here. Don't say "sick" would one feel ill...where? What part of the body?

James Robert Smith said...

First and foremost there's an overriding nausea. You feel like you're going to puke but you can't. You also can't eat and don't even feel like drinking anything. And by not drinking and eating you only feed the sickness, increasing the nausea. To eat, you have to force the food down.

The most dangerous aspect of it are the effects on judgement. You get light-headed and tend to make poor decisions. When with others you can get your party into trouble, or alone get yourself killed.

It's a serious problem.

Kent Tankersley said...

Fantastic photos, fantastic scenery. Did you meet anyone else on the trip?

James Robert Smith said...

We did see other people. However, in one stretch we went three whole days without seeing any other humans.