Take a Trek

Day 15: Finding Oddity

Lake Anne to North of Cottonwood Pass
Day: ? Miles
Trip: ? Miles

The sun slides above the horizon, and I stand motionless, with my face tilted towards the sky. I’m barefoot, dressed in long underwear and a down parka. Everything else is wet and cold, covered in condensation or drenched by the rain. I can’t deal with any of it right now. I’m mesmerized by the light of dawn, the heat being absorbed by my body. This moment is fueling my motivation for the rest of the day.

The last mile, to the top of Lake Anne Pass, is a maze of snowfields and rock slides. I repeatedly lose the trail, making my advance a tedious and slow one. I squint through the glare of sunlight, looking for cairns, footprints, dead bodies, or anything else that might aid my navigational foozle. This isn’t the highest pass I’ve ever climbed, but it’s a contender for the most confusing.

From the top of Lake Anne Pass, it seems silly that I cursed the landscape before me, the space between Hope and Anne. One cannot reap the good, without enduring the bad. All mountain ranges have their own distinct personalities. The Rockies are an environment of extremes, a whirlwind of erratic weather sequences. The emotional pendulum of these hills swings from soft and majestic to violent and chaotic, in a matter of minutes.

20140806-141026.jpg

My only navigational tool, for the remaining sixty or seventy miles of the Collegiate West Wilderness, is a topographical map and the Colorado Trail markers that are occasionally pinned to the trees that I pass. Tracking mileage is impossible and attempts to pin down my current location are vague, at best.

20140806-141147.jpg

Aside from Lake Anne Pass, my day is spent traveling below tree line. The miles are uneventful, aesthetically speaking, and my mind wanders uncontrollably. Most of the other CT thru-hikers took the Collegiate East route, since it’s shorter and easier, but I know for a fact that Mr. Oddity is somewhere in front of me. I need to catch up to him. Finding Oddity is my goal for the day.

Descending from a high ridge, I hike through a series of switchbacks that are also traveled with dirt bikes. I ask one of the budding motocross enthusiasts to carry my pack down the hill for me, but the idea doesn’t catch. “Probably not,” he laughs, leaving me with a cloud of smoke. There’s nothing more satisfying than traveling halfway across the country and hiking a couple hundred miles to suck up some exhaust fumes.

20140806-141352.jpg

When the trail becomes wet with mud, Mr. Oddity’s petit bootprints are left behind, the stride matching that of a man who is about a foot shorter than myself. Soon, my little English friend will stop for a cup of tea, and I’ll close the gap a bit more. I reach a register at the edge of a wooded area that requests all mountain travelers to sign in and leave some information about themselves. The data is used to keep track of land usage and help locate missing persons, in the event of an emergency. Mr. Oddity signed in earlier today. I can practically smell his fish and chip accent in the air.

20140806-141530.jpg

I ford a river and spot more of his tracks on the embankment.

20140806-141619.jpg

It’s late in the day, when I’ve finally given up on finding Mr. Oddity. The sun is sinking, fatigue is setting in, and I’ve lost interest in muddy boot prints and English shinanigans. The manhunt can continue tomorrow. The only thing I care to find right now is a place to rest my weary body.

“RJ!?” I gasp, I’m startled. When you spend the entirety of a day talking to yourself, the unexpected emergence of another person can be overwhelming. Mr. Oddity is standing beneath the canopy of a cluster of trees, setting up his shelter. “That’s so funny,” the words fumble from my mouth. “I figured you were around here somewhere.” He laughs, dryly. “I though you would have gone by me by now,” Mr. Oddity explains. I tell him that I had some trouble with the weather yesterday. “Where are we?” I ask. “I haven’t been able to pinpoint my location all day.” He squints, with a slight look of concern. “Well, you’re about to climb out of tree line, up onto that ridge, and it looks as if you’ve got no water left.” I look around myself, at the ridge that towers above our current location, and I’m suddenly ecstatic that I stumbled upon Mr. Oddity. So, you’re saying I should call it a day?” We laugh and he begins heating two cups of water for tea.

I’ve built a fire and we have a clear view of a distant mountain range, the one we left behind this morning. Our generation gap melts away and conversation winds it’s way through the common interests of all men. We talk about women, the madness of the world we live in, and the places that we’ve traveled. We talk about Lake Anne Pass and and the bitch of a storm that we lived through last night. Ironically, and without warning, we watch a giant black cloud swallow the same mountain pass, along with the rest of the ridge line. Lightning strikes one of the peaks three times, consecutively, and thunder rumbles in the distance. It’s a five minute show that ends the same way it began, with a blue sky and sunshine over Lake Anne Pass.

20140806-141726.jpg

I’m glad to be watching from afar, with Mr. Oddity.

20140806-141824.jpg